The Sea Devils *****

The thrilling peak of the Pertwee era as the Doctor and Jo team up with the Navy against sea reptiles and the Master

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Sea Devils *****

Season 9 – Story 62

"Those reptiles were once the rulers of this Earth, and with my help they can be so again" - the Master

Storyline
The Doctor and Jo visit the Master who has been imprisoned on an island off the south coast. Hearing that three ships have sunk without trace in the area, the Doctor is determined to investigate but first must gain the support of Captain Hart at the naval research base, HMS Seaspite. Reptile creatures - marine cousins of the Silurians - are waking from an ages-long sleep and the Master hopes to conspire with these "sea devils" to bring about mankind's downfall. The Doctor advocates peace, but their leader is enraged by a naval attack: "We shall destroy man and reclaim the planet."

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 26 February 1972
Episode 2 - Saturday 4 March 1972
Episode 3 - Saturday 11 March 1972
Episode 4 - Saturday 18 March 1972
Episode 5 - Saturday 25 March 1972
Episode 6 - Saturday 1 April 1972

Production
Location filming: October 1971 on the Isle of Wight (Bembridge sailing club; Norris Castle, East Cowes; Whitecliff Bay; Red Cliff, Sandown). No Man's Land sea fort in the Solent. HMS St George, Portsmouth. HMS Reclaim, Portsmouth Harbour.
Studio recording: November/December 1971 in TC8

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
The Master - Roger Delgado
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Captain John Hart - Edwin Richfield
Colonel George Trenchard - Clive Morton
Third Officer Jane Blythe - June Murphy
Radio operator - Neil Seiler
Leading Telegraphist Bowman - Alec Wallis
Robbins - Royston Tickner
Castle guard Barclay - Terry Walsh
Castle guard Wilson - Brian Justice
Clark - Declan Mulholland
Hickman - Hugh Futcher
Sea Devil - Pat Gorman
CPO Smedley - Eric Mason
Commander Ridgeway - Donald Sumpter
Lt Commander Mitchell - David Griffin
Castle guard Drew - Stanley McGeagh
Leading Seaman Lovell - Christopher Wray
Lt Commander Watts - Brian Vaughan
CPO Summers - Colin Bell
Chief Sea Devil - Peter Forbes-Robertson
Walker - Martin Boddey
Rear Admiral - Norman Atkyns
A/B Girton - Rex Rowland
CPO Myers - John Caesar

Crew
Writer - Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music - Malcolm Clarke
Designer - Tony Snoaden
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Michael Briant

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
At sea, a radio operator sends a mayday then screams in terror as his microphone is grabbed by a reptilian hand - attached to what…? Another scaly paw reaches over the side of a motorboat and a ledge on a spooky sea fort… The Doctor and Jo become trapped on a beach as the Master lures a Sea Devil out of the waves… The fearless Doctor descends to the seabed in a diving bell, then a reptile's face looms up at the murky porthole… Jo inspects the raised diving bell, but what does she see inside…? And guaranteed to terrify every child, a Sea Devil melts a hole in a cast-iron door and reaches through…

Sometimes the appeal of Doctor Who is encapsulated by such moments of horror and suspense - unsettling images that will stay with you for ever.

Perhaps just as disquieting - amplified by weird warbling music - is our first sight of the Doctor and Jo bobbing in a motorboat across the sea towards "the Master's permanent residence from now on". For nigh on a year (since his capture in The Daemons) viewers have been wondering whatever became of the Master. Now we find him mellowed, perhaps even a changed man. "Is that so very incredible?" he suggests.

All three seem delighted to catch up, almost as if they've been participants in an innocuous game, but we just know the wicked Time Lord must be up to his old tricks. Eventually he admits with glee, "I'm planning to contact our reptilian friends." By this stage we can't help loving the Master, and peerless Roger Delgado revels in his villainy, delivering diabolical vibes when required but visibly having fun: "Dear, oh dear, Doctor. Will you never learn!"

Just as the Master raises the game for the Doctor, Delgado brings out the best in Jon Pertwee. He's completely focused on his material, be it grave, good-humoured or cloak-flappingly heroic. He also knows when to underplay. For his big close-ups - when a Sea Devil surfaces or when the Master finally escapes - Pert's expressions are unreadable.

We're halfway into the third Doctor's era and The Sea Devils reaches an apex in ambition and quality. This could almost be the quintessential Pertwee story, but for the absence of Unit. In their place we have the Royal Navy - the odd bit of scratchy archive film, but lots of fresh footage shot in and around naval facilities in the Solent. Lengthy negotiations with the Ministry of Defence paid dividends. "If we'd had to pay, it would have cost us thousands of pounds, but in fact it cost us nothing," said producer Barry Letts. "It was good propaganda for the Navy."

In contrast to the faithful Brigadier, Captain Hart proves a sceptical ally, one the Doctor has a struggle to win over. Namedropping Horatio Nelson doesn't help. "Good grief," says Hart. "Poor chap's as mad as a hatter." There's always comedic and dramatic mileage when authority figures refuse to accept the Doctor's wild claims.

Other vivid characters are Trenchard, the prison governor duped by the Master but allowed a poignant death, and Walker, the most odious civil servant in the series so far. ("Murder? War always is, my dear. Now where's that girl with my toast?") Besides Jo, prim but sexy Jane Blythe is the only other woman on view. (Actress June Murphy gamely walked into the waves in 1968's great maritime tale, Fury from the Deep.)

With suspenseful, imaginative scripts, Malcolm Hulke has provided a worthy sequel to The Silurians (1970) - even if these reptiles look nothing like their cave-dwelling cousins. "This is a different species, completely adapted to life under water," says the Doctor.

Fantastic creations with turtle-heads sculpted by John Friedlander, their modesty hidden by blue netting, they take their hyperbolic name from Clark, a deranged workman. "He's babbling something about sea devils," says Blythe. Despite sometimes waddling around comically like toddlers with a full nappy, when emerging from the waves they earn their watertight status as iconic Doctor Who monsters.

Malcolm Clarke's radiophonic music presents a challenge for some viewers. Much of it sounds as though a squally gust of wind has blown seagulls into his Delaware synthesiser. For me, his score enhances the atmosphere immeasurably and I cannot imagine the story without it now. Clarke even produces a hypnotic passage for the Master that out-creeps Dudley Simpson's theme from 1971.

The Sea Devils is one of those rare stories that get everything exactly right. Forget Jaws. It was this 1970s Doctor Who classic that gave British kids the shudders during their seaside holidays.

- - -

What Katy did next…
“They said, ‘Can you abseil?’ I said yeah. Jon said, ‘Can you?’ I thought it meant driving a boat. I can’t drive a car with my eyesight. But with a boat on the water there’s nothing else around. So I said yes. At five in the morning, Jon’s trying to feed toast to me because I’m not good in the morning and then we get to the location, the top of a mountain [actually a cliff on the Isle of Wight] and I say, ‘Where’s the water?’ ‘What water?’ says Jon. ‘The water I’m abseiling on?’ Half an hour later I found myself bouncing down a mountain on a bit of rope, didn’t I!

“The favourite moment for me ever in any Doctor Who is when we see Roger Delgado watching the Clangers on telly. That was absolutely brilliant!”
(Talking to RT, April 2012)

Radio Times archive material

RT billings

Results of the Win a Dalek competition, judged by Dalek creator Terry Nation in RT’s Marylebone High Street offices. Another shot of Terry Nation.

Katy Manning’s My Choice and repeat billing and cartoon

[Available on BBC DVD and BBC Audio CD]

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