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Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils - Review

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Jodie Whittaker's Doctor is out of time. Her next special episode is to be the last outing for 13 - and Chris Chibnall will depart Who with her. We know that - but what we don't know is how; who - or why - and Legend of the Sea Devils feels acutely aware of that without wanting to detract from the fun, setting aside some character time in a crowded affair that feels like one of the shortest "specials" a special has ever been on this series.

There's a sense of noncommittal approach that Jodie's Doctor has to relationships - with Yas, the chemistry and awkwardness is there and really well written - Yas is less confident in this regard than Bill was - she's still on that journey - and 13 is unafraid to commit due to her belief that she'll be forced to move on. This bit I didn't quite buy given that so much of Moffat's era was about character arcs that forced both 11+12 to adapt to learning with the growing pains that come with moving on and enjoy life as it is - but the scenes between Yas and 13 at the end were incredibly powerful regardless - it was so refreshing to see 13 call back to River too and increase the awkwardness of it all ("my wife") for a confused Yas, and easily the stronger of an episode that felt like it wasn't supposed to be a special in the first place - just like an average episode of Flux - even if the epsiode never fully went all the way in taking that relationship to the next level we'll at least have those moments.

The plot is half-baked and a waste of an opportunity to bring the Sea Devils back for the first time in current Who. The pirate era mixed with the alien gives it a quasi Pirates of the Caribbean familiarity - but the storyline feels rushed, like it needed to be a two parter or a feature-length episode because plot points barely get any attention, I almost forgot the names of every other side character in this and I saw the thing on Sunday - and the whole thing just feels incredibly rushed. It moves too quickly even the honest and authentic moments have little time to breathe.

The comedy lands here and Dan does most of the heavy lifting - the bit about a time traveller going back in time to tell past characters of what's so great about the future only to offer no proof of that and not being able to explain stuff that we take for granted was a nice twist. John Bishop continues to excel in these scenes. Crystal Yu is fantastic given the limited material that she gets as Madam Ching - Legendary Pirate Queen - and the whole storyline really needed to do her character better justice than what was given - more attention is given to Arthur Lee’s Ji-Hun who acts as the emotional core of the narrative - he gets even more screentime than Marlowe Chan-Reeves’ Ying Ki.

Yu is fun to have around but given the runtime that the episode has to offer it feels like there was maybe one character too many on show, especially with a half baked revenge plot that's forgotten without feeling earned in Ying Ki's part - but at least maybe these characters will get a Big Finish audio drama one day? Having Craige Els back only to cast him as a faceless Sea Devil and not see Karvanista return feels like a major missed opportunity. Much of these problems would be fixed if Legend of the Sea Devils had any room to breathe, but ultimately, it comes up short.

The performances are good - Whittaker is excellent as ever and I would have loved to have seen her 13 written by stronger writers even though I'm kinder to this era than most - The Haunting of Villa Diodati is one of my favourite stories of the current show, as is The Village of Angels. If anything this is Yas' episode - she's almost adopted Dan as her own companion even dressing him up as a pirate; and The Doctor recognises this - telling her to look after him. It feels odd that Dan and The Doctor have been in comparatively little scenes together given how vibrant and full of energy Flux was as a series - a real difference compared to this special. There's an element of fun here that means it's never truly bad; but the worst part of it all is that it's just fine - in the same way that Planet of the Dead was. A perfect 3/5 starrer; like most of the Chibnall era has been. The CGI - considering its daunting subject - is inconsistent leading to some genuinely brilliant shots - but there's other moments where the constraints of a BBC original series begin to show.

As a swashbuckling noncommittal adventure fare with a revenge plot mixed in with a treasure hunt - Legend of the Sea Devils has everything in spades - almost like it has too much of everything - but the trailer at the end of the episode will almost certainly have long term Who fans back for more. For me; who considers 7 to be my favourite Classic Doctor - it was a real treat to get Ace back again - versus the Daleks at that - and Tegan showing up was such a welcome surprise given how little this era has tapped into Classic Who lore. By next time we'll almost certainly know who Russell T. Davies has cast as the 14th Doctor with the reveal reportedly coming in weeks. Now's a good time to start placing your bets.

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