Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Warriors of the Deep written by Johnny Byrne and directed by Pennant Roberts

This story in a nutshell: JNT had the choice of either going ahead and making this story and rushing the production forward two weeks or cancelling it. He made the wrong choice. And who’s to blame? Margaret Thatcher of course!

An English Gentleman: With the odd exception in his first two years this is the season where I really start to buy into the fifth Doctor but going against popular opinion I actually feel there are some serious problems with his characterisation in this particular story. Everybody is always harping on about how the sixth Doctor is such an unthinking bully and the fifth Doctor an adorable pacifist – bollocks to that! He says hello to the staff on the Sea Base by almost creating a nuclear explosion and kicking the shit out of two guards when a simple hello would do. He then goes on to disguise himself as a guard rather than just saying hello and then pointing a gun in the face of the edgy Base Commander. He also has a very odd stance on the Silurian attack on the Sea Base, suggesting that they could have blown the base apart and ‘they certainly have reason to!’ Short term memory loss means that the Doctor thinks that all the Silurians have ever wanted was to create peace with humanity when in reality they tried to wipe us all out with a plague in their first story. Then he goes on to have a right hissy fit and questions why he likes the people of this miserable planet when the Base staff suggest wiping the Silurians out when they are attempting to incite a nuclear war. And then he does just that…murders the whole bally lot of them! His logic is severely flawed, his memory is extremely hazy and his actions don't follow through from his arguments. Don’t worry though because he looks around at the end and says ‘there should have been another way.' The Doctor been is rarely this judgemental and has used such sledgehammer tactics – he even murders the Myrka rather than knocking it out. Why stun when you can kill? There’s a tiny scene between Turlough and the Doctor at the beginning, which sees them sizing each other up now that the former has decided to stay, and it's far more interesting dynamic before Tegan crowbars between them with her almighty attitude problem. ‘Tegan make a wish!’ – Peter Davison (despite the dodgy characterisation) is trying his damdest to make this story work. Basically he is fighting lazy direction, poor effects, a naff musical score, weak guest performers and the fact that he manages to find some moments of charm and shows what an incredible (and persistent) performer he is.I have no problems with Davison himself, he is actually very good throughout Warriors of the Deep but Johnny Byrne's characterisation of this incarnation is once again off the boil (in Arc he was too despondent about the whole affair, here he is too accusatory - there must be a happy medium).

Australian Attitude: Tegan says she doesn’t like walking into rooms that say ‘Radiation: KEEP OUT’ written on the door. I bet the Doctor and Turlough were dying to shove her inside. All Tegan seems to do for the first two episodes is walk around corridors and she actually manages to be quite bearable in that role (it's hardly a screaming indictment of her character, is it?) because she isn’t contributing anything to the narrative at all. At one point Tegan is flattened by a mattress, which means there is somebody up there listening to my prayers. My biggest problem is that there is nothing to do with her character anymore – back in season nineteen there was a nice little arc chugging along about her trying to return home plus she had the two Mara stories that showed her at her best but since Enlightenment it is clear that Tegan is suffering from the Charley Pollard Syndrome which is she has to go because there is nothing else to say about the character but somebody on the creative team clearly cannot bear to part with her. With nothing else to explore Tegan is just…there. Being stroppy. Maddox holds the gun on Tegan and I was screaming ‘DO IT!’ at the telly!

Shifty Eyes: Such a waste, not giving Turlough anything to do because he is such an interesting character played by an actor who cares about the material. Strickson has swallowed his melodrama pills in this story and we get the following choice scrotum-clenchingly dramatic statements: ‘FACE IT TEGAN, HE’S DROWNED!’, ‘GO TEGAN! SAVE YOURSELF!’, ‘The master control to bulkhead one…WHERE IS IT?’ and my personal favourite ‘The Doctor and Tegan…WHERE ARE THEY?’This poor actor is so desperate for something to do he seizes every opportunity he can to turn it up to factor eleven and remind everybody he is still involved.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There should have been another way’ but only because of the irony laced in that statement.

The Good Stuff: I rather like the model work, especially the opening shot and the Silurian probe. Very Gerry Anderson. The story as written is great, two opposing nuclear powers with one expecting an attack and only a work experience lad able to operate the missiles and fire back…so why is it all lacking any atmosphere? I like the idea of the TARDIS entering the forbidden military zone; more stories should start with something juicy like that (but it’s a shame about the middle class BBC English voice that warns them to bugger off). The Doctor falling into the water is a great, unexpected stunt. There’s a really good sequence where the guards walk into the TARDIS with a look of astonishment which belongs in a much better story altogether. The Sea Devil face bubbling up with green goo is wonderful; there should have been more gore like that to make this massacre believable.

The Bad Stuff: Deep breath… The Sea Base is lit up like a football pitch and hugely spacious and gleaming...this should have been a clanking, dirty, cramped space dripping with lichen (think of the sea fort in The Sea Devils). The boring reveal of the Silurians is a shocking oversight; there is absolutely no attempt to build up any menace. Douglas Camfield would be appalled. The Silurian underwater sets should have been shot on film because in the harsh artificiality of video they look alarmingly like the sort of groovy sets that house children's magazine shows.  Why…do…the…Silurians…walk…and…talk…so…slowly? It makes the lackadaisical pace of the piece feel even more painful. Imagine one of these guys giving as political speech? Nitza Saul redefines the term 'a  wooden performance' as Karina and says ‘don’t throw your career away over this’ with all the passion of a plank of somebody reciting their shopping to Tesco's over the phone. You'd be hard pressed not to recognise Solow and Nilsen as the bad guys. The look and act pure villain (and at one point Solow actually turns to the camera and narrows her eyes with pure malevolence). Ingrid Pitt and Ian McCulloch are big draws but surrender to the pantomime nature of the production.  At times the Silurian dialogue is barely audible but since they hardly ever say anything worth listening that’s not a huge problem. The simulation nuclear run should have been tightly edited with quick cut shots, exciting music, tense performances but in reality the camera is stationary, there’s no music and the actors all look like they are waiting for the lunch bell to ring. I’m surprised the Doctor didn’t say ‘Oh look Hexachromite gas! That’ll come in handy in episode four!’ The Silurian suits are way too cumbersome and don’t allow much movement so the actors all walk like they need a poo. I'm not just being facetious, go and look again! Fortunately the Sea Devils walk at a snails pace too so neither of the reptilian races has to hang around waiting for the other as they plod…plod…plod through the Sea Base. Davison makes a very good point about the glacial pace of the action scenes and how they are choreographed...why do the Base personnel just stand in a line waiting to be shot down? Do they all have a persecution complex? Often mentioned but rarely seen, I definitely spotted a wobbly wall at the end of part one. I think he’s supposed to be saluting but Salvix looks like he’s waving as he heads off to attack the Base. Compare and contrast the attack on the Sea Base to the attack on Davros’ prison in Ressurection of the Daleks – in the Eric Saward scripted massacre they are genuinely shitting themselves and everything from the pace to the editing to the lighting to the music is making so much more effort to get you on the edge of your seat. It highlights the difference between a creaky old staff director and a young, new dynamic one. Compare the actions scenes here with those from Caves of Androzani and the difference is so enormous the correlation goes into meltdown. I love how the Myrka peeks his head through the mattress as if to say 'hello!' (reminds me of Big Man T-Rex from Invasion of the Dinosaurs when he comes smashing through a brick wall). The full size creature has to be seen to be truly believed – part panto horse, part seaweed and part Gorn (google it). Why didn’t they rewrite the script to excise the Myrka if it is going to be so hurriedly constructed and wind up look like that? If JNT really did see the finished creature and declare it was magnificent then he had been at this job for too long. Michael Grade had a point. Death is cheap in Warriors of the Deep, so many faceless people are cut down throughout the course of the story without any thought about them. What an unfortunate epitaph for Ingrid Pitt, her ‘judo chop!’ attack on the Myrka has gone down in infamy. The Myrka lies down so he can catch some zzzs, bless him. Watch his demise carefully, this is the work of two puppeteers trying desperately to fall over comfortably. Who’s idea was it to put bubble wrap on the beds in the sleep quarters…how annoying would that be? The sequence where Icthar (who himself looks like he is grinning at something off screen) tells the Doctor ‘twice we offered the hand of friendship’ – it looks like the Sea Devil behind him has fallen asleep standing up! It's at the top of this review if you want a giggle. The Silurians and the Sea Devils in a story that mimics Frontier in Space, this really is a love letter to the Pertwee era. Or an insult to their efforts. barry Letts probably watched this and wept. There’s a whopping great close up on Ichtar’s bum when he dies you get a good shot of his zip. The Commander, easily the most melodramatic thing dies screaming ‘He did it!’ What a guy. 

The Shallow Bit: A sopping wet Peter Davison. Someone hold my mum back! Oh no – the Sea Devils look like huge bulbous deformed willies in uniforms. It does sound like Cervix. What the hell is Tegan wearing? Looks like someone has been sick over her.

Result: ‘There should have been another way’ indeed! Warriors of the Deep is one of Doctor Who’s biggest embarrassments – it’s the sort of story that non-fans can justifiably point at and prove that the show was a shockingly inept pantomime. It is clear from the documentary that nobody was ready to make this and the script should have been shelved until they had the time, resources and right director to bring it to life. It's not even fun in kitsch way like The Chase and Time and the Rani because the whole thing is played (unconvincingly) so straight so there are very few laughs. It’s one of the shows lost opportunities because it is clearly Johnny Byrne’s best script; a dramatic, linear, pacy piece that ends on a very thoughtful note but any subtleties or dynamism on lost on the director who films it with all the excitement nature documentary. Warriors’ Gate and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy were made under similarly strained and pressed circumstances and they are both fantastic – Warriors of the Deep is one of the casualties of the classic series: 2/10


Anonymous said...

If you look at Terminus the sets for that should have been a good guide to how to do the Seabase.

But yeah I agree with you a failure all round

Anonymous said...

I was puzzled at the statement that "he's drowned", I mean, c'mon, doesn't he know how to swim or something? it's like he has fallen into an acid pool :/
I agree with your review

btw, have you reviewed the CC The Beginning? I can't find it? I usually go to the crhonolgy to find reviews about an specific Doctor and I can't find that story in the 1st Doctor section. I'd love to know your thougts

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to his review of CC The Beginning:

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Anthony Pirtle said...

The opening scene in the TARDIS sums up the 5th Doctor era, a passive aggressive Doctor in a dysfunctional domestic relationship with his companions.