THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO BOOK
AND THE NOVEL "DEEP
'BENEATH THE SURFACE'
DVD BOX SET
(BBCDVD2438) TO BE
RELEASED IN JANUARY
EARTH, 2084. TWO
HOVER ON THE BRINK OF
WAR. WHEN THE TARDIS
IS FORCED TO MAKE AN
UNPLANNED VISIT TO
SEABASE FOUR, THE
DOCTOR, TEGAN AND
OF BEING ENEMY AGENTS.
QUICKLY EMBROILED IN
A DEADLY GAME OF
PARANOID INTRIGUE, IT
BECOMES CLEAR THAT
OTHERS ON THE BASE
HAVE SABOTAGE AND
MURDER IN MIND.
HOWEVER, THERE IS A
GREATER THREAT TO
SILURIANS AND SEA
REPTILES SEEKING TO
RECLAIM THE EARTH.
CAN THE DOCTOR
'FINAL SOLUTION' AND
TRIGGERING A WAR
THAT COULD WIPE OUT
THE ENTIRE HUMAN
of the Deep
5th january 1984 - 13th january 1984
The opening story of the 1984 season continued the anniversary season’s theme of resurrecting monsters from the show’s past. As the title heavily suggests, Johnny Byrne’s “Warriors of the Deep” brings back the immensely popular Sea Devils, last seen on television back in 1972. At the production team’s behest, the Sea Devils’ Eocene cousins – the Silurians – were also worked into the script giving fans a sort of ‘ultimate Earth Reptiles’ story. On paper, at least.
I vividly remember watching this serial on television for the first time and feeling a bit disenchanted, much in the same way that I did when I first saw “Day of the Daleks” as well
as many others that I had ‘spoiled’ for myself by reading the Target novelisation first! That
old aphorism still rings true – if you read the book before you see the film, then you are almost always going to prefer it, especially with a story like “Warriors of the Deep” that is let down by a below-par production.
When I originally read Terrance Dicks’ novelisation, I was very impressed with crew of the sea base. The characters were all written so very well, particularly those like Maddox - a young man under unimaginable stress; the fate of the world literally in his hands – and the conspiring double agents Doctor Solow and Nilson. However, on television I was not quite as taken with any of them. Ingrid Pitt, Ian McCulloch, and especially Martin Neil all give admirable performances, but their costumes and make-up were so preposterous that I could not take any one of them at all seriously.
Worst of all though was the Myrka – brilliant on the page; absolutely brilliant. Brilliant on audio too, for that matter. But on television not so. An unconvincing prop so new that the paint had not dried and the operator had not even had a chance to rehearse in equals a recipe for disaster. The rest of the serial’s design is no better – white corridors throughout, and Eocenes wearing more clothes than an Inuit come winter. Remember the ‘nude’ Silurians? Here their torsos are clad in a skin-coloured ‘box’, for want of a better word. And for the Sea Devils? Full battle armour and daft helmets that obscure half their monstrous heads! Michael Briant would have been so pleased.
However, like both other stories released as part of the “Beneath The Surface” DVD box
set, the “Warriors of the Deep” DVD is at least worth its salt. The disc’s showpiece half-hour documentary is wryly entitled “The Depths” and charts the making of the serial as told by those involved. Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, and even Ian “there are twenty-eight continuity mistakes in this” Levine each contribute some charming little anecdotes, but for me the two people at the heart of this production were the writer and the visual effects designer, Mat Irvine. Something clearly went wrong in the transition between Byrne’s bold script and the rather jaded production, and it is poor old Irvine who has had to carry the can for twenty-odd years. But here he is given the chance to set the record straight, explaining why “Warriors of the Deep” was not realised as well as it may have been. Thatcher’s timely call for a general election meant that the serial’s production had to either be moved forward or scrapped altogether. Unsurprisingly, producer John “the Myrka is wonderful!” Nathan-Turner chose the latter option that, with hindsight, may not have been the right move. A year later on Room 101, BBC One Controller Michael Grade singled out the Myrka sequence for particular ridicule just prior to his placing the series on hiatus.
“They Came From Beneath The Sea” is a twelve minute gentle piss-take of the realisation
of the warriors of the deep, particularly the Myrka. It strikes me as being profoundly ironic
that this polished CGI featurette, set entirely within a stunning 3D model of Sea Base Four, completely contrasts with the hasty and horrendous realisation of the DVD’s main feature.
The commentary is also interesting, though as usual the best bits are regurgitated in the documentaries that I have already mentioned. The rest of the special features on this disc are more compact, but still quite remarkable. The four minute selection of trails and continuities include a noteworthy trailer for the first half of the 1984 season, though I must concede that this is pulled into sharp focus by the epic trailer for the next classic DVD release, the classic William Hartnell serial “The Time Meddler”. “Science In Action” is a
clear product of its time that sees Irvine interviewed by BBC Schools presenter Kjartan Poskitt about everything from Sea Devil heads to the eponymous Dragon in “Dragonfire”. Not my favourite way to spend ten minutes, but certainly a poignant reminder that “Warriors of the Deep” has not dated anywhere near as badly as some programmes have.
“There should have been another way.”
Byrne’s story itself is actually very, very good and just as relevant today as it was in 1984. The above quotation encapsulates perfectly the tragedy of the Eocenes, as well as that of the Doctor. There should have been another way… but there was not. There never is. Once again the Doctor has that terrible choice to make, and very skilfully Byrne presents the Doctor with the means to destroy the Earth Reptiles very early on in the story when he notices the anti-reptile gas Hexachromite. The gas is there hanging over the Doctor for the duration of the story. He could save the humans at any time, but he cannot bring himself to
do it until he has absolutely no other choice. By the end of the four episodes, you really feel for the Doctor. And “Warriors of the Deep” is only the beginning for him. Through “Resurrection of the Daleks” and beyond, things are only going to get harder and harder for his fifth incarnation.
However, as much as I liked the story, there were a couple of things that did not sit well with me. The future as shown in this serial is once again pretty miserable; by 2084 the world is divided into two power blocks, each poised to annihilate the other. I do not know though – perhaps whittling it down to just two power blocks is optimistic the way things are going! Perhaps were it not broadcast so close to the bleak “Frontios”, then this grim future would not bother me so, but it was and it does. However, my biggest annoyance with the story was in fact the pathetic cliffhanger ending to the first episode: the Doctor falls in some water. Three seconds later – I counted – Turlough declares that “the Doctor’s drowned”. I know Turlough is the eternal pessimist, but come on! Three seconds?
If the truth be known though, a lacklustre production and one dodgy cliffhanger do not detract all that much from an remarkably well-written story. And if for no other reason, “Warriors of the Deep” has to be watched purely to witness what I would say is one of Davison’s best televised performances as the Doctor.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2008
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