This story takes
place after the
"WHO KILLED KENNEDY,"
"THE FACE OF THE ENEMY"
AND "THE CURSE OF
PELADON," and PRIOR
TO the BIG FINISH AUDIO
"FIND AND REPLACE."
THE SEA SILURIANS
'BENEATH THE SURFACE'
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
2438) RELEASED IN
ARRESTED AFTER THE
EVENTS AT DEVIL'S END,
THE MASTER HAS BEEN
INCARCERATED AT A
ON A REMOTE ISLAND
OFF THE SOUTH COAST OF
ENGLAND. WHEN THE
DOCTOR AND JO GRANT
PAY A VISIT TO THEIR
OLD ENEMY, THEY FIND
HIM A REFORMED
CHARACTER. BUT CAN
THE SPATE OF
GARBLED REPORTS OF
SEA MONSTERS IN THE
LOCAL AREA REALLY BE
A COINCIDENCE? THE
DOCTOR SOON FINDS
HIMSELF PITTED AGAINST
THE SEA DEVILS, AN
ANCIENT RACE OF
REPTILES INTENT ON
AND RECLAIMING THE
The Sea Devils
26TH FEBRUARY 1972 - 6TH APRIL 1972
Just like the preceding season, Doctor Who’s ninth run would include a mixture of Earth-bound adventures and forays into outer space. However, unlike the previous season, the balance would be a little bit more even this time around. The biggest change of all though would be the Master appearing in just two of the season’s serials rather than all five. Whilst I do not agree that the Master was overused in his debut year (how can he ever be?), I do concede that his absence in the first two stories of season nine made his return in the third story, Malcolm Hulke’s “The Sea Devils”, feel all the more momentous.
That infamous Jon Pertwee / Roger Delgado chemistry, for example, is perhaps more apparent here than in any other story. I think that a lot of this can be put down to the unique state of affairs – I mean, how many Doctor Who stories begin with the principal villain behind bars, and end with him yachting off into the sunset? There is something about the situation at the start of “The Sea Devils” which puts a whole new spin on the Doctor / Master relationship. Throughout the show’s eighth season it was implied that the Doctor and Master were once good friends before the Master took the dark path, but here we actually get to see them as friends. We learn that the Doctor spoke out at the Master’s trial, convincing the court not to execute him. We see the Doctor look on the Master not with fear or disgust, but pity. And what is so tragic about it all is that you find yourself wanting the Master to have changed. In spite of yourself you are rooting for him. You want him to be good. And so when you first hear that evil cackle when the Doctor leaves the Master’s cell, it makes you hate him all the more. And when he and the Doctor draw their blades and partake in a good old-fashioned swordfight, they might as well be Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.
There is far more to the Master in this story than just his rapport with the Doctor, though. There is one immortal scene, recently emulated in the recent new series episode “The Sound of Drums”, where the Master happily wiles away his time watching The Clangers, apparently under the delusion that the puppets are real. It shows a naïve, almost childlike side to him; yet another layer to a character that is all too often dismissed as two-dimensional. Best of all though is his manipulation of his prison’s governor, Trenchard. He does not have to use hypnosis to make Trenchard his puppet – he just uses his guile and his charm to turn Trenchard’s own patriotism and desire to do good against him.
Incidentally, Trenchard – superbly portrayed by Clive Morton – is just one of many fantastic supporting characters in this serial. Hulke certainly has a knack for creating some truly memorable individuals like Trenchard, Captain Hart, and especially Walker (the abhorrent parliamentary undersecretary seen in the last few episodes).
And of course, as the title suggests, the Master is not the only menace to be found in this serial – here there be Sea Devils. This time, the Master’s plot to conquer the Earth revolves around his reviving of a Sea Devil colony beneath the English Channel. The Sea Devils are the aquatic cousins of the Silurians that UNIT encountered in Derbyshire during the earliest days of the Doctor’s exile. Science buffs will be chuffed to note that in this story the Doctor concedes that the name ‘Silurian’ is wholly inaccurate and states that they should be referred to as ‘Eocenes’ as at one stage they co-existed with primates (although the pedantic are still bound to argue that that is not strictly accurate either). Still, it goes to show that Hulke was learning his lessons well as a writer; I cannot remember who says it on the DVD, but it certainly rings true all the same – the name ‘Sea Devil’ is “more exciting and less inaccurate” than ‘Sea Silurian’!
You cannot really go far wrong with ‘Sea Devil’ for a monster either, never mind a name. Admittedly by today’s standards they are not overly convincing, but there is still something about them that is unsettling. I have always had a phobia of the sea – whales, especially; do not even ask… - and so when I first saw this story in about 1992 when it was repeated on BBC2 I was absolutely terrified.
Interestingly, the Doctor seems far less sympathetic to the Sea Devils than he was to the Silurians. He still tries to make peace between them and the humans, but he is far quicker to give up and to condemn them and it is not really clear why. Having spent a few long years on Earth is he a bit more ‘in’ with humans by the point? Or has he simply lost his faith in détente? Or does he simply have more of a personal dislike for the Sea Devils as they are by their very nature a warrior caste? Most interestingly of all though, in a cruel twist of fate it is the Doctor who is forced to destroy the Sea Devils – something that he never forgave the Brigadier for doing when things were the other way around.
I am pleased to say that the DVD release most definitely does the serial justice; the striking violet cover art from Clayton Hickman houses the perfect example of a top-notch
Restoration Team effort. I have a particular fondness for discs that contain a lot of bonus material that is amalgamated in one place, and “The Sea Devils” is a great example of this. Whilst the disc does also contain a brilliant commentary, some trails, some continuities, and
even some wonderful 8mm cine footage, the preponderance of the bonus material is to be found within the half-hour plus documentary “Hello Sailor!”
And what is more, the bonus material is first class. “Hello Sailor!” charts every aspect of the production from designing the Sea Devil prosthetics to acquiring naval assistance, and thanks to the odd Barry Letts / Terrance Dicks anecdote (they had MI5 on their tails at one point thanks to the serial’s woefully precise depiction of a classified nuclear submarine) the documentary certainly is not lacking in colour. I even learned, at long last, just who is responsible for dressing the Sea Devils up in those daft string vests - blame director
Michael Briant, whose moral indignation at the “naked” Sea Devils puts even Mary Whitehouse and her lot to shame! Did he not realise that fully clothed Sea Devils would only emphasise the Silurians brazen nudity?
Well as I am sure you have gathered by now, I certainly have a soft spot for both this story and its DVD release. It was the first Jon Pertwee serial that I ever got chance to see (thank you BBC2!) and it was also one of the first Target novelisations that I ever read (thanks Uncle Mick!). The third Doctor is at his absolute best, as is Jo Grant who is looking lovelier than ever in her chic white suit… except when she is played by Stuart Fell, that is. The Master is absolutely off the page, and the Sea Devils themselves are simply unforgettable. The Navy substitutes seamlessly for UNIT, with some beautiful location filming in Portsmouth, on the sea fort No Man’s Land, and even on the diving vessel HMS Reclaim really setting this serial apart from its peers. Despite its modest budget, the whole production simply exudes expense.
Bottom line, “The Sea Devils” is one of a kind.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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