Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Second Doctor’s week, featuring Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Second Doctor, also look at the War Games.
The Sea Devils is the third serial of the ninth season of Doctor Who and is the first appearance of the Sea Devils. The Doctor and Jo Grant visit the Master in his prison and encounter the Sea Devils, relatives of the Silurians.
The first look I’ve had of the original Master!
The Sea Devils takes place after the Doctor has already met and beaten the Master. However, the Master is a wily character and he doesn’t stay locked up for long. Meanwhile, mysterious sea creatures have been killing people and sinking ships. These creatures are not as Kraken-like as I would like, but that’s beside the point. Much like the new Doctor Who episode that deals with the Silurian’s’ claim on Earth, the Sea Devils want their land back. Both episodes look at the failings of humans and ultimately result in the aliens not getting their way.
Delgado’s Master is very different from John Simm’s Master – he is much more measured and deliberate than Simm’s more manic portrayal. I’m not sure which one I like better, but the balance is tipping towards Delgado, if only for his excellent facial hair and sneaky ways. And rather than the grand scale plan of turning everyone into clones of him, his plans are simply to use the Sea Devils to take over the world and betray them. Much more elegant. So the real issue isn’t the Sea Devils – although they have been causing mayhem, their intentions aren’t evil. However, trigger-happy humans (much like The Silurians) prevent them from reaching a peaceful settlement with humankind.
This is really the first I’ve seen of Jo Grant, but I’m a fan. She’s clever, which is more or less a prerequisite if you want to travel with the Doctor, and has a lot to do in the episode, especially when the Doctor has been caught and “arrested”. On top of that, she does it all in an immaculate white outfit – impressive.
The only real issue I have with this episode is the music. Earlier classic Who episodes have featured orchestral background music, but The Sea Devils forgoes that approach in favour of loud, clashing synthesiser music. I enjoy synths as much as the next person, but when they’re overpoweringly loud and vaguely ridiculous, as they are in this episode, they detract from the show. Of course, it’s very 70’s, but here’s hoping the sound designers behind the show come to their senses in future episodes.
Of all of the Delgado Master serials in Doctor Who, The Sea Devils is probably the best of the lot. Although quite long – six episodes – the serial deals with ethics in a similar way to The Silurians whilst having the sneaky and devious antics of the Master combined. When the playful Jo/Doctor relationship is added, a fantastic episode of trust, patriotism, arrogance, and disloyalty appears, for the enjoyment of all.
In The Sea Devils, there are three main villains for the Doctor and Jo to deal with. First and most dangerous of the lot is the Master, as portrayed by Roger Delgado. Whilst this isn’t the first Master story, it is certainly one of the best ones. The Master’s role is essential, but it isn’t particularly overbearing or arduous to deal with, nor is there any tenuous connection with the other bad guys in the story: he either controls them directly, or attempts to. The second, and most ambivalent of the list, are the Sea Devils, which are marine relatives of the Silurians that appeared in the story The Silurians for the first time. The Sea Devils, like the Silurians, make brilliant bad guys because although they aren’t friendly to humankind (whom they patronisingly call ‘apes’), they have a legitimate grievance, and are content to discuss their issues with the humans, although are still distrusting and quite happy to use force when necessary. The final group of villains are the humans themselves, in the form of the Royal Navy under a gluttonous politician who want to remove the Sea Devils from existence, as well as the misguided prison commandant who has believed the Master’s lies in regards to capturing ‘enemy agents’.
The interplay between these three forces of evil is well done, to say the least. The story is not overly confusing, and the dialogue is well written, and for the most part well acted. The actor who played the submarine captain could have been better, he felt quite wooden throughout the performance, but the other actors were well done. And the British accents everywhere (minus the Sea Devil sounds) make a glorious addition. The Doctor/Jo relationship is also very good in this story – they both need and help each other at times. Overall, in regards to the plot and the acting, The Sea Devils makes for enjoyable watching.
The only problem with this serial is the soundtrack and sound effects. They are often quite overpowering and at odds with the scene, often ridiculing the action somewhat. Although the cool synth sounds mark it as a very 1970’s TV show, the overpowering nature of the high pitched sounds made it difficult to take the action seriously. Even more annoyingly was the fact that dialogue was often sacrificed to hear the effects.
Overall though, The Sea Devils makes for some enjoyable classic Doctor Who watching. A very Third Doctor story, with moral ambivalence, The Master running rampant, and cool bad guys and dialogue, with some sass and swashbuckling sword fighting to boot! Quite enjoyable.