“Legend of the Sea Devils”
Doctor Who: 2022 Easter Special
Written by: Ella Road & Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Haolu Wang
Synopsis: The Doctor, Yaz and Dan come face to fin with one of the Doctor’s oldest adversaries, the Sea Devils. Why has legendary pirate queen Madam Ching come searching for a lost treasure? What terrifying forces lurk beneath the oceans of the 19th Century? And did Yaz really have to dress Dan up as a pirate?
As the penultimate episode of Jodie Whittaker’s run as the Thirteenth Doctor, I had some heavy expectations for “Legend of the Sea Devils” to begin tying up some of the errant plot threads left over from the multi-episode Flux storyline and the Timeless Child mystery. Instead, we were offered the anti-climactic return of the Sea Devils in a ‘paint-by-numbers’ storyline that felt both complicated and lacking in substance at the same time. While the setting and focus on an historical figure from Chinese history were refreshingly different, the story itself felt very reminiscent of past adventures – especially the predictable last-minute sacrifice from a companion to prevent the Doctor from doing so herself.
The supporting characters felt very ill-defined beyond their roles as female pirate queen, plucky young orphan and noble sea captain. The performances were strong enough, but I found myself not overly invested in their fates as it seemed inevitable what would happen to each of them. Madam Ching’s motivations for her over-zealous hunt for Ji-Hun’s treasures were unexpected, but felt under-utilised and even the resolution to her rescuing her crew was left off-screen, making it difficult to care about it. I did enjoy Marlowe Chan-Reeves as Ying Ki, although his accent was distractingly modern for a character from the 19th Century.
The return of the Sea Devils has been long overdue, making them one of the last recurring classic monsters to appear in the modern era. Chibnall wisely maintains the character’s distinctive look rather than opting for a Silurian-esque refresh, yet manages to enhance the characters with some nifty animatronic face movements and the ability of speech. While it was fun to see swashbuckling Sea Devils, their scheme boiled down to a predictable ‘flood the oceans to kill the land dwellers’ plot. If only they knew about climate change, they could just hibernate for a few centuries and let us do it ourselves…
Most of the episode was fairly accessible to new audiences, although the script revisited the idea of Yasmin and the Doctor in a romantic relationship. While I get why this is an important moment for the LGBT+ community, it doesn’t ring true narratively as I’ve seen little chemistry between the two characters compared to the likes of Rose Tyler, Amy Pond and Clara Oswald. Yaz has had frighteningly little development over the past three series, and it seems like this development has come from fans and ‘Thasmin’ memes. I see far more chemistry between Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill in the behind-the-scenes content promoting the series than in the episodes themselves. Perhaps if Yaz’s struggles with her sexuality had been an element of her personality from the start, it would have rang more true, but to have the Doctor effectively declare her to be ‘wife material’, it didn’t seem to correspond with the same unspoken love for Rose seen from the Ninth and Tenth Doctor.
My excitement for the episode definitely peaked at the post-credits trailer hinting at the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure with a mix of returning foes and two unlikely classic companion returnees in both Ace and Tegan. Hopefully we get some of these long-awaited answers relating to the Timeless Child; either a retcon from the Master or some sort of clarity behind it. For such a dramatic change to the mythos of the series, so little has been done with the idea that the Doctor has had numerous secret incarnations. It feels like the equivalent of a ‘narrative hit and run’ and I suspect it will be swiftly undone or explained away by subsequent writers if Chibnall doesn’t resolve it in a satisfying manner in this final episode. I am thrilled to see Sacha Dhawan’s Master return – he has been one of the highlights of Chibnall’s era, and I hope he takes centre-stage in this finale with a memorable Doctor/Master clash to round out Whittaker’s time as the Doctor.
As a whole, “Legend of the Sea Devils” was a serviceable episode of Doctor Who and would have perhaps benefitted from a position in the middle of a standard series (or even as an additional episode in the Flux season) instead than as the penultimate episode of the Thirteenth Doctor’s adventures. With so many vital unanswered questions still lingering about (for instance, what exactly is the state of this post-Flux universe?) I was expecting the episode to reflect more on the ramifications of the near-extinction event than whether the Doctor fancies another one of his/her companions. With one episode left, it won’t be long until we can evaluate Chibnall’s era as a whole and work out whether it flowed nicely or whether it was scattered and unfocused (my theory is on the latter), especially since Chibnall has proven himself to be less than reliable when it comes to landing the ‘narrative plane’ safely.