“A giant standalone financial institution vacation motion romp for all of the household,” is how outgoing Physician Who showrunner Chris Chibnall talked up this second of Jodie Whittaker’s final lap run of specials. And sure, in some ways, he’s bang-on, as Legend of the Sea Devils was certainly a rollicking, Hollywood-chasing swashbuckler with simply the proper dusting of color and bombast.
If the episode felt a tad throwaway, then possibly that’s what we wanted after the brain-melting gloom of Eve of the Daleks. And if that New 12 months’s Day particular generally felt like a candy echo from the Steven Moffat period with its baroque, puzzle field plotting, this one was far more inclusive, a easy, straight-shooting Physician Who journey that wasn’t simply enjoying to the swots.
Physician Who has paddled in pirate waters earlier than, after all, with 2011’s Hugh Bonneville-starrer The Curse of the Black Spot. This episode, nonetheless, has a extra frolicsome tone, and visually adhered nearer to the films that impressed it. Although Madam Ching’s ship was a completely Roath Lock Studios development, skilful lighting and a few deft CGI work (or ought to that be sea-GI?) give the episode a breezy aura that the dingy-looking Black Spot sorely lacked.
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In fact, for all its piratey trimmings, this episode’s USP is the return, after 38 years, of the Sea Devils. They’ve been certainly one of Physician Who’s pin-up monsters for 50 years, regardless of solely showing in two tales, first in 1972 after which once more in 1984, buddied up with their land-lubbing cousins the Silurians.
It’s a testomony to monster maestro John Friedlander’s iconic design that not solely are they so affectionately remembered however that, in 2022, they want so little updating. Except for a lick of digital work on their eyes (these ones blink a lot you’d suppose they had been affected by blepharospasm) and mouths, they’re completely the identical critters that rose out of the ocean and onto that Portsmouth seashore 50 years in the past.
Fairly why the Physician refers to them as Sea Devils, nonetheless, is a head-scratcher. The ‘Sea Satan’ epithet initially got here, again of their debut story, from the mouth of a seaman to explain the creatures that had been terrorising the SS Pevensey Citadel. Okay, so the Silurians referred to them as ‘our Sea Satan brothers’ in 1984’s Warriors of the Deep, however that by no means made any sense both.
Certainly the Physician addressing them as Sea Devils is kinda, effectively… racist? This was an ideal alternative for Chibnall so as to add one thing significant to the Who canon and dignify their race with a correct identify. I imply, the Physician doesn’t name people ‘land crawlers’ just like the Sea Devils do, in their very own casually xenophobic approach.
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Missed alternatives apart, the episode did take Physician Who again to a rustic it hadn’t visited since 1964’s Marco Polo. Okay, so, like that William Hartnell story, the funds didn’t fairly permit for the present to lens on actual Chinese language soil, however, not like the ‘yellowface’-burdened Marco Polo, it did present some beefy roles for precise Asian actors. Crystal Yu and Arthur Lee each give full-throated performances as Madame Ching and Ji-Hun respectively, whereas Marlowe Chan-Reeves’ Ying Ki is one other identify so as to add to the open-ended ‘companions we’d prefer to see’ record.
Of the companions we do have, Jon Bishop continues to underwhelm as Dan. As an actor, he’s much less of a black belt than the equally gentle ent-reared Bradley Walsh, and infrequently appears misplaced at sea — metaphorically and actually — in Legend of the Sea Devils.
Mandip Gill fares higher, however she’s nonetheless burdened with a profoundly bland character. The so-termed ‘Thasmin’ attraction between her and the Physician has by no means felt even vaguely believable, given the character’s crushing vapidity.
“You’re one of many best individuals I’ve ever identified,” the Physician tells her, which, given she’s met Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, Rosa Parks, Queen Nefertiti and William Shakespeare, sounds loopy. If the Physician might fall in love with Yaz, why not the infinitely extra fascinating Tegan, Turlough, Donna or Amy? After the blindingly sensible and bewitchingly impish River Track, it’s like following a mint Viscount with a water biscuit.
After the sometimes mazy plotting of the Flux season and the Moffat-like dazzle of Eve of the Daleks, Legend of the Sea Devils serves very a lot as a palate-cleanser, a candied deal with earlier than the inevitable poignancy of Whittaker’s finale.
“I want this might go on without end,” the Physician tells Yaz in these closing seconds and it’s probably the most heartbreaking second within the episode. As a result of, as each viewer is aware of, it completely received’t – the thirteenth Physician’s time is almost up.
Physician Who: Legend of the Sea Devils is out there to look at on BBC iPlayer.