Friday, June 21, 2013

"It Is Too Late For Pity." Actually, No It’s Not.

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 5.01

Title: Warriors of the Deep
Written by: Johnny Byrne
Team TARDIS: Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough
Adversary: The Sea Devils, The Silurians, Nilson and Solow
Originally Aired: January 5-13, 1984
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive on Sea Base 4, a nuclear warhead station under the sea that has some very nasty neighbours.

My Review:

“You can see the strings and stagey bits, and if you agree to believe it, you’re off to the races. It’s a show you must meet half-way, which I do, and I’ve been repaid for it many times over.”
     - Tycho, (speaking of Doctor Who)

In all my geeky pursuits in all my life, the one thing that has drawn me to different series is story. Plot, characters, motivation, humor, drama - whatever you want to call it. If a series can tell a decent, good or amazing story, I don’t give two shits about special effects or costuming or any of that other technical drivel. If you can get the SFX on par, then pat yourself on the back and give yourself a cookie. But without story, you haven’t got enough to offer me and I don’t have any time to spare for you.

Case in point - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (batten down the hatches because Hurricane Christina is about to make landfall!) Until Half-Blood Prince came out, this book was my absolute favorite of the series. There were so many intricate plots and characters and moments and everything fit so well together and called back from the first three books - it was an absolute delight!

And then the movie of the book came out. And it sucked balls. I have no nice way of putting it - all the Goblet of Fire movie served to do was to pad the SFX department’s interns’ resumes. Mike Newell pretty much came in and took a huge dump on the Potterverse (I also blame Alfonso Cuaron - he who ruined Prisoner of Azkaban - for telling the studio that Goblet of Fire didn’t need to be split into two movies. I’d like to tell Cuaron where to stick it, if I ever get the chance). They ignored the entire plot and character development in favor of an exhibition of what they could do with CGI - and threw in a completely useless dragon chase scene. That movie is a prime example of what happens when you give something so marvelous and special to a big-time movie studio and all they want to do is make money off it - they didn’t even care about being faithful to the source material or the fans. I mean, there was no attempt at faithfulness here - not even a halfhearted attempt. If they’d tried and failed, that’d be a different story. But in reality, they just didn’t give a damn.

*deep breath* I knew I’d go on a tirade about that if I brought it up, but it serves to illustrate my feelings on special effects in movies and TV (and they got Order of the Phoenix right anyway, so there was some forgiveness. Not much, but some). Special effects are great and wonderful if you can get them right and if they support the story. But if you don’t have a good story to hang the special effects on, nothing else matters. It’s the story that matters the most. You can’t depend solely on effects to carry your franchise (George Lucas and James Cameron, I’m lookin’ at you!)

Which is why I love “Warriors of the Deep.” Long maligned and often seen as the start of the demise of Doctor Who in the '80s - I actually adore this story, for the simple reason that I can look past the bad effects and rushed costumes and see it as a brilliantly written piece of television. I can even forgive the ill-timed karate kick against the Myrka* (hell, I can forgive the Myrka. He’s actually kind of cute - if you squint and look at him sideways). But all the elements are there for a fantastic and atmospheric story - right there in the script, before any of the effects crew started in on it.

I wanted to test if the story really was that good or if I was just defending this story simply because it belongs to my Classic Doctor and I was loathe to hate on anything Fifth Doctor (it’s been known to happen - I regret nothing!) So, I found a used copy of the Target Novelization on Amazon, purchased it and read it. Even though I’d seen the televised story, I managed to ignore that fact and imagine that reading the story was my first experience with it. And the story holds up spectacularly!

The Story -

“Warriors of the Deep” is basically “The Caves of Androzani” without the Doctor dying. The Doctor tries his damnedest to get the two sides to listen and cooperate... but everyone dies because the people the Doctor’s dealing with are hell-bent on destroying one another and never mind who gets in the way. When you have even one side in a conflict who is so determined and so set in their ways, not even the Doctor can stop them (okay, maybe this isn’t so much “Caves.” More "The Sea Devils" - which is a classic in and of itself.  But my point stands).

Apart from Team TARDIS, there really are no good guys in this story. The Sea Base is being sabotaged from within by Nilson and Solow  and the Silurians just show up to speed along the process. The Doctor tries to get all sides to calm down and work out their differences - but neither side is remotely interested in doing that. And the story ends with the Doctor sporting a spectacular black eye, having put everything on the line for these misguided idiots, surrounded by dead bodies lamenting “There should have been another way.”  And there probably was - but nobody was going to tell the Silurians or the humans any different.

Truly, the best thing the Doctor could have done is get Tegan and Turlough back into the TARDIS and let Sea Base 4 implode upon itself - good riddance to bad rubbish. But this is the Doctor and he is similarly determined to get the humans and Silurians to calm down and talk about things rationally (sweet, sweet Fivey - so lovable and idealistic, such a gentleman, but also so naive). This story is first and foremost a commentary on the Cold War, but I can’t help but see this scenario repeated throughout history and even in today’s world - just with different names and faces. There are certain people you just can’t rationalize with because they refuse to be rational. So, the best thing you can do is bunker down and protect yourself and your own and let these crazy bastards destroy each other.

(Kind of a pessimistic way to take it, but lately I’ve been seeing so much destructive behavior on the large and small scale in real life and no one seems to care that it’s happening. Consequently, I’ve given up on much of humanity. Honestly, there are days where I’d just rather the world get on with the business of ending. There’s really nothing I can do to fix anything and no one’s going to listen anyway. My patience has been tested to the edge and there are so many people that I am just *wipes hands* done with it all).

Other Things That I Liked (in list format) -

- “What have you been eating?” THAT is a funny line. And not just once - but twice!

- Turlough - “If the Doctor had intended to destroy it, it would be lying in pieces at your feet!” My friends, Vislor Turlough, Snark Master Supreme.

- Actually, Turlough is pretty awesome in this story. He storms into the command center of the base demanding that the captain open the bulkhead so the Doctor and Tegan can escape (“I know what the commander’s orders were, but now I’m giving you mine!”) Turlough may be a little shit from time to time, but if you’ve won his loyalty you’ve won a fantastic friend and ally for the rest of your life.

- When the Silurian says “Release the Myrka,” I can’t help but think of “Wewease za secwet weapon!” from An American Tail

- The subplot of Nilson and Solow sabotaging the Sea Base while everyone else is running around after the Silurians is really compelling stuff. Solow may suck at Myrka kung-fu, but she definitely works as a diabolical enemy scientist. The scene where a brainwashed Maddox is forced to kill Karina (who has been a friend to him so far) is so striking, even when intercut with the crew facing the threat of the Myrka breaking down the door. It’s a smaller scene by comparison, but it’s underscores the larger threat of Nilson and Solow’s betrayal.

- Can’t forget also that “Warriors of the Deep,” to it’s everlasting credit, gave us this:

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and this:

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(Any story that’s going to give me Peter Davison in the Doctor Who equivalent of a Wet T-Shirt contest has bonus points before it’s even started. Like any fangirl, I have my shallow moments).

The Effects -

And yet, I still hear the perpetually-malcontented whining “But - but - but - the Myrka! Wobbly sets! It sucked!”

Well, yeah. If you’re looking at it through the lens of a modern audience.

The fact is that special effects don’t age well (hell, there have been brand new effects in New Who that were just a wee bit dodgy two or three years ago) and the technology available to a 1980s television station wasn’t that great compared to today’s standards (hell, the technology available to George Lucas in 1980 isn’t great by today’s standards).  I expect the technical side of Classic Who to be a bit subpar. But that's nothing to apologize for or be ashamed about. I don’t use that fact as a stick to beat up on the series. That’s like hating on an orchestral performance just because the third flutist was off-key. The effects help tell the story, true, but they aren’t the whole story. There are so many other wonderful elements at work here that bring everything together. And as long as the story is compelling and the characters are engaging (which, the important ones are in this story), then I am on board.  And, like Tycho in the opening quote, I have been repaid for my efforts hundreds of times over.  People who dismiss Classic Who because of production values and other bits of technobabble are missing out on something incredibly special (and really, I don't really want those complainers and whiners in my fandom, mucking things up and ruining my fun, so it's probably just as well).

(I do realize that people were beating up on Doctor Who at the time and it is not a new thing to bitch about 1980s Who. I will have words on that in a future TV story review. Don't worry, you'll all have your turn).

For all the media’s insistence that the sets wobbled and the budgets weren’t that good (which, I believe the latter. But I call so much bullshit on the former - more on that in a future post), the one thing Classic Who got right consistently was the storytelling. From 1963 through to the Wilderness Years and beyond, Doctor Who has been about superb storytelling and wild imagination. That fact might have given set designers and costumers a little heartburn back in the day, but the people that get drawn to Who are the people who are drawn in by amazing stories, not necessarily by effects and whizbang (leave that nonsense to Michael Bay and the hoards of braindead who keep him in business). This is why I can love things like “The Sensorites” and “The Curse of Peladon” and, yes, even “Timelash” - the stories are fantastic and compelling and the angst over production values can go hang.

Since the Fifth Doctor is my Classic Doctor, I could have chosen any of his stories to gush about.  While "Warriors of the Deep" was the obvious choice (unloved and mistreated as it is), I still wanted to acknowledge all the wonderful and brilliant TV stories of this time.  So, here is one of my favorite fan videos featuring Fivey. Enjoy -

*If it means so much to you, Big Finish has an audio with the Sixth Doctor called “Bloodtide” that features the Silurians and the Myrka. The Myrka in that story is portrayed as much scarier and the Doctor mentions that the only Myrka he ever met was just a baby. Which means that the "Warriors of the Deep" Myrka was more akin to a clumsy toddler learning to walk than a terrifying sea beast hellbent on destroying everyone.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 5.02 - The Fifth Doctor Does Historicals (or Everything Shakespeare Told You Is Wrong!)

Previously -
Review 4.04 - Well, That Was a Book. Yup. Definitely a Book.

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