Doctor 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:
- Episode 1 Review: A Fluxing Confusing Time
- Episode 2 Review: War of the Sontarans
- Episode 3 Review: Once, Upon Time
- Episode 4 Review: Village of the Angels
- Episode 5 Review: Survivors of the Flux
- Episode 6 Review: The Vanquishers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.