Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Serial 130: Warriors of the Deep

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Tegan Jovanka, Vislor Turlough

Written by: Johnny Byrne
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

A note before we start: As a precursor to my talking about this, I guess I should share a little about the new format I’m trying out this week. After the previous two week’s youtube debacles (youtube cock blocked every attempt made to post the three youtubes both Cassandra and I wanted to post, citing “possible copyright infringement”) and hours and hours of stressing and never ever getting the issues resolved and lots of hard thinking, I’ve thought it necessary to try to change up the format as we’ve had it since our inception eight months ago. Because the blog up until this point has been based around a blow-by-blow recap with three youtubes and a frak ton of screencaps, removing the youtube element really put into perspective how much I rely on the youtubes with my narration as an almost linking tool to bridge the gap.

Granted, that’s a bit harsh on my narration, I know (not saying it’s good narration, just saying it’s a harsh criticism), but the point has been made. The copyright issue last week showed me that I do rely a lot on the youtube (really, they’re the highlight if you ask me because I can talk about Doctor Who all I want but nothing’s the same as actually watching and experiencing it) and - because the copyright folk can be a mite fickle at times - relying on youtubes to help convey the story is not feasible anymore, and really, as the blog has been what with the blow-by-blow recap some parts just need to need to be youtubed.

Now, I’ve done the youtubes for this week and so far they have worked and I’ve had no problems with them, but just in case this sort of mass fail happens again, I’ve decided to try something new for this week. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more in line with what I want to talk about. With less summary, more commentary, and more of an almost one-sided conversational essay about each episode in its each and individual parts. Youtubes will still be incorporated, but hopefully it’ll be a whole lot less reliant on it.

Again, this change might not be permanent. It’s hopefully just a way to save some time and not be quite so reliant on a thing that’s out of my hands. This is an experiment and any feedback on the other side is greatly appreciated. Hope you enjoy.

Background & Significance: "Warriors of the Deep" is another opportunity for Jonathan Nathan-Turner to keep his homage/bring-it-back train rolling. He'd done it with the Daleks and the Cybermen and Omega and The Master (on many, many occasions), and now it was time to bring back the classic greatnesses known as the Silurians and the Sea Devils.

Unfortunately, it's a bring-back wrought with many, many problems.

Due to extraneous circumstances, "Warriors of the Deep" was forced into production early and before anyone was even prepared to get everything together. What results is a story that's nothing short of messy and sloppy, not exactly worth a sense of pride and accomplishment you could associate with other stories.

The problems are evident. The story is a bit mad and uneven. Writer Johnny Byrne (last seen writing "Arc of Infinity") wanted to emulate the wonderfulness of "Earthshock" by telling a fast-cut and dynamic action story. Unfortunately, he overshot and overwrote or something and it was up to script editor Eric Saward to cut out something like half the script to make it fit into time. Again, the schedule was tight and he had to have it ready earlier than he should have.

Beyond even the story, the costumes (especially that of the Myrka) weren't even ready by the time the show was set to begin rehearsals. Actors were unprepared, and Pennant Roberts (whom I think of as a decidedly average director) was left trying to tie everything together. Even with a gifted director it would have been tricky, but my guess is that it proved too much for the poor Pennant Roberts.

And that's a shame, because somewhere in here there's a very good story with real characters and good thematics and good action. But alas, we are left with a rush job that shows. Ah well. Maybe next time.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

Okay. Here's the first suprise of the evening: The opening episode of "Warriors of the Deep" is actually fairly enjoyable.

It does a fairly good job of establishing the space and feel of the world without actually going into too much detail (one of its faults if you ask me), but the sort that you’re supposed to experience is I guess all there, even if it’s never actually fully explained in this episode.

That brings me to one of my issues with the whole Jonathan Nathan-Turner era of Doctor Who. I’ve heard it said (don’t remember where but if you read this and said it, just tell me and I’ll cite you) this era saw the fall of storytelling in Doctor Who. It’s not exactly wrong. There are plenty of his stories where things seem to happen just because they are happening. "Warriors of the Deep" makes more sense on a second go-around, but it still feels like a jumble of scenes where I’m not exactly sure what’s going on.

Not that there’s not a lot to love, at least initially. It is nice to see the Silurians again. Although (as a bit of behind-the-scenes talk) I did see this relatively soon after blogging the original Silurians story and watching their recent revival in the new show and listening to their appearance in the Big Finish 6th Doctor Audio “Bloodtide”, so this kinda came at a weird/bad time for me. What helped is my thus knowing tons and tons of backstory on the Silurians, so I didn't need The Doctor to give me this whole shpeel or whatever. That was fortunate, because the Silurians as they're explained in here is very sparse and very fast. Once again, Nathan-Turner relies on his audience to understand a Doctor Who reference from over ten years earlier.

That's a problem, though. They just become generic Who villains at a certain point, when really what we should be discussing is the mythology behind them and why they're doing this. Beyond that? They’re just kinda here. I know this will come out slowly over the course of the next several episodes, but if you really look at it, all the Silurians end up doing in this episode is traveling over to another part of the sea and awakening the Sea Devils. Which I guess is cool. It hints at an en media res sorta idea, but I’m still left wondering what it is they’re doing exactly, because all they do for the entire episode is… well… wake up the Sea Devils.

We’re also introduced to the world of the Seabase and meet our main players of the story, which includes Base Commander Vorshak and Ensign Maddox, who has a bunch of cybernetic implants in his brain. Vorshak is kind of a dick; Maddox is a bit wishy-washy (makings of a roommate sitcom). Then again, the wishy-washy is not exactly Maddox's fault. I mean. He was kinda shoved hastily into this decision after the mysterious death of the previous synch operator (which they never answer. Come on. Don't mention a death as "mysterious" unless you wanna reveal the mystery behind it....).

Also, it’s the synch operator’s job to interface with the computer and push the button to fire missiles should this happen. It’s kinda cruel, in all honesty. But it’s… it’s a cool idea. They need a human liason to release the missiles, like a complex series of checks and balances and stuff. Maddox clearly doesn’t have the stomach for it, though, and it’s quite obvious that that’s going to have to change. We also see two technicians (who seem awfully... sketchy) reprogramming his brain after the first test.

Really cool idea. Really dark stuff. Props for that.

So all that leaves us with is The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, who spend the first half of the story in orbit around Earth and spend the second half on the seabase running through corridors. And you know what? I don’t give a crap. No one walks down a hallway like Peter Davison. If that’s all his stories end up being, I am so so so so so okay with that because he does it so so so so so so well.

But anyways. They just run around a bit. And then they trigger some alarms and then start to run away through the base. That’s our first youtube, and I’ll let you see for yourself. Needless to say, it is quite excellent and the stunt that The Doctor has at almost the very end makes me gasp every time. It’s that convincing.

Also, Turlough seems to have no confidence in The Doctor. I take issue with that. For god’s sake, man. He was in the water for about ten seconds (or less) and you’ve already given up on him? Have some faith. Jesus.

One more thing about the youtube that I will say before I set it off to be watched: The Seabase set is fantastic. The way it seems to have just a load of vertical space brings so much to the table, especially in a medium where the buzzword is “horizontal horizontal horizontal”. That’s why when you look at television shows that have “home sets” (like Buffy’s house in Buffy or the TARDIS here in the classic series), the entire shot is always at a very eye level, as the “ceiling” doesn’t really exist and is a series of lights and such to help light the scene just right.

So in the last scene when The Doctor and company are in the tank room, the sense of depth and vertical levels just makes me appreciate it all the more. Look at it. How often do you see distinct levels like that on classic Doctor Who? Not often. That’s what I’m saying.

Part 2:

After watching "Warriors of the Deep" the first time, it stuck in my head as really, really not good. But even by episode two I find it terribly terribly watchable. I mean, it’s not that it’s blowing any minds or anything, but it’s definitely classic Doctor Who and a fun ride.

More than anything, this episode is about the lead up to the siege of the seabase, culminating in the Myrka's attack and breaking in. Most of it is concern about pre-siege and everyone gearing up for the madness that's about to happen.

One of the things I like most about this story is, of course, Peter Davison. Needless to say, he doesn’t drown after the flip he has over the railing at the end of episode one (did you *watch* the youtube?). He does manage to climb out and change out of his dry clothes and into one of these ridiculously silly looking spacesuits. That’s a shame, really, if you ask me. I mean, to me, Davison is everything I love about The Doctor, including the very regimented prim-and-proper outfit Nathan-Turner chose to give him.

So instead of the greatness that is Davison’s costume (and it’s…. my favourite of the classic era. Easily.) we get him trouncing around in what looks like an insane radiation suit. More than anything, its just one of those detractors to the story, another thing on the pile of less-than-favourables.

Davison’s still really good, though. I mean, the Silurians haven’t made an appearance on the show since their two appearances in the Jon Pertwee years (which was almost fifteen years ago at this point), and you can tell that The Doctor is still reeling from the events of those adventures, even taking a very anti-human stance in this story. I think that’s possibly my favourite thing about this whole story, in all honesty. The Doctor’s knowing that he can’t trust humans in this situation and his attempts to put right what he set wrong all those years ago under UNIT humanize Davison’s Doctor as he vainly attempts to avoid a repeat of the past.

By part two, this story just seems to clip along. There are some weird bits, like the part where a bunch of the Seabase crew manages to get into The TARDIS and check it out for no reason (no really. There's no payoff there), or Turlough screaming “NO!” into the communicator to try the commander from sealing The Doctor and the trapped Tegan in with the Myrka (leading to the Commander to hilariously respond with "What do you mean no?"), or the bit where a guy randomly bangs on a random wall for a few minutes… Other than those things it's all pretty... good...

Well I mean, look. We'll talk about this more in a  minute, but the Myrka is kind of a mess. The fact that this giant sea lizard is coming in and totally jacking with everyone is a big scary, but because of the production it doesn't quite good enough. It's one of the shortfallings of Doctor Who. Due to budget, a lot of the show is imagination-based, with the attempt enhancing the ability to imagine.

It's when the window dressings fail it becomes so much harder for the imagination to kick in and fill in the gaps. Yeah. That's the Myrka.Such a shame, because somewhere in there is some pretty awesome stuff. But alas we're left with... yeah.

We also see the Maddox storyline takes some interesting turns, and you can tell something really bad is going on with him. Looks like he’s been re-programmed by two undercover agents (the male of whom is named Nilson) and Maddox is working with them against his will to sabotage the base. My only problem with this storyline at this point is it's an added crinkle to what is already a pretty cluttered story. I mean, I'm all for subplots and stuff, but this story hasn't really intersected with the main Doctor story yet, and I think that makes it feel really.... weird.

Also, he totally murders the chick that digs him because Nilson orders him to. Kinda grizzly.

Part 3:

Okay, something must be wrong because I really don’t think part three is that bad. The production is sloppy and rushed, but it's not horrible.

If part two was the lead up to the actual siege, part three is the story of the Silurian/Sea Devil conquest of the Seabase. With the Myrka attacking from one end, the Sea Devils start to invade on the other, both camps flanking their way to the bridge.

Where the first two episodes had a lot of really nice focus on character (with The Doctor and the Maddox storyline getting some considerable play and development) a lot of the action starts to spill over as part three starts to roll out. My one complaint is the rushedness of the serial’s production leads to some less-than-inspiring bits.

Of note, of course, are the Sea Devils themselves. People often complain about the samurai garb the Sea Devils wear throughout the story, but I really don’t mind it at all very much. I mean, they’re warriors and it’s a stylistic thing. So why not? The issue I will take with the Sea Devils is the lack of prep time for those in costume means the Sea Devils seem to lumber about like a slow moving trail of ants. They’re not nearly as exciting as they should be. I mean, the sequence when they enter the base is like a not-very-exciting version of the Stormtrooper infiltration and corridor fight that opens Episode IV. While the Stormtroopers ran in guns blazing and laser fire exchanged in a rapid back-and-forth in Star Wars, here you have two groups just standing and firing at each other with no cover or attempts to run, like something out of some 18th Century war. And the fact that "Warriors" was made seven years after that Star Wars sequence hit the public sector, that makes this problematic.

Granted, a lot of the fault of this serial comes from the fact that it was rushed into production. The Silurian and Sea Devil costumes make everything crawl to a screeching halt, and apparently the paint on the Myrka was LITERALLY drying as it was brought in for recording. That makes the Myrka (which is potentially a really cool thing with really cool potential) into a sloppy walking joke as the suit operators had literally no time to rehearse the Myrka's motion.

Of course, this episode also contains a completely ridiculous scene where the evil Russian spy woman attempts to kick the Myrka in the chest. Which is just laughable. I mean, it’s awful. What in the world that was about is beyond me. But it does come as a bit of a silly ridiculous thing in the middle of some really neat crazy going down.

Don't believe me?

The Sea Devils invading the base is pretty nuts. Everyone just keeps getting slaughtered (it feels so Sawardian but more on that in the next episode) and the relentlessness is… stunning to say the least. If I have a complaint about that, though (besides the fact that the Sea Devils can't even move at a good pace), it’s that the Silurians seem incapable of doing this attack themselves and the Sea Devils just become base foot soldiers to the Silurian machinations. I guess that sets up a hierarchical class structure, but when you get right down to it, I find it cheapens their presence.

Before going on, I think it also best to mention that Johnny Byrne’s script for this story was based on the dramatic structure behind Saward’s own “Earthshock.” Byrne was, according to sources, enamoured with the fast pace and shorter scenes of “Earthshock” and wanted to try that out for himself. Unfortunately, he wrote it wrong and ended up with a script that was twice as long as it should have been. As such, this comes out feeling like a straight Doctor Who episode. But if it had had the pacing and urgency of "Earthshock" and everyone else had come in with their A-game (including Pennant Roberts, but more on him at the end) this serial could have easily been one of the best Davison stories of the era.

The potential is there. Unfortunately, it just… doesn’t meet it. It's far from bad, though. Anyways. ONWARD!

Part 4:

The fourth part involves the entire end game to the Silurian take-over of the sea base. We’ll youtube the final bit at the end, but really there’s a lot to talk about.

The Silurian plot, as we find out, is to take command of the base and use it to fire proton missiles into the atmosphere, thereby sparking a war between the two Cold War-like superpowers and mutually assured destructioning the two of them off the face of the earth, leaving it open for the Silurians and the Sea Devils to take over after the mass genocide of all of humanity.

The Doctor, of course, thinks of this as wrong. Previously, the Silurians were perfectly content with harmonious unity living, but the times have apparently changed. Again, this leads to several extended sequences (over the first half of the episode) starring The Doctor having civil, diplomatic conversations with The Bad Guy.

This might seem like stupid, but it’s just proves that the Silurians are far from completely heartless and it shows the difference between The Doctor and every other leading sci-fi hero out there. Who else will hang out and try to talk some sense into the bad guy like this? It’s these moments and bits that make The Doctor unique and a fantastic hero. Not only that, but these are the scenes that Davison excels at. People always call him the “Terribly Nice” Doctor because of the way he’s “always nice” to people. But I’d rather take this guy than someone who just yells at people and walks around pretending he’s god.

And yes, I was talking about Tom Baker just there.

The solution to the Silurian and Sea Devil problem is, additionally, problematic. The entire thing is solved by gassing the entire facility with a toxic compound that targets reptilian and marine life, with The Doctor hoping he can talk some sense into the Bad Guys before the gas overtakes everything and everyone starts dying.

The result is, of course, devastating. The story ends with the death of everyone involved with the exception of The Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and one crewmember (who spends the second half of this episode off screen). This episode illustrates, again, a certain darkness to Doctor Who not seen in previous stories. I mean, between this and "Resurrection of the Daleks", just about everyone dies (in Resurrection’s case: and then some). No one really manages to get out of this one unscathed. Even The Doctor looks like a walking bruise after he walks out of the machine.

What I find most interesting is how bleak and dark everything in this story seems to be. People are out and out murdered, the aliens are gassed to death, everyone dies, but no one ever calls The Davison era “dark”. I mean, between this one, "Earthshock", and "Resurrection of the Daleks", does anyone need any more convincing? To this point, this is the darkest the show’s really gone, but it skirts a fine line between a bleak and hard reality and a fun adventure.

That’s why Davison’s Doctor works so well. For me, anyways. He brings a sense of soul and humanity to everything, despising the carnage at every turn and trying to make the world a better place. Compare this to the works of Colin Baker and you’ll see just how much Davison brought to the table to make everything feel, at the very least, tragic. Colin Baker’s Doctor was based (much like Tom Baker’s) on an alien perspective, with his character planned to grow and accept humanity more and more as his tenure on the show went on. That character doesn’t work in the world of nihilism and sadism of his first season, his haughty nature, callousness, and self-absorption make for complete alienation. No wonder people didn't like him.

But this iteration of The Doctor legitimately cares about what’s going on, and when he reaches the end and reflects back, he says all he feels he needs to say. He cares and he believes very strongly in what he does. Ending it on his character like this makes the ending better, because it’s not supposed to be okay. The Doctor can’t just leave Varos after all that death and carnage and horrible awful awfuls and be happy and laughing it off and joking about what happened. No. What happened was horrible. It needs to be treated as such.

And because you probably think I'm nuts or something, here. Watch and decide for yourself.

Final Thoughts: The first time I watched "Warriors of the Deep" I thought it was rubbish. This time I found it merely mediocre with some definite high points but a series of middling lows.

It's hard to be too hard on it, I think. I mean, they were rushed into production, and everything must have been such a madhouse around this time, but the story itself is certainly very watchable. It's sloppy, yes, but there is a good story in here. It's just mired amidst all the poor window dressing.

The serial was directed by Pennant Roberts, whom we haven't actually had an opportunity to talk about yet. He's perhaps most infamous for doing "Timelash" which I commonly refer to as "really f*cking awful". He's better here, surely, but then again this is a stronger script than "Timelash". Really, I tend to think of him as merely there, in the most traditional of TV director senses. He does a fair and honest translation of the material. If the material is good, he'll do good work. If it's bad, it won't be so good.

Mostly, the story just comes down to a series of "If only"s. If only they'd had more prep time, if only Byrne had the opportunity to craft a stronger script, if only it wasn't so rushed and messy... But alas, we're left with this, which will forever go down in history as "The one that had that Russian chick kick that giant green lizard-fish in the chest with that judo", a real crime to be sure.

I mean, I dunno. Davison, as always, is off the charts good here. Dealing with the humans and Silurians really makes me appreciate his Doctor even more, and Tegan isn't nearly as annoying as we know she can be. Really, any excuse for more Peter Davison makes me a happy camper indeed. (We call that "being easy".)

All in all, I think "Warriors" is just a series of mistakes that culminate in something that's perhaps a bit blundery that has people missing the point. But that's okay. Second times help the viewing. I just wish it wasn't such a "black mark" as it were. But what can you do?

Next Time!: 1st Doctor! "Mad Man" Terry Nation not writing Daleks! Video game quest structure! Wolves! Creepy hill people! An extended trial sequence! A booby trapped maze! And weird brains in jars! Coming up Tuesday, Cassandra comes in to review "The Keys of Marinus!" And fun will be had.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Very balanced.

    There are quite a few things going for 'Warriors of the Deep', but overall its rather badly done.