Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils review – this special episode is an Easter treat

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Come before the introductory credits run on the Doctor Who Easter special, it’s easy to tell what show this is.

Mysterious aliens? Check. Foolish humans dabbling in things they don’t understand? Check. Chaos and death? Check, check, check.

That’s right: the Timelord is back for the second of three feature-length specials, and it’s exactly the sort of silly, riotous fun you’d expect.

This time around, the “fam” (as Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has dubbed them) drop into 19th century China to find old foes the Sea Devils terrorizing a nearby fishing village.

The instigator of all this chaos, it turns out, is legendary pirate queen Madam Ching, whose desire for the lost treasure (surprise, surprise) of real-life sunken ship Flor de la Mar has led her to inadvertently free them from their centuries- old slumber.

Thus unfolds an hour heavy with pleasing predictability. This is the Sea Devils’ first on-screen outing since 1984, and there’s no hint of the old-school, bubble wrap-and-greasepaint feel of vintage Who costumes.

Budding romance: the Doctor and Yaz

/ BBC Studios, BBC Studios/James Pardon

These Sea Devils look impressively forbidding, cutting down villagers willy-nilly with their budget lightsabers (though it did take me a while to realize they were communicating telepathically – a useful tool when a prosthetic face doesn’t allow one’s lips to move).

The plot, as ever, comes across as slightly rushed, with a great deal of exposition being crammed into a few key scenes and the team saving the day last-minute due to a noble sacrifice and a magical gizmo of some kind.

That’s forgivable: watching the Doctor leaping around and spouting nonsense is all part of the fun. What is less forgivable is the way that the script writing team has wasted the potential of the setting and premise, particularly when it comes to the Madam Ching.

Ching is by far the most underutilized character in the script – reduced to a few cheesy one-liners and some dodgy motives – which is a shame, because she’s exactly the kind of fascinating, real historical figure that Doctor Who should be mining for plot gold .

Any woman who ended up owning a fleet of ships manned by thousands of personnel, as well as introducing her own civil code and beating the British into submission, is a person whose story is worth telling in greater depth.

Instead, the script focuses more on made-up pirate Ji-Hun and his relationship with the Sea Devils – a decision that, quite frankly, rankles.

Underutilized… pirate queen Madam Ching

/ BBC Studios, BBC Studios/James Pardon

But it’s not all bad news. Aside from the thinly-drawn supporting characters, the interactions between the main cast are given special attention here, particularly the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz.

This has been hinted at in previous episodes – mostly notably in the New Years’ Eve episode where Yaz (played by Mandip Gill) confessed that she had romantic feelings for the Doctor to John Bishop’s Dan.

Well, it seems that the Doctor reciprocates these feelings, at least in part. There’s a very sweet scene where the pair essentially have a mini-date at the bottom of the ocean, and while Gill and Whittaker both sell it well, it’s hard not to feel cheated when the Doctor confesses that she cannot act on those feelings because Yaz , inevitably, will leave her as all companions do.

It’s all very well-trodden territory for Doctor Who (at least for the rebooted version), but it remains to be seen how the show will wrap up this particular storyline in the one episode remaining to Whittaker’s Doctor before her regeneration in the autumn.

Doctor Who’s Legend of the Sea Devils is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer

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