Piracy Provides Perfect Cover to Talk About Your Feelings in Doctor Who’s “Legend of the Sea Devils”

This is the final episode before Thirteen’s upcoming regeneration, and while I’m extremely excited for that (Tegan and Ace are back, my favorite classic companions! The Master is back because of course he is!), I’m also sure that I’m not ready for it, and not ready for this to be the only episode we get between now and then. Here goes…

Recap

It’s 1807 and a small fishing village in China gets thrown into chaos because the legendary pirate Madame Ching (Crystal Yu) messes with a statue depicting the likeness of a Sea Devil. Ying Wai (David K. S. Tse) is meant to guard the statue and tells his son Ying Ki (Marlowe Chan-Reeves) that the duty will fall to him if he doesn’t survive the ordeal. The statue turns out to be housing a Sea Devil named Marsissus, in fact, and it is released to general confusion and a lot of death—including Ying Wai’s, sadly. Marsissus (Craig Els) escapes on a flying pirate ship full of their brethren.

Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

The Doctor, Dan, and Yaz arrive in the TARDIS, and the Doctor notes that something is amiss with gravity. They head into the village and find that Ying Ki is accusing Madame Ching of his father’s murder, though the Doctor can tell that he’s been poisoned by Sea Devil toxin. Madame Ching departs after explaining that she’s looking for Ji-Hun’s legendary treasure (the lost treasure of Flor de la Mar), and doesn’t want anyone getting in her way. This leads Dan to follow Ying Ki, who is not standing for such an exit—they both agree to swim to Ching’s pirate ship. Because Dan has wandered off, the Doctor takes Yaz aboard the TARDIS and suggests that they go looking for the treasure back when it was first lost, 274 years ago. Dan and Ying Ki are taken hostage by Madame Ching, who turns out to have no crew: They were all kidnapped, including her two young sons. She’s looking for the treasure so she can pay their ransom and get them back.

The Doctor and Yaz arrive in the past and see Ji-Hun (Arthur Lee) commanding his crew to jump overboard—it seems like he’s in league with the Sea Devils, but turns out to be a ploy to save his crew and stop them. Back in 1807, the Doctor and Yaz go to the sea floor to find the treasure, but there’s no ship where it should be. Instead, they encounter a massive underwater creature called the Huasen, which houses the Sea Devils and Ji-Hun’s ship, which they’ve heavily modified. The Sea Devils are searching for something called the Keystone, which the Doctor pretends to have. It turns out the Ji-Hun has also been kept alive in a stasis field aboard their ship for centuries. They ask him about the Keystone and he reveals that it was part of the treasure, and he gave it to one of his crewmen for safekeeping… At the same time, the Sea Devils have discovered that the Doctor doesn’t have to Keystone and make for Madame Ching’s ship.

Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

The Doctor, Yaz, and Ji-Hun also make it aboard the ship in time to discover that Ying Ki has been carrying the Keystone since his father’s death, as they are the descendants of Ji-Hun’s crewman. They’re not in time to stop him from getting jumped by Marsissus, who takes the Keystone. The Doctor realizes that they’ll be using it to change the Earth’s poles and melt all the ice, flooding the planet. She rigs Ji-Hun’s modified ship to stop this plan as she has a conversation with Yaz about their feelings for each other. The Doctor reveals that she’ll need to stay behind to ensure that her repairs stop the Sea Devils, but Ji-Hun offers to stay in her place, sacrificing his life. Back on Madame Ching’s ship, they’ve re-collected enough of the treasure from Ji-Hun’s vessel to get back her kidnapped crew—and she adopts Ying Ki, who is extremely pleased.

Dan calls Diane, who is happy to hear from him despite turning him down for a date last time they talked. Yaz and Doctor talk again, and while the Doctor admits that she does care for Yaz, she’s too afraid of hurt and would rather things stayed exactly the way they are. She makes a wish to that effect, skipping a stone across the water.

Commentary

Sometimes a script just isn’t quite paying attention to itself and you can tell? Like how it starts with Ying Wai telling his son that he has to stop Madame Ching from messing with that statue, and he seems to be on top of things… only to not arrive even remotely in time. And we don’t really know what held him up, he was definitely ready to charge out the door well before she arrived at the statue. So that’s kinda awkward.

The editing of this episode is weirdly a mess, which is unfortunate because there’s a lot of great stuff going on, and fun fight choreography, and great sets and costumes, and I can’t figure out why everything was so jumpy and odd. It’s unfortunate because they clearly built a lot of detail into this one, and we don’t get nearly enough time to appreciate it. Also, we’ve got a plethora of excellent guest stars and not nearly enough time to enjoy them all.

Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

Here’s the other thing: Ching Shih is one of the most famous pirates in world history, and this story… doesn’t really tackle that? It’s very cool to have her as a character (and to continue the Thirteenth Doctor’s penchant for meeting incredible women throughout history), but the episode doesn’t really offer enough time to get into why she’s there. 1807 is technically the very beginning of her pirate queen reign—her husband dies and she takes control of his whole confederation of ships, which is presumably what she’ll do once she gets back her crew at the end of this little adventure. It would’ve been great to have someone make mention of it?

What I’m really getting at is that I wish these specials were longer. The Tenth Doctor’s finale specials were like mini films, and I’m bothered that Thirteen isn’t getting the same treatment. She deserves it, Ching Shih deserves it, Yaz and Dan deserve it, fans deserve it…

If there’s one thing that I really love about Chibnall’s run, though, it’s how much he clearly adores the really corny old school Doctor Who antagonists. I’m a big fan of the Sea Devils (they’re just so goofy, how can you not), and I have a lot of admiration for this redesign, which is barely a redesign at all, but more an articulation of what was already there. Giving us a more workable sense of how they communicate with land-dwellers was really fun. While the episode really isn’t prepared to handle the important things about their species—namely that they were a dominant species before humans on Earth—it’s still enjoyable to have them around again.

Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

And, of course, we’ve got the Doctor and Yaz to contend with. And their feelings. And how to handle said feelings. After Dan definitely told the Doctor about his conversation with Yaz (and didn’t tell Yaz that he told her because he’s that kind of friend), the Doctor is aware of the fact that she’s going to have to address it, which means acknowledging feelings in the first place. There are a number of wonderful little “they are very married” moments between her and Yaz here, which then culminate in the Doctor admitting that she would like to jump headfirst into this thing between them, but… she can’t.

I’m sure that everyone was hoping for more, but I appreciate the commitment to how bad the Doctor is at romance. Thirteen isn’t as dramatic as former incarnations, she’s not going to give Yaz some speech about how humans die, and you can’t imagine how terrible it is to watch people you love wither away, oh, isn’t it awful to be functionally immortal and never get life on the “slow path,” etc. (I mean, I loved Ten the very most, but he did go on and on about it. Eleven just sidestepped it entirely and then giggled about it. Twelve was rude until properly confronted and then he would forget how words even worked.) She just puts it plainly as possible: If she enters into this relationship, it’s going to hurt eventually. It’s poignant for the fact that we know the Doctor isn’t afraid of much openly, but this is frightening enough that she’ll admit it. And Yaz doesn’t have a counter to the argument because she knows it’s true. This will probably hurt eventually. What she doesn’t say is that for her, it hurts right now regardless. They’re at the worst kind of impasse.

And then the Doctor makes the mistake of wishing that what they do have could lasted forever, and it’s like she might as well ask the lightning to strike her because come on, Doctor, you know this is how regeneration catches up with you. We all know.

 

Bits and Detritus:

  • Yaz putting Dan in that Halloween store pirate outfit is just *chef’s kiss*… I am genuinely sad that we haven’t gotten more seasons with the two of them. I miss Ryan and Graham, but Yaz gets to razz Dan more because she’s gotten comfortable, and their dynamic is too good.
Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

  • When the Doctor says that history is never like the books, just like Stephen King adaptations, I pretty much died forever. But the Pimp My Ride reference revived me.
  • There’s this thing that Doctor Who always forgets to do, which is make sure that they’re perfectly clear about when the TARDIS is leaving and coming back to a time period, and if there’s any gaps in that. Why is it important? Because the TARDIS is responsible for everyone being able to understand each other. If it was suddenly gone for any length of time while the Doctor and Yaz checked out the 16th century, Dan wouldn’t be able to understand anyone and (presumably) vice versa.
  • There’s the moment where the Doctor brings up River Song, of course, and it’s great because Thirteen gets to talk about “my wife” back when she was a man, and can I say… it’s really great being a trans Doctor Who fan right about now. That entire line of commentary is so very similar to things I have said about my life, I just… I know that feel, Doctor.
Doctor Who, Legend of the Sea Devils

Screenshot: BBC

  • Obviously, the Sea Devils are from Classic Who, and if you’ve never watched those serials, I highly recommend them. Mostly the first one, which is just called “The Sea Devils.” I recommend it mostly because the Doctor and the Master fence in it. Sorry that I’m like this.

All of which is to say… see you in the fall for Thirteen’s regeneration. I’m not ready! The Master’s not ready! Tegan and Ace and Yaz are usually ready for most things, though.

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