Timestamp #310: Legend of the Sea Devils

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Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils
(1 episode, Easter Special, 2022)

Timestamp 310 Legend of the Sea Devils

A spell of swashbuckling with Sea Devils.

A coastal Chinese village is under assault. The year is 1807 and a pirate queen stalks through the village, intent on smashing the statue at the center. A man named Ying Wai confronts her, telling his son Ying Ki that destroying the statue will unleash something inconceivable. The pirate chips away at the statue and green energy pours from the cracks. The statue explodes, revealing a Sea Devil that kills Ying Wai.

The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan arrive on the beach. The Doctor and Yaz are in period-specific clothing, but for a visit four centuries off course. Dan, however, emerges from the TARDIS in a pantomime Western pirate outfit. Yaz has been having fun with him. The tone changes when the Doctor finds a localized geomagnetic disturbance, and the team follows screaming voices to the village.

The Doctor and the companions confront the Sea Devil as it rampages through the village, but it is rescued by a large airborne pirate ship. The villagers’ wounds are marked with hexo-toxic poison, and the Doctor meets Zheng Yi Sao, better known as Madame Ching, the pirate queen. She was seeking the lost treasure of Flor de la Mar when the Sea Devil attacked.

Speaking of the Sea Devil, he is the Chief of the group, and he summons the Hua-Shen sea monster to do his bidding. That critter snacks on an innocent fisherman for fun.

Madame Ching returns to her ship as Dan joins Ying Ki to sneak aboard. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Yaz try to track Dan as the latter learns about the Sea Devils. The Sea Devil ship has cloaked, so the Doctor decides to talk to Madame Ching. But first, she decides to travel to 1807 and find the lost treasure.

Dan and Ki are captured as stowaways. They’re shocked to find the ship empty aside from Madame Ching, and the pirate queen offers to spare them if they help her find the treasure. The Doctor and Yaz travel to 1533 and watch as captain Sin Ji-Hun forces his crew to jump overboard. The captain is soon joined by the Chief Sea Devil, for whom the captain has emptied his ship for the Sea Devil’s use. The Sea Devil betrays the captain, and the travelers run for the TARDIS as the ship begins to sink. The travelers move 274 years in the future and land on the ocean floor. In a spectacular view, the Doctor jokes about being a good date (which rattles Yaz) before noting the lack of a shipwreck.

The TARDIS is taken by the Hua-Shen as the ocean floor crumbles beneath it.

Madame Ching, Dan, and Ki try to navigate toward the treasure, but the compass and the stars keep moving inexplicably. Ching explains that her entire crew (including her two juvenile sons) have been captured and will be executed unless she returns with the treasure. They are attacked by Hua-Shen, which can throw cannonballs back when it is shot at.

Hua-Shen dropped the TARDIS at the Sea Devil base. The Doctor and Yaz confront the Chief Sea Devil. The Doctor babbles about the technology around them as she thinks, but the Chief calls her bluff. He reveals that Ji-Hun’s ship is their flying craft and that he needs a Keystone, so the Doctor offers it in exchange for a tour of his ride. The Keystone is a gem of extraordinary power and will lead the Chief to the treasure. The Chief has also kept Ji-Hun in stasis since betraying him, and the Doctor learns that the captain was trying to trick the Chief to save his crew and safeguard the Keystone.

The Chief Sea Devil is alerted by the Hua-Shen that the Keystone is on the surface, so he threatens the Doctor’s life before she forces the ship to surface. Yaz, the Doctor, and Ji-Hun swing over to Madame Ching’s ship as the Chief Sea Devil materializes on deck. Ki has had the Keystone all along, holding it as a family heirloom passed down from Ji-Hun’s trusted second-in-command. The Chief takes it and returns to his ship, forcing the Doctor and her team to follow.

The Doctor confronts the Chief, uncovering his plan to flip the planet’s magnetic poles and flood the planet. The Sea Devils want to reclaim the Earth. A swordfight ensues between the two crews and Ji-Hun kills the Chief, an act that upsets the Doctor. She submerges the ship and asks Dan to watch Ching and Ji-Hun while keeping the Sea Devils at bay. The Doctor and Yaz head to the control core and try to disarm the flooding mechanism.

Ji-Hun sends Ki and Ching to retrieve the treasure while Dan carves through the Sea Devils. Meanwhile, as the Doctor and Yaz work, the former confides (with mention of River Song) that if she was going to commit to anyone, it would be Yaz. But she cannot commit because time always runs out. As they start the process, Ji-Hun offers to sacrifice himself to stop the flooding mechanism. The rest of the team boards the TARDIS and ends up on Ching’s ship as the Sea Devil base is destroyed.

Madame Ching offers Ki a place on her crew as she takes the treasure to save the rest of them. The travelers take a well-deserved break, including a phone call to Diane to patch things up. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Yaz talk about their previous conversation. After what is essentially a “it’s not you, it’s me” discussion, the Doctor makes a simple wish behind a sad smile:

“I wish this would go on forever…”

While the Sea Devils’ return is welcome, this story primarily works as setup for Jodie Whittaker’s finale: The evolving dynamic between the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz, the budding relationship between Dan and Diane, and the discussions of what happens to companions after the Doctor moves on… all of it sets the stage for the next adventure. Who knows if they’ll ever find that beach vacation.

That said, it’s a pleasure to see the Sea Devils again. They’ve been in two major stories since 1972 — The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep — and a few minor appearances including Frontier in Space, Dimensions in Time, The Eleventh Hour, and The Timeless Children. Much like the Sontarans in Flux, the costumes that nod to the classic era were fun.

The swashbuckling doesn’t come without a price as the heroes (especially Dan) are a bit bloodthirsty. The Doctor hangs the lampshade with her disapproval of the Chief’s death, but the Sea Devil body count is pretty high. It’s not the greatest look.

On the other hand, I like Ki’s change of heart from vengeance to gratitude as he realizes Madame Ching’s motivations. She offers him a family after his responsibility to guard the Sea Devil Chief is absolved, and that is precisely what he needs. It was great character development in the span of one episode.

This was the second Easter special in franchise history, joining Planet of the Dead in that elite rank. Much like its predecessor, it comes in the home stretch of its Doctor’s run, but it wasn’t nearly as popular. Regardless, it does pose a good stride toward the finish line as the Thirteenth Doctor prepares to say goodbye.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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