Review [DW]: “The Awakening”

21×2. The Awakening
Writer: Eric Pringle
Director: Michael Owen Morris
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives in a small English village to visit Tegan’s grandfather, only to find the residents obsessed with a re-enactment of a battle from the English Civil War, which in turn feeds the energy of an alien creature known as the Malus.

Review: I commented in my review of “The King’s Demons” that the original Doctor Who series’ two-parters suffered from maintaining the slower pace typical of the longer serials. “The Awakening” at least avoids that pitfall, but unfortunately I still can’t give it a full recommendation. It’s been about two weeks since I actually watched it, and it’s so relentlessly pedestrian in plot and characterization that I again find myself struggling to find much to say. The script relies a bit too much on “psychic energy” to explain all the goings-on, and none of the characters, aside from maybe the 17th century transplant Will Chandler, emerge as particularly memorable. I will, however, give the serial credit for one particularly clever line, in which the Doctor, in response to the accusation, “You speak treason,” replies, “Fluently!”

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

Review [DW]: “Warriors of the Deep”

21×1. Warriors of the Deep
Writer: Johnny Byrne
Director: Pennant Roberts
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The TARDIS is forced to materialize on an underwater sea base, charged with maintaining deadly weapons for potential use in a global conflict, that comes under attack by a joint force of Silurians and Sea Devils planning to trigger a war that will eradicate humanity and allow them to reclaim Earth.

Review: I can respect “Warriors of the Deep” for what it tries to do – create an analogy to Cold War brinksmanship while posing a dilemma to the Doctor in which peaceful resolution might not be possible – but there are too many problems with how it goes about its business for me to recommend it. For starters, despite his later attempts to resolve the situation without violence, the Doctor is strangely hostile and careless towards the Sea Base crew at first. In an attempt to avoid capture, he sets the station’s reactor to overload as a diversion, which seems like a very selfish risk to take even though he expects that the crew will disarm it, and he then tries to fight off the guards rather than explain himself. Frankly, it’s not surprising that they’re suspicious of him and the TARDIS crew given their intial behavior.

The script is also less than seamless in its portrayal of the Silurians and Sea Devils themselves. The Doctor Who creative team seem to have zeroed in on their potential as tragic villains based on their appearances during the Pertwee era, but they also seem to be inventing new backstory rather than building on what was already established. None of the Silurians ever identified themselves by name in their first appearance, and yet the Doctor recognizes “Icthar” as someone he knows and previously assumed dead – if this character is supposed to be one of the original Silurians, it’s unclear which one, or why. The fact that the two species have a valid claim to Earth prevents “Warriors of the Deep” from being a simple “innocent humans vs. aggressive alien invaders” conflict, hence the Doctor’s lament that “there should have been another way” after killing them, but the script is a little too on-the-nose in having them literally echo the Nazis in calling for a genocidal “Final Solution.” The situation at the end is also a bit contrived – the station happens to have a supply of hexachromite gas (which is lethal to reptilian life) on hand, but nothing that could be used to stun and imprison the Silurians and Sea Devils, and the normally inventive Doctor is unable to come up with an alternative in time to stop the missile launch.

The first episode, which focuses more on the Cold War analogy, is probably the best of the four, featuring the TARDIS running afoul of a hair-trigger automated defense satellite, a compelling character who believes he might be unable to “press the button,” and a drill designed so that the base crew can’t tell whether or not it’s the actual beginning of a global war. But after that, there’s just too much dubious characterization, contrived plotting, and subpar action. The┬áMyrka, a monster that the Silurians and Sea Devils unleash on the base, is particularly embarrassing, and the tactics – if one can even call them that – employed in the gun battles between the humans and their attackers reminded me of nothing so much as an infamous zero-budget horror movie called The Creeping Terror, in which the army fought against an “alien” that was clearly a barely-mobile piece of carpet and still somehow managed to lose. Overall, the script might have done better to dispense with the Silurians and Sea Devils and simply do a story about Cold War-style mutually assured destruction with the Doctor attempting to play peacemaker between humans.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)