Monday 27 April 2020

Inspirations - Warriors of the Deep

A story that might have been a better fit with the previous, backwards looking, anniversary season, as it acts as a sequel to two Jon Pertwee adventures. These were both written by Malcolm Hulke and featured Earth's former reptilian masters - The Silurians and The Sea Devils.
Writer Johnny Byrne was asked by producer JNT to write this sequel, incorporating both the Silurians and the Sea Devils, having contributed stories to JNT's first two seasons (as well as having been his first choice as script editor).
Byrne would claim that this story was a reworking of a Space: 1999 script, but if that's the case then no-one knows which one he's referring to. It certainly isn't one of his own contributions to that series.
One episode which does share certain plot elements is "The Beta Cloud", written by the show's producer Fred Freiberger, which was part of the second series. This features a large monster (played by Dave Prowse) marauding through the Moonbase, with the crew making various futile attempts to halt its progress. This mirrors the Myrka part of Warriors of the Deep. It may well be that Byrne lifted little bits of other stories to make up this one. Season 1's "The Last Enemy" features a Cold War stalemate situation between two factions and the Moonbase finding itself used as a means for one side to gain a tactical advantage over the other. In Warriors of the Deep, however it is a third party (the Silurians and their Sea Devil cousins) which wants to use Sea Base 4 to set the two opposing power blocs into fighting a nuclear war.

In 1984, when this story was broadcast, the Cold War was hotter than it had been since the 1960's. The USA had Ronald Reagan as President, whilst in the UK we had Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister - a pair of Hawks. The Soviet Union saw two leaders in 1984 - first Yuri Andropov, and then Konstantin Chernenko, who only lasted 13 months before being replaced by Gorbachev in 1985. Andropov was as hawkish as his Western counterparts. The world saw a proliferation of nuclear armaments in the early 1980's, and Reagan was even contemplating taking the Cold War into space with his "Star Wars" programme. This was the backdrop to Byrne's story, where we have two power blocs poised on the brink of war 100 years in the future. The nature of these power blocs is never explained. We only ever get to see the crew of Sea Base 4, who never mention their national or political affiliation. The crew have a mix of Western and Eastern European names - Maddox, Preston, Nilson, Paroli, Solow and Vorshak. This could be a North-South conflict rather than an East-West one, as there are very few ethnic minorities amongst the crew.
The political situation in the UK was one of the main factors in this story having a terrible reputation from a production pint of view.

Although Mrs Thatcher could have remained as Prime Minister until the Spring of 1984, she decided to call a General Election for the Autumn of 1983, which took everyone by surprise - not least the BBC who had booked studio spaces for the period when the election was to fall. Some productions were held back until after the election, and JNT could have taken this option, but he chose instead to bring production on Warriors of the Deep forward. This left director Pennant Roberts with little time to prepare, but it was even worse for VFX lead Mat Irvine. He was already held up on another production in Scotland when he learned he had only a few weeks to provide dozens of props and costumes. The Silurians were totally redesigned, making them look more turtle-like, with a thick shell-like carapace. When it became clear that you couldn't tell which one was talking, the third eye was changed to illuminate when they spoke, whereas before it had only been used as a weapon or tool. Only one rather battered Sea Devil head survived from 1972, on display at one of the BBC Doctor Who Exhibitions. This was used as a mould for the new masks. It was decided to make the Sea Devils more of a military force, with the Silurians their officer class. Fishing net dresses were out, and so they ended up being given a Samurai Warrior costume. The fins on the original Sea Devil mask were left off the new ones as they were now going to be wearing helmets. Neither of the new sets of costume fitted very well. You can often see the white T-shirts of the Silurian actors appearing when the neck piece comes loose from the back plate. Worst of all, as the Sea Devil heads fit on top of the actors' own heads, they often wobble alarmingly or simply tilt over as if they had broken necks. Costume wise, worse was to come...

Not content with having the Silurians and the Sea Devils return, it was also decided to have a brand new monster in the story - the Myrka. The Silurians had previously been seen to have a pet dinosaur, and the Myrka was to be a pet of the Sea Devils - a large underwater reptile which has a vaguely Sea Devil-ish face. A quadruped, it would be operated, like a pantomime cow, by two people - and the men selected to be inside it were William Perrie and John Asquith, who were usually to be found operating the pantomime horse in the BBC children's sitcom Rentaghost. The shortage of time in the lead up to this story going into production meant that they never got to rehearse in the costume. The first time they got inside was when they were called upon to operate it for the recording. Not only that, but the costume was still wet, and you can see green paint getting smeared on the sets and Janet Fielding's dress.
Byrne was at pains to make to make it clear afterwards that the Myrka was never supposed to look the way it did. It was only ever supposed to be seen in shadow and silhouette, as he had envisaged the Sea base to be a dark, dank, rusty environment. What he got instead was brilliant white walls, lit by floodlights. Mat Irvine recommended that the Myrka be dropped from the story, when it became clear that it didn't work, but JNT insisted on its inclusion.
Something else Byrne never scripted was the judo fight between scientist Solow (Ingrid Pitt) and the Myrka. This was the actress' own idea to do, and the director stupidly agreed to allow it. Pitt had been due to play the role of Karina, but asked for the scientist part instead.

As there were problems on the production side, so were there problems with the script. It is clear that Warriors of the Deep is intended to be a sequel to the two Pertwee stories, and only to the two Pertwee stories. The Doctor specifically refers to two previous occasions when he tried to broker peace between humans and reptiles. However, the three Silurians are referred to as the Silurian Triad, despite never being called this before. They never had names in The Silurians. Worst of all, the Doctor recognises a Silurian battle-cruiser when he sees one - despite such a thing never having been seen on screen before. The plot only works if the Doctor is referring to two previous occasions with the Silurians only, ignoring the Sea Devil story - meaning that there has been an unbroadcast story at some point.
It was during the making of this story that Peter Davison and Janet Fielding announced that this would be their last season on the show. Davison was offered a fourth year but declined, following advice from Patrick Troughton to only do three years.
Next time: the final old-style two part story of the Classic Era, written by a man whose agent was once producer of Doctor Who...

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