Legend of the Sea Devils (Review): Doctor Who’s Latest is Weak and Lazy

Jodie Whittaker’s era of Doctor Who winds down with a new special. And it’s somehow below par, even for these last few years. Read on for my thoughts…

The Doctor (Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Dan (John Bishop) find themselves in 1807 China where they discover a historical anachronism. Sea Devils in a pirate ship threaten to flood the planet and reclaim it for their own kind. There’s also some bits about historical pirates, and a few romance subplots.

If my tone sounds underwhelmed, it’s because I am. I’m just gonna get into it: this is an offensively bad episode of Doctor Who. It’s barely even serviceable. I gave it the benefit of the doubt while watching. But I’m actually annoyed now that I have to write this review. This was supposed to be a special, was it not? Yet it’s somehow worse than a below-average filler episode of a regular season…

And maybe that’s exactly what it was. Flux was a shortened season with a focused story. So now the writers are giving us the scraps they would have tossed to a full year. I have a rant to go on about why that bothers me so much, but I’m saving that for near the end.

The plot itself was dull. It’s the same Doctor Who junk you’ve seen a million times: show up somewhere new, discover aliens doing a bad thing, Doctor helps. Execution of these stories is a deciding factor in my enjoyment. But I’ve seen most episodes of Doctor Who made since 1963. I know the shtick through and through by now. And I’m sick of it. The current creative team is generally uninspired, but this show needs an overhaul on a fundamental level!

Do something absolutely insane like in the Jon Pertwee days, where he was stuck on Earth for the better part of three seasons. Seemed an unthinkable play at the time. But those were some of the best seasons in the franchise’s history!

Funny enough I should bring up Pertwee, because this special’s villains, The Sea Devils, were first used in his era and haven’t been seen for near 40 years! How were they as antagonists this time around? No good, I’m afraid. They were generic-acting badies and hardly threatening. Whatever potential they carried was wasted.

A Sea Devil from Doctor Who. Should have been better than they were presented…
(C) BBC Studios – Photographer: James Pardon

One positive thought: I’ve finally warmed up to Doc 13. Whittaker’s performance is finally consistent, and she’s generally charming. I like her.

But I can’t stand most of the material which she’s given! Like I said: there’s nothing she did in this episode that I haven’t seen done on the show a million times, but better executed in a most cases. I have more to say about her, but it’s more interwined with other companions. So moving on now…

Yaz’ story-line concerns an awkward romance plot with The Doctor. Certain fans allegedly picked up on these undertones throughout the Whittaker/ Chibnall era of the show. I was not one of them. So it felt almost entirely out of left field when Yaz admitted to having romantic feelings towards the Doctor (in the last special).

Seemed like it could be an interesting plot. But, once again, I did not think it was well set-up. And whether the writers aimed for a mutual attraction on the Doctor’s side, I couldn’t have guessed before they spelled it out (one way or the other). If you asked me: The Doctor never noticed or cared about Yaz’ feelings towards her before this last episode.

Yeah, The Doctor is often aloof and keeps their emotions close to the chest (Whittaker’s iteration in particular hides her thoughts and feelings at every opportunity). You could argue she was being “subtle” about her feelings. But there’s a fine line between subtlety and lazy writing. I’d love to give this crew the benefit of the doubt and say they were too subtle, but I can’t convince myself of that notion.

And it annoys me how Dan is still sidelined, or made the comic relief. I feel badly for him because he feels like an afterthought. The series clearly cares about The Doctor and Yaz and their relationship. And, to a lesser extent it cares about Yaz and Dan’s friendship. But Dan and the Doctor have barely interacted since he came on board the TARDIS and that gets on my nerves…

But Dan and Yaz at least still have good camaraderie whenever they get to share scenes. And Yaz and the Doctor have good chemistry. This team dynamic is marginally better than with Ryan and Graham, if only because there’s less characters to juggle.

Legend of the Sea Devils‘ special effects are badly done. Either this show works within stricter budgets than I thought, or the VFX team was not given adequate time to complete their work. Either way, this work was far below the Doctor Who team’s usual standard.

As an extension of the poor effects: the action fails to impress. But it’s just as much on the choreography and the film-making as anything else. Frankly: I could have done better with my friends on a budget of $0. I’m sorry, but it’s true… I hate to be so harsh, but it was rough.

One positive (’cause I ought to say something nice): it’s cool to see a bit of Chinese history. That’s one thing I wish we got more of in modern Doctor Who: varied cultural historicals. For example: my (arguable) favourite episode of the Whittaker/ Chibnall era is “Demons of the Punjab”. This episode should have been as intriguing as that– or at the very least taught me something new about that era in Chinese history.

Fine: I didn’t know China had famous pirates. But that’s more down to my ignorance than the show’s quality. I didn’t even learn anything worthwhile about Madam Ching. Crystal Yu plays her… underwhelmingly. She could have gone bigger. Ching seems like she ought to have been a more fun character than we received.

OK. It’s RANT TIME: and SPOILER ALERT for the next special in case you’re living completely under a rock…

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor regenerates soon. And we’ve all known that for a while. So why the heck are we getting an episode like this as her penultimate?! First problem: she’s practically ignored Dan all season. It’s beyond me why they had Doc 13 all but disregard one out of her two companions. I know the plot separated them a lot. That’s not the point. Someone still wrote that. They could just as easily have put them together.

Second: why tease a romance with Yaz right before Whittaker goes? Who knows if Yaz and the next Doctor will even have chemistry? It’s not like a Rose Tyler situation, where she equally divided her time between two Doctors. Yaz has known Whittaker for 3 seasons, and now she’ll have to play this story out with someone new– assuming they don’t drop it altogether, change the Doctor’s attitudes towards romance with Yaz post-regeneration, or have Yaz leave altogether.

Thirdly: why have such an inconsequential, throw-away story as Whittaker’s second-to-last? I feel like every Doctor of the modern era (most of the old ones, even) got multi-episode lead-ups to their impending regeneration. Each actor’s departure was made to feel like a big deal. I feel nothing right now. Because Chibnall and crew haven’t put in the work to make me care. If I didn’t know the next episode was Whittaker’s last, this regeneration would come out of nowhere!

Maybe you could argue that’s a semi-good thing. ‘Cause it might be more of a surprise to casual viewers. But then why tease it in the trailer following Legend of the Sea Devils? Why does this episode feel like business-as-usual when it should be tying up loose ends?! They’re setting this next episode up to do ALL the heavy lifting (emotionally), and I’m afraid it’s gonna collapse under the weight.

So what did this episode accomplish? It made me want to look up more about Madame Ching. Otherwise: Legend of the Sea Devils fails as a historical because I barely got to know the history. And it’s barely an interesting sci-fi story either. This is run of the mill Doctor Who at its most predictable. Frankly, the teaser for the 60th anniversary special got me more excited than I was during this whole episode. I hope they don’t mess it up…

There is some entertainment value to be had here, but unless you’re the type to slog through every episode of a show (like I am), then Don’t Bother.

SIDE NOTE: Here’s a milestone! The first thing I’ve ever reviewed to get my absolute lowest rating!!!

Are you looking forward to Season 14, or have you stopped caring? What did you think of Legend of the Sea Devils? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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