Legend of the Sea Devils

Posted in Episode by - April 18, 2022
Legend of the Sea Devils

Aired 17 April 2022


With only two episodes left with Jodie Whittaker at the TARDIS’s helm as the Thirteenth Doctor, she and her companions are pulled to China in the nineteenth century and find a coastal village under threat from the dangerous pirate queen Madame Ching and the monstrous force she has unintentionally released.

As the title of the episode suggests, ‘Legend of the Sea Devils’ by Chris Chibnall and Ella Road brings back the Sea Devils for their first on-screen appearance since 1984’s ‘Warriors of the Deep’ and only their third overall. While some classic threats such as the Silurians and Ice Warriors have been updated with CGI and retroactively revealing their races’ use of armour, these sea-faring relatives of the Silurians that ruled the Earth long before humans staked their own claim are still heavily dependent upon proper costumes and prosthetics to brilliantly recapture their original look. This does limit their mobility somewhat and make them a bit more lumbering than might be intended, but the script and production fairly agilely get around this through effective montages of their destructive prowess and movement through an eerie mist. Fresh off his role as Karvanista in the Flux saga, Craig Els again impresses as the Chief Sea Devil, and his plot to recapture the Earth by reversing its magnetic core is suitably grandiose and showcases a much more impressive technological prowess than this race has been seen to have to this point.

Attempting to find the fabled treasure aboard the wreck of the Flor de la Mar, Madame Ching has unwittingly released the chief Sea Devil from a statue, never contrite for her actions here or when murdering a man to do so. The story misses a significant opportunity to more fully explore- or at least explain- the life story of this incredibly successful real-life pirate, but Crystal Yu does give a suitably powerful performance that evokes this woman’s abilities and history while making her more sympathetic by revealing her motives for seeking the treasure and ultimately offering Ying Ki- the son of the man she killed- a position alongside her. Instead, Ji-Hun, the man the Doctor and Yaz see kneel before the chief Sea Devil far in the past but who actually smuggled the desired keystone off of the Flor de la Mar and away form the Sea Devils features just as prominently. The story does sadly fail to show his escape from the Sea Devils’ ship after the Doctor and Yaz free him, but the keystone becoming a family heirloom is a nice way to tie together the two time zones even if his ultimate sacrifice is all but ensured from the moment he is revealed to still be alive and now trapped outside of his own time.

Aside from skipping a few key moments of exposition to help the story more seamlessly progress, ‘Legend of the Sea Devils’ also suffers from failing to fully utilize the mythical Hua-Shen, whether this is a variation of the Myrka or not. This is a creature of immense size and power that can easily engulf the TARDIS and seemingly hunt down anything its masters require, and while three cannonballs fired in its direction do little to harm it as it advances on Madame Ching’s ship, it simply turns away with little explanation or further exploration. Likewise, while the inevitable swashbuckling fight is paced and executed extremely well, the manner in which it ends to allow the Doctor and her friends to emerge victorious is simply too convenient and underwhelming. However, in a story that emphasizes the determined and improvisational sides of this Doctor, the story may just be at its strongest when it slows down and really allows Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill to delve into the burgeoning feelings their characters share for each other. Here, she is not portrayed as ambivalent nor unaware of Yaz’s feelings for her and quite bluntly but tactfully delves into this weighty territory by revealing her own fears of ending up alone. While the Doctor certainly has had romances before, she is clearly distraught about what she learned in Flux about her imminent future, and it’s refreshing to see this storyline addressed so completely when the upcoming regeneration easily could have absolved any responsibility to visit it in whole.

The end result probably isn’t one that will top any all-time classic lists, but it certainly has a look and feel of classic Doctor Who aided by some truly spectacular set design, sound design, and direction. The Sea Devils have made a triumphant return and unquestionably prove that they can anchor many more stories in the future with the right material, and while Dan is mostly marginalized except for beginning to reconnect with Di, the Doctor and Yaz again prove to be fantastic and have helped to create an exciting momentum as the Thirteenth Doctor’s era draws to a close with the promise of an array of friends and foes at her side.

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