Warriors of the Deep seems to be based on a false premise – namely that the Silurians and the Sea Devils were the chief attraction of Malcolm Hulke’s two Jon Pertwee scripts. This is something that I’d strong disagree with. Doctor Who and The Silurians drew its strength from pitching the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier against the likes of Baker, Quinn, Lawrence and Masters. It was the confrontations between those characters that kept the story bubbling along in the early episodes and by the time the Silurians take centre-stage, it starts to flag a little. The Sea Devils is mainly about the Doctor/Master rivalry and the Sea Devils are pretty incidental to the plot.
In order to succeed then, Warriors of the Deep needed strong human characters but although the story had some good actors, the script tended to let them down. It isn’t all bad though and with just a little tweaking here and there it could have been rather good. But, as has happened before, a lack of time and money was to prove very costly.
Let’s start positively though, Tony Burrough’s Seabase set is incredibly impressive. It’s tended to come in for criticism in the past for being too brightly lit, but I can’t see this at all. The command centre is brighter than the rest of the base, which seems logical, but the corridors have a low level of lighting and also ceilings (a familiar trait of Tony Burrough’s design work, see also Four To Doomsday). This creates shadows and helps to hide a multitude of sins – even the Myrka looks halfway decent in some of the corridor shots.
We’re barely a minute into the story when we’re introduced to the Silurians. It’s annoying that they refer to themselves as Silurians and Sea Devils (human coined nicknames, of course) and it’s even more annoying that the Silurian’s third eye now flashes every time they speak. And the annoyance factor is increased another notch whenever Icthar says “Excellent”.
The Seabase personnel tend to be split between two camps. There are some – Vorshak (Tom Adams), Bulic (Nigel Humpreys) and Preston (Tara Ward) – who have thinly drawn characters but are watchable since the actors are making the best of a bad job.
For the rest, if I was drawing up a list of shame then Ingrid Pitt as Solow and Ian McCulloch as Nilson would be top of it. Pitt was famously wooden in The Time Monster so it’s no great surprise that twelve years on she’s no better here. But it pains me to see McCulloch’s poor performance, as he’s a much better actor than this (Greg in Survivors, for example).
The central plot is quite sound. It’s a base-under-seige! A staple of the Troughton era, we haven’t had a story like this (Horror of Fang Rock) for a good few years. But it does tend to be scuppered by the fact that the Silurians and Sea Devils are, shall we say, not very dynamic.
They move incredibly slowly (and in the case of the Sea Devils, rather oddly at times). There’s also the Myrka to further slow things down of course. And while I have praised the design work, the amazing foam bulkhead door at the end of episode two is a sight to behold.
Eventually, as with most base-under-seige stories, virtually everybody dies. The Doctor’s final words are well known and yes, there probably should have been another way. It’s interesting that about twenty years earlier virtually the same words were spoken after the Thals and Daleks fought, but then it was Ganatus who had the line, whilst the Doctor seemed unmoved by the wholesale slaughter on Skaro. He’d got his fluid link back, which was the only thing he seemed concerned about.
In retrospect, this marks the start of the harder-edged style of Eric Saward. Resurrection of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani and the majority of Season 22 would follow a similar path of heavy body-counts and violence.
Warriors of the Deep is not a total disaster, nor is it unwatchable, but a combination of factors proved to be pretty damaging. Johnny Byrne had provided a similarly limp season opener the previous year with Arc of Infinity so it’s maybe not surprising that this was his final script for the series.