Review: ‘Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils’

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While Sunday may have been a holiday with your family, to me and many other Whovians around the globe there was another reason to celebrate. Fans of Doctor Who were treated to the second of three specials in 2023 – Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils.

In a move similar to David Tennant’s final appearances, the three specials serve as the Swan Song to Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor. So where did this penultimate episode of Whittaker’s take fans in all of time and space? To 19th century China and on a journey to find a lost treasure. 

[Warning: Spoilers for this new special are below. Please read at your own risk!]

The Story in Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils

We begin with The Doctor (Whittaker) promising Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) a trip to the beach. While there is a beach in their future, the TARDIS brings the fam to the past, specifically 1807 China.

Upon their arrival, the Doctor and her companions stumble onto a raid gone wrong by pirate Madame Ching (Crystal Yu). In Madame Ching’s attempt to find Ji-Hun’s long-lost treasure, she releases the Sea Devil Captain from its stone prison.

From that moment on, it’s a race against the clock to stop the Sea Devils from destroying the world. The adventure branches off into two distinct stories, with The Doctor and Yaz traveling back through time together to find the treasure, while Ying Ki (Marlow Chan-Reeves) attempting to get revenge against Madame Ching for killing his father, with Dan in tow.

Throughout the course of the special, we discover that Madame Ching’s reason behind the raid, in the beginning, isn’t as selfish as originally believed. Yes, she wants to find the treasure, both to use it to pay the ransom on her crew. Flashbacks show us the kidnapping of her crew, including her two sons, a situation that is reflective of Ji-Hun’s crew 274 years in the past.

Most of the episode sees multiple people searching for the keystone, the MacGuffin for this special. Madame Ching believes the keystone will lead her to the treasure, while the Sea Devils need it to reverse the geometric poles, flooding the Earth.

In true Doctor Who fashion, the Doctor manages to save the world from being flooded through her usual hijinx and hair-brained schemes. The episode ended in a bittersweet way, with the world saved, Madame Chang rescuing her crew and adopting Ying Ki, while the Doctor and her companions prepare for their next adventure.

The Beginning of the End

This special brought some key moments about how the Doctor and her companion’s time on the beloved BBC show may come to an end.

After saving the world, Dan calls Diane, his love interest from the previous series. It seems like he is missing his life on Earth and expresses his interest in seeing Diane soon. It’s unclear that that is the specific way Dan will be leaving the show, but it is very convenient that this longing for home crops up in the second to last episode of their run together.

Peppered throughout the episode as well, we get more moments between The Doctor and Yaz as their feelings become more known and apparent to everyone. In a moment that made me cry profusely, The Doctor confesses her love for Yaz but also turns her down for fear of the hurt losing Yaz eventually would cause her.

The moment spoke about how all things come to an end, which felt like a major hint toward sadness and loss coming in the Doctor’s future. The episode ended with The Doctor indicating that she wishes they would stay together forever, which felt super somber for an action-packed episode of Doctor Who.

LtR: Yaz (Mandip Gill), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Dan (John Bishop). Still from Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils. (BBC)

What Worked and What Didn’t

For the most part, the special was a strong entry in Whittaker’s run as The Doctor. The episode provided me with tons of action, plenty of heart, and the moment between The Doctor and Yaz that I have been waiting for. Watching their relationship grow stronger over the past three seasons has been incredibly exciting to see, even if it didn’t end in the way I would have liked.

With all that being said, there were some issues with the episode, the first being its length. The episode was only 48 minutes without commercials, which isn’t much longer than a standard episode of Doctor Who. Ending Whittaker’s run with three specials should make it feel like an event, not just another filler episode. 

I would have liked some more time to let the episode breathe and explore more about the Sea Devils, along with more exploration of the Fam. If we had more time, Dan’s desire to return home wouldn’t have felt like a rushed thought or afterthought. As well, The Doctor and Yaz deserved more time to talk about and explore their non-commitment to each other.

Because the special itself is so short, it felt the resolution of the story was rushed. That is something that many criticized Steven Moffat’s period on Doctor Who for. The story felt incredibly grand and could have benefited from some more time to come to the conclusion naturally.

One Special Left for Whittaker on Doctor Who

The wait now begins for the last special in Whittaker’s run, which is expected sometime in October of this year. The teaser gave us a hint of what is to come, however, we’re still unsure of how The Doctor and her companions will be leaving the show.

Regardless of how it comes, the final episode will absolutely give fans action, excitement, and plenty of reasons to cry. Plus, with the ending coming nearer, we could find out who the new Doctor is any day. With rumors already spiraling about who the next Doctor is and the possibility of some familiar faces returning, it’ll be nice to get some confirmation.

Doctor Who will return in the Fall for the last special of Jodie Whittaker’s run. What did you think of this new special? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @mycosmiccircus!

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