Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils – pirate ships, fights and lost treasure

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In an interview in Doctor Who Magazine 576, Showrunner Chris Chibnall described the plot of Legend of the Sea Devils, the 2022 Doctor Who Easter special, as one involving lost treasure.

“In our story, [pirate leader] Madam Ching is on a mission to track down the lost treasure of the Flor de la Mar, a ship that may have been washed up in the waters around the area where we start the story. She unleashes a terrifying evil that the Doctor has to help everyone deal with.”

Chibnall’s statement harks back to what the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) says in his script for the previous episode, Eve of the Daleks.

“Do you know what I’ve always wondered? The lost treasure of the Flor de la Mar. Whatever happened to that? Shall we go have a look?”

Flor de la Mar was a Portuguese sailing ship carrying a large treasure trove which was lost off the coast of Sumatra in 1511.

Crystal Yu described to DWM her experience playing he fearsome pirate Madam Ching.

“As soon as I put my costume on it helped me solidify my character. As soon as my rings and swords went on and the daggers went into my boots, they were helping me build my character.”

It was was co-writer Ella Road’s suggestion to include the 19th-century pirate leader Zheng Yi Sao (Madam Ching) in a Easter bank holiday special involving pirates and Sea Devils.

Yu further described a scene involving Madam Ching, companion Dan Lewis (John Bishop) and Ying Kei (Marlowe Chan-Reeves).

“Madam Ching catches [Dan and Ying Kei] on her ship and she interrogates them while they’re dangling upside down.”

“We had to do lots of fight choreography,” Marlowe Chan-Reeves told DWM. “It was hard to focus on all the blocking, which was very specific, and you had to finish in the right position. You had to hit it hard enough to make it look like you’re putting some force into it, but you don’t want to accidentally hurt anyone.”

“One of the things I found most difficult was actually quite embarrassing,” he admitted. “There’s a bit where I’m on the pirate ship and I have to kick a sword away. We went through so many takes because I kept messing up the kick. I’d either kick it way too hard – and everyone would be like, ‘Don’t break it!’ – or I wouldn’t kick it hard enough and it would just look pathetic. I think that was one of the hardest things I had to do.”

Craige Els plays Marsissus, the pirate Sea Devil leader who sports a tricorn hat when he first appears. There are seven or eight Sea Devils in total according to costume designer Ray Holman in DWM. The Sea devil actors wear a full-head mask rather than prosthetics with some articulation accomplished by computer-generated animation.

Another character is Je Hung, played by Arthur Lee. Ray Holman describes Je Hung as a character from an earlier time period to DWM.

“Madam Ching is based on a real pirate who existed in the 19th century and Je Hung is a fictional character from the 17th or 18th century. Because they’re from different periods, they have very different costumes.”

Doctor Who Magazine 576 is available on newsstands and by digital issue March 31.

Written by Chris Chibnall and Ella Road, directed by Haolu Wang and starring Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, Crystal Yu, Arthur Lee, Marlowe Chan-Reeves and Craige Els, Legend of the Sea Devils airs Easter Sunday, April 17, at 7:10pm BST on BBC One and at 2:10pm and again at 8:00pm EDT on BBC America.