Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils Review

The Thirteenth Doctor returned to our screens over Easter, but don’t get your hopes up for a special episode as it felt very much like a regular “filler episode” at just the regular runtime of 45 minutes and having little to no impact on the story. Still, the Sea Devils returned! Always nice to see a returning monster… Most of the time. Let’s take a look!

Legend of the Sea Devils could’ve easily been a re-tread of past storylines and given us a regular Silurian / Sea Devils type story but I’ll at least give Mr. Chibnall credit in that he instead did a pseudo-historical story based in 1807 China and focusing on infamous female pirate Zheng Yi Sao (Crystal Yu). The Doctor, Yas and Dan (Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill and John Bishop) arrive in the right country but the wrong era, as often happens (though normally it’s the UK, to be fair!) and end up in a village that had been wiped out using alien technology. We actually see this happen when Zheng (or “Madam Ching”) dug her knife in a statue of a Sea Devil that turned out to be a petrified real one that came to life, as typically  happens.

The Doctor deals with Yas’s affection by pretending to look at her sonic screwdriver instead of paying attention… That actually sounds about right for the Thirteenth Doctor, given how she reacted to Brian’s cancer worries a few seasons ago…

This is where the cracks start to appear in the episode as the CG effects are quite poor, especially for 2022, and for some reason the episode feels heavily censored as villagers are cut down by the Sea Devils’ new glowing sword weapons via shots of the Devils slicing towards the camera and then scenes of people falling down. Really tame, 9am re-run stuff. I’m not expecting horribly graphic violence or anything obviously, but that really stood out. That and the general poor direction of the action scenes, which often cut back and forth between shots so rapidly that it leaves you queasy. We’re talking later Resident Evil films level bad. We also have a large sea creature clearly meant to be a Myrka-like creature called “Hua-Shen” but that also looked quite poor and had no actual ending written for it, it just… stopped appearing.

At least, if nothing else, the actual Sea Devil heads still look like the classic ones. Much like the Sontaran retro design last year some things don’t need to be too radically updated.

Anyway, as local young man Ying Ki (Marlowe Chan-Reeves) teams up with Dan as he tries to get revenge on Madame Ching due to being under the impression she killed his father instead of a living statue of a sea beast (a valid conclusion to jump to!) The Doctor and Yas pop back in the TARDIS and see that this whole thing started in 1533 with the ship of a man named Ji-Hun (Arthur Lee) who had allied himself with a Chief Sea Devil in exchange for his crew’s life. A nice little wrinkle to the tale, plus there is another look at the whole Yas and Doctor relationship thing, though The Doctor by the end of the episode makes it clear she’s not interested in that kind of thing, much to Yas’s disappointment. I assume some sort of pay-off will happen in the big finale at the end of the year…

So there are a few twists and turns, but overall I can’t say I ever got invested, mostly because the combat was so weak and often hard to watch. Plus it loses credit for not having the Sea Devil’s weird disc-shaped ray guns!

The Continuity:

A Chinese pirate adventure with Sea Devils… How did it go so wrong with a fun plot like that?!

The Sea Devils first appeared in the Third Doctor TV story “The Sea Devils”, funnily enough. They reappeared in the Fifth Doctor TV story “Warriors of the Deep” but then didn’t make another TV appearance until this episode. They have appeared in quite a few comics, audios and books mind you, including against the Thirteenth Doctor herself in the comic “Alternating Currents” which given Yas doesn’t recognise them in both stories kind of puts the comic in a “squint to make it fit into your canon if you want it to” scenario.

Overall Thoughts:

Dan duels with a Sea Devil in an appropriately blurry shot no doubt due to the constant camera cuts…

Legend of the Sea Devils was quite disappointing. I appreciated the fresh scenery and all-Asian cast (that mostly spoke with British accents, but that’s Doctor Who for you!) but the Sea Devils fell flat mostly due to weird censorship and poor directing taking all the excitement away from their fight scenes. Oh well… One more to go!

Not a lot to add. The Sea Devil’s plan to flood the planet is prevented thanks to The Doctor rigging their flying pirate ship to blow and then Ji-Hun, who had been frozen in time by the Devils for the past few hundred years, appeared and said “This isn’t my time and kind of my fault, so let me sacrifice myself” which The Doctor of course immediately agrees to and runs for it. That’s the second time Mr. Chibnall has used that ending and both times it was rather crap.

Also no doubt ruthless actual pirate Zheng Yi Sao was only  doing what she was doing to save her kidnapped crew and actually took young cowardly Ying Ki on as a shipmate. Not sure I buy that, but hey-ho, there have been worse cases of inaccurate portrayals of historical people in the series, that’s for sure!

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