The cast from the new Doctor Who Legend of the Sea Devils
The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Yasmin Khan (MANDIP GILL), Dan (John Bishop) - Doctor Who _ Season 13 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America

‘Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils’ Serves Fans Seafaring Thrills

The newest addition in the long-running franchise will take fans to unexplored regions while exploring same-sex romance.

Science fiction continues to live on through wonderfully written worlds. Robots, space ships and creatures unlike any we have ever seen before have conquered readers’ hearts. But when they come to life on the screen, it’s phenomenal. “Doctor Who” is only one of many, yet it continues to thrive.

The special, titled “Legend of the Sea Devils,” follows the Doctor, Yaz and Dan, who face one more threat before the new season time-travels to the screen this upcoming autumn. “Legend of the Sea Devils” sees the return of creatures last seen during the Fifth Doctor’s (Peter Davidson) time, specifically in the episode “Warriors of the Deep” (1984). In a 19th-century coastal Chinese village, a fearsome ocean creature is unleashed from its stone prison by the pirate queen, Madame Ching, who searches for a lost treasure. The sea devil’s havoc-wreaking is interrupted by the arrival of our favorite time traveler and her companions. However, things begin to swim downstream quickly.

“Legend of the Sea Devils” is the first episode in the series that takes place in an Asian country instead of the United Kingdom or another world. In keeping with the setting, the wardrobe and even the ship details are exquisitely designed to match the timeline. Granted, our trio’s clothing is still out of place, particularly Dan’s English-looking pirate garb; however, Yaz and the Doctor dress in traditional Chinese clothes.

It should be noted that the Doctor wears men’s attire to keep with Jodie Whittaker’s take on a slightly gender-bent Doctor. While not speaking on anyone’s behalf, this attention to detail, coming from a British show, might be appreciated by the Asian community. Oh, and let’s not forget the dedication to hiring Asian actors.

Aside from the recognition deserved for the spare-no-detail attitude of “Legend of the Sea Devils,” the plot seems to lack a certain “Doctor Who” quality. The Doctor and her companions show up, meet the locals, fight the Sea Devils, and that’s it. Yes, the Doctor does her spiel against rationalizing murder when the 200-plus-year-old Captain Ji-Hun kills the Sea Devil captain. She even picks up a sword during battle, a scene that one could argue goes against her non-violent character. Though, if true “Whovians” paid attention, they would know it only extends to guns. The Doctor never liked guns.

This special episode did capture more of the emotional sparks between Yaz and the Doctor that were first confirmed in the New Year’s special, “Eve of the Daleks” (2022). As the Doctor and Yaz work to re-route the wiring of the Sea Devil ship, the Doctor shares that she hasn’t dated much, and even alludes to River Song, her wife. She states that she and Yaz can’t be together.

By the end of the episode, she reveals that because “she can’t be fixed” to either a person or place, the two of them being in a romantic relationship would only end in hurt and hard feelings. In terms of the series, having a female Doctor who is in love with a woman shows progress for the future of the show. It also gives hope to the LGBTQ+ community that enjoys the franchise. It isn’t often that a show steeped in history allows for gay representation.

While this did offer insight, “Legend of the Sea Devils” also gave small glimpses into Dan and Yaz’s relationship as part of the Doctor’s crew. Yaz was the one to dress Dan in his “ridiculous” pirate outfit, which even included a hook; the costume looked like a cross between Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, in the words of John Bishop, the actor who portrays Dan. In between swishing blades against the Sea Devils, they share some quick banter about the hook coming in handy.

It’s safe to say that this episode was harder to follow than even the very first of Whittaker’s episodes as the Doctor. It felt as if the writers were trying to appease the fandom with an extra special for the year. But with the recent announcement that Whittaker and the show’s current writer, Chris Chibnall, would be leaving the show for good, Whovians’ anticipation for a new Doctor is palpable. Considering the distaste fans have expressed toward Chibnall’s writing, “Legend of the Sea Devils” casts another reason to look forward to the future of the everlasting franchise. A review by Chris Allcock for Den of Geek makes the lack of joy in the episode’s writing clear by noting that the script felt as if it was in pieces and missing important parts.

“Next, we get another of those moments that suggest another chunk of script was excised. One minute the Doctor’s fiddling with the controls that will make the augmented Flor de la Mar return to the surface,” wrote Allcock. “The next, she, Yaz and a miraculously freed Ji-Hun are fleeing the ship, swinging from ropes to reunite with Madam Ching and the others. We didn’t see them escape from Marsissus (the Sea Devil captain), we just have to presume that they did because, well, here they are.”

With that said, Allcock predicts underused monsters and solid performances from the cast won’t be what eases us to the finish line of Whittaker’s run. It certainly won’t be the teaser for the new series in autumn with the return of The Master and Flux characters. No, it will be the aftermath of the Doctor crushing hearts — Yaz and the fandom’s, as she sits skipping stones on a beach and makes wishes with Yaz. Maybe one day a “Doctor Who” ship won’t be doomed to sink at the hands of its writers.

Rebecca Trevathan, University of Texas at Austin

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Rebecca Trevathan

University of Texas at Austin

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