“And these human beings will die as they have lived, in a sea of their own blood.” – Ichtar
This story is in no way the worst ever of the series as many seem to think. There’s a strong current of disdain for this story because of the overly ambitious (and thus silly) design of the Myrka, some cringe-worthy acting, and lighting and direction that highlight these flaws rather than hide them. So yes, there are visual problems take down the story a lot. Yet when I encountered this story in novel form as a child I loved the concepts—the idea of the earth divided into two opposing blocs on the brink of war, the return of iconic villains exploiting that division, and the moral dilemma of the Doctor in the middle. Besides, the visual elements of the story are not all bad. In fact, the underwater models of the base and Silurian ship are quite excellent and it’s surprising to me that there’s underwater filming with the Doctor as well. (I’m sure not fun for Peter Davison.) I even find that the super-80s canvas coveralls and make-up of the characters actually enhance the story since the plot has a very 80s feel.
I like the layers of enemies within the story—at the same time of the threat of the Sea Devils and Silurians there’s a whole plot of Eastern bloc machinations with the stealing of the control disc and interference with the base. It emphasizes the uselessness of partisan fighting in the face of a common enemy and how continuing it leads to even more destruction. There’s a lot of social commentary within the story. From Tegan discovering that her Earth’s bright future is just as full of war and environmental damage as her own time (“Progress doesn’t seem to have solved anything!”) to the Silurians being able to keep their vow not to commit genocide because they can simply push the humans to bring about their own nuclear destruction instead.
The main complaint I have about the story (other than I wish the visuals like the breaking down bulkhead door had not been so bad as to make the story a laughingstock) proper is that the Doctor keeps harping about the nobility of the Silurian race and yet they are never given any scenes that make them not seem as petty and bloodthirsty as humanity. In fact, some of his comments seem to underscore their ruthlessness. (“Friend or enemy, it’s a distinction that’s lost on the Silurians, I assure you. To them you’re all the same. Ape-descended primitives. An evolutionary error they obviously mean to correct.”) Instead, the story relies upon us knowing the events of the original Silurian story and latching on to what was actually just one leader striving for unity even then. Nevertheless, if we overlook this muddle and take the Doctor at his word then the ending becomes so much more powerful as the Doctor’s reluctantly brings about a deadly defeat of his enemies despite all his tries to the contrary. His wearied last line “There should have been another way” is an absolutely iconic moment for the Firth Doctor.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
Very disturbing at a personal level is the sync operator Maddox being cruelly pushed to strangle the doting Karina. On a larger scale, I especially like the tension of the constant missile countdowns that the crew have to face in this story, never knowing if they are real or not. It almost seems a cruel joke and tells a lot about the society they live in that the strain on their nerves is not considered important at all. It almost paints their society as sadistic in its very nature.
As noted above, I wish the presentation of the Silurians had been more consistent with the Doctor’s description. And I also wish the good of this story could have been brought more to the fore and that the silliest of moments with the Myrka (Solow for some reason trying to it down with a silly karate kick?) could have been left out and thus not ruined the reputation of this story so. I think they wanted it to come across like a Godzilla breaking down the doors but it’s first appearance is badly done with an obviously Styrofoam door and badly edited reveal.