Doctor Who Legend of the Sea Devils Review: Returning Foes and Relationship Woes

Doctor Who returns for an Easter special, and this Legend of the Sea Devils review goes over the best and worst bits about the TARDIS crew's trip to 19th-century Chinese waters. With the Centenary special looming close, and the hectic conclusion of Season 13 not long past, this episode screams "filler", but not always in a bad way.

Doctor Who Legend of the Sea Devils Review Returning Foes and Relationship WoesDoctor Who returns one last time before the Centenary special this Autumn in Legend of the Sea Devils. It’s been a long time since audiences have seen the lesser-known villain square off against The Doctor, so can the creatures really help deliver a serviceable filler episode?

Well, sort of. If you were expecting a fun, pirate-themed jaunt in 19th-century China, this Easter special unfortunately falls short. However, it does have some redeeming qualities to make up for the lack of swashbuckling. This Doctor Who Legend of the Sea Devils review will go over all that worked, and all that didn’t.

For a review of every episode of Doctor Who Season 13, make sure to check these articles out:

Doctor Who will return this Autumn for the untitled Centenary special on BBC One (UK) and BBC America (US), with all thirteen seasons available to stream on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils ⚓️ Trailer - BBC

Story – Been there, done that

Legend of the Sea Devils takes The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan to the coastal waters of China in 1807, but not before we’re introduced to Doctor Who’s first on-screen Sea Devil since 1984.

The aquatic cousins to the Silurians share the same motivations, believing the Earth belongs to them, not the humans. This gives a by-the-book motivation for setting them up as the main antagonists. We’re also introduced to the legendary pirate Zheng Yi Sao in the opening moments. She acts as a sort of anti-hero throughout the 50-minute runtime.

Pirate-themed episodes of Doctor Who aren’t exactly the most outstanding stories ever told, but they do tend to be fun. They also, naturally, have a lot of pirates in them. Legend of the Sea Devils feels rather empty in this regard. Zheng Yi Sao (also known as Madame Ching), and Ji-Hun provide the naval swashbuckling…and that’s about it. There’s not even a lot of the Sea Devils to see, bar their leader, Marsissus.

Ji-Hun and Madame Ching face the Sea Devils.

Ji-Hun and Madame Ching face the Sea Devils.

There are fun moments, primarily provided by John Bishop’s ever-reliable Dan, but it never really feels like a fun episode. This is showcased best during the lackluster sword fight between The Doctor and Marsissus. That’s being generous, however, as it’s more of a sword fight speedrun. More emphasis on silly moments like this, and less time explaining a fairly generic end-of-the-world scenario would have improved my time with the episode immensely.

More interesting than any of the main plot is The Doctor and Yaz’s feelings for each other finally getting addressed. The first instance occurred during a key plot point and subsequently felt very shoehorned in. Thankfully, the pair have an extended conversation at the end that turns out to be the best thing about this Easter special. Where their relationship stands after their conversation may not satisfy some, but with Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as The Doctor coming to an end soon, it’s difficult to see how they could establish a satisfying relationship between the pair this late on.

Characters & Performances – Madame Ching, we hardly knew ye

It’s a bit of a bummer that during Chris Chibnall’s run, his episodes set in the past have gone from giving us a deep dive inclusion of historical figures, to almost eliminating the need for them to be there at all. Crystal Yu does a great job at portraying a caricature of Madame Ching, but the writing doesn’t allow her to do much else with the character.

Dan and Ying-Ki getting into trouble.

Dan and Ying-Ki getting into trouble.

On the plus side, Dan continues to be the best companion Doctor Who has had in quite some time. John Bishop elevates any comedic material given to him, and is probably the only character who will get a laugh from most audiences. Except for the excellent “No ship, Sherlock” line from The Doctor–that’s punning at its best, and delivered in that wonderfully chaotic way from Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.

It’s a stellar job from both Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor and Mandip Gill’s Yaz in this special, until the pair’s emotional scene at the end. As mentioned, it was the best aspect of the whole story, but could have fallen flat if not for the two actors’ quietly heartbreaking performances. There are no blubbering tears or hyperbolic declarations of love, just two people trying to make peace with their feelings being incompatible with The Doctor’s hectic adventures.

Editing & Pacing – A welcome change

The pacing was on superspeed for almost the entirety of Season 13’s Flux storyline. Legend of the Sea Devils thankfully ditches this in favor of a more even cadence. This is most likely due to a less demanding narrative compared to constructing and concluding The Flux and all its tertiary plots and characters. Even though it had a fairly standard, predictable story, this episode never seemed to drag. There was always something for the TARDIS crew to pique our interest with.

The world's shortest sword fight.

The world’s shortest sword fight.

However, the editing continues to be hit-or-miss, especially during the action. The Doctor and Marsissus’ sword fight in particular feels very short, cut with lots of tiny transitions that don’t really work. This is most noticeable during a slow-mo dodge The Doctor does under Marsissus’ sword. Slow-mo doesn’t really work if it’s only on screen for a second.

Cinematography & Sound – Continually beautiful

There are some breathtaking shots in Legend of the Sea Devils. The cold opening featuring Madame Ching’s stand-off between village inhabitant Ying Pai is set amongst a downpour of rain. This achieves a dark fairytale-like atmosphere, making it really seem like we’re getting a peek into some distant mythology.

The most beautiful scene occurs when the audience is gifted a look at the TARDIS underwater. It’s edited just right, lingering on appropriately stunning shots of the TARDIS’ light illuminating the surrounding sea life. It was also the perfect backdrop to the awkward dialogue about dating between Yaz and the Doctor.

Evolution of the Sea Devils.

Evolution of the Sea Devils.

The score has time to shine in this Easter special thanks to the Chinese influence lent to the music. It could still do with a raise in volume, but it’s nice actually recognizing the usually subdued soundtrack

Once again, the creature design, costumes, set decorations, and VFX help elevate this iteration of Doctor Who. Legend of the Sea Devils might not have a terribly memorable story, but the Sea Devils themselves look extraordinary. Just like the modern Who Silurians, their design looks very similar to their classic counterparts, with some modern improvements. I love that the show continues to use high-quality prosthetics in favor of CGI creatures the majority of the time. The Sea Devils stand as a great argument as to why the show should continue this tradition.

Summary
Although there's a distinct lack of pirates in this pirate-themed episode, John Bishop delivers some fun through Dan, and The Doctor and Yaz finally get some time to talk about their potential relationship. Without their storyline, however, Legend of the Sea Devils would be a forgettable affair with a generic plot, helped only by some stunning visuals and excellent creature design.
Good
  • The Doctor and Yaz finally addressing their feelings for each other
  • The Sea Devils are gorgeously designed
  • Some really beatiful shots on display
  • John Bishop continues to shine as Dan
Bad
  • Generic, fairly boring story
  • Feels devoid of much fun
  • Editing is unnecessarily jarring, especially during the action
  • Madame Ching is wasted
6.5
Fair
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