Doctor Who’s had a little bit of occasion exhaustion currently, because of a schedule extra dictated by the chaos of the previous two years than of its personal explicit volition. Between Flux and the particular episodes closing out Jodie Whittaker’s time because the Doctor, we’ve been taught to count on massive issues, thrilling issues, as a result of that is all of the Doctor Who you’re getting for months at a time. So what occurs when the thrill forgets to point out up?
That’s form of what “Legend of the Sea Devils” is: an episode of Doctor Who that may maybe be a superbly high quality journey in a full season of the present, reasonably than being offered as the following massive particular. You know, that kind of spine each season of Who is constructed on — an Aggressively Fine story you watch as soon as after which overlook about totally due to way more thrilling issues occurring elsewhere in that chunk of episodes till you revisit that season and overlook it yet again. It’s acquired all of the makings of one thing enjoyable: the return of a basic monster within the Sea Devils, 50 years after their debut; a cool historic setting within the type of the seas round nineteenth century China; and, maybe arguably most necessary of all, pirate ships! Two pirate ships, considered one of which is flying and ostensibly stuffed with Sea Devils!
And but, none of it actually works past the cursory concept that it was, in the end, an episode of tv that acquired made. There’s little construct up or stress across the Sea Devils that dampens (sorry, not sorry) their menace — they seem, they are saying they need to take over the world to the Doctor, after which they only… form of sit there doing that till they’re stopped. They’re nice wanting monsters (maybe the most effective in Who’s latest historical past by way of redesigning a well-recognized look) however not significantly monstrous, so there’s little of that basic worry outdoors of a brief, sharp dose close to at first of the episode. The tiny smattering of visitor characters — Crystal Yu and Arthur Lee because the piratical Madame Ching and Ji-Hun, respectively, and Marlowe Chan-Reeves because the excitable younger villager Ying Kei, who loses his household within the first Sea Devil assault — don’t get a lot in the best way of background and even base motivation past awkwardly delivered exposition that’s then largely left untouched. Ying Kei desires vengeance, till he doesn’t! Madame Ching desires to repay money owed holding her kids hostage, after which will get the products to do this. Ji-Hun… desires to die as a result of the Sea Devils have saved him in suspended animation for a number of hundred years, and that’s impolite of them.
Everything about “Legend of the Sea Devils” looks like that: perfunctory. The lack of actual stress means you by no means actually care concerning the Sea Devils and their menace. The lack of time with Ching, Ji-Hun, and Ying Kei implies that past their preliminary motivations, you don’t get to see them go on satisfying arcs. By the time all the pieces’s meant to crescendo within the third act, it feels just like the viewers is counting down the clock, and all the pieces putters out past a little bit of emotional decision for the Doctor and her associates (extra on that later). It’s additionally not arduous to really feel the constraints of capturing an episode like this on the top of mid-pandemic secure manufacturing guidelines, as a result of what doesn’t assist “Legend of the Sea Devils” and its lack of power is how empty it feels.
From huge open pictures of empty boat decks to very awkward transitions to keep away from exhibiting how the Doctor and associates leap from one ship to the following, all the pieces about “Legend” feels in some way much more restricted than Doctor Who often does. The main forged past the Doctor and her associates is small, and that’s about it for precise folks within the episode that aren’t lined underneath layers of Sea Devil prosthetics — and even then, there’s not lots of them at a time, so scenes simply really feel bereft. There’s no actual stakes to what the Sea Devils need to do outdoors of the preliminary village assault, so it’s arduous to care about, nicely, the factor Doctor Who is about: the Doctor racing to cease the monsters from their evil plans.
And it’s not like Doctor Who can’t do cheap-feeling, small-stake bottle episode fashion adventures. It’s Doctor Who, it’s actually about 60% that and has been for practically 60 years. Hell, the final episode of the present was simply that. “Eve of the Daleks” was a narrative that performed to the strengths of its apparent limitations, a decent timeloop story that would unfold on a restricted variety of units with a restricted quantity of forged that could possibly be in a room collectively for a given size of time with function. It gave us an opportunity to truly care about not simply the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan, however the brand new characters launched, as a result of it knew it was all it had. “Legend of the Sea Devils” wished to be a giant, sweeping high-seas journey, however simply… wasn’t, and trundled alongside hoping for the perfect anyway. It’s telling when the trailer for the following episode on the finish had extra pleasure in it than something in “Legend” itself.
Aside from the hum-drum nature of the journey itself although, “Legend” acquired one factor proper: because of its visitor stars largely current to provide Dan somebody to speak to every now and then, its precise power is available in giving the Doctor and Yaz time to be with one another, and discuss by their difficult emotions about one another finally. It may need to condense slightly given the character of this not simply being a one-off episode, however the penultimate entry earlier than Whittaker’s Doctor is out of the present totally, however lastly letting Yaz and the Doctor awkwardly dance round their apparent affection for every different gave “Legend” an emotional core it lacked elsewhere, even when most of that core is totally separate from the principle thrust of the episode.
Even if the concept of the Doctor and Yaz getting into a romantic relationship is doomed — each textually, from the Doctor’s warnings that their nature as a Time Lord implies that any relationship with a human, romantic or in any other case, is doomed to finish in heartbreak, and metatextually, with the quickly impending finish of Whittaker and Chibnall’s time on the present — attending to see each characters pushed out of their consolation zones with one another, it’s necessary to not less than have these moments out within the open. If just for the stakes of creating the following episode truly matter much more now, it’s an necessary evolution for each Yaz and the thirteenth Doctor alike — particularly the latter, whose darker impulses have pushed her down a path of being dishonest along with her closest associates time and time once more. Making herself susceptible to Yaz, even when it’s to inform her simply how a lot she can not afford to face the heartbreak of being actually susceptible along with her, is a step towards therapeutic a few of that ache and darkness she’s been contending with since her trials on Gallifrey.
But we all know additional heartbreak is on the best way for the thirteenth Doctor now — her closing days, and a battle stuffed with outdated associates and older enemies to finish this present period of Doctor Who. As befitting a present about time journey, it’s at all times the long run that’s essentially the most thrilling and stuffed with potential… even when Doctor Who needed to commerce fairly a bit of pleasure within the current to set the stage for it.
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