I’ve written a few times about the difference in the availability of media now compared to ‘back in the day’. Kids today just don’t know how good they’ve got it, being able to watch almost any film or TV show at a moments notice thanks to DVD box sets, YouTube, downloads or TV on demand.
Twenty years ago it was different of course.
For a nine-year old boy, the Doctor Who I had available to me amounted to most of the Sylvester McCoy era recorded off TV (oh joy), a Betamax recording of Resurrection of the Daleks, 31 VHS releases, the Time Meddler, The Aztecs, The Keys of Marinus and Edge of Destruction (all shown either on BBC 2 or on the Galaxy Channel’s Dr Who weekend).
Not too shabby I suppose, but still if you compare that to now having 224 at my disposal, it’s a bit of a difference.
Well anyway, the point is that when The Sea Devils was repeated on BBC 2 in early 1992 it was amazing. More than any story other than probably The Five Doctors, this stood out to me back then as a classic. And because back then there
was comparatively little to watch, I went back and revisited it time and time again. Despite being made in 1972, the Sea Devils is an iconic part of my childhood.
But as always, the question is whether it holds up now.
Doctor Who – The Sea Devils Review: What’s This One About?
It’s the Silurians again…only this time they live under the sea, are more aggressive and have the Master – held in a nearby island prison – to help them.
With the help of the British Navy, the Doctor must try to broker peace between the Humans and the Sea Devils or stop them.
Thoughts – The Story
I still love this story. Simple as that.
Yes, there are a few problems with it, like the way the Sea Devils go from being seemingly invulnerable to being shot at point-blank range by Trenchard in Episode Four to dropping like flies when the Navy mount an assault on them in Episode 6.
Or the very Terry & June style way Captain Hart kept being proved wrong by Blythe in the early episodes.
But that aside, the Sea Devils is a very good Doctor Who serial.
Unlike many of the six part Doctor Who stories which have a tendency to drag a bit (not least the story I’m currently watching – The Mutants) this one flows at a brisk pace, providing characters with logical and reasonable motives for being where they are and doing what they do.
The Sea Devils themselves are brought into the story nice and gradually and are different enough from the Silurians for this not to just be seen as a thoughtless sequel to what came before.
The use of the Navy means that UNIT doesn’t need to be there, and having the Doctor work alongside Captain Hart is a refreshing change from the Brigadier (I suspect if UNIT were involved it wouldn’t have been as good, since UNIT were familiar with the Silurians)
The other characters like Trenchard and Walker are also pretty well-rounded by Doctor Who standards and have an important part to play.
And of course the Master is added into the mix as well. This is probably my favourite Master story in that he’s written as a more ‘human’ character. Rather than just being a villain for the sake of villainy, the scenes with The Doctor & Jo visiting him in prison, him watching The Clangers on TV, reading books, using rowing machines etc. makes him seem more real. Despite the fact he’s using Trenchard he also does come across as if he gets on with him well enough too. All good stuff.
The Direction and The Quality of Appearance
Another aspect worth talking about is the direction of this story.
The Sea Devils was allowed a far bigger budget than the stories around it, and it shows. The quality of (most of) the sets, the use of location filming and the choice of filming angles make this seem like a far more polished Dr Who serial than
Added to that, the BBC struck a deal with the Navy which meant they got to film on their base, use their ships and weapons, use their beach and crucially use their officers as extras. So it just looks a lot better. When you combine that with a well written & acted script you end up with a higher standard of production.
But the director himself also needs to take credit for how things panned out too. The scene where the Sea Devils emerged from the sea is brilliant, his idea to remove the doors and windscreen from the prison cars to make it look ‘slightly in the future’ is a nice touch, and it goes without saying that he does a terrific job of hiding the fact there are only six Sea Devil costumes through clever use of camera work.
So on both a creative and directorial standpoint, I’d say this is a triumph.
In my review of Day of the Daleks, I criticised the Special Edition, and was shown a YouTube video from one of my readers of some English kid droning on about how it was so much better than the original. It wasn’t of course, certainly not in my opinion. I think he was talking absolute shite. But after watching the whole video, the one thing that made me think that I hadn’t
unnecessarily wasted 15 minutes of my life listening to a youngster rambling on about Day of the Daleks was one of his final lines.
He said “Awe, The Sea Devils has the worst Dr Who Soundtrack…like….EVA. Um…they should definitely have changed thaaaat”
Poppycock, balderdash and piffle.
The Sea Devils has a great soundtrack. No, it’s not the sort of music you’re going to put some headphones on and listen to for fun, but it works within the confines of the story. It’s a story set at sea and therefore the music has to have that sort of sea-shanty type nature to it. It works well. In no way is it incongruous to what is happening on the screen.
Anyone who thinks that this is the ‘worst soundtrack ever’ needs to take some time to watch the Sylvester McCoy era.
- This story has many aspects to it that are either considered Iconic in Dr Who or simply repeated over and over. Any appearances from the Master in modern-day Who is influenced by the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in prison. The idea that they are really quite close comes from the line about them being ‘old school friends’.
- It also has the scene where the Master is watching The Clangers. At this rate it’ll be a year or two before I review The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords but obviously the scene in that where The Master is watching the Teletubbies is a direct rip-off of that. Of course, I think it misses the point of the scene. When Trenchard tells the Master that ‘It’s only puppets you know’ and he says ‘Oh’, he’s obviously taking the piss. His despairing look as he goes to put the TV off is one of Roger Delgado’s finest moments in the show.
- And on the iconic theme, let’s not forget this is the story that has the line most associated with Pertwee; “I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow”. He only says it here and in the Five Doctors.
- There’s only one speaking Sea Devil (which is good since the masks are quite inflexible), but I love his whispering voice and the way he walks around with the pomp and circumstance of monarchy. Even the way he wears his mesh netting is done as if he’s wearing a royal robe.
- As I say, he has his whispering voice, but he still manages to sound reaaaaally angry when he says “Take him away and kill him”. That is actually one of my favourite lines in all of Dr Who.
- Speaking of lines I like, one of my favourite Pertwee lines is where he screams at the guard “I said I wanna talk to you”. How angry does he come across there? Even by Pertwee standards it’s furious.
- The story is actually quite vicious for Dr Who, which is a good thing. In general, the show has always tried to make physical assault look unrealistic (as in what people do to knock people out wouldn’t work in reality), going all the way back to the Hartnell era. While Doctor uses his ‘for the kids’ Venusian aikido, you’ve got the Master chopping people in the throat and throwing them vigorously into walls head first, a Sea Devil snapping a guard’s neck, another one
landing a pretty strong punch on one of the submarine crew, sword fights, knife throws, the list goes on.
- Actually, even the Doctor gets in on it. At the start of episode six his reaction upon seeing two Sea Devils is to try to batter them. He throws one head first into a wall, rains down on them with punches and elbows and even smacks one in the face with a double-handed hammer punch. Then he got cocky and ended up getting done in himself. Serves him right.
- Master of Disguise, Donald Sumpter is in this one. Sumpter appears in plenty of modern stuff like Game of Thrones, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Being Human, and looks completely different now because he’s old and bald. Still though, it took me seeing him on the Sea Devils documentary to realise that the submarine commander here is the same guy who was in Wheel in Space. They look totally different.
- The cliffhangers are mostly good in this story, but Episode One’s is a bit pish. Considering there were only two other people on the abandoned rig – the tall green Sea Devil who we’ve just seen, and the fat Irish guy – it was bloody obvious that the silhouette coming towards the Doctor and Jo was the latter.
- Also, the name Sea Devils – a name we now associate as the real name of these creatures – is one simply coined by the fat Irish guy while he was babbling. I hate it when that sort of thing happens.
- It’s worth mentioning the Sea Devil scream. It sounds cool. Consider it mentioned.
- Finally, when the Doctor comes across a Sea Devil for the first time and it tries to shoot him, the way he runs back to the cabin room and slams the door shut is a rare showing of fear from him. It seemed a lot more genuine than normal. As a kid I think it made me feel as though the Sea Devils were more threatening than other monsters.
Doctor Who – The Sea Devils Review: Final Thoughts
I think it’s fairly clear; I really enjoy the Sea Devils. It looks like it’s made from a far higher budget, it’s written well, it’s acted well. Everything you look for in a good Dr Who story is present here.
My heartiest of recommendations.