Warriors of the Deep

Region 1

for North America
Region 2
"Beneath the Surface"
3-story box set

for the U.K.
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 131, starring Peter Davison)
  • written by Johnny Byrne
  • directed by Pennant Roberts
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Jonathan Gibbs
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Landing in an underwater base in the year 2084, the Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan and Turlough help the crew brace for a combined attack by Silurians, Sea Devils, and a new hybridized creature under their control.

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), script editor Eric Saward, and Vis-FX designer Mat Irvine.
  • "The Depths" making-of documentary (31 min.) with Davison, Fielding, Irvine, writer Johnny Byrne, director Pennant Roberts,
    continuity advisor Ian Levine, and actors Ian McCulloch (Nilson), James Coombes (Paroli), and John Asquith (Myrka pt.2).
  • "They Came from Beneath the Sea" creature feature (13 min.) with Byrne, Davison, Irvine, Roberts, Asquith, & William Perrie (Myrka pt.1).
  • "Science in Action" (1987) Mat Irvine demonstrates the vacuum-form plastic process and other effects materials (6 min.)
  • Isolated music by Jonathan Gibbs
  • Easter Egg: Mat Irvine goes in-depth on the story's model effects work (4 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music montage (8 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Season Twenty-One turns out to be one of the most popular years witnessed under John Nathan-Turner's record-length producership, having a run of fairly strong stories at its heart. Eric Saward's strengths as a writer / script editor are honed to their peak, while his Achilles' Heels begin to blossom. This year's style of story makes a prominent return to the en-masse type of enemy seen more prolifically in the Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton eras - a fairly welcome shift nicely rounding out Peter Davison's own era.

"Warriors of the Deep" kicks off this shift in style appropriately, bringing both its pros and cons to the fore. A lot of finger-pointing seems to have happened behind the scenes after the fact, as several elements were easily disappointing, causing fans to rate this tale at or near the bottom of the season. But we should also note the many things this story did get very right, and it remains a highly interesting adventure in spite of hit-and-miss execution.


"Warriors of the Deep" was the first Doctor Who novelization I found that featured a Doctor and companions that I knew I had seen on TV, in an adventure I had not yet seen on TV. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the tale in book form. It was full of interesting creatures, a backstory continuing from a mysterious prior era, and packed with action.

The absence of "The Five Doctors" (the previous story) from TVOntario's schedules triggered a domino effect for a few years. Suddenly "Warriors of the Deep" was advertised as the upcoming finale of their run of Season 20, and having already read the book, I got excited believing that a great year was about to go out with the bang of a blockbuster.

Episode One did not disappoint, largely since it allows the story's designers to show off most of the excellent things that work well in the story. Both undersea and outer space model work is quite impressive, while the human seabase interior design itself was full of impressive high-tech surprises. Though many fans criticize the high lighting levels in the base, such things never bothered me, and are in sharp contrast with the effectively dark and moody areas native to the Silurians and Sea Devils, which were particularly impressive. Add to that the fact that, as "The Five Doctors" had been skipped, the new advanced TARDIS console with working computers in it was new to me as well for this story. It seemed like much more money than usual was being put into this production, and I couldn't wait to see how good the rest would be.....

Well, though episode two has a lot going for it at first, it soon all falls apart with a foam rubber door bending and rolling down to reveal the dreaded, fan-hated Myrka. Yeah, that wasn't so great. What always disappointed me even more was the lack of post-production for weapons effects. Where were the lasers I had imagined when reading the book? Knowing how much shoot-out action was coming up, I thought this was too lame for forgiveness. Even bullet guns should show a flash at the muzzle, but these were just a dull nothing. It all winds up looking too unfinished to be as exciting as anything from "Earthshock" (story no. 122), instead drawing attention to the fact that our actors are just acting. At least the sound effects for all this weapons fire were decent, suggesting an energy that the visuals couldn't match.

The Proof of the Story is in the Writing....

Well, even if we were to apply some proper post-production to lift this adventure above many of the simple faults most fans complain about, there still remains the question of whether or not the story holds up well enough to justify itself. There is much to recommend it, and it does attempt to be truly noble with some of its ideas, but those ideas end up falling into a typical trap for this era of Doctor Who.

While delivering a simple action story on one level, the story systematically sets itself up to tackle some bigger themes before it's done. But though the cast list is plentiful, we get precious little character on screen at any point. There's an early scene between Maddox and Karina that provides a nice bit, but we need much more of this type of scene and involving more of the other characters as well. Too many of the others are written quite blandly, lacking nuances, and all seem interchangeable with each other. These seabase personnel interact as believably as the crew of any of the Star Trek shows, or indeed the moonbase crew from "Space: 1999" which Johnny Byrne used to write and script edit for, but I think a few more character scenes would have been better use of screen time than all the numerous technical, transitional "Let's catch up with what's happening elsewhere" scenes.

The plot also has great trouble integrating the Doctor and his companions at first. A few bits still work, but their biggest sequence of beats really doesn't. However, character introductions are all done much better here than they were in Byrne's previous tale "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124). The TARDIS gets a proper materialization to start the story off right, and gets its due in introduction during this story as well.

Eric Saward's tinkering with the script is also worth noting, since it begins to reshape the characterizations in dangerous ways. Turlough finally gets more to do in this tale than he has had since the Black Guardian trilogy, but he flips between the polar opposites of bravery and cowardice a few too many times and a bit too completely, probably indicating each time whether he was playing out an original Johnny Byrne passage or a Saward rewrite. Mark Strickson at least takes the opportunity to emote a little more than many of the other characters and breathe some much welcome life into many dialogue scenes. In the end though, Turlough somehow impresses as a less adult, more juvenile character here than elsewhere during his time on the show.

It is probably the production-troubled action beats central to the main plot that work best from a writing point of view. Each side's goals are clearly defined, the barriers and challenges facing them are interesting, and opposing forces come together to engage in a conflict that audiences should theoretically find it easy to invest in. These are some story beats that many modern Who stories mysteriously miss - even after knowing how to set them up and resolve them later, the central conflict often fails to connect. Not here. "Warriors of the Deep" thankfully gets this part very right.

The story's cliffhangers are nicely dramatic each time, although there is definite room for improvement.

The story draws towards some hefty confrontations, where the bulk of both Doctor Who mythology and the story's social commentary reside. The mythology doesn't exactly match up with that of the previous two Jon Pertwee tales, since there was no triad or any names likes Icthar mentioned, but one has to wonder if additional reference to yet another unseen adventure can be inferred? At any rate, Johnny Byrne seems to have elevated the Silurian social structure somewhat with these interesting titles, and I must admit they no longer seem like the internally treacherous despots they were in "The Silurians" (story no. 52).

"It is they who insist on fighting."

The social commentary was a popular topic at the time. It seemed just about everyone except world leaders recognized the idiocy of each half of the world pointing deadly weapons at the other half, waiting for a shoe to drop to bring civilization as we know it to an end. Most of the critics of this situation failed to address the real reason that it had come into existence: there was way too much money to be made on interest payments by lending money to governments who were fearful and desperate to arm themselves quicker and more powerfully than their neighbour. Trying to point out the idiocy of retaliatory annihilation to the powers that be is in essence just arguing with their cover story - they never really believed in it either. Now that virtually no member of the public at large can be fooled into investing in it (and voting for it) any longer, they've moved on to new cover stories. "Warriors of the Deep" attempts to address this "cover story" as though it is the main issue. Without giving away anything more, I'll just say that I end up digging for the positive in a show that doesn't really present it. For further details, come back and read the in-depth analysis version of this review after you've seen the show.

It was all too easy and common at this time in the 1980's, as we humans came down off of our high of a temporary critical mass of consciousness, to spend time and energy in films and TV shows pointing out all that was wrong with violence in our action adventures, and not coming up with anything else that was equally dramatic and exciting and gripping. We were addicted, knowing we shouldn't be, somehow thinking we were a force for stopping it while enjoying more of it. Indeed, we will see Peter Davison's Doctor grappling with his take on this throughout Season 21. Though significant consistency is achieved here with Jon Pertwee's Doctor in the previous two Silurian/Sea Devil adventures, I think the Doctor's motivations manage to hold up a bit better and be more balanced here in "Warriors of the Deep".

Passive-Aggressive Syndrome

But a more insidious pattern in Saward's writing begins to blossom here, and that is the proliferation of passive-aggressive syndrome, where characters quietly and passively bottle up all the things that are bothering them, until an explosion of hostility erupts later on causing them to burn their bridges with other people, or worse. Somehow this condition comes to define many, if not most, of the character aspects that get explored on screen during the rest of Saward's time on the program, and considering how he eventually left, you have to wonder if he wasn't suffering from it himself in his relationship with producer John Nathan-Turner, and/or elsewhere.

Indeed, a lot of the character moments we get in this story can be seen to place people on a passive-aggressive arc. But in many ways, Saward also gives this arc to the Doctor, with Peter Davison portraying the early "passive" side of things.

Luckily, there is "another way". Most important is to learn to generate something other than blame and criticism internally, long before the question of whether to bottle it up passively or let it out explosively ever comes up. This is where an attitude of gratitude can pay huge dividends. Learn to direct your mind, how to focus on thoughts and philosophies and paradigms of your own choosing. Find your "stillpoint". Insist on the best from your own outlook on the world.

There is much more to be discussed concerning this story's ending and the developing patterns under script editor Eric Saward, but of course we'll save that for the in-depth analysis version of this review.

Production Departments

On the whole, I don't find Pennant Roberts' directing to be particularly good or strong in this story, perhaps because action and suspense on Doctor Who's schedule weren't his strong suit at the time, and this story doesn't have the character moments that his previous 1970's Doctor Who stories could build themselves around. On one hand, it's a bit of a pity that this story hasn't got some outdoor location work in it somewhere, but it still works nicely as a claustrophobic studio piece. You'd think they would have wanted to shoot this during the winter, but instead the actors had to climb into thick rubber masks and costumes in June and July. Adding to the story's minus marks are the sorry looking floppy tan wetsuits for the human guards, which unfortunately the Doctor himself is stuck in for the latter three episodes. It really doesn't help the image of Peter's Doctor, or anything for that matter.

On the plus side, the Sea Devils' smart-looking battle uniforms are a vast improvement over the ragged fishnet shawls we last saw them wearing in "The Sea Devils". The Silurians look a bit different, without necessarily looking better. It is a bit of a shame that there seems to be so little differentiation between them though. A more deliberate attempt to make each one easily identifiable, as well making Sauvix's higher rank amongst the Sea Devils more obvious, would have been good. I think we can also be critical of the hypnotically slow speed of just about all Silurian/Sea Devil movements. They can be slow some of the time, but a bit more variety of speed, particularly in making them appear more agile and urgent during battle, would have been a worthy idea.

Composer Jonathan Gibbs gets to sink his teeth into his first full-length four-part Doctor Who story here, and creates a very cool sense of atmosphere with synthesizer sound and easily recognizable thematic elements weaving through a very successful score. Although he seems to be running a bit out of steam and/or time by the time the final episode comes along, rambling idly while sticking to simpler instrument choices, the story padding for those particular sequences kind of earned that, while some nice new musical effects help augment and resolve some of the cool tracks returning from previous episodes. This is one of the more enjoyable scores of the Peter Davison era, adding extra variety to the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop group. Nice.
Music by Jonathan Gibbs
A suite of 3:54 duration is available on:
Audio CD
Doctor Who - The Five Doctors
Silva Screen FILMCD 710

More info & buying options

In the end though, I have to say I enjoyed watching "Warriors of the Deep" again much more than I thought I would have. It's certainly not near as brilliant as it had hoped to be, but still achieves some good points for its better moments and sequences, not to mention its enjoyably-realized unique setting. "The Silurians" (story no. 52) remains the best story featuring this set of Doctor Who adversaries, but "Warriors of the Deep" has I think proven better than "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62), and may yet indeed go up a bit in the rankings for season 21.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
See box set below
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

"Beneath the Surface" 3-story boxed sets:
(Story Nos. 52, 62, & 131: The Silurians, The Sea Devils, & Warriors of the Deep.)
DVD NTSC Region 1
"Beneath the Surface"
3-story box set
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
"Beneath the Surface"
3-story box set
for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Awakening"

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