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, 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.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

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 high-tech gadgets with secret panels, and large water coolant tanks around which action was staged. 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, including believable water airlock hatches for Peter Davison to swim and climb through, and some interesting base vs. Silurian cruiser beats and visuals, 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 seeing the guards start to shoot at it with nothing coming out of their guns. 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.

Perhaps the Sea Devils would get better weapons when they had their debut next episode... or so went the hope I clung to. Nope. Video Effects man Dave Chapman reverted to putting lame little red dots appearing and disappearing in bizarre places to represent the impact of Sea Devil fire on their targets, which really looks like a random waste of effort when they fire so many misses during the battles. At least the sound effects for all this weapons fire were decent, suggesting an energy that the visuals couldn't match.

Laser Edition

How difficult might it be to do proper laser upgrades for a slightly different edit of the story? In the late eighties, I did a bit of experimenting with this, wiring up a video mixer to accept graphics from a computer so that proper superimposed beams could be fired on the picture "live" as it was copied from one VHS tape to another.

This close examination revealed that the nature of the footage may have prompted Chapman to cut corners on this adventure. Unlike "Earthshock" (story no. 122) which had primarily stationary cameras capturing stationary actors firing weapons, and therefore managed some nice post-production effects in numerous action scenes, the footage in "Warriors of the Deep" features moving cameras and moving characters all through its action sequences, not to mention that some of the characters moved in front of where the lasers should be, adding another whole layer of complication. While theoretically this produces more exciting footage, director Pennant Roberts certainly wasn't making things any easier for Chapman - or, later that decade, me. In Chapman's broadcast version, it all winds up looking too unfinished to be as exciting as anything from "Earthshock", instead drawing attention to the fact that our actors are just acting.

I continued experimenting and took my time. Using different colours for each set of forces - red for Human guns and blue for Sea Devils' - increased the clarity in the shootouts, and though the overall picture quality of the footage degraded considerably after dropping one and two generations on VHS tape, suddenly the shootout battle scenes became as exciting as, and looked similar to, the Death Star corridor battles of the first Star Wars film from 1977. Not bad. With proper post-production at last, "Warriors of the Deep" suddenly started to hold up much better.

It's still interesting to note some of the other things I changed in my edit to, in my eyes, improve on the finished product. A still frame of the Silurian cruiser perched on the Sea Devil hatch covered over a moment where one of the Silurians accidentally bumped into one the control columns in their own ship - and instead of just covering up an embarrassment, it worked alongside the Silurian's line of dialogue to help emphasize the fact that they were walking from the vehicle into a separate chamber that housed the sleeping Sea Devils, a bit of geography that was lost on me the first few times I saw the story. Several unnecessary and disappointing shots of the Myrka and the rubber door were cut out, and the story didn't miss them and was better for it. I think the head and the arms of the Myrka are okay, and even close-ups of its feet are passable. It's the views of its legs and back end that need to go, especially as the back end moves as though it's not part of the same body. From a story point of view, it's too bad no one thought of letting the Myrka's "electric eel"-like abilities short out the base's lighting system as it went along to help hide it in shadows. That could have been brilliant - once the light goes out, you know some big beast is around the corner and you're next. My edit also lost quite a few frames of Vorshak being thrown to the ground by Maddox, making the end result more dramatic and believable. Lastly, I worked in an excuse to let the Silurians fire a beam from their third eye in the final episode, as they had done in their debut story "The Silurians" (story no. 52), except this time we see it. The one move I'm still on the fence about is adding a digital strobe over shots of Peter Davison when "his mind is in sync with the computer" near the end. It's an interesting alternative, but I'm not sure it's better than the original footage.

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

Well, once we apply some post-production to lift this beast 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.

The first three episodes largely sustain themselves as a simple action story, while providing a bit of a set-up for bigger themes in the final instalment. 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 gives us a nice insight into these two characters, but they turn out to be of minor importance to the plot and have little to do. Those with much more screen time, like Vorshak, Preston, and Bulic, 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. Bits that work include the beat with Sentinel 6 in space, and some of the leisurely exploration scenes early on in the base. Character motivation is quite lost though. It seems the Doctor could have easily repaired the TARDIS where it sat without coming outside, then left, as he says he wants to. But having made a fair decision to come out and talk to the base authorities, you have to wonder why he's so keen to run away from the first people he meets as though guilty. Then to compound matters, he decides to have a go at blowing up their reactor, making his guilt far more real than just a misplaced feeling. What an idiot! He should have followed through with either xenophobically staying in the TARDIS, or stood his ground and started talking with people. You also have to wonder why he would leave the TARDIS door unlocked. Wise people may find it hard to want to root for him the way things are.

And in the end, this whole business of the base people getting over their mistrust of the Doctor and his companions is a boring old overused story beat that just wastes time and doesn't really provide anything truly memorable or enjoyable to the story. Thankfully, Turlough sticks to the truth under interrogation, preventing this dull section from stretching out much longer. Ideally, it should have been minimized to make way for some character scenes for Vorshak, Preston, and Bulic, or perhaps to allow the Doctor to investigate some of the suspicious behaviours of Nilson, Solow, and/or Maddox. It is a bit strange that all of the characters are presented so openly at the beginning of this tale, with nothing left to the imagination, or left to be discovered at a later point. Perhaps the only exception are the Sea Devils, who are revealed slowly between the end of episode one and the beginning of two, but even then, there is no human character experiencing this revelation. Weird. After introducing everyone so early in their own separate locations, there's a lot of cutting back and forth later on which feels a bit lost. However, it is all done much better here than it was in Byrne's previous tale "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124). The TARDIS gets a proper materialization to start the story off right, and whatever else might be missing from its introduction in episode one is more than made up for when Preston discovers it in episode two.

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 in episodes two and three 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 the set-up for the first one feels artificial, and Turlough and Tegan's response to it is a stretch. And although the final cliffhanger worked well, the "fix" for it during part four's opening is exceedingly limp. The Doctor really does need a better line here, or at least to appear more humble delivering this one.

Only in the last episode does the Doctor finally get to talk to the Silurians and the Sea Devils, and this is where the bulk of both their 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. Sadly the Doctor doesn't address his heroic efforts towards either the cover story or the underlying root causes. Only the Silurian plan does, in its ineffective finger-pointing methodology. Their plan is interesting in one respect: if humans can overcome this hemispheric retaliation idiocy, and if the Silurians fire the missiles from this base and nothing else happens, perhaps we humans will have earned their trust and become worthy of a peaceful solution with them. Even after losing the seabase, the power to resolve the situation gracefully is still in human hands. Still, that's me digging for the positive in a show that doesn't really present it. The Silurians are just pointing fingers as well without taking much responsibility for proving themselves better. The Doctor seems to have become convinced of their nobility without having any real evidence to show for it, either here or in previous adventures.

"There should have been another way."

Indeed, the whole of this adventure's sad drama seems to want to lead up to this line, to leave the audience thinking. As far as I'm concerned, if the writers believe that line, they should have researched, written, and shown us another way. 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. The year's most famous example is probably Luke Skywalker in "Return of the Jedi", as he struggled with the fact that he couldn't proactively dispense with Darth Vader or the Emperor without stooping to their dark level. Indeed, we will see Peter Davison's Doctor grappling with similar issues throughout Season 21.

Saward also reportedly played up the Doctor's compassion towards the Silurians and his reluctance to use the hexachromite. In some ways, this simply ensures consistency with Jon Pertwee's Doctor in the previous two Silurian/Sea Devil adventures, in which he was pretty ineffective as a proponent of peace, hopelessly so in "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62). At least the Doctor's motivations hold up a bit better here.

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, most of the character moments we get in this story for Nilson, Solow, and Maddox can be seen to place them on a passive-aggressive arc, with Maddox's final actions embodying the most typical end result. 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.

Sadly, neither Byrne nor Saward can come up with a better way for the Doctor to deal with the Silurians and Sea Devils, and we have to watch him VERY reluctantly and sparingly let his aggressive side out. Still, I will give the writers a point or two back for the brave and almost Zen-like final task the Doctor is given in showcasing the power of the mind in defusing the final part of this destructive plan. Not bad. Not as great as most other examples of mind power from season 20, but a nice residual influence nonetheless.

Indeed, over lit control rooms may be one of the unfortunate lasting impressions of this story because of the absence of one of the typically good staple story structure ideas: that of the Doctor (and friends) discovering the dark control rooms and holding areas of the Silurians and Sea Devils. The worthy atmospheres achieved in those spaces early on are nowhere to be found in part four, while an excuse to let the Doctor get to these areas might have made for more interesting viewing than the silly ventilator shaft capture-and-escape sequences we are stuck with.

The real downer is Saward's mistake in trying to emphasize the horror of the conflict by killing off Vorshak and Preston, when indeed they had lived to tell the tale in Byrne's original version. I think that just unnecessarily eats into what little hopeful feel-good nature the story may have had left, and emphasizes that its writing can only define what it wants by expressing the opposite. Not smart. And sadly, this becomes another running theme during the rest of Saward's time on the program.

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 suits 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's dull ventilator shaft prisoner escape padding beats kind of earned that, and 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.

International Titles:

Magyar: "A mélység harcosai"

Français: (Guerriers des profondeurs)

Русский: "Воины из глубины"

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 In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Awakening"

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