300 Million Years Out Of Your Comfort Zone (Warriors of the Deep)

(45 comments)

Gronda Gronda?
It’s January 5th, 1984. The Flying Pickets are at number one with “Only You,” with Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” knocking them off a week later as they manage one of the most impressive drops I’ve ever seen from a number one single, plunging down to ten. Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Culture Club, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood all also chart, the latter with “Relax.” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, it should be noted for Americans, were not a one hit wonder in the UK at all.)

In the month and change since The Five Doctors, Lynda Mann is murdered, though the newsy part of that came many years later when the murderer, Colin Pitchfork, became the first person in Britain to be convicted based on DNA evidence. An IRA car bomb exploded outside Harrods in the Christmas shopping center. And Pope John Paul II visited the man who attempted to assassinate him to forgive him. While during this story a hurricane-force storm kills six in Britain.

While on television. A commenter made the quite valid point that my entries on the Davison era have been markedly closer to the critical consensus than in any other era. This is true, and I’ve kind of internally conceptualized much of this stretch as being about providing a more thorough account of the logic behind the consensus than about changing it. Largely because I think the overall consensus on this part of the Nathan-Turner era is solid, which, in turn, is because it’s just about the most analyzed portion of Doctor Who around save, perhaps, for the new series, which is so deliciously oversignified that the existing critical consensus can’t be grasped at all.

All of which said, I think the era as a whole gets an unfairly rough ride. There are systemic problems, which I’ve pointed out at length and will continue to do so, but there are also moments of real quality, including in oft-overlooked stories. And then there is Warriors of the Deep, about which I sadly, if unexpectedly, find myself with virtually nothing good to say.

That said, much of the criticism of the story is, if not inaccurate, at the very least faintly unfair. Yes, the effects on it are lamentable, but I’ve kept a decent policy of not criticizing Doctor Who for poor effects and I’m not going to break it here. The Myrka is deeply, deeply unfortunate, but to suggest that it, or any of the shoddiness of this story, is the actual problem with the story is ridiculous. They’re symptoms of the problem. The story wouldn't be significantly improved by better effects. It just wouldn't have quite as obvious a punching bag.

Michael Grade, responsible for pulling the trigger on the 1985 hiatus, has apparently cited this story as the one that persuaded him that Doctor Who was crap, a claim that Eric Saward took issue with, pointing out that Grade was in a position to give the program more money. But the flip side of this is what possible reason Michael Grade would have for giving more money to a program that’s blowing what it has on a pantomime horse. I mean, it’s tough to point at this and call it a compelling case for giving the program more money.

This is not a defense of Michael Grade as such, as he’s guilty of the same basic mistake. Neither Grade nor Saward, apparently, can conceive of Doctor Who as anything more than the BBC version of Star Wars. Which, of course, it cannot possibly be on any budget that the BBC could possibly provide. I mean, that’s just not what the BBC is good at. It never has been.

To some extent it’s understandable. Everybody loved Earthshock, so they tried it again with another returning monster and a similarly bleak ending. It’s as understandable as redoing The Silurians two years later as The Sea Devils. The problem was purely that Earthshock was largely unrepeatable, having been the biggest case of getting away with it in the classic series. Earthshock worked by changing directions sharply in the second episode, having a genuinely unexpected ending, and featuring the shock return of the series second best-known monsters (even if their unexplained appearance at the end of episode one was probably stretching it for some viewers).

Warriors of the Deep, on the other hand, is exactly what it looks like it will be after its first episode, features the massively hyped return of twelve year old monsters, and features no shock in its ending at all. With none of that gut-punching impact we get what Earthshock was all along - a mediocre action serial that was remarkable for its chutzpah, not its execution. So when that execution dips, as it had to here when the 1983 general election led to Doctor Who losing studio time, the fragile soap bubble of quality that Earthshock represented bursts traumatically.

But the conclusion everybody draws from this - that all Warriors of the Deep needed was money - is ludicrous. What Warriors of the Deep needed was for the script to be thrown out and restarted from scratch. What it needed was to not be people trying to do a thrilling BBC sci-fi action serial. It needed to be a story that wasn’t going to have all of its hopes rest on the ability of the BBC to get the Myrka to come off, simply because there’s never been a point, in the twenty year history of the program, where it ever looked like the BBC could do something like the Myrka. The list of successful “giant X” monsters in Doctor Who history is... erm... well, I liked Erato? The show has never gotten giant monsters to work. So why the hell was it trying to base a story on the idea that one was going to be amazing? To blame the Myrka's execution for letting the story down is like blaming gravity when a man jumps off a building. A pantomime horse is exactly what anyone pitching the Myrka should have expected for Doctor Who.

What’s painfully ironic about all of this is that it’s Malcolm Hulke’s work that’s getting ripped off here, given that Hulke was the writer who showed the most anxiety about it the last time Doctor Who mistook itself for a militaristic action show. (Though admittedly, ill-advised attempts at giant lizards are a staple of Malcolm Hulke's scripts, with the only script of his to lack it being the one with a giant testicle instead.) The Silurians was, at its heart, about Hulke’s own dislike for the idea that the Doctor was going to be an employee of the military-industrial complex. The entire concept of the Silurians was that they weren’t monsters but another race with as legitimate a set of views as the humans. The point of the end of the story was that there was another way, it was just precluded by assuming that the series was going to be military action where the Doctor’s primary support was people who were good at shooting stuff. Even in The Sea Devils, when this aspect of the plot is systematically marginalized, the point is that the humans make a wrong decision at a key moment that prevents the possibility of peace. Even if this is taken away, at the very least the point of The Silurians is that the “monsters” actually have distinct personalities and are not a blank monoculture to be exploded.

Whereas here the Silurians are interchangeable, the Sea Devils are mostly a mute warrior race, and both of them have apparently randomly adopted the human names for them (which is bewildering, given that by any standard “Sea Devil” is a pejorative in its original context). They spend the entire story acting like generic monsters, with the Doctor being the only person who gives any sort of argument that they might be different. Then the Doctor finally meets up with their leader and gets told “oh, no, we’ve gone generic monster.” It would be difficult to approach this story in a way that more systematically undermines the point of the monsters. Every possible effort is made to take monsters whose entire raison d’etre was to not be generic monsters and make them generic monsters.

Given this, the Doctor’s “there should have been another way” ending has to go down as one of the most gobsmackingly po-faced and moronic moments of the series. I’m not among those who is hugely bothered by the level of violence in some of the Peter Davison stories, nor even, generally speaking, by the sequences where the Doctor gets a bit physical. But the sequence in episode one in which the Doctor decides to handle the possibility that they’ll be caught by overloading the base’s reactor to distract them, then proceeds to beat up the guards who are not thrilled with the prospect of him overloading their reactor is just appalling. There should have been another way, Doctor? Sure. And we might have called it “don’t introduce yourself by needlessly sabotaging the base and beating people up.” Similarly, to suggest the value of “another way” when the script has been bending over backwards to ensure that all of the other ways didn’t exist is just cheap. This conclusion might be forgivable if we were actually using generic monsters - if the Tereleptils were the ones sieging the base or something. But these are Malcolm Hulke’s potentially peace-loving Silurians. They come with another way built into the script, only to have Johnny Byrne take the thing out for no discernible reason.

What we have instead is a story about the horrors of nuclear war in which no alternative is actually presented. Far from being a story about the importance of peace, this is a story in which massive slaughter of the other is necessary, if regrettable. Even the Doctor’s last line undermines any actual point about the merits of not slaughtering everybody. There should have been another way. Not that there was one. Or that there must have been one that the Doctor missed. There should have. But there wasn’t. Everyone, apparently, deserved to die. And here we get to the heart of my objection to supposedly apolitical writing. Because this is shooting for that. Yes, it's about nuclear war and the cold war, but given that nobody was actually overtly in favor of nuclear war, this is a straw man. By being unwilling to commit to any viewpoint beyond "gee, it sure would suck if we completely annihilated the species" the story ends up tacitly endorsing it.

Which, again, this would only suck if it weren't Hulke they were ripping off. Hulke having been the writer least afraid to take off the gloves and do political Doctor Who. But this is part of the lengthy and torturous period where Doctor Who avoids politics at all costs. And here we see why that was such a terrible idea - because the series isn't about anything anymore. There's no content here. Saying you're going to be apolitical just means that you've given up on being about the real world at all. Which is fine right up until you remember that reality is inescapable and that flights of fancy come back to Earth eventually. Here's our crash landing. But to have the crash happen in a Malcolm Hulke homage is just taunting. There should have been another way? There was. You had it in the script you were ripping off. Fundamentally, things never would have gotten this way on Hulke's watch.

Making matters even more frustrating is Byrne missing the one idea he had that didn’t amount to cannibalizing Malcolm Hulke’s work and taking all of the actual thought out. Warriors of the Deep has, as an incidental detail, a world in which human-computer synthesis is a common and everyday part of life and where people have backup personality discs that can be used to control them. This, however, is used only to sustain a plotline in which saboteurs make things worse for the base. Maddox is by far the most interesting idea in the story, and he’s nothing more than a plot hammer.

And as with Arc of Infinity, there’s a good story shuffling about in these ideas. Worse than Arc of Infinity, however, this time the good story is so blindingly obvious that one is left with no sense of how the heck the production team missed it and went for this. You’ve got enough money to do some fairly impressive monster costumes, but not much else. You spend them on the monster from the series history that lets you do a story that’s not about special effects and fighting but about negotiation, debate, and conversation. You are, in other words, setting everything up for a story that Doctor Who can actually do and do well - one about conversation and acting. Maybe you do monster costumes that let you see the actors mouths and eyes - redo the Silurians to look more like the Draconians did. That way you can really have them act and have a proper, tense thriller. Instead of relying on the stupid Myrka.

But instead we have this. And I’m left in a terribly unfortunate position, because I pretty much have to say that on the evidence of this story that Michael Grade was right to cancel the show. I mean, not in his actual reasons, but in the basic decision. Because this, in all seriousness, is what they think a good season opener is? They think the way to open their season is to give twelve-year-old monsters a makeover in a frighteningly generic story? I mean, even if we excuse all of the decisions that went into filming it, how the heck did nobody see that it needed to be swapped with The Awakening or Frontios in the running order. Both, after all, have self-contained openings. At worst it would have required redoing a handful of TARDIS scenes. They surely could have looked at the Myrka shots on rushes and seen that they needed to change the order of things.

But no. Because Nathan-Turner isn’t making the program for the general public, who would have, on the whole, much preferred to see something that had an interesting idea beyond “Wow! Silurians! And Sea Devils!” He’s making it for Doctor Who fans, and then as much the ones in the US and Australia as the ones in the UK. If you’re not the sort of person who’s excited because a Pertwee-era monster is coming back, you’re no longer the sort of person the program is for. All the program has to say is "look at me, I'm Doctor Who."

I said back in the Five Doctors post that there was an inherent problem with the program being done “for the Americans,” and there is. This is a moral point, and it’s a real one. The BBC is funded by what is essentially a tax, and the people paying that tax have a right to be catered to by the resulting channel. That’s where the Reithian idea that the BBC has to have something for everybody comes from. So when the program so cavalierly discards the idea of doing interesting or relevant drama in favor of doing things that get cheered at American conventions, frankly, there’s a real problem with it. To present this as the season premiere - as though this is the way to get things started, right after the high-profile and beloved Five Doctors, is just insulting. To say this should be taken off the air and replaced with something that actually takes the viewing public seriously is not, quite frankly, a controversial proposition to anybody who isn’t a blinkered Doctor Who fan.

Comments

Tom Watts 4 years, 11 months ago

"But this is part of the lengthy and torturous period where Doctor Who avoids politics at all costs. And here we see why that was such a terrible idea - because the series isn't about anything anymore. There's no content here. Saying you're going to be apolitical just means that you've given up on being about the real world at all."

The Dominators did politics, but then you didn't like that either. It seems that: Left politics describes the real world; I can't make a Leftist reading of this; therefore it's not "political"; therefore it's not about the real world. I mean, I entirely agree it's shit, but I take issue with your background interpretation. Also, do give some thought to why JNT would shy firmly away from "politics". You seem to see this as a moral failing, a sort of laziness or cowardice. Maybe (legacy of the 70s and early 80s and with no honourable exception for Mac Hulke) Left politics was by this time felt to be so destructive and corrupt that creative people were instinctively repelled by it. And since, in the way your writing has exemplified, Left politics was seen as the whole of what is properly political, it left as its last residue the idea of a complete withdrawal from politics.

Your last point about the licence tax echoes the Thatcherite rhetoric of the rights of the tax payer, and the concept of the tax payer as a consumer who needs to be catered for. Also there's a slight nationalist implication, and the BBC has started to develop by this time into a global media organisation. Its programmes are serving the world, and quite right too.

And with regard to the atrocity that was The Hungry Earth, generic bug eyed monster is better than generic latex application which allows you to see the actor's eyes and mouth. Just as, for example, leering, cackling Black Voodoo cliche is preferable (assuming there's only two choices) to reliable, dependable black buddy cliche.

Link | Reply

Tom Watts 4 years, 11 months ago

Although it's a desperate defence, I'll point out that people tend to call themselves "people" until they meet outsiders (as with a lost Amazonian tribe), whereupon they often use the insulting designation applied to them by their discoverers. The etymology of "Gael" for example, reflects this, originally meaning "wild" I believe, although I'll defer to those with better knowledge. Hence too "Sea Devils".

Link | Reply

PMcD 4 years, 11 months ago

I seem to remember reading in the Production Notes on the DVD for this story (for yes; I am sad enough to enjoy them!) that Saward was frustrated editing this story because Ian Levine kept making him change things in the name of continuity. He is supposed to have exasperatedly said (I am quoting from memory here) 'Are we making this for the fans or the public?' or words to that effect. Saward gets a lot of stick, and he's by no means my favourite Dr Who writer; however I think he's a decent writer who could have been a better script editor under a different producer.

I get the impression, reading about the early-mid 80s period, that the programme slowly decreased in quality because John Nathan-Turner and Saward, two very talented people in some ways, brought out the worst in each others' work. And having an unofficial continuity consultant in their midst at the same time was only going to make things worse.

Link | Reply

Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm loathe to suggest tha this story was redeemable. Personally I'd go one further on suggesting Michael Grade might have been right to cancel the show based on this (albeit for the wrong reasons), to saying this story's existence makes me think it's almost a shame he didn't cancel it sooner and prevent this one from ever airing.

But I do wonder about if Eric Saward hadn't changed the ending that Johnny Byrne had written in which Preston and Vorshak survived at the end. The way they were killed off by Saward is for me the most offensive thing about the story (and the point where for me the JNT era became completely irredemable), especially since in one way or the other, they both die because of, or in protection of the procrastinating Doctor, which really begs the question of why the Doctor seems to believe the Silurians are the 'better' side (and the way the Doctor has to infer the Silurians' 'nobility' by heavy-handed hearsay in th absence of it ever being demonstrated in the story is so on the nose, one almost feels punched there repeatedly).

But if Eric Saward hadn't changed that and Preston and Vorshak had survived, I wonder would there perhaps have been some note of hope and redemption to the story. With the humans alive to realise how close they came to destroying themselves and the futility of this nuclear war. That mght have made the story actually have something in terms of being about mankind's folly, rather than, well, the Doctor's.

Link | Reply

Alex Wilcock 4 years, 11 months ago

It’s difficult to disagree with much of that, though I think your Grade-backing self-harming fan impulse is a bit off-key at the end; is it really right that one terrible story and terrible decision would justify cancellation? And, whatever JNT’s motivations, wasn’t the series still getting pretty good ratings, which (however bizarrely) didn’t dip much after this story and suggested a fairly happy general public audience way above the fan base? And is the Davison era really the most analyzed portion of Doctor Who, or is that just The Unfolding Text?

You’re right, of course, that this desperately wants to be Earthshock, though (not for the last time this season), and all the problems that leads to. And ironically it’s not BBC budget but BBC lighting regulations that may have scuppered the simplest superficial change – I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal that they wanted to turn the lights down once the wobbly-headed commandos attacked, but the lighting technicians told them fighting in near-darkness would be against regs. Despite that being one of the reasons Earthshock’s first episode was such an atmospheric piece of television.

Though admittedly, ill-advised attempts at giant lizards are a staple of Malcolm Hulke's scripts, with the only script of his to lack it being the one with a giant testicle instead.
Just his Pertwee scripts, I think, but there even the exception you claim isn’t one – even if you don’t count the Draconians, Williams talks about “One dominant life-form. A large and savage reptile” and the book makes it “reminiscent of Earth’s onetime tyrannosaurus rex” save with longer arms, all the better to scoop up Ogrons with. So Hulke’s script was pretty clear: it’s just the designer who made it a giant testicle. Still, at least that director then knew to minimise it, eh?

I actually find the sheer dumbness of this story and, as you say, making them generic monsters, less offensive than The Sea Devils, when it was Hulke himself who had the third Doctor deliberately up-end his own moral choices. By contrast, the politics removed, the fifth merely comes across as powerless and a bit of a chump – I couldn’t help laugh when you nail it with “oh, no, we’ve gone generic monster.” In some ways, had this been a visual spectacular as envisaged, it might have made the Doctor’s ‘Tell, not show’ seem even further removed from reality: his prattling about a “noble race” who are better than us not only completely misses the point that they’re meant to be just like us (and thanks, Chibnall, for making all the same mistakes all over again), but is flatly contradicted by every other single word and act in the script. There’s the Bush-like pre-emptive war, Ichthar’s incredible propaganda “Twice we offered the hand of friendship to these ape-descended primitives, and twice we were treacherously attacked, our people slaughtered. It will not happen again”, to which the Doctor notably fails to say, ‘Er – hang on…’, then his claim that he won’t kill anyone immediately followed by “They will die. An act of mercy” and, shortly, by shrieks of “Find the Doctor. Find the primitives. Kill them!” and “Kill them! Kill them!” interspersed with the Doctor bleating about how wonderful they are, though even in that he seems to cede the planet to humanity alone and regard the Silurians as generic aliens (“I sometimes wonder why I like the people of this miserable planet so much”). It does strongly give the impression that Saward thought the Doctor wanting peaceful resolutions was the mark of a weak idiot, something he’ll come back to in his own script later in the season.

With you all the way with your criticism of the much-fêted, ill- fêted sticking plaster of a final line, though. The one thing I’d add is that it’s not even original – Terry Nation used it after the series’ first monster-slaughter, with Ganatus’ “Yes. If only there'd been some other way.”

Link | Reply

William Whyte 4 years, 11 months ago

The other Malcolm Hulkey thing that this story kind-of does, but does badly, is to have a set of supporting characters with internal factions and differing agendas. All the Johnny Byrne stories try this, but only the one Bidmead rewrote really works (though that one works magnificently).

I have to agree with Tom Watts that it's not quite right to describe this as not political. Obviously it's superficially about global politics, but put that to one side. It's political in the same small-c conservative way that Keeper of Traken is, and that Hamlet and Richard III and most of Shakespeare are: the central message is that order is the highest good, and that if the elite squabble among themselves they run the risk of doom coming from outside. Fortinbras riding the Myrka. The job of the elite is to stick together for the common good, and the job of the small is to stay out of the way. This endorsement of the use of Cold War paranoia to keep populations in line is about as far from non-political as you can get; it's just that the politics are very depressing.

Later, Johnny Byrne took a keen interest in the Yugoslav war, and made stridently pro-Serb posts on Usenet. The reason he cited for being pro-Serb was the Croats' terrible record in World War II, but possibly another reason is that if you're pro-stability that naturally leads to being in favour of the minority cutting the majority a lot of slack, as only a system the majority love can really bring stability. It's hard to think of a less mercurial writer.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 4 years, 11 months ago

I think some of the same structural problems are there in all four Silurian/Sea devil stories. In all four, the Doctor asserts that there's a possibility of making peace with the Silurians in excess of the behaviour of the Silurians in the plot. But in none I think does the plot quite cancel out the Doctor's assertions.
The original And the Silurians pulls off the discrepancy the best, partly because Pertwee can just be the authoritative voice of reason. And in part because And the Silurians is morally complex. The script takes care to establish the Brigadier as more morally admirable than any of the other humans other than Liz. And therefore the episode recognises a point of view from within which morally admirable reasons can lead someone to do something badly morally wrong.
In Warriors of the Deep, the Doctor's assertions that peace is possible are the most in excess of the possibilities allowed by the plot. I still don't think the plot quite cancels out what the Doctor says. It's not Resurrection of the Daleks yet: it hasn't entirely squandered the Doctor's moral authority.

The story's worst aesthetic failure to my mind is the substitution of vaguely oriental armour for the Sea Devil's string vests. It's trying to be cool and ends up bland: a triumph of the predictably trendy over the memorably quirky. And they don't even have the excuse that they can't do string vests on a BBC budget.

Link | Reply

Tom Watts 4 years, 11 months ago

Very very interesting. It can also naturally lead to being in favour of a majority cutting a minority a bit of slack (a dictatorship, or leading role, of a minority) as in Assad's Syria (another case for a "hands off" campaign), ?Yugoslavia (depending on your interpretation) or apartheid South Africa.

Link | Reply

Exploding Eye 4 years, 11 months ago

Does Levine make *everything* worse?

Link | Reply

William Whyte 4 years, 11 months ago

Right, but the strong logic is that the minority should tend to accept whatever slack the majority cuts them, unless the situation's absolutely unbearable. In general, a position in favour of stability is a position in favour of accepting the status quo in case everything goes to shit; maybe putting it in majority / minority terms isn't quite right, because as you point out there are lots of cases where the majority isn't unambiguously in power but the status quo is nevertheless pretty workable.

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 11 months ago

Regarding your question about why the story orders weren't changed, although I've got absolutely nothing to back this up beyond a hunch it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was simply because this episode is the last episode that Davison is wearing his season nineteen-twenty costume before switching to the slightly altered costume he'd wear for the rest of the season.

Link | Reply

Warren Andrews 4 years, 11 months ago

I've never disliked the Doctor as much as I do in this episode.

Saward has said in the past that when he rewrote a story, he tried to retain the original author's voice. The trouble is that he doesn't have the original writers conviction. The Doctor moaning, "I sometimes wonder why I like the people of this miserable planet so much" was Saward's addition, everyone dying was Saward's addition (the Commander lived in Byrne's original). It's an attempt to make a moral point but we aren't seeing anything to back it up. As you say, the Silurians are never presented as the Doctor tells us. They're pretty much emotionless Cybermen. It makes him look such a chump. Saward's version as good as tries to paint the humans as the villains. You can tell that Saward is irritated by the Doctor but he's still trying to use him as he thinks Byrne was trying. It's only Resurrection and into Colin's era that we get a sense of how useless he think's the character is. He wants the lead to be Lytton or Orcini.

Byrne came across as very thoughtful and deep in interviews, a man who clearly reasoned out his characters but you look at the scripts and none of it's present. All his Who scripts were heavily rewritten by the script editor - before the internet and Byrne living in Norfolk made contact with him very difficult.

As for the lighting in a white base. Byrne scripted a rusty, forgotten, submarine style base. Saward (a man who complained constantly about bright lighting himself) rewrote it as "white space station style". I can understand the desire to get away from rusty metal as there'd been a lot of that in the 80's but this wasn't the story to try it out.

When the story was given a post-mortem by the BBC, the blame for the supposed failure of the story went to the FX department who were heavily criticised in internal memos. Pennant Roberts blamed the Myrka for everything - and nothing to do with his limp direction.

One thing that doesn't come over when people talk about the making of the story is that it had exactly the same amount of studio time as any similar length story. The election effect on the production meant that the studio schedule was juggled and brought foward. They did videotaping at Shepperton studios between the two TV centre studio blocks (instead of filming at Ealing before the TV centre shooting) for the scenes that closed part 1. They essentially had less prep time but still time to get sets, costumes, make-up designed. It's only FX that had a problem due to Mat Irvine not being released from his previous job early enough and this only effected the build of the Myrka and not models and guns etc. Everyone on this story did what they normally did except the demands of the script meant they didn't get away with it.

Link | Reply

William Whyte 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree that Pennant Roberts is the villain of the piece here. Just compare the very similar "waiting for the invaders to break in" scenes in this and Resurrection of the Daleks. The Resurrection scene is thrilling, and possesses a clear visual logic. The Warriors one is just people in costumes shuffling onto a set. Money has nothing to do with it, and rehearsal time has very little; it's all about finding a director who can make everyone treat it as if it's real.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 4 years, 11 months ago

Which points to the aesthetic problem of having the cast dress in static costumes all the time as if they were superheroes or people in uniform. That was a simple aesthetic decision that, in a way, cuts to the heart of the Nathan-Turner problem, just like the wax Tom Baker in the Five Doctors post. The mark of a complex and consistent character is that they dress according to a style: variations having a family resemblance among them. A functional shell dresses in a uniform.

The way Nathan-Turner designed his character's costumes, especially in his first couple of years, amounted to a uniform, rather than a style, so there was to be no variation in the character. As if we couldn't tell who the Doctor was if he changed his sweater occasionally! If the change in Davison's uniform marked a significant reason for the production team not to bury Warriors in the schedule (if anyone even noticed that its quality didn't deserve the prestigious place of season opener), then it was just another sign of their overemphasis on the superficial, and ignorance of the complexity for character and story that make compelling narratives.

Link | Reply

Jesse 4 years, 11 months ago

I was wondering whether you'd manage to come up with a redemptive reading for this atrocity. I guess not, and I don't blame you.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 11 months ago

You've comprehensively nailed the problems with the script and, as William Whyte says above, Pennant Robert's entirely flat direction does the story no favours either. Literally everything about the story is bad.

With most Doctor Who stories, however flawed, there is some aspect to it - a clever idea, a great line, a fine performance, a moment of wit and charm - that makes you glad the story exists even if a lot of it isn't much cop. Not here. If this piece of tat had been wiped from the archives, nothing worth keeping would have been lost.

And this is why it is baffling - though undeniably interesting - that The Twin Dilemma is regularly voted as Worst Story Ever. It isn't even the worst story of its season.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

It's true that I overtly favor left-wing political art, but I don't think the idea that "political" and "leftist" are synonymous really washes. As you said, The Dominators was political, and I admitted as much. Similarly, the idea of leftist politics as being corrosive to the creative class seems to me ridiculous. As I said, leftist parties won more than 50% of the votes in the 1983 election. This is not to ignore the fact that Labour and the Liberals are distinctly different parties with at times irreconcilable ideologies, but the fact of the matter remains - left-wing parties gained a majority of the votes even in Thatcher's biggest landslide.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 11 months ago

In fairness, leftist politics of the time were pretty corrosive to that subset of the creative class that was trying to make "Shada".

Link | Reply

Exploding Eye 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, Twin Dilemma has the annoying twins. Warriors Of The Deep has laser battles, aggressive monsters, corridors, characters getting killed off one by one... my 9-year-old self loved it.

My adult self thinks it's rotten, but then it wasn't made for him.

Link | Reply

William Whyte 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm interested to learn what aspect of the Twin Dilemma makes you glad it exists.

Perhaps one reason why this gets a pass, relatively speaking (185th as opposed to 200th in the Mighty 200 is still pretty close to worst ever) is that this at least pretends to be for grownups. The Twin Dilemma is just a kid's show, and not even one that likes kids, just one that thinks they like looking at bright colours and other kids.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 11 months ago

I've only watched it once, and that was a couple of years ago, so rather than answer from my fading memory here's what I wrote at the time:

"I've just watched The Twin Dilemma for the very first time, having missed it on original broadcast and never bothered to watch it on VHS because of its terrible reputation.

I enjoyed it.

Colin gives a wonderful performance here: intense, moody, off-balance, unpredictable. Nicola Bryant is great too, and the sudden complexity of their relationship is by turns hilarious and horrifying, touching and tense.

The story isn't terribly consequential, but's it's fast-moving and incident-packed enough that you don't really notice that it doesn't add up to much until it's over. The dialogue is variable: some great lines. especially for Colin, but too many lines are infected with the pompous formality that seems to be the way Eric Saward thinks people speak in Who.

There's a lot of good design, particularly considering the sheer number of different environments that the story moves through. Not perfect - the wobbly tinfoil computer is unfortunate - but it generally works well. Costume is a different story - it's pretty terrible. The Jocastans are awful, the giant slug is risible, and even the human fashions are pretty shameful.

It's pretty well directed. Moffatt gets some nice angles, and tells the story fluidly.

The performances are mostly pretty decent. The twins are a bit poor, but not unbearable.

I wouldn't necessarily rush to watch it again, and it wouldn't be the story I'd use to introduce someone to classic Who, but I was thoroughly entertained for four episodes, and you can't say fairer than that."

I'm not going to try to make out that it's some lost masterpiece - it's pretty definitely lower quartile Who. But the worst ever? Nowhere near.

Link | Reply

Matt Sharp 4 years, 11 months ago

'I've only watched it once, and that was a couple of years ago'

You need to have watched it like I did for the first time: aged 9, right after 'The Caves of Androzani', with a week's worth of anticipation about the new Doctor.

That's why it's the worst ever. Context is everything.

Link | Reply

Exploding Eye 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't think I watched it all the way through at the time, and I'm almost certain I haven't since.

Link | Reply

WGPJosh 4 years, 11 months ago

"Twin Dilemma" has The Doctor breaking character and savagely strangling his companion.

"Warriors of the Deep" has a hilarious Pantomime Horse from Hell, foam airlock doors and guys in costumes trying not to run into shit.

Both are dreadful, morally bankrupt stories but one at least you can laugh at instead of cringing through the *entire* serial.

Link | Reply

Alan 4 years, 11 months ago

I can't watch The Twin Dilemma. I literally can't make it through the whole story without turning it off. For all it's numerous flaws, Warriors of the Deep at least has the excuse of having been made under impossible circumstances. Once it became clear that the snap election was going to interfere so dramatically with filming for the story, JNT should have figured out some fallback option. Instead, someone (either he, Roberts or both) decided to just power through and do everything in one or two takes. You know, the way Ed Wood was famous for doing. Shannon Sullivan says that at least one clip of Tegan and another character was used in which the actresses thought it was rehearsal and didn't realize it was a take. And as bad as the Myrka was (and I can't imagine any length of time would have made it much better), I can't imagine that the scene of Ingrid Pitt trying to use karate against it would have been so hilariously inept if they'd had more time to rehears. For those who haven't seen it, Youtube video of possibly the worst action sequence in DW history can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUCSlb-jhsU

Link | Reply

Warren Andrews 4 years, 11 months ago

Warriors of the Deep had exactly the same amount of time in studio as any other Who story, they just brought production forward. Still plenty of time to get it made. Mat Irvine's team were the only ones actually effected which the Myrka being the main problem of not being ready in time.

Tony Burroughs who designed the sets (see also Keeper of Traken, Four to Doomsday, Black Orchid and later Two Doctors) used his standard modular designs. There would be one structure but inside that walls would be rearranged and set dressing in order to create new rooms. The script demands quite a few different settings inside the base. But with the script demanding so many settings, time is eaten up in studio by the reforming of the sets. This also limits the lighting, any special lighting is rendered irrelevant by the new location (and would take a lot of work to adjust).

The production team complain about the lack of time to make the story. But so did every other team. By having these ambitious "action adventure" stories, much was asked of the studio time and resources. Pennant Roberts would have done the story no differently even if they'd had more time than any other story, he just wasn't that kind of director. For him the Myrka failed as it didn't look great to him in studio and not because of him making the effort to shoot it imaginatively. He's fine on realistic drama where it's all in the script and the acting but Doctor Who needed more than that. Graeme Harper would doubtless have been unimpressed by the Myrka as well but he would have shot it in a way to overcome it's deficiencies.

The Election can't be used as a defence for this story.

Link | Reply

nostalgia 4 years, 11 months ago

It's a bit of a problem that the Doctor goes through the story going on about how nice the Silurians can be when they do nothing in this story to demonstrate that potential. He might as well be making it up for all the audience knows (unless they remember the original, a decade before).

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 4 years, 11 months ago

Someone was impressed enough with the design aspects of "Warriors of the Deep" for there to be a major feature on the serial's design in the year's Doctor Who Annual.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 11 months ago

Another example; "Sioux" appears originally to have been an insult term applied by other tribes (it supposedly means "little adder"), but the Sioux are as likely to call themselves Sioux as to call themselves by their own names, Dakota or Lakota.

Many political terms were originally insults developed by opponents, including "Whig," "Tory," and "capitalist."

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

True, but it's the Silurians, I believe, who first use the term. And they presumably had an existing term to describe their aquatic brethren.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 11 months ago

Hamlet and Richard III and most of Shakespeare are: the central message is that order is the highest good

While this is no doubt the wrong venue in which to debate this, I'm not convinced by this interpretation of Shakespeare at all, though I know it's common. I see Shakespeare as far more subversive and far more skeptical of the existing order than that. (Think of Henry V and King Lear, for example.)

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 11 months ago

These are attempts to excuse why the execution is so shit. But the big problem is that the script was shit to begin with. And that's got nothing to do with lack of studio time.

Link | Reply

William Whyte 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, he's not starry-eyed about the qualities of the rulers he portrays, and he's worried about what happens to society when rulers go bad. But his plays are full of external threats that are let in by, basically, a lack of discipline: a fear and a failing that both matter to conservatives more than liberals.

I = no expert obv.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 4 years, 11 months ago

While Shakespeare is full of breakdowns of order that happen when rulers go bad or lapse in control, I can't think of many plays in which external threats become a major problem as a result. Fortinbras' military manoeuvres are a minor threat at the beginning of Hamlet; by the end his peaceful takeover is presented as a good thing. England in Macbeth and France in King Lear both back the side of right.
(As Shakespeare was writing his mature plays, a prominent party was successfully campaigning for the royal succession of England to pass to the King of a foreign power. Shakespeare's company got itself enlisted in Essex' propaganda campaign, but they got out of the resulting hot water clean and ended up as the King's Men. So Shakespeare's probably not too anxious about foreign takeovers in principle.)

Link | Reply

Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

In regards to Saward's writing of the Doctor, I do get the impression from The Visitation and Earthshock, that when Eric started in the job he was enthusiastic about the show, seemed to feel he was on the same wavelength as the JNT production team in terms of making the show more serious and upping the suspense, and he did seem to write the Doctor there as a fallible but workable pro-active hero.

There were moments in The Visitation where the Fifth Doctor does come across as a naive bleeding heart who thinks he can talk the aliens into not carrying out their genocide if he offers them a chance. But even then it feels like the audience is meant to be on the same page as him.

But I think over the course of that season and the ones after, as Eric Saward felt that JNT's increasingly volatile and tyrannical authority and iron grip of petty limitations was making it impossible for most of the staff to do their jobs well, and that he personally did feel cowed and trapped (but reluctant to admit it) and that he developed an inferiority complex.

Obviously Season 22 represents his disillusionment with the show, with Doctor and his principles and where he just went completely off the rails. But that's inevitable when someone feels that controlled and anxious and crippled in their atistic freedom. They get it wrong in big and deliberate ways, they act out in unhealthy ways.

But Warriors of the Deep for me represents a point where he feels controlled and has submitted, and has just ended up nodding his head and convincing himself that this is the way to do Doctor Who, simply because the boss says so and you're with him or against him. After all, it was JNT who decided the Doctor should be fallible and 'get it wrong' occasionally. Everything about the story suggests that it's written or rather revised by someone who's severely morally confused, and trying to convince themselves to agree with a fanatical philosophy they don't truly understand or accept, and managed to convince themselves that all this nonsense makes sense.

The result is the Doctor inherits the worst of Eric Saward's passive aggressive and blindly sycophantic behaviour. The Doctor is shown simultaneously as fallible and wrong and yet the story desperately tries to prove he's right by having other characters be demonised or even killed off for disagreeing with him (inevitably this is what happens when you're told to make your hero weak and wrong-headed, and you're still desperately trying to present them as the 'better' hero), and making the excuse that the ending with the twin deaths of Vorshak and Ictar symbolises Mutually Assured Destruction, when what it really represents is the Doctor's lunatic idiocy.

It's the beginnings of an era where Eric has to work around the 80's Doctor's neutered pacifist nature by relying on the most artificial and snidely contrived deaths by mishaps and character incompetence (the acid bath scene in Varos is a case in point). Warriors of the Deep is the point where Eric has gotten so far removed from his starting point, or from what a TV writer should be doing, that he basically creates a hero who the audience hasn't a hope of even approaching or being on the same page as. But he seems to reassure himself this is for the fans and they will see it as having a precedent in the Pertwee era stories that this follows up and make excuses for why the Doctor does what he does here.

The saddest thing about that is that he was right.

Link | Reply

WGPJosh 4 years, 11 months ago

Incidentally, for a number of reasons, I can no longer read the title of this serial without imagining it being sung to the tune of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep".

You're welcome.

Link | Reply

Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 11 months ago

We could have had it AAAAA-AA-AAA-AAALLLLL...

Warriors of the DEEEE-EE-EEE-EEEEEP...

You had a great story in the PAAALM of ya ha-aands...

...but ya turned it... into sheee-ee-eet.
:-P

Link | Reply

Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 11 months ago

Curious... what else would you have changed?

Link | Reply

Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 11 months ago

Yeah... he is, after all, William Hartnell's toilet seat: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2651/4226138586_983c42010c_z.jpg?zz=1 :-P

Link | Reply

Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

I just would have scrapped the story from the start. It was nothing more than pointless fan service that's so desperate to appear downbeat it has to reduce the Doctor to a shadow of himself, and really it only cheapened the denouements of the original Pertwee stories (for my money the best spin-off examples of using the Silurians have gotten around that by setting themselves either in the past or in a parrallel universe). So whilst I think certain changes made might have made it less offensive, it would probably never have been good.

However there are possible changes I have in mind whereby the casual audience might have been better brought onto the same page as the story. Obviously the scene where the Doctor overloads the base reactor should be cut out as it only makes our hero look like a lunatic and a supremely stupid one. I'd also change the emphasis from the Silurian's perspective to be less about what was done to them in past stories and more about how they know they can't peacefully co-exist with such a war-like species as man that can't even seem to co-exist with itself.

Most importantly though, I'd not have the Doctor be aware of the Hexacromite gas solution from the start, because it just becomes a convenient plot device that the Doctor refuses to use for the sake of the plot. I mean why didn't he use the Hexacromite on the Myrka rather than go to all that cumbersome trouble with setting up the UV emitter?

Without the Doctor being able to just destroy the Silurians at any time, suddenly the audience might be inclined to be on the same page as him- he's trying to make peace with the Silurians not out of sycophancy or favouritism, but because he literally does not have any other options, he can't fight back.

The solution then is that the Doctor, realising he can't reason with them, goes to the chemical store. There's no convenient cannisters of Hexacromite so that means the Doctor has to mix the chemicals up to make the Hexacromite himself. This way the runtime can be filled without having Doctor procrastinating on the solution, but actively working on the solution. You could even have him cursing humanity and their nuclear war machine whilst he's forced to do this to save all their necks.

And I wouldn't have the Doctor try to revive the Silurians, as it just makes him seem hypocritical. He's already slaughtered the whole army, it hardly makes him a 'better' man to decide 'oh I'll save these few who led the rest of them into battle in the first place'.

So either it becomes one where the Doctor massacres the Silurians, saves the few remaining humans but shows that he had to make that choice for humanity even though he wishes he didn't.

Or alternatively, and more in keeping with the MAD message and to appease those fans who insist on believing the Doctor (or at least the Fifth Doctor) would only condone the pacifist solution, what if the Doctor's gas solution actually did only paralyse the Sea Devils? Let's say it even involved the same kind of method the Silurians use to send themselves into hibernation. But having done so it became apparent that it was too late. The nukes were about to launch, and the only way to stop them was to detonate them in their silos, thus destroying the whole base with them. Vorshak insists he has to stay behind to link up to the computer, and the Doctor has to quickly abandon the base in the Tardis- maybe he rescues Preston and Bulic as well but the sleeping Silurians are left behind and destroyed along with the base, along with the Doctor's hopes that they may have been rehabilitated into seeing reason, but he'll never know now.

This way it's noble gesture that saves humanity rather than nearly dooms them.

Link | Reply

Matthew Celestis 4 years, 11 months ago

They say they are happy to let the Doctor and his companions leave safely. That's not typical Dr. Who monster behaviour.

Link | Reply

Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

In the same story, the Doctor sets the base reactor to overload. That's not typical Doctor behaviour.

And later, Preston dies taking a bullet to protect the Doctor in the Chemical Store. That's not typical of the behaviour the Doctor characterises her with when he calls her a pathetic savage without any shred of the 'nobility' of the Silurians.

If the villains are given the same kind of artificial, confused and contradictory character traits and behaviours as every other character in the story, it doesn't necessarily make them complex or deep, or worthy.

Link | Reply

Ed Azad 2 years, 7 months ago

Davison's character never came into focus for me, even while listening to the audios. According to TVTropes, his memorable moments (both here and in the audios) involve being snarky while projecting the illusion of servility. To be sure, his best line here comes when he viciously elbows a shocktrooper in the back, then apologizes as though they merely bumped trolleys in a supermarket aisle. His phoniness is a thing of beauty. I would have liked to see more of Davison's shortening fuse. Not in the "yelling impotently at people" sense (Snakedance), but in a passive-aggressive sense. It made me laugh, and I liked his Doctor for a minute.

Davison's run was very unpleasant, even Kafkaesque. Any rock the Doctor lands on turns out to be as xenophobic as it is cruel. Anything "wondrous" about them turns out to an ancient trap or some sick glamour by the Master. Somebody high up (Saward, I gather) outright *refused* to let Doctor Who operate on its own terms. The gears refuse to turn, disbelief never suspended. These clowns are routinely captured, interrogated and tortured by space marines and they never learn anything, instead staggering back to the TARDIS for more. And the Doctor's first recourse in any situation is to trot out his "we come in peace routine" until someone inevitably slap-jacks him the head. This is a parody. I feel genuinely sorry for him.

Link | Reply

John Seavey 2 years, 2 months ago

According to About Time, Pennant Roberts wanted to change a lot of things, including but not limited to turning down all the lighting once the invaders broke in (to simulate a sense of damage, to add to the tension, and to hide the Myrka a bit) and was directly told by JNT to shoot it the way it was shot. So no, Pennant Roberts was FUBARed by the producer.

Link | Reply

Trevor Mobbs 1 month ago

It's been a few months, time to try another season of Doctor Who, I thought to myself.

And this is what I got.

The direction***, acting, monster costumes are all pretty bad, but I think I agree with you that the script itself is the biggest failure. There are too many motiveless actions, first and foremost the Doctor's behaviour early on. "I want to get permission to spend time repairing the TARDIS" inexplicably becomes "Now that we've tripped security, let's hide and/or fiddle with the reactor to distract them".

Turlough swings randomly between immediately declaring people can't be saved and refusing to accept that people can't be saved. There is no conviction behind any of it, beyond the conviction that what the audience really wants to see is a lot of movement around corridors and therefore characters need to do or say whatever will cause more movement.

***Forget the Ingrid Pitt kung-fu kick, the more worrying thing is that everything indicates she has walked AWAY from the Myrka, past the Doctor and Tegan, before encountering the Myrka just around the corner.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom