Doctor Who is back… and so are my extended — and spoiler heavy thoughts on the latest episode in my review of Legend Of The Sea Devils.
I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to say that an episode called Legend Of The Sea Devils features Sea Devils, but as always, I hate spoilers with a blazing passion.
As such, if you haven’t watched the latest episode, you can hit that back button now, because, while ancient mariners may have warned that here be Dragons, below the YouTube embed, here be spoilers. Proceed as you will…
Legend Of The Sea Devils: Review
I’m always a little torn when Doctor Who dips into its rich history – 59 years all up and counting – because it can lead to episodes that are more fan service than actually good stories, or stories that use that history well to tell a captivating story that has extra layers for long-term watchers of the show.
The word I’d use to describe Legend Of The Sea Devils is glossy.
Glossy can be good. You want your magazines to be glossy, you may want your lips to be glossy, and generally you want your special effects to be glossy too. That’s certainly true for the Sea Devils we see in Legend Of The Sea Devils, as they’re very nicely realised with nary a Myrka in shot.
However, I’m also using glossy, because narratively, Legend Of The Sea Devils is a mess. There are just so many logical leaps of faith, unexplained jargon and un-earned “heavy” moments throughout the episode, and I think that’s a pity for an episode that’s mostly shot quite well and with some decent actors to boot.
It’s also nice to see Doctor Who shifting away from its problematic yellowface history — seriously, while Talons Of Weng Chiang is a nice bit of Who-centric horror, it’s also horrific in its depiction of the Chinese of London of its era.
Here, I’ll list them as I go, because there are a LOT:
How and why does the pirate captain lady — Madame Ching — need the chunk… and apparently just the chunk… of the statue to help her find the lost treasure? I don’t think it’s ever explained.
Why does the Doctor’s earring – and only her earring – get attracted to the “kinetic hypercurve” in the ocean? There’s a LOT of metal on that beach that should be being affected. Also, why do the rocks, not all of which might be metallic, all skim away?
Dan, I will admit, works well enough in his Pirates of Penzance costume. But the hook and eyepatch are a step too far into parody.
How come the trapped Sea Devil can’t detect that Ying Ki is wearing the macguffin all the time?
Where the HELL did the net that the Doctor uses actually come from? We’re not told it’s there, it’s not evident in shot, and yet somehow they’ve got time to set it up and work it (and of course, it fails…)
Why does the Doctor think that a flying ship with green glowing things on it is “impossible”? She’s done less plausible things – hundreds of them – over the show’s run time!
That Sea Devil has a hell of a leap on him. If this whole planetary conquest thing doesn’t take off, he could make serious money in the NBA.
Why do the Sea Devils need a flying ship some of the time, and an underwater one some of the time? I mean, it looks cool, but what’s it FOR? Speaking of what it’s for, what is the sea worm/kraken/thing FOR?
It’s good that we’ve moved beyond the Myrka, but it just kind of exists to be a giant sea eel that eats things… except it doesn’t always eat them… and we never really know why.
Dan goes off with Ying Ki, and they decide to swim to the ship… but we’re never told why he wandered off in the first place. It’s post-explained with the Doctor saying he shouldn’t wander off, but that exposition, not good narrative!
How and why have the Sea Devils masked their route so that the Doctor can’t track them? They don’t really know who she is, what level of tech she has, and what they might (or might not) need to do. It’s once again, a way to extend the story
How and why do Dan and Ying Ki think that they can get away with “sneaking” on the ship so very obviously?
Also, how does the Madame Ching string both of them up while keeping a sword to them? Did she ask Ying Ki to string himself up while threatening Dan?
Again, Madame Ching “got what she came for”… which was what? WHY? This is infuriating, and it feels like there’s some missing scenes here.
The whole deal with Sea Devils forming from mist is new… and wholly unexplained. Hell, prior Sea Devil stories could have ended very differently if they’d been able to do that!
The whole “underwater” thing doesn’t gel with established canon – I mean, in Logopolis the Doctor is going to flush the Tardis by dunking it in the Thames, but now she can just make an “oxygen bubble” to wander around on the sea floor?
I don’t care if the Doctor and Yaz want to date. I really don’t. And honestly, the actors do as good a job as they can under the circumstances. But still, it doesn’t feel like it’s an earned diversion within the story, and that’s not great. I’m sure the usual phobic sections of the Internet will have a field day with this, and I feel like it’s a pity it wasn’t handled with better writing!
How does Yaz know that the sea eel thingy is a Sea Devil creature? And why doesn’t it try to swallow the TARDIS, rather than just transport them to the Sea Devil base?
Why does the Madame Ching need the star navigation? Yes, it shows us the stars moving (neat effect!) but she still doesn’t say how her chunk of statue helps her.
Whose ear is she holding? Not her 3 or 6 year old sons, I think (it’s too big), but she never says…
“You lost your father… I could lose my sons”. Well, yes, but no. He lost his father because you led to his death directly. It’s not quite the same thing.
In the battle of Sea Kaiju that is now swimming around on the surface for… reasons… versus cannons, Sea Kaiju always wins. That’s just science.
So did the Sea Kaiju just vomit the TARDIS out into the Sea Devil base and leave? If so, why?
How do the Sea Devils keep the Pirate Captain Ji Hun alive all this time? Yep, you guessed it, never really explained.
It’s never properly explained how the Sea Devil leader ended up in the statue, beyond the idea that the keystone did it… somehow. Also not explained: Why the Sea Devil leader thought that the Doctor would know where the Keystone was in the first place!
The ship apparently “instills fear in the land crawlers”… but hasn’t been used for that in any capacity until today, and it’s not as though, say, a SEA DEVIL wouldn’t be scary in any way, right?
How is Ji Hun still alive? He made… no pact… and NO EXPLANATION. You might be sensing a theme here.
The keystone really is a magical macguffin, because according to Ji Hun, it can do anything. Or, to be more precise, anything the writers needed it to do. That is, again, quite lazy writing.
Why does going up stop the Sea Devil leader from killing the Doctor? Because apparently it just… does.
Speaking of “just does”, the Doctor, Yaz and Ji Hun “just do” swing off the Sea Devil ship onto the pirate queen’s ship WITH NOBODY STOPPING THEM… because.
The keystone of course glows when the plot needs it to, and NEVER before. Once again, a misty Sea Devil waits while everyone exposits all of this.
So the Sea Devil gets the keystone, mists back to it ship, and the Doctor and crew jump back to the Sea Devil ship with just a “geronimo” sound clip to get the fans talking. This could have all been averted by having Dan et al swing over in the first place, you know.
Why did the other Sea Devils not come up with the ship anyway? Why do they need to swim and climb up? Because… we need a sword fight, that’s why!
The sword fights are… weird. I get that there’s probably some pandemic restrictions at play here, but still the Sea Devils seem pretty inept at using their own weapons to kill the humans. They kill… none of them.
And then, anti-climactically, the Sea Devil leader is killed. And Yaz and Dan are trying to work the ship, because… we needed something for them to do? They suddenly and magically understand Sea Devil technology? You guessed it… never explained.
We then fall directly into lazy trope land, with Ji Hun managing a “noble sacrifice” so that everyone else can live, and the Doctor goes along with this very quickly indeed. It doesn’t ring true to the character, but if they wanted it to, then a better explanation of what was being done would have helped. Good explanations are NOT a key part of this story, sadly.
So, yeah, we wrap up neatly with Ying Ki joining Madame Ching’s crew — presumably he cares for nobody in his home village at all now his dad is dead — and the promise that she’ll recover her actual crew and sons. Because pirates always keep their word, right?
So, yeah, this was not a particularly good or coherent episode. But there were a few details I did enjoy.
Legend of The Sea Devils: The good stuff
We get actual time travel! I do appreciate it when they try to make the Doctor work intelligently, and going back in time to get the treasure is smart thinking. Doesn’t work out, but that’s OK – it’s at least intelligent. Although it’d be lovely to get some proper context on when and how the Doctor can precisely use the TARDIS, and when it’s still random.
I want that Sea Devil Statue as a figurine. I have faith that BBC enterprises will make one.
Actually, the Sea Devils themselves are very nicely realised. The original design is iconic (for Who fans) but it’s also kind of goofy, and they avoided that nicely here.
The musical score is pretty good.
The phone call with Dan isn’t explained, but it does feel just that tad more earned than the episode’s other romantic sub-plot. Easy way to get Dan off the show after the next episode, I suspect.
I can appreciate that this episode was filmed and made during pandemic lockdowns, and that’s affected how they could film scenes, numbers of people in scenes and the like. In some ways, it’s a miracle it was able to be made at all.
And of course, we get a trailer for Jodie’s last story… and a very nice and pleasant surprise, because… well, you’ll see.
ACE IS BACK, AND THAT MIGHT JUST BE ENOUGH TO MAKE UP FOR THIS MEDIOCRE EPISODE.