Ah, Warriors of the Deep. A story that, with a few little tweaks, could have been one of Peter Davison’s best. It holds an infamous place in the history of Doctor Who, thanks to its hasty turnaround, its over lit sets, the Myrka with paint still dripping off it, and some marvellous overacting from its guest stars — it’s no wonder that Michael Grade would one day use this story as a way of bashing the show over the head into its cancellation a year-or-so later.
But somewhere, lurking under the depths, I’ve always thought are the seeds of a great story. If only we could dim the lights on the set, maybe having a little water dripping noise in the background as if the base is being held together with the shoestring budget it was made with… you could hide a multitude of sins, including the pantomime horse-like Myrka, which would probably look more formidable in the near darkness.
To his credit, the late great Terrance Dicks does try his best with his adaptation. And a lot of it is down to the story being freed of its budgetary limitations and he succeeds in making Warriors of the Deep actually feel like there are some high stakes. Thanks to his prose, the idea that there are two opposing power blocs ready to choose the nuclear option comes across as a much greater threat than it ever did on television; indeed, when the Silurians are priming Sea Base 4 for war, I found my attention held a lot more than the televised story manages.
Dicks goes a long way to making this dangerous new world feel real and a lot of world building is dedicated to the opening chapters. Some might find this a little tedious — the TARDIS team doesn’t arrive until about fifteen minutes in — but Dicks sells this world as a dangerous one, with the Silurians and Sea Devils manipulating the undercurrents.
Anyone who has read the original Target novelisation will know that Dicks also tries to clear up some of the stories’ odder elements. The gas used to kill the reptilian invaders at the end is given an actual reason to be used in the Sea Base and the Doctor’s apparent death at the end of the first episode is given a lot more explanation and helps to make sense of why Turlough is so quick to say the Doctor has drowned.
Dicks’ handling of Turlough is a definite highlight: still obviously playing with the character outline introduced in Mawdryn Undead, here he is portrayed as someone who’ woul’d be happy enough to leave the Doctor and Tegan to die if it means getting away and it’s always fun to hear other characters calling out his cowardice throughout this adventure, especially when Commander Vorshak and Security Chief Bulic commandeer him into protecting the base from the Sea Devils.
As with his other Target novelisations, Dicks has a great handle on all the regular characters, and Tegan especially comes across well, though she doesn’t get a great deal to actually do. She really just stands around with the Doctor and gets used as a hostage towards the end; Dicks even smooths over the sticky incident where she finds herself under a door that you wonder why she didn’t see it falling! The other characters here get a bit more to do too, and he does a great of job of selling Nilson and Doctor Solow as baddies. Solow in particular gets a lot more emotional depth than Johnny Byrne’s original script could offer and she feels a lot more real as a result.
One does have to wonder though what Terrance Dicks thought when he was writing this novelisation — this is twice now that Byrne has used some of his co-creations, the first being Omega in Arc of Infinity, and one wonders what he made of it. He certainly seems to be having more fun using the Silurians and Sea Devils than he does in the novelisation for Arc. They feel like a proper threat but there is a lot more depth injected into their actions — they just see humanity as a warring race (they aren’t wrong), so as they say, they “Shall die as they have lived… In a sea of their own blood.” Even that line gets a lot more credence here.
The reading duties for this audiobook fall to Janet Fielding, who played Tegan Jovanka in the original story. She does a marvellous job here, effortlessly bringing the story to life. There are a few more enhancements too: we get some great voices for the Silurians and Sea Devils and it feels like they all joined in with Tegan in remembering this story. Maybe they could now say these Target readings are taken from the Memory TARDIS introduced in Tales of the TARDIS? One tiny gripe was that the name Sauvix did come dangerously close to sounding like ‘cervix’ thanks to the voice modulation…
There can be no denying that the novelisation for Warriors of the Deep is a lot better than the televised version. But if anything, this helps prove that somewhere in the original are the seeds for a great story, something that should have been a triumphant return for these reptilian meanies. Where the serial falls a little flat for me is in all its doom and gloom, having two factions posed to wipe out one another. Doctor Who has done that before and to much better effect; luckily, Dicks’ prose does a good job of exploring it in a way that feels real and not just your bog-standard science-fiction affair. The tale fares a lot better this time around — just imagine those dimly corridors, the sound of water falling ominously around you, and the hideous Myrka lurking in the shadows. You may find you have a great time!