Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Plot: In 1807 China the Doctor, Yaz and Dan encounter famed pirate captain Madame Ching and one of the Time Lord’s classic foes, the aquatic Sea Devils.
Context: With one episode to go before Jodie Whittaker’s swan song we get this pirate adventure. Now we haven’t had a full pirate story since way back in May 2011 with the Eleventh Doctor and The Curse of the Black Spot, which I found to be just okay FYI. And the Easter special also marks the return of The Sea Devils to the official series after almost four decades (their last appearance was 1984’s Warriors of the Deep where they teamed up with their land-based cousins the Silurians and clashed with the Fifth Doctor). But did Legend of the Sea Devils successfully ride the waves of these classic enemies’ legacy or did it plunge to the bottom like a barnacle infested anchor? With a fantastic, Geronimo, and an Allons-y of a SPOILER ALERT let’s break it down.
I’ve said before that I am not the hugest fan of Chibnall’s run but I thought Series 13/The Flux was pretty decent and the New Year’s special Eve of the Daleks was downright excellent. And like he did with the Daleks in that aforementioned special Chibnall seems to have a talent of taking Classic Who monsters who may have gotten somewhat stale and regenerating them (pardon the pun) as fresh, palpable threats. Pre-Flux he did it with the Cybermen (mostly the Lone Cyberman) and during the Flux he delivered the scariest Weeping Angels story since Blink with Village of the Angels, and made the Sontarans feel like an actual threat and not a joke (something not done since the Classic era) with War of the Sontarans. And he did it again with the Sea Devils in Legend of the Sea Devils.
Now the Sea Devils have never a Top 10 Classic Who monster for me. They always looked kinda goofy with their turtle/fish faces and their cousins the Silurians always felt more interesting. But I do enjoy when the classic foes are revived for the modern era so I welcomed their return. I was, however, not expecting to enjoy their return as much as I did. Now they still look a little odd (the practical effects are thankfully improved since they last appeared) but there is a ferocity and a nobility to them that I found very entertaining. Also the lead Sea Devil’s condescending nature and contempt of humans helped to lift him from being a one-noted big bad. And their swords that had the ability poison victims was a nice touch and amped up the danger level. Sure, them taking over a pirate ship feels a bit contrived to tie into a pirate story (an alien submarine probably would have worked better) but I rolled with it. Or sailed with it, I guess. And the whole “flooding the world to take it over” may be a bit cliché but it worked well enough as a throwback to the plots of the Classic era.
The other aspect that worked for me was the treatment of the Yaz/Doctor relationship. Now I have never shipped these two (accidental seafaring pun there) as I have always found Yaz somewhat bland and undeveloped. And I did rank her as the worst companion of the Modern Era so that should let you know exactly how I feel about her. So yeah, the Doctor could do a heck of a lot better in terms of love interests. When during this episode Thirteen told Yaz she was one of the most interesting people she ever met I was like, “She is not even the most interesting companion you’ve ever had!” And Yaz being in love with the Doctor felt somewhat shoehorned in as we didn’t even get much of a hint of it pre-Flux. So what exactly did I like about this plot point? I liked the Doctor’s reaction and Jodie’s performance. Romantic relationships with a wandering, practically immortal alien just do not work (other than the on and off, time jumping relationship with his/her wife River) so I was glad the Doctor set her straight. And Jodie got to stretch her acting chops when she explained why she has to be alone. You felt the pain and the longing come through there. Good stuff. Let’s hope the Yaz/Doctor ship has truly sailed.
And yeah, that’s what I liked the most about Legend of the Sea Devils. Dan had a couple of good comedic scenes and action scenes but he didn’t do much this episode. And we had some strong guest stars in Crystal Yu’s powerful pirate queen Madame Ching and Arthur Lee’s noble legendary sailor Ji-Hun. We do get some character development with Ching but Ji-Hun felt like he was just there to move the plot along and you never really got a handle on him.
And speaking of the plot, it was nothing to write home to momma about. Sea Devils want to flood the world and enact overly complicated plan to accomplish that task. And then we have the Doctor foiling said plan in two minutes with little thought or explanation, which is a major issue with Chibnall’s run that he never did improve. Throw in some pirate shenanigans, a little action, an awkward unfulfilled romance and Dan in a goofy costume and set to puree. Enjoy chilled.
Other than the Yaz/Doctor stuff the episode feels somewhat inconsequential in terms of the overall story. Just a quick pirate jaunt before the main event of the Doctor’s epic goodbye featuring the return of the Chibnall era Master, classic companions Ace and Tegan and likely the kitchen sink. And I guess that’s okay. Legend of the Sea Devils not the worst episode from Chibnall (here receiving some writing help from Ella Road) but neither did it reach the heights of some of the more recent outings like Village of the Angels and Eve of the Daleks. Firmly very middle of the road. Or sea, I guess. I swear, that’s the last one.
Editor Jules’s Score: 6 out of 10
So that’s my take. How would you rate Legend of the Sea Devils? And you can check out more 13th Doctor content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.