Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep

Doctor Who Story 130 – Warriors of the Deep

Written by

Johnny Byrne

What’s It About?

After nearly being shot down from Earth’s orbit, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough materialize in an underwater base which is engaged in a type of cold-war exercise. Little do they know, an old enemy is planning on gaining access to this base to enact a plan which will destroy all of humanity.

There Should Have Been Another Way
The Doctor talks to a Silurian
Don’t let the smile fool you.

On some level, “Warriors of the Deep” makes me happy.

It makes me happy because it supports my pet theory of the Davison era, that this era was pulled like a rag doll between looking to the past and looking to the future. Or, to put it another way, does the show redefine itself for a new era, attempting to craft its own unique style and storytelling form, or does it look at what worked in the past and replicate it in the 1980s. I’ve characterized this as the Bidmead/Saward divide, based on nothing more than the fact that these two men were script editors and seemed to take one of these two approaches to the show. Bidmead redefined Doctor Who for a new era. Saward looked at what Doctor Who had done in the past and tried to replicate it. I have no real knowledge if these two men consciously thought this way, but I do know that Saward was instrumental in bringing Robert Holmes back into the Doctor Who fold. As much as I love Holmes, I can’t think of a writer who defined a previous era more than him, so I count this as a look backward.

To me, “Warriors of the Deep” epitomizes this struggle. It’s closest analogy is “Earthshock,” which succeeded beyond any reason why it should. “Warriors of the Deep” fails in part due to shoddy production values (a fairly insignificant crime, in my opinion) and in part due to a banal story. Being the third time in the classic era where we see the Silurians, nothing much is added here. This story is a direct sequel to “The Silurians,” which was multi-layered and gripping. “Warriors of the Deep” only manages to rehash the same conflict that was old in “The Sea Devils.” (Although that story had The Master to create more conflict. Besides, the directing was quite effective there.) One thing I like about Moffatt’s run is that the Silurians have actually been taken in to new territory. Yes, “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” were rehashes of the same plot for the fourth time, but this was for a new generation of fans who may never bother to watch the Pertwee era. Rehashing the story is somewhat forgivable. But with the introduction of Lady Vastra, at least ONE Silurian has been taken into new territory.

But back to “Warriors of the Deep.” It really seems as if it is trying to re-do “Earthshock,” but without Peter Grimwade behind the camera. The ending in unnecessarily bleak. The moral complexity that was in “The Silurians” is absent here. And besides that, it is flat-out dull. It was a struggle to watch this story.

My Rating

1/5

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3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep

  1. With the benefit of hindsight, one can look back on the point where script editor Eric Saward decided to take the series in an extremely dark direction, which eventually contributed to the show’s demise a few years down the road.

    True, as you say, “Earthshock” had been very grim & horrific, but it was not the standard pattern of every story. However, from the start of Season 21 on, Saward really dragged the stories into a recurring pattern of excessive bloodshed, cynical & amoral characters, and endings that saw the Doctor flat-out lose or, at best, fight his enemies to a draw.

    Now, obviously, as you say, on the surface a lot of these trappings were present when Robert Holmes had been the script editor almost a decade before. However, the darkness of his “gothic horror” was balanced & offset by Tom Baker’s irreverent humor and, the great TARDIS Team of the Fourth Doctor & Sarah Jane Smith and, well, probably some self-imposed censorship by Philip Hinchcliffe due to his bosses reading him the riot act. In contrast, John-Nathan Turner seemed unwilling or unable to reign Saward in.

    Also, the genial, easygoing, pleasant manner of Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor just seemed unprepared to deal with the gauntlet of horrors and hard choices thrown his way in his last season. I’ve long had this theory that on some subconscious level, in reaction to all the recent traumas he had experienced, when the Fifth Doctor was dying & had to regenerate, he decided to take on the personality of a more aggressive, no-nonsense, hardened individual. And, y’know, I had no problem with Colin Baker choosing to play the Doctor as a darker, more alien figure. But the fact that Saward seemed to have a real personal dislike for Baker apparently caused him to shape the scripts to make the Sixth Doctor flat-out unlikable, as well as often sidelining him for a good deal of the stories. Between that and the aforementioned still-rising levels of violence, it made Season 22 a really dark period.

    I’m really getting ahead of things here, but I really wish Saward had departed the series when the BBC put it on hiatus. The series definitely needed new blood by then, and a brand-new script editor could have given us a much better Season 23 than we actually go.

    Sorry for all the rambling thoughts.

    • I was discussing the darkness of Saward with my wife, and we decided Saward was attempting to tell dark stories like Robert Holmes, but completely missed out on the humor and unreality of the stories Holmes wrote and script edited. Holmes wrote stories that were dark but funny, gruesome but fun. As you say, a lot of this was down to Tom Baker’s style of humor. So as dark as Holmes stories could be, they were more intellectually dark. But they were so much fun to watch. Saward, on the other hand, was just dark and gritty and gruesome. No humor. No fun. It is starting to become oppressive, and I haven’t even got to Colin Baker yet. Davison’s Doctor seems increasingly out of place in this dark universe Saward is crafting. Your theory about the Fifth Doctor regenerating into an appropriate Doctor to handle the adventures he had been encountering is absolutely fascinating. I love it. In fact, it goes along with one of my theories, that the current production team of any period of Doctor Who is always in conversation with (reacting against or complimenting) what was done by the previous production team–in this case, script editors. The Fifth Doctor probably would have been brilliant as a Bidmead-era Doctor. In fact, some of Davison’s first stories had been commissioned by Bidmead, though script edited by either Anthony Root or Saward. But when Saward took over more fully, things got darker and Fifth was just too nice to be able to deal with it. Saward is putting him through the ringer, which is sad. I’ve come to enjoy Five and I await my exploration of his Big Finish years with enthusiastic anticipation.

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