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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Doctor Who and The Silurians Wrap-Up

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC

I mentioned in the previous post that unless something changed, a violent solution was the only real option for preventing a larger war. Well, something changed. I didn’t expect The Doctor to completely turn the situation around, but in an excellent bit of plotting, Malcolm Hulke wrote an effective resolution. The Doctor successfully tricked The Silurians back in to hibernation. Again, I’m impressed with the resolution.

This brings us to the ending, the point at which Hulke wants us to sit back and ask the difficult questions. Now that The Silurians are back in hibernation, The Doctor wants to study their technology and reanimate them one-by-one to negotiate a peace. The Brigadier, possibly acting on orders, possibly acting on his own, destroys the base and The Silurians with it. On the one hand, The Silurians were no longer a threat and humanity had much to gain from their technology. A peace was certainly possible, just with different leadership negotiating. On the other hand, the situation had grown extremely bad. A plague was just narrowly averted; The Van Allen Belt was almost destroyed, which would have killed all the humans on the planet; UNIT lost a great deal of men due to attacks by the younger, vengeful Silurian. There is no guarantee a peace could be negotiated, and should one Silurian refuse, then what? Imprison it and move on to another? Kill it? I suppose the best option is to try. If there is one Silurian community, there are sure to be others. If a peace can be achieved with this first group, it would go a long way to achieving peace with future groups. I love that this story asks some hard questions.

Having watched this story and its Matt Smith recreation, I have to say that I prefer the depth of character and pace of this story. Sure, it is probably a bit too long, but the length gave us the opportunity to explore some excellent characters, so it didn’t feel like a waste. If all seven (or six) part stories could be this good, I would be quite happy. Plus, I feel this story dealt with the conflict between humans and Silurians with more earnestness. It is certainly an idea worth exploration. Honestly, I would love to see another Silurian story where the peace talks are actually progressing. I think it would be fun to see Earth being shared by the two peoples. If we can have Doctor Who stories where the universe is rebooted or a giant Cyberman walks through Victorian London, then why can’t we create a near-future Earth where the planet is shared by Silurians and humans?

Highlights

  • The lead cast is excellent. The tension between The Doctor and The Brigadier really develops their relationship and, with proper work, could create a moral tug-of-war that would challenge and sharpen both characters. UNIT could be a great force of peace and protection under these two leaders. Liz Shaw works wonderfully as a scientist, as someone who sparks The Doctor’s intellectual side.
  • The support cast was excellent as well. Quinn was a great antagonist and his death was sudden and surprising. Dr. Lawrence was good as the no-nonsense facility director who slowly descended into madness due to constant setbacks, frustrations, and illness. And, of course, Geoffrey Palmer is always good, no matter what role he is in.
  • Great, thought-provoking plot with a fascinating concept.

Lowlights

  • Okay, I must admit, I did not like the music. It wasn’t all bad, admittedly. There were some good pieces here, but it often seemed that the music didn’t match the tone of the scene. And did I hear kazoo*? Okay, let’s just admit that this was the most distracting element of the music. It can be incredibly difficult to make a kazoo work in soundtracks. Points for creativity and experimentation, even if it didn’t really work.
  • Those poor actors in The Silurian costumes. It must have been difficult knowing how to portray speaking. My neck would ache just watching them.

Final Verdict: This is a great story. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I’m looking forward to the next story.

*Note: With further research, I have learned it wasn’t a kazoo, but a crumhorn. Similar sounds, oddly enough. Again, I’m all for experimentation, especially finding unusual or archaic instruments to create new, uncommon sounds, but they have to fit what is happening on screen.

Doctor Who and The Silurians, Part 6 (and, incidentally, my 300th post!)

Masters finishes infecting London, then graciously dies. (Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC.)

Okay, so UNIT really dropped the ball on this one. They were so eager to confront the possibility of a Silurian invasion that they failed to quarantine the power plant even though evidence of a plague was present. Sure, it makes for great drama as Masters stumbles through London, people dropping in his wake, but it makes UNIT look a bit ineffective. The bureaucratic storm that must have occurred after this story (you know, between stories) must have been massive.

With their leader now dead, the anti-human Silurian takes charge and initiates a series of guerilla attacks against the UNIT soldier. At this point, The Doctor’s goal of peace is probably shot. While a larger war may still be preventable, violence is now inevitable as the new leader will not negotiate. UNIT soldiers are being killed; a plague has been unleashed by The Silurians. Unless something big happens in the next episode, I don’t see that a peaceful solution is going to work here. Possibly the only option would be to supplant the current Silurian ruler, which would only work if the majority of the Silurians were neutral on the humans. It happened once before, with The Sensorites, after all.

Hot science action! (Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC.)

I enjoy that this episode has a science montage. While watching The Doctor and Liz try one drug after another on the infected blood sample, I couldn’t help thinking how this is one area in which the classic series is different from the new series: it shows the scientific process. In the new series, the Doctor talks and rambles his way to a solution. We don’t often see him engage in the scientific method; we only ever see the end results. I suppose this is dictated by the format of the new series, a type of trade-off we get in order to have sexy David Tennant, high quality special effects, and inexplicably complicated plots. All science is now done by the sonic screwdriver, I guess.

Oh, and 300 posts! How about that?

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 5

The anti-human faction of Silurians enact their plan to attack humanity. (Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by BBC.)

Everything is set out nice and clear now, both from a plot perspective, but also the theme. We will start with the plot.

The Silurians ruled the Earth millions of years ago. They had an advanced civilization. One day, they detected a small planet on a collision course with the Earth, so they put their entire civilization into hibernation until the cataclysmic collision was over and the Earth’s atmosphere had stabilized. What they failed to account for was the Earth’s gravitational pull, which pulled the small planet into orbit rather than collision. The small planet became the moon. The Silurians slept. They are now waking up and many of them want their planet back. The Doctor has taken it upon himself to broker a peace between Silurians and humans because the alternative would be war. The Doctor is, ultimately, in a difficult position as neither side is entirely willing to trust him. He is alien, thus he may have sympathy for The Silurians. He looks like a human, therefore he may have sympathy for the humans.

This brings us to the theme. Doctor Who and The Silurians has quite a few thematic elements. As with most Doctor Who of this (and previous) eras, it has a strong Cold War element. You can read UNIT and the British government as a stand-in for The West, and The Silurians as a stand-in for the communist East. It can also be seen as a commentary about racism in an increasingly diverse Britain. The DVD includes a documentary called What Lies Beneath that unpacks quite a few ideas that permeate this story, intentionally or not. There is a lot to explore in this story, and I love that.

Doctor Who and The Silurians, Part 4

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

How does one reboot a monster?

Between 1989 and 2005, Doctor Who was able to pass into a type of background consciousness. When asked about it, people would have probably made reference to The Doctor, scarves, a police box, or Daleks. Memories of Silurians would have been limited to a niche group of fans. So, when Steven Moffat chose to bring the Silurians back in 2010, the question of reboot must certainly have applied. Does one resume from where the classic series left off? Does one completely reimagine the Silurians?

Ultimately, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood redesigned the creatures, but retold the same story. There are quite a few differences, admittedly, but the ultimate core of the story—contact between humans and a recently awakened tribe of Silurians and The Doctor’s attempt to prevent a war—remain the same. This is an idea I enjoy because it casts the Silurians as an intelligent race, not unlike humans, rather than monsters.

Which story does better: Doctor Who and The Silurians or The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood? I have my bias, but I’ll decide when I finish part seven.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 3

Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

I will delay talking about the Silurian until a future post. Honestly, there’s nothing much to talk about. It was merely a quick, cliff hanger reveal. Instead, I will talk about Quinn.

It was established earlier that Quinn knew the source of the power shortages: the creatures in the cave were leeching power. In return for access to this power, Quinn was promised scientific knowledge. Already we have the shady-human-allied-with-the-villain trope. These things usually end poorly for the human, and with the end of this episode, nothing much has changed there.

However, as villains go, Quinn isn’t really evil; he is just a bit greedy. He doesn’t want to tell The Doctor about the Silurians because he doesn’t want to share the credit. Fair enough, but this selfishness is putting people in danger; it is getting people killed.

The Doctor’s investigation in this episode reminds me, in a way, of a Poirot adaptation. The Doctor has his suspicions early on, but he must find evidence (that pesky evidence). Knowing Quinn’s involvement in something mysterious, The Doctor trails him and confronts him. The Doctor drops many hints that he knows, trying to trick Quinn into revealing the truth, before appealing outright.

Thus far, I’m enjoying the pace of this story. Things are being revealed at a leisurely pace, and each episode so far has had its own tone and focus. So far, so good.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 2

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Doctor Who has had a long streak of pacifism. Arguably, this streak became the strongest during the Pertwee years. This may be the biggest difference between the first two Doctors and the Third Doctor: violence. The First Doctor, let’s not forget, was eager to brain an injured Neanderthal just to convince Ian, Barbara, and Susan to return to the TARDIS. The Second Doctor would put companions and innocents in danger just to gather more information. While it is still too soon, at this point, to determine this Doctor’s views on violence, he seems to have turned a more critical eye toward it.

And rightly so. The Doctor is stuck on Earth. He is the lone Time Lord on a planet full of primitive (from his perspective) people. Sure, he likes humans, but they are not his equals. Thus, when a UNIT soldier opens fire on a humanoid creature in the caves surrounding the research center, it is a bad sign. First, there is no evidence the creature meant any harm. As The Doctor points out, it may have been calling the dinosaur creature away from the soldier. Second, it is a signal that the alien, in any form, is other. Perhaps it is best to shoot first and figure out the truth later. This implication puts The Doctor in danger. His human appearance, in this case, is his best defense. The Doctor has every right to cast a critical eye on the military tendency to attack because, if circumstances were different, he would be the enemy rather than the ally.

The strength of The Brigadier’s character is that he must mediate both worlds. He is human and he is defending England (at the very least) from alien attack. His first two experiences with aliens were negative. UNIT was born in violence, not peace. While The Silurians—and later threats—may not be on par with The Great Intelligence, they must still be approached with caution. UNIT isn’t Torchwood; they do not have technology to compete with civilizations that can traverse space and time. And just how does the military repel an attack from the astral plane?

But The Brigadier has a great ally in The Doctor. He must protect that working relationship, that friendship. The Doctor must act as a conscience to temper the military side. The Brigadier, unlike some military minds in Doctor Who, allows this conversation. He is willing to listen, to take advice. This is a new dynamic for the show.

Doctor Who and The Silurians Part 1

Story by Malcolm Hulke; Directed by Timothy Combe

Am I back to the episodic format? Maybe. We shall see how long it entertains me.

Doctor Who and The Silurians is off to a great start. Sure, the dinosaur in the caves looks a bit cheap, but director Timothy Combe covers for it well enough. What I find great so far is the tension. The setting is an atomic research center built in caves in Wenley Moor. This underground facility is attempting to convert atomic energy directly into electricity. However, after three months of power shortages and personnel issues, UNIT is sent to investigate. I find it a bit odd that UNIT, which has the extraterrestrial as its mandate, would investigate the viability of an atomic program, but one must justify one’s funding somehow.

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

The troubling aspect about this crisis is put well by the Brigadier; he puts the technical failures over the personnel problems. The Doctor quickly intuits that the key to the mystery lies with the human side of the project. Workers have been experiencing psychotic episodes. When investigating one worker, a survivor from an accident in one of the caves, The Doctor finds a broken mind that is compelled to draw figures on the sick bay wall. Later, The Doctor and Liz figure out that all the workers who experienced the psychotic breakdown had worked in the cyclotron chamber.

So, a great start. It is also fun to see The Doctor forced to be subordinate to The Brigadier. UNIT is still a military organization, and that means there is a chain of command, a structure that must be obeyed. The Doctor needs more evidence than a man drawing on a wall. The Brigadier is right. He has to rein The Doctor in a bit. This is the sacrifice The Doctor has made to continue his own work to fix the TARDIS. He is out of his comfort zone. This creates a wonderful dynamic.

Series 5.09 – Cold Blood

Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Ashley Way

Tensions mount on the surface as Ambrose grows more concerned for her family.  In the Silurian city, Nasreen and Amy must try to negotiate a peace.

“Nobody on the surface is going to go for this.  It is just too big a leap!”

Couldn’t have put it better myself, actually.  Back when Russell T. Davies was running the show, series two began with an alien ship appearing over London and an invasion seemed eminent.  The series ended with a large battle (also in London) between the Cybermen and The Daleks.  These are big deals.  Aliens had arrived and Earth really couldn’t deny their existence.  Yes, I realize that this played out every month back in the Pertwee era, but that was before the internet, before smart phones and instant communication by the masses to virtually everyone in the world.  It seemed somewhat plausible that The Doctor could defeat the aliens and UNIT could somehow cover it up.  The 21st century doesn’t seem that insular, however.  News breaks and spreads faster than anyone can track it (RTD seemed especially fond of showing shots of reporters and anchors reacting to the alien activities).  So, I couldn’t help but wonder if RTD was ushering in a new paradigm for Doctor Who, a paradigm where humans tentatively accepted that aliens existed.  I didn’t care for that possibility, but I knew I could learn to accept it if the stories were well-told.  Then we had The Master become Prime Minister and the coming of the Toclafane.  It seemed to me that the sky ripped open above the world’s largest shark, and the Toclafane flew over it on their way to massacre the human race.  In Doctor Who terms, this was a very big deal.  Earth, and the show, would NEVER be the same again.

Then, we had a giant reset button and PRESTO, it never happened.

Series four ended with the Earth being removed from its orbit and we were even given scenes of Richard Dawkins telling us that the Earth was in a new part of the galaxy.  This was not reset.  Sure, Earth was returned, but no one had their minds wiped.  Conversely, no one ever seemed to respond to it.  There was no significant exploration of humanity’s new place in the galaxy beyond a two minute conversation in Torchwood: Children of Earth.  And while I don’t necessarily want to see present day Earth arrive at the conclusion that it is small in the eyes of the universe, I don’t want to see stories just ignore what has happened and not deal with consequences that seem to have fertile philosophical or sociological ground.  It never seems to happen.

With this in mind, as much fun as the “fixed points” in time concept is, as inspiring as The Doctor’s speech to Nasreen is, the repercussions of a human-Silurian treaty are too big to ignore without completely changing the series.  Thus, the ending is a foregone conclusion.  No treaty will be made.  No real peace will be achieved.  This episode will go the way of every Silurian story before it:  no where.  We will be left with nothing more than the idea that the Silurians are just like us, most good, some bad, a few extremely xenophobic.  We are not ready for each other, not ready to share the planet.  Thus, humanity will remain and the Silurians will either be killed or return to hibernation.  So, this entire story can be seen one of two ways.  A) Its entire purpose is to introduce the Silurians to a new generation (not unlike re-imaginings in comic books) so further stories can be told.  This is an origin story, if you will allow the term.  Or B), this story is a rehash of old ideas and does not cover any new ground.

I am leaning toward B.

And the voiceover.  Why was the voiceover necessary?

Okay, let’s look at the positives.  I liked Nasreen and Tony.  They were fun and I’d love to catch up with them one thousand years later.  As infuriating as Ambrose was, I think she was believable.  And I liked Eldane.  So, basically, the acting was good.

The Silurian City look good.

I guess the only thing left to mention is the ending.  On the one hand, I was shocked on my original viewing, and on the other, I didn’t believe for a moment that Rory was gone for good.  I don’t know why, I just felt he would be back in some way.  My only real problem with his “death” is that he “died” just a few episodes ago.  Two deaths in three episodes.  Is it too much to hope that series six doesn’t have similar deaths?  Apart from feeling like it was too soon after the death in Amy’s Choice, I like that the cracks seem to appear at random, often when unexpected.  Karen Gillam does a great turn from grief-stricken Amy to memory-erased Amy, which is nice because I found her character quite irritating in this episode.  Why do “strong” women in modern television science fiction seem to flirty and mouthy?  Is this what the men who write them want?  Is it written to the male segment of fandom?  She’s had better characterization this season.  I’m starting to wonder how much longevity the character has.

See, here’s me getting negative again.  Final thoughts, Hungry Earth – good.  Cold Blood – not as good.

Up next, Vincent and The Doctor.

Series 5.08 – The Hungry Earth

Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Ashley Way

A digging project finds it has awoken something from beneath the Earth’s surface.

“Big mining thing.  Oh, I love a big mining thing.  Rio doesn’t have a big mining thing.”

The “scorpion in a box” trope (aka “A House Divided”) is a storytelling device, primarily of the horror genre, that sees characters trapped in a location while bad things are happening.  The threat is from the outside, but the real point of the story is the development of characters, pitting said characters against one another, and watching to see who cracks first.  This was a staple of The X-Files in its early years (with episodes like Ice and Darkness Falls being prime examples).  It practically drives the zombie sub-genre.  So while The Hungry Earth introduces The Silurians to New Who and is superficially about brokering peace between The Silurians and humans, the primary focus is on the breakdown of relationships and will as pressure is applied to the humans.  Alaya says it best once The Doctor has left the church, that one of the humans will kill her and there will be war.  Without the force of The Doctor’s personality, Ambrose and Tony could crack, either one of them has reason to threaten and possibly kill Alaya.

The force of The Doctor’s personality.  I have to ask, is The Eleventh Doctor capable of commanding a room?  Here’s the thing, The Hungry Earth, perhaps more than any other story since series one’s Empty Child/Doctor Dances story, feels like a classic episode of Doctor Who.  We have the remote English village and a mining project.  The pace of the first half of the episode feels about right for an episode out of the Pertwee or Baker (Tom) era.  Perhaps it is the tone, this atmosphere, but it makes me wonder just how much authority The Eleventh Doctor has.  Can he walk into a room and command it?  He looks young, which is one strike against him.  Tony and Nasreen don’t immediately buy his story of being from the ministry of drilling.  Sure, this Doctor can be stern, but I don’t, at this point, feel he can command a room very well.  I don’t suppose this is a requirement of The Doctor, but it something I miss in recent portrayals.  The Eleventh Doctor especially seems to come across more often as an awkward big brother figure rather than a safe, authoritative figure.

While Amy is missing from much of this episode, I do feel this is where her portrayal beings to slip.  I think that Chibnall is writing for Donna, not for Amy.  Or maybe this is somewhat intentional.  As the season has progressed, Amy has gone from doubtful, scornful, wide-eyed girl to using The Doctor to escape responsibility, to trying to have her cake and eat it too (not choosing between The Doctor and Rory).  Now, she is in a bit of a character limbo.  How does she grow as a character now that she has chosen Rory?  It is hard to see that the events of the previous episode have made much of a difference in how the behaves, and we aren’t going to be able to see much more change before the shocking event at the end of the next episode.  Honestly, I think the season had a certain momentum, and that momentum, at least where the characters are concerned, is about to become extremely uneven as we move toward the finale.

I don’t know that I have much more to say on this story until I’ve re-watched part two.

I do like the new companion, even if she is only here for two episodes.