So here we have Doctor Who and the Eocenes. No, that’s not right either. And so begins an unfortunate trend of the people who make Doctor Who listening to feedback and trying to do something about it, which has invariably worsened the series.
Anyone watching this as part of a Doctor Who viewing marathon might notice something that seems a bit odd about The Sea Devils: it is the only Pertwee Earthbound story that doesn’t feature UNIT at all. The reason for this is that as part of the deal to use Naval equipment and personnel the Navy had to be featured in the story and shown in a positive light, so they are substituted in for UNIT. Almost by accident, this solves what would have been a huge problem with making a sequel to The Silurians.
At the end of The Silurians the Brigadier apparently committed an act of genocide. This was largely brushed under the carpet, allowing the Doctor to continue working with UNIT, which seemed like a bizarre choice until it was rationalised in a slightly half-hearted way by showing a broadly similar situation with a positive outcome in The Ambassadors of Death and then a dark mirror of UNIT in Inferno. But a sequel to The Silurians with UNIT would inevitably have called back to that moment of genocide and presented similar problems for the narrative. To do a re-run of that without UNIT would have necessitated the Navy being portrayed in a bad light, and that was simply off the table as part of the deal. So instead we have something more approaching unambiguous monsters with the Sea Devils. Whereas The Silurians showed debates between them, mirroring the humans as a race of individuals with different motivations, there are no arguments between different Sea Devils and no individual personalities (and note the much more pejorative name for this race). There is never really much hope of striking a deal. Instead we get just one human warmonger, the fabulously loathsome Walker, and the Master to try to turn the Sea Devils into his lackeys, up to his usual trick of manipulating an alien race.
Speaking of the Master, this is his finest hour by miles. I think a lot of people would disagree and suggest The Daemons, but he is much more of a cardboard cutout villain in that one. Here he is stunning as a dark mirror for the Doctor, matching him in every department and often surpassing him. He starts the story in prison, guarded by men who are immune to hypnotism, and then makes Trenchard a pawn in his games anyway just by manipulating him. He interacts with the Sea Devils and any authority he encounters in a Doctorish manner, using intelligence to win through (and he does win in the end). When I say a Doctorish manner, I am specifically referring to any Doctor other than the Third, who is thrown into a bad light here by comparison with the Master. I have mentioned before that there is a problem with the Third Doctor’s characterisation, in that he tends to deal with his difficulties by trying to be a part of the establishment and bully other authority figures. He lacks much of the cunning and charm of Troughton’s Doctor. The Master has plenty of that kind of cunning and charm, and also the quirkiness we associate with the Doctor, perfectly encapsulated with the sight of a supervillain happily watching The Clangers.
In contrast we have the Doctor, who turns up at the prison, plays out his swashbuckling hero fantasies by having a sword fight with the Master, and stops halfway through the fight to steal his sandwich and eat it in front of him. The Master’s childhood bully strikes again. RP
The view from across the pond:
The Sea Devils is one of those long stories of the Pertwee era but even though it could have been shorter, it does stand out for a number of reasons. For me personally, I remember how heartily my sister and I laughed at that poor Sea Devil when the Doctor detonates land mines to scare it away. Its scream was hilarious. This sounds a bit sadistic and typically I don’t laugh at the agony of others… unless they make a funny face or say a funny thing; then it’s not my fault! The Sea Devil made a funny sound, and we loved it. Then there’s the score. The Sea Devil theme is instantly recognizable and eternally memorable. I can hear it in my head as I write this! Then there’s the location. Being at sea adds a sense of isolation but also gives character. The scenes with the diving bell are fantastic. There’s a claustrophobia that comes from those that is, forgive the pun, uncanny. The story also saw the origin of the Doctor’s line “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” which was then shortened but still managed to become eternally linked to the Third Doctor. Frankly, I always liked another line of his from his sword fight with the Master during this episode: “I always find that violent exercise makes me hungry. Don’t you agree?” I think it’s because he categorizes it as “violent exercise” rather than energetic.
The Sea Devils goes for a repeat plot with an indigenous but forgotten species of Earth trying to make a claim on the planet. It’s a repeat idea that didn’t need a rehash so soon after The Silurians. It may have been 2 years earlier, but recent enough to still be remembered. And it has got to be asked: how many races really are on Earth without us knowing it? Sea Devils, Silurians, Racnoss (at the core), Zygons … I’d have to work out a list, but we are running out of room. And the Racnoss have been making some moves against me lately, with spring arriving, but that’s another story!
There are other noteworthy items with this story as well. Note the mirror image between the Master and the Doctor both teaming up with a military figure. The Master has Colonel Trenchard and the Doctor has Captain Hart. Both believe they are doing things for the right reasons. The litmus test to see who is on the right side is always down to who loses a person and is actually bothered by it. Trenchard dies without the Master feeling the slightest remorse; a good indicator that he backed the wrong party! Sadly too late for him to cast his vote elsewhere. Frankly I found Trenchard (Clive Morton) an odd character anyway. He’s at times sympathetic, periodically comical, like when he’s looking at the Master’s project or baffled by the Master watching a television show and thinking its real, and always appearing like his eyelids weigh a metric ton. If Mr. Magoo was a real person, it would be Trenchard!
The Doctors actions do beg the question of whether he is trying to broker a truce for the right reasons. When an aggressive act is perpetrated against the humans, is the Doctor really working for peace because he believes it can be achieved or is it out of guilt for failing the Sea Devil’s cousins, the Silurians? If the former, there’s very little evidence to support it. If the latter, it’s not showing the Doctor as being a clear thinker. In both cases, the evidence is against the Doctor that there’s any hope for peace which makes him an idealist, without any foundation upon which to base his hopes. Yet it does appear that things are going well until depth charges go off, scaring the Sea Devils into attacking again, but like the previous tale, the misunderstanding leads to conflict, and the Sea Devils share the fate of their cousins. Unlucky family…
Speaking of bad luck, it seems counter-intuitive that the Silurians (land based) walked around naked all the time, but the Sea Devils (sea based) wear fishnet shawls. There’s a question of being able to swim in a net that no fish has ever worked out yet, so why they feel it’s a good fashion accessory is anyone’s guess. My mock comedy won’t end there though: the Master escapes by putting a mask of himself on someone else and everyone is fooled. But that leads me to ask: where is he keeping all these masks? How does he happen to carry enough that he’s able to do these switcheroo’s? Should we ask Captain Jack about it? I want to go to someone’s house one day with a Halloween mask on and see if they think I’m really that person. (“Wait a minute, this isn’t really William Shatner, it’s a guy wearing his mask!”)
Well, I always find that violent mockery makes me hungry, don’t you agree? I’m off to get lunch. Maybe seafood.
Oh, too soon? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Mutants