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Here’s What the Doctor Who Companion Thought of Legend of the Sea Devils

We’re heading towards the last adventure for Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, with just one episode to go. But what of her penultimate story, Legend of the Sea Devils?

In his review, Peter Shaw wasn’t hugely impressed…

“Of course, there is much more to say about this Easter special, its characters, performances, direction, and realisation. Superficially, apart from some obvious green-screen CGI, the Covid-conditions restricting the cast, and overseas location filming, it was entertaining enough. If it was a mid-season adventure story with another one following next week, it would be perfectly respectable, if a little underwhelming. But it’s supposed to be a blockbuster for the Easter holidays, leading up to the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure: a last hurrah before she hurrahs her last. Shame it wasn’t.”

But what of the rest of the DWC? We revived a few from their underground chambers and, after stopping their rants about inheriting the earth, quizzed them about Doctor Who.

Ida Wood

What a thrilling episode of… swashbuckling my seatbelt? Tuning in live for the return of Doctor Who was probably a bad idea on reflection, as it only made sense once taking to Twitter afterwards. Which is an unusual thing to say.

The issue was the story was so choppy and each setpiece looked the same, but it was only once other viewers pointed out online about the bad editing, and scenes where one shot looked too much like another (with some helpful screenshots) that it made sense of a ‘story’ that I’d just gone along with for 48 minutes rather than engaging with. That’s not to say it wasn’t entirely unenjoyable though.

While it was very much in-character for the Thirteenth Doctor to build up and dispel “Thasmin” ([i.e. the relationship between the Doctor and Yasmin] in the space of the few scenes, the Doctor and Yaz actually had alone-time together by being awkward and avoiding all bodily contact; it didn’t stop me from rooting for them to kiss when they were at the beach, and I took the minimal facial movement of the Sea Devils to be explained by the fact that the TARDIS translates the language but not the facial movement. But yeah, remove this episode entirely and aside from a few small moments I don’t really figure what we would have been missing…

James Whittington

The Chibnall era is almost complete and where the show is at this moment in time is a billion light years away from its former self. This regeneration has given us controversy, had fandom sniping at one another, long-time fans being unable to voice why they think a female Doctor/Timeless Child concept is a bad idea as they’d be classed as sexist/anti-progressive, had a sledgehammer approach to inclusion, and consistently delivered the most unmemorable set of stories bar one – Village of the Angels.

So, it was with a heavy heart and a sense of duty I tuned in for Legend of the Sea Devils.

I’m not going to explain the plot as it was too thin to elaborate on and serves simply as a filler to keep us interested until the centenary episode later in the year. The adventure was 50 minutes of treading water on the South China Sea, a maritime mishmash of updated classic monsters and a forced romance between the Doctor and Yaz. Let me be clear, I don’t care if the Doctor is attracted to his/her companions, love is all encompassing, but there is no natural chemistry between these two at all. If we think back to how the relationship between Martha and the Tenth Doctor played out, that was natural, beautifully written and had heart. Here, it seems like an afterthought to fill the running time and instead of being progressive, it seems lazy and half-hearted.

Anyway, as we’ve come to expect, the Doctor spends most of her time explaining the plot and everything she does to the audience against a backdrop of cheap looking sets, poorly overused CGI, and two-dimensional characters. Dan is wasted here, being overused as comic relief and little else, pirate Madame Ching looks as bored as the viewer is, and Ying Kei seems to get over the death of his family rather too quickly.

The elephant in the room is the Sea Devils themselves. They look wonderful and true to the original design but lacked any sort of impact. Where was their great entrance? I feel they were used to try and claw back many of the older fans who have left the series in droves.

Jodie Whittaker could have been a brilliant Doctor, something new, bold, and refreshing. She’s a superb actress when given the right material, but here she’s been offered plots which totally re-write the DNA of the series. Yes, I know it has been suggested that the Doctor may have had previous incarnations before the First Doctor as pointed out in The Brain of Morbius, but many, like myself, feel these changes were made for sensationalism rather than character development.

As for the teaser for the next episode, it was nice to see Ace and Tegan, but I fear they too will be given a load of cliché riddled responses to deliver. Hopefully, Chibnall has watched School Reunion to understand how to bring back classic and much-loved characters, but I fear the worst.

Bar Nash-Williams

Did the earth move for you, Yaz? No; but the seabed dropped a bit.

Disclaimer: I am a church worker after the busiest week of the year, so non-stop activity and not enough sleep has left me with little energy for enthusing about a version of Who I struggle with. Especially when the sword-fisted editing cut out chunks that would have helped me follow what was supposed to be happening. But in the seasonally appropriate hope of resurrection, I’m going to start with the positives, and try to stay on track. Wish me luck.

The statue/prison reminded me of a the Monoid in Ark II; the oversized monster dominating the little humans. Talking of resizing, I can’t wait for them to get rid of the cramped interior TARDIS set. And how did they imprison him in the first place, given his superior tech? Magic? Sorry, that positivity didn’t last long, did it?

Trying again, the underwater bit looked great; could have watched that as a screensaver for a while. And “No ship, Sherlock” was a nice line. In fact, lots of it looked good. The cinematic sea monster just confirms my theory that the Myrka in Warriors of the Deep was in fact a pantomime Myrka played by two of a troop of theatrical Sea Devils, who were playing a crack warrior squad and ended up in a real battle by accident – like Galaxy Quest but without the happy ending.

The dependence on CGI reminds me of Underworld: they were using SFX in response to budget limitations. It was still rubbish but the attempt was valiant. Here, it was Covid limitations and variable CGI attempts to cover it. It gave us a ship full of Sea Devils (I did like them having an equally insulting name for us) waiting for their boss, but if any of the acted minions spoke, I didn’t notice. Craige Els as Marsissus (prescient anagram of USSR amiss) was good, strong, and swaggery without overplaying it. The blend of CGI and prosthetics was expressive, but he did too much standing around waiting while the Doctor delivered half-explanation… oops; positivity slipped again.

In my defence, the tell-don’t-show infodump and cliché central plot was as disappointing as ever. Too often we were watching characters in the wings telling each other about the real action happening elsewhere. After the atmospheric cold-open in the rain, the clunky exposition was annoying – “the duty passes to you.” Yeah, I’ve known that all my life, Dad. The Sea Devils’ plot to terraform for amphibian domination was serviceable enough, but in the ’70s I watched two versions of Stahlman’s Inferno project threatening the earth’s core. That had huge industrial plants full of scientists, equipment, banks of machines and computers, engineering. It looked real, weighty. Yes, digital advances have shrunk the size of infoprocessing tech, but one turtleneck in a room full of bubblelamps didn’t convince me the gismo could translate that information into geo-flipping muscle.

Can I be more positive about the characters? Barely. Covid meant the story was happening to only a handful of people, but time and poor writing left them shallow. The disposable anti-hero/hero/self-sacrificing captain left little impression beyond trope nobility. The bereaved son was galliantly played, but written without realism. Admiral Ching was marginally more developed, but no sense of the real woman’s huge following, land-based fiefdom, legendary political heft. The lack of serious belief in what they are doing seems odd given how much they hype it: “These people are amazing historical characters; kids need to be introduced to them. So let’s make them out of meringue and Disney-dust.” They portrayed her not as a respected political leader and feared Queen of the Sea; but a Mom in search of her kids. Maybe a scene explaining that this was in her very early career was cut. See; still trying to be charitable.

If not cutting it as history, who is it FOR? The corpse-strewn village was not child-friendly like the playground swashbuckling and pirate costume, and they never got to search the wreck for treasure; it was just presented after the action. It was too gloomy to be a comedy despite being advertised as a bit of fun. The relationship on the rocks is aimed at a very limited audience; which doesn’t include me. Dan and even Di in her few seconds come across as real people, but whatever the Doctor and Yaz see in each other has all happened off screen and I can’t believe any of their talk about it. Weird that in the supposed emotional scene where, I’ll grant you, Yaz and Doctor did have a touch more chemistry than previously, all I was thinking was that Yaz’S bejewelled right ear looked too much like the one Mme C was carrying. Gill was trying her best, but I just don’t care what happens to either her or the Doctor.

If the Doctor cares what’s about to happen to her, she needs that sense of doom so brilliantly created by Tom in Season 18. But gloomy atmospherics can’t create gravitas and a magnetic personality. Maybe she should nick the Sea Devils’ gismo.

Yes, I’m tired. But not as tired as the current show. Roll on RTD2.

Jonathan Appleton

I’ve enjoyed this era of Doctor Who more than most (judging from what I read online, at least) but even I struggled with this one. The episode had a promising set-up but no real sense of drama, threat, or interesting characters. I liked the idea of meeting real-life pirate Madam Ching but came away feeling I hadn’t really learned anything about her. The Sea Devils may have looked pretty much the same as they always did but, with their flying ship and ability to send the planet’s orbit off kilter, there wasn’t much recognisable in terms of how they acted. And I don’t expect grittiness or credibility from Doctor Who, but some scenes (that bit with the net; Dan taking out a bunch of Sea Devils with one swipe of a cutlass) were just too silly for words.   

I watched on iPlayer late on Sunday evening but found my attention wandering early on, and there has to be something wrong when the main reason to keep watching is because there’ll probably be a big surprise in the Next Time trailer. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint on that front…

Frank Danes

Okay, so I haven’t watched an episode of Jodie’s Doctor Who since Revolution of the Daleks. I missed all of last season because watching Chris Chibnall’s lamentable take on Doctor Who makes me irritable, bored, and miserable, and I don’t want to put myself through the pain of it every week.

But I thought I’d tune in to Legend of the Sea Devils and see if Chibnall’s Who had got any better.

It hadn’t. Legend of the Sea Devils was dire.

Incidentally, please read this review with the words “I think” put in front of every sentence. What do I know anyway?

It was the same old Chibnall Who. Cardboard characters rushing around, introduced so quickly I didn’t have a chance to catch their names or work out who was who; no story or pacing, but the usual breathless succession of one event after another after another after another. In point of structure: there was no structure. Such plotting as there was reminded me of My News, which I used to write every Monday in primary school when I was about six years old – just one thing after another (“And then I had breakfast and then I went to the park and then I went on the swings and then I went home and then I had lunch…”).

And then the TARDIS landed on a ship and then the Pirate Queen was looking for treasure and then there were some Sea Devils and then the Doctor fought them and then she pulled some tubes around which had bubbles with them and then the Sea Devils were going to flood the world and then oh look the Doctor prevented them doing that and then the Doctor said she would like to go out with Yaz but then she couldn’t and then the Pirate Queen found her treasure and then they skimmed some stones and then the TARDIS took off.

It took two writers to accomplish this?

What else was there in this episode? One note performances, suited to the cardboard characters, Jodie without any depth or heart as the Doctor, boring companions. Dan looked a bit like Jon Pertwee in some shots.

It looked nice. The effects were good. The Sea Devils looked decent, though they had no characterisation or motivation to speak of and could have been any old monster, and the Doctor introduced them to Yaz and Dan without any sense of the writing making a big thing of their return after so many years.

I liked them calling humans “land crawlers”. What else did I like? Nope, that’s it, nothing at all. I thought Legend of the Sea Devils was drivel. Chibnall Who hasn’t evolved in five years: cardboard people going through the motions, set pieces stitched together with dreadful dialogue and the gaps filled with special effects. It looked nice but that’s nothing without a story. You remember stories? Things with believable characters we can identify with and care about, things with a beginning and a middle and an end, things we can follow and understand and become involved with? Doctor Who used to have those, right up until Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat left.

Ace and Tegan in the Next Time trailer said they hadn’t seen the Doctor for thirty or forty years. I can relate to that: I haven’t seen the Doctor in any new episode broadcast after the departure of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat.

One more episode to go and perhaps we can then have Doctor Who back.

No. I didn’t like it. Good luck and fair play to you if you did, but I didn’t. Sorry. I hated it. It stank.

Rick Lundeen

I really wish there were some surprises for the better in this one, via the guest co-writer. Instead, it was fairly true to form Chibnall. 

We knew going in that the visuals would be impressive, and they were. The underwater scenes were very well done, and the scenery and location work were top notch. The Sea Devils were very well represented, as was the Sea monster.

But this story, like the vast majority of this era, comes down to believability. For instance, I believe time travel itself is far more plausible than Dan somehow taking out four our five Sea Devils with one swing of a sword… that Sea Devils would normally train with. 

I’d believe there’s a much greater chance of there actually being a working TARDIS in real life, than the Doctor thinking Yaz is the most wonderful person she’s ever known.  When has Yaz shown herself to be anything other than an insecure girl with a crush?

Chibnall wants us to believe that the Doctor’s crew can take down a crew of Sea Devils. That’s like the Scooby Doo gang beating the Harlem Globetrotters. And this was about that cartoony.

The Doctor, Dan, and Yaz’s efforts and triumphs were not the least bit convincing, and the credibility was further diminished with Dan making pirate jokes in the middle of a fight. I found the fight choreography to be disjointed and poorly done. 

The storytelling in general was muddy and lazy. When did the fam have the time to rig up the elaborate net trap for the Sea Devil (that immediately fell apart)? When the monster swallowed the TARDIS, the next thing we see is the Doctor and Yaz somewhere. Underground cavern? The monster’s stomach? Was the monster built or was it actually a living creature? 

Now, the elephant in the room, the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz. I guess I have to give credit to Chibnall for having the Doctor actually talk, and react to Yaz like an understanding person, unlike the Graham incident in Can You Hear Me?. That’s all well and good that the Doctor FINALLY acts compassionately toward a companion for pretty much the first time in this era.

But… this “romance” is predicated on there being this relationship that, until this episode, was one sided at best. Dan acts as if it’s glaringly obvious that the Doctor is into Yaz. Wait, what? Well, it’s obvious to Dan, only because it’s obvious to Chibnall in his imagination. If the Doctor has been in love with Yaz all this time, it might have helped the notion along if the Doctor showed us this. Ever. This grand romance exists only in Chibnall’s head, and that does us no good.

But after the events of this story, the romantics, the “shippers” out there will take it and run with it, even if there is no good reason for it. 

If, at ANY point during their time together, through Series 11, 12, or 13, we had seen even one iota of chemistry between the Doctor and Yaz, at least there might have been something to build on, and this “relationship” might have been the slightest bit believable, but we did not. There is no chemistry between the two. There never has been, no matter how much certain fans desperately need there to be. 

And really, the earth is supposedly minutes away from destruction, yet now’s the time for the Doctor to start talking about her and Yaz? Where is the focus here? Their dating status is declared more important than the threat, and that’s why we really don’t even care about the presumably horrible fate awaiting the Planet. 

Chibnall can’t get out of his own way, or break out of the bubble he’s in. I think he thinks that he’s telling a comprehensive, exciting epic, with a fantastic TARDIS crew. I know that he’s swayed many people into believing this, simply because he tells them it’ll be epic, and the cinematography is impressive, so everything must be. And they shockingly buy it, much like “Thasmin”. Disappointing. 

Sigh. On to the finale.

Oh dear. Well, uh, things can only get better, right? I guess we’ll see, when Doctor Who returns to screens for the Thirteenth Doctor’s swansong…

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Here’s What the Doctor Who Companion Thought of Legend of the Sea Devils

by Philip Bates time to read: 13 min
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