Of the three classic Doctor Who stories with members of the ancient dominant reptile life on Earth, the Fifth Doctor story Warriors of the Deep has a reputation of being the weakest. On a rewatch it lacks most of the emotional punch of either Silurians or Sea Devils, but is it that bad? Does it have other reasons why it should be celebrated? Let’s discuss…
Warriors of the Deep
On paper it has a lot going for it. It has two returning Third Doctor foes returning, brings them together and mixes in some Cold War tensions. Director Pennant Roberts also brought us The Face of Evil, The Sun Makers, The Pirate Planet, Shada, and Timelash. This was his sole Fifth Doctor outing, but his other credits are solid. Writer Johnny Byrne also wrote Keeper of Traken and Arc of Infinity plus other, unmade (on TV) stories. So what happened?
On a rewatch this story sags a lot. Tegan has little to do, Turlough not much more and much screen time is spent watching plodding sea devils with rubbish guns shooting inept security guards in a secret underwater base. The sets are as wobbly as any I remember and the pantomime horse monster that knocks a polystyrene door onto Tegan is risible.
Elsewhere I’ve made the point that some stories are actually quite strong just not well delivered. I can’t make that claim here. Even not looking at the screen and using imagination this story is for the most turgid and uninspiring. Then we have the big faults:
- Early on the Doctor sees the chemical store, gives an exposition drop and lets us know this will likely be how the story will end, with chemical warfare and mass slaughter. It may as well have had Chekov’s Gun written on the side
- The enemy agents on the base – could they be any more obvious and wooden?
The cast has its strengths, the setting works to some extent and I feel there’s a better story hidden here with just the Cold War elements. It is strong using sea devils underwater, it just doesn’t work.
I was also surprised how much a man of action the Fifth Doctor was and conversely how inept the base security were.
It’s a dark story, with a grim context, a desperately difficult ending and moral dilemma with the bruised and disappointed Doctor giving one of the stand out lines of his tenure (clip here):
There should have been another way
We have (curate’s egg [in the modern sense] like) some good ingredients but overall a failure to realise the potential. Can’t win them all.