Phantoms of the Deep reviewed


Phantoms of the DeepMay 2013 and the Fourth Doctor Adventures second series gives us a Jonathan Morris tale set deep underwater and involving submarines, monstrosities from the depths and many other things beside.

Recorded before Cold War was transmitted how well does this tale of deep-sea diving work? Find out but mind the squid (and the spoilers)…

The story

The synopsis (from the Big Finish product page) is:

On their mission to explore the Mariana Trench at the very bottom of the ocean, the deepest and most inhospitable place on Earth, the crew of the deep-sea vehicle Erebus make an unusual and startling discovery.

A battered blue police box.

As the Doctor, Romana and K9 join them on their journey, the submariners soon discover that the TARDIS is not the only unusual find lurking on the sea floor.

Super-intelligent squid, long-lost submarines and their miraculous occupants are only the start of their troubles. The Goblins are coming. And they won’t let anyone out alive.

The Doctor, Romana and K9 are collected from the Mariana Trench by Dr. Patricia Sawyer (Alice Krige), Chris Fleming (John Albasiny) and Terri McCulloch (Charlie Norfolk – other appearances include Rat Trap and Voyage to Venus) who are crewing the Erebus. Shortly after introductions the TARDIS gets sent to the surface (to save space) and that is the cue for communications failure and other mysterious happenings.

The Erebus finds itself in a region of relatively low pressure despite the depth and Dr Sawyer and the Doctor take a mini-sub to investigate a World War II submarine; mysteriously one of the crew, 19 year-old Jack Hodges (Gwilym Lee) is still alive 100 years after his submarine sank!

We now find that all the humans are gaining telepathic powers and their intelligence is increasing; along with that the are seeing goblins and other spirits. The Doctor and Romana are oblivious to all this but sadly K9 gets taken over (by etheric energy no less) and at one point appears to kill Romana and Terri! We then have lots of action, an alien spaceship and vampiric squid to contend with before we learn that the alien ship is on auto-pilot its mission to upgrade the local species to allow the minds of its builders to be downloaded into them!

Needless to say all ends well for some of the cast though we do lose some characters before the end and the Doctor himself is almost crushed to death before being rescued by super-intelligent squid!

The storytelling

Well paced and a lot to enjoy here particularly in the fact that the story was not predictable. I was well into part two and still didn’t really know where it was headed and this in a good way.

The sound-scape worked well and included a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea style sonar (for those old enough to have watched that show). Apart from that sound design decisions were consciously made to deaden everything down as it might be which we learn from the CD extras.

Despite really enjoying this I do have a few niggles which you are welcome to skip:

  1. The dialogue at the start was a bit clunky – why would the crew get all the way to the trench then have a conversation about the depth / pressure / build of the submarine? It came across rather artificially to me
  2. The actual plot about aliens experimenting on creatures to improve them was novel – why did it have to lead to a threat to the whole human race? I despair of the number of times the Doctor has to save everything? Why not just save the people in front of them?
  3. The very last scene with Dr Sawyer and the nuclear waste disposal also seemed grafted on. This could have been woven into the plot – eg Geiger counters and a number of canisters being planted to testing their storage efficiency.

These are only niggles and of little consequence – I suspect reviewers feel they have to show off their cleverness and I apologise. They are meant constructively!

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this and the whole series have been consistently good in my view. Jonathan Morris himself contrasts this story with The Auntie Matter so I don’t have to – listen to the extras!

Update – here is Jonathan Morris’s own blog entry on this story

What did you think? Do let me know!



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