The Doctor and Jo visit the Master in his high-security prison on an island off the south coast of England. The governor, Colonel Trenchard, says ships have been disappearing mysteriously at sea. The Doctor discovers that Trenchard and the Master are in league to contact the Sea Devils, a reptilian race in hibernation beneath the sea, who have been awoken by recent work on a sea fort. The Master intends to use his new allies to help him conquer the world.
The Sea Devils is, of course, a sequel to The Silurians, and retreads a lot of the same narrative beats. Whilst this may make some view the story as derivative, I really like it for being the same, but different. Like previous stories Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons, the Sea Devils gives it a new twist and adds the Master into the fray as well, and more Roger Delgado cannot possibly be a bad thing! The score is pretty poor in places though and does distract from the story as it is so weird.
The story deals with the consequences of the Brigadier’s actions at the end of The Silurians, and ironically for a story in which he does not feature, his presence is felt throughout. Walker cites his example at Wenley Moor when attempting to justify blowing up the Sea Devil base and the Doctor is arguably determined to ensure that he is able to negotiate an agreement with the leader of the Sea Devils as a result of it. Ultimately, the story concludes with the Doctor blowing up the Sea Devil base, as he sees this as potentially the only way out of both parties causing more and arguably more horrific destruction. Hulke manages to balance the elements of the story between the Master and the Sea Devils well, even if elements like the Master’s escape at the end of the story feel quite ridiculous. Meanwhile, the co-operation of the Navy makes this feel really cinematic at times and not at all like a television programme on a budget, Michael Briant is a director like Douglas Camfield who can make a Doctor Who story look fantastic, especially in the model shots of the submarines. However, the score does let this story down in the majority of moments, but can be quite effective in others, and I found it to be at its best in the infamous scene in the minefield on the beach and in the submarine sequences.
The Sea Devils, whilst obviously being rubber masks, look really good and visually different from their land based cousins and I felt that their costumes felt quite well thought through and believable for an amphibian species. Michael Briant does well to conceal them for key atmospheric moments and to build up suspense, like in the opening moments where we just see a hand, or revealing them through use of Dutch angles. Hulke also keeps them silent for a lot of the story, which makes them feel all the more alien and when they do speak they do sound really creepy. The scenes where the Doctor and Jo investigate the sea fort are really atmospheric, culminating in their discovery of the amphibian. Of course, their alliance with the Master is never going to end well, like most alliances the Master forms with other species, which does subjugate them to doing his will at times, but I thought that this worked better than in some other stories in Pertwee’s era.
The story has two very intriguing characters in the shape of Captain Hart and Colonel Trenchard. Captain Hart is a character under pressure from his superiors to solve the mystery surrounding the missing ships and appears to struggle with this throughout, especially when the compulsory Pertwee-era civil servant comes down to check up on him in the shape of Walker, Parliamentary Private Secretary, who is another patronising member of authority like Edward Masters. Hart meanwhile, is portrayed very sympathetically as a man doing his best in trying circumstances. When Walker turns up and takes over, Hart is caught between what he believes personally to be right and what he is being instructed to do. It’s a good performance from Edwin Richfield which really makes the audience care about his character. Walker, portrayed by Martin Boddey, and there is something rather sinister about the ease with which he orders nuclear attacks on the Sea Devils almost offhandishly, whilst also ordering and eating his breakfast. Trenchard is another standout, as the narrative wants you to think that the Master has hypnotised him, however, he is acting of his own volition, albeit with some manipulation at the hands of the Master. The Master identifies that Trenchard’s patriotism is his biggest weakness and exploits this to his own advantage, using this to convince his jailor that the Doctor and Jo are enemy agents. Once the Master’s schemes have been revealed to him, he realises that he has been duped and rallies his forces to fend off the Sea Devils but too late.
You felt sorry for him, didn’t you? You wanted to come down here and see that he was all right.
Well, he used to be a friend of mine once. A very good friend. In fact, you might almost say that we were at school together.Jo Grant and the Third Doctor
This is quite an important episode for understanding the relationship between the Doctor and the Master. Here we get the first acknowledgement that they were at the Gallifreyan equivalent of school together, and like most of the stories between Pertwee’s Doctor and Delgado’s Master, this goes someway to explaining the respect that they seem to share for each other. The sword fight in the Master’s prison between the two men can be seen to be overly choreographed, however, I’d argue that neither of them really want to hurt the other – despite the Master stating in the story that he wants to kill the Doctor, here there is a deeper understanding between the two. Both are superb here and I particularly enjoy Delgado’s quiet frustration in the infamous scene with the Clangers, completely bemused by the fact that Trenchard doesn’t realise he’s joking. It’s a great shame watching this in hindsight realising that there are only two more stories with Roger Delgado before his untimely passing. Katy Manning puts in a good performance as Jo as usual, even though the script isn’t great for her at times, like seeing her sandwiches snatched away from her by the Doctor. She’s particularly good when she breaks the Doctor out of Trenchard’s prison and her chemistry with Pertwee is pretty good.
Verdict: The Sea Devils could have easily felt derivative but thanks to various factors feels distinct from The Silurians. 8/10
Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Roger Delgado (The Master), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Edwin Richfield (Captain Hart), Clive Morton (Trenchard), Royston Tickner (Robbins), Neil Seiler (Radio Operator), Declan Mulholland (Clark), Hugh Futcher (Hickman), June Murphy (3rd Officer Jane Blythe), Alec Wallis (Ldg. Telegraphist Bowman), Brian Justice (Castle Guard Wilson), Terry Walsh (Castle Guard Barclay), Pat Gorman (Sea Devil), Donald Sumpter (Commander Ridgeway), David Griffin (Lt. Commander Mitchell), Christopher Wray (Ldg. Seaman Lovell), Stanley McGeagh (Castle Guard Drew), Colin Bell (C.P.O. Summers), Brian Vaughan (Lt. Commander Watts), Rex Rowland (A/B Girton), Martin Boddey (Walker), Norman Atkyns (Rear Admiral), Peter Forbes-Robertson (Chief Sea Devil) & John Caesar (C.P.O. Myers).
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Michael Briant
Behind the Scenes
- The working title for this serial was The Sea Silurians.
- The first time that the Doctor utters the full line “I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow”, with the second time occuring in The Five Doctors.
- The only Third Doctor story set on Earth not to feature the Brigadier or UNIT.
- The inclusion of the scene where the Master watches The Clangers was due to Episode 1 running ninety seconds short.
- The last story that HAVOC worked on.
- Barry Letts managed to secure the involvement of the Royal Navy for this story and many of the extras were active duty sailors. The Navy waived royalty fees for the use of footage of ships in action in return for an onscreen credit and positive publicity.
- One of the eleven stories not to feature the TARDIS in any capacity, and the last episode not to feature it in the Pertwee era.
- After the broadcast of the story, MI5 came to the Doctor Who production offices asking how they had come up with the nuclear submarine model. The crew explained that they had used an off-the-shelf model kit (purchased from Woolworths) but had replaced the propeller with a part from a vacuum cleaner. By sheer happenstance, the part had the same number of blades as the real submarine’s propeller meaning that the production team had accidentally guessed classified information that revealed the sonar signal given off by British nuclear submarines.
- According to Katy Manning, all of the production came down with sea sickness at some point in the story other than Jon Pertwee due to his previous naval experience.
- Previous story Doctor Who and the Silurians had attracted so many letters from scientists and geologists stating that it was impossible for reptilian life to exist during the Silurian era. Hulke inserted a line here where the Doctor admits that the name Silurian is inaccurate and states that they should be called Eocenes.
- The location filming was expensive, leading to the director not hiring usual composer Dudley Simpson and instead have the score created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
- Edwin Richfield would return in Colin Baker’s debut story, The Twin Dilemma, playing Mestor.
- Royston Tickner had previously appeared in The Dalek’s Master Plan, playing Steinberger P. Green in ‘The Feast of Steven’.
- Neil Seiler would go on to play Commander Stewart in Death to the Daleks.
- Declan Mullholland would play Till in The Androids of Tara opposite Tom Baker.
- Hugh Futcher later screen tested for the role of the Seventh Doctor, which ultimately went to Sylvester McCoy.
- June Murphy had previously appeared in Fury From The Deep opposite Patrick Troughton.
- Alec Wallis would play Warner in Revenge of the Cybermen.
- Brian Justice would appear again as a guard in The Green Death and had appeared in several stories in the Jon Pertwee era as an uncredited extra, including in Spearhead from Space, The Claws of Axos and Day of the Daleks.
- Terry Walsh was Jon Pertwee’s double and played numerous roles on screen, dating from an uncredited role in The Smugglers to The Creature from the Pit. He would also be Tom Baker’s double, and filled in for Baker famously during The Sontaran Experiment when Baker broke his collarbone.
- Pat Gorman appeared in multiple Doctor Who stories, mostly uncredited, dating from The Dalek Invasion of Earth up until Attack of the Cybermen. He played 73 roles in Doctor Who, ranking him at #7 in terms of appearing in the most stories.
- Eric Mason had previously appeared in The Mind of Evil.
- The second of three appearances in Doctor Who for Donald Sumpter, who had previously played Enrico Casali in The Wheel in Space opposite Patrick Troughton and would go on to play Rassilon in Hell Bent opposite Peter Capaldi.
- Christopher Wray had previously played PC Groom in The Dæmons..
- Stanley McGeagh had previously appeared as Allen in Colony in Space.
- Colin Bell would play Private Bryson in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
- Norman Atkyns played the Guardian in Colony in Space.
- Peter Forbes-Robertson had played a guard in The Power of the Daleks and a Time Lord in Colony from Space.
- John Caesar appeared in numerous roles in Doctor Who including in The Romans, The Macra Terror and Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
The Sea Devils rising up out of the sea is a rightly iconic shot.
The Master is watching The Clangers.
What are you watching ?
It seems to be a rather interesting extraterrestrial life form.
Only puppets, you know? For children.Colonel Trenchard and the Master
Previous Third Doctor review: The Curse of Peladon
Other Stories mentioned:
(Doctor Who and) The Silurians
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