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Doctor Who IX.3: The Sea Devils

April 27th, 2007 (12:49 am)

The first time that an Oxonian crowd has sat down in front of a six-parter for a long time; and we stayed and watched it all despite the late start caused by the faulty winding system on the VCR we use. Back to 1972 it was, and The Sea Devils.

A few thoughts: Clive Morton's portrayal of the pompous, unimaginative, personally frustrated (including sexually from the way he holds on to Jo at every opportunity) but decent (if only given the opportunity) Trenchard is very, very good, and he dies almost as well as can be expected for a Malcolm Hulke script where conflict, destruction and death are presented as the consequences of fear, insularity (appropriate considering Trenchard guards the Master on an island prison, and before that he was governor of a British island colony) and selfishness.

The Doctor and Jo both resort to bribery to make their way to the naval base in episode one. Corruption, or defiance of authority?

This is one of Jo's strongest stories, following on from her assertive behaviour in The Curse of Peladon; here she does a fair amount of Doctor-rescuing, including outwit a guard very easily, and proves that she can share some of the Doctor's ability in martial arts too.

The Master was a successful character in part because Roger Delgado played him as the ideal dinner party guest, a man of entertaining conversation and ingenuity who would probably help with the washing up and could also speak to the children on their level - whether those of his notional host, or the audience at home (which are of course the same thing given that in many households in the 1970s Doctor Who must have been watched while the children were having their tea, as David Tennant has related). He and Jon Pertwee's Doctor compete with each other over their credentials as renaissance men as much as over the essence of right and wrong.

The Sea Devils themselves are strangely expressive given that of their heads only one - that worn by Peter Forbes-Robertson as the Chief Sea Devil - has a moving mouth. The rapid changes of camera angle help. The assistance of the Royal Navy makes this perhaps the most expensive-seeming Doctor Who of the 1970s... and Donald Sumpter (with full head of hair and beard, no less) and David Griffin lead the 'B' plot with stolid devotion to submarine duty.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
Free Will

I'm glad The Sea Devils went down well. I watched it a little over a week ago for the first time since 1992, when it was my third story. I was quite impressed, even though it isn't as good as ...The Silurians.

I agree with you about Clive Morton. I thought Edwin Richfield was also good as Hart; a shame his only other role in the series was as a giant slug.

The Doctor and Jo both resort to bribery to make their way to the naval base in episode one. Corruption, or defiance of authority?

I only seem to remember them bribing the boatman, which wouldn't really count as either. Have I forgotten something?

The Master was a successful character in part because Roger Delgado played him as the ideal dinner party guest, a man of entertaining conversation and ingenuity

Definitely. I think the actor was far better than the character. By about episode five, I was almost shouting at the character's stupidity in making the same mistakes again. Once again he spares the Doctor to ask for his help, and is surprised when the Doctor successfully escapes. Once again he allies himself with the main monsters, only to be betrayed. Once again his plan of global war and destruction seems rather pointless and poorly-motivated.

I was glad his response to the Doctor's claim to have "reversed the polarity of the neutron flow" was "You did what?!" Perhaps it's wishful thinking on my part to see it as a meta-textual commentary on the poor science involved.

I'm slightly surprised you didn't mention the electronic noise that is supposedly incidental music here. Actually, in some places it is rather effective. In particular, shots of warships going to attack the Sea Devils' base are accompanied by a sort of electronic musique concrete that makes the scene seem very alien, like something from a fifties sf film. It makes one think of an alien attack, yet in the context of that scene, we are the aliens. Very effective.

I don't think letting off nuclear bombs a few miles from the coast is really a sensible idea, though.

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 07:51 am (UTC)

I have no memory of the broadcast version of The Sea Devils, sadly, although I would have read the Target novellisation as a child. Ah, the lost art of novellisations. Or rather, the lost phenomenon of acquiring your principal memories of an episode through reading a book. Is it on DVD, by the way, or was this a video?

I do have strong memories of the Delgado Master, charming and urbane as he was. It might be a child's eye filter - I don't think I've seen a Delgado Master story since they were actually broadcast - but my impression is that his portrayal made the character more sophisticated and believable than the pantomime-villain Anthony Ainley version.

I confess to feeling very excited about, well, you know. What might be about to happen.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 11:21 am (UTC)
regeneration

This was a video - long play, off-air from the 1992 repeat. I think that a DVD commentary has been recorded, involving Katy Manning, but the serial has yet to appear in the schedules.

One of my favourite parts of the novelization is missing from the broadcast version, as the Master has not yet collapsed when the Sea Devils' base is destroyed and is able to remark that the Doctor has just committed mass murder. The Master's argument, that the Doctor's high moral ground was nothing of the sort and that really there was little to choose between their interventionist strategies, was something that the show invited the audience to consider during the Pertwee-Delgado period, and it was taken further in those novelizations written by Malcolm Hulke in particular.

There is no doubt that Delgado played the Master with more thought than Ainley. In the DVD commentary to The Keeper of Traken, Ainley comments that it wasn't until he saw the 1992 repeat of The Daemons that he found out that the Doctor and the Master were meant to have been friends; he claimed that John Nathan-Turner's notes were simply that the Master was 'evil', and if he had seen how Delgado played the part he might have played his Master differently. I thought that bringing back the Master as a sort of recreation of Delgado based on faulty memory was a mistake anyway, and while I remember commending Ainley's resemblance to Delgado at the end of The Keeper of Traken part four, I had just written a script - and sent it to the BBC! - which envisaged the return of the Master as a sort of J.R. Ewing figure (I had Martin Jarvis in mind) which suggests what my ten-year-old self saw as the epitome of TV villainy.

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:42 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 11:45 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 10:45 am (UTC)
regeneration

I've watched Edwin Richfield's performance as Clive in The Owl Service recently, from 1969 - a very contained character, of his time and class. I'm astonished that he was put in that awful Gastropod costume to play Mestor, but perhaps I shouldn't be; perhaps he was an old chum of Peter Moffatt, who probably wanted a strong actor to play a character contained in cloth and latex.

I was thinking of the boatman-bribing; the boatman cites his obligation to Colonel Trenchard, which the Doctor navigates by a folded note. (It looked to me like a Duke of Wellington £5; Jo later handed over a £10 note. I'd expect the Doctor to be more economical than Jo somehow.) It's a confirmation of what we already know, of course: that the Doctor and Jo won't be bound by the rules of the institution where they find themselves.

I'd have mentioned the music had I not needed to go to bed! There was comment throughout about the music stretching the limits of the early synthesisers. It's a superb score for an aquatic Doctor Who.

I hadn't realised until checking the cast last night that June Murphy (3rd Officer Jane Blythe) also played Maggie Harris in Fury from the Deep. I think her casting should have been made compulsory in all marine Doctor Who stories - she makes a lot out of a part which could have been delivered very flatly.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
Free Will

I was thinking of the boatman-bribing; the boatman cites his obligation to Colonel Trenchard, which the Doctor navigates by a folded note.

The advantage of commenting in the afternoon rather than the middle of the night: I've remembered that the structure of this story, especially the first episode is one of the few that conform to my personal ideal of how the the Earth exile format should have worked.

Here the Doctor is an independent investigator (it's not made completely clear, but it's implied he's using the visit to the Master as an excuse to investigate the disappearing ships). His relationship with officialdom is informal and uncertain; as with Sherlock Holmes' relationship with the police in the early Holmes stories, he can quickly establish his credentials (saving us long, tedious scenes of him being blamed for the problems, as happened in many Troughton era stories), but can't rely on the automatic help of the armed forces and bureaucracy - indeed, they may even work against him (allowing the action scenes UNIT were created for, without the Doctor seeming a part of a military organisation, and leaving room for dramatic conflict between the Doctor and the military).

More than in any other present-day Pertwee story bar Spearhead from Space, the Doctor is away from UNIT and not in total control of the situation, making the third Doctor somehow seem more like his other incarnations (at least, those of the pre-TV Movie era - even though there have been few UNIT-type stories in the new series, the ninth and tenth Doctors usually seem far too much in control of events for my liking, doubly so when on Earth).

she makes a lot out of a part which could have been delivered very flatly

Doubly so when I suspect she was only introduced to avoid an all-male supporting cast! Note that her first appearance, sitting on a desk taking dictation from Captain Hart, gets her legs in shot in a rather unmilitary manner! A latter scene has her adjusting her hair and quickly putting away her mirror when Hart, the Doctor and Jo suddenly enter the room, again foregrounding her femininity.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 09:41 am (UTC)
Pertwee bike

This was the first Pertwee story I actually saw, during the BBC's run of one story for each Doctor, having already fallen in love with the third Doctor from the novels.

Apparently Jon was fond of the Sea Devils because they reminded him of his spaniel :)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 11:25 am (UTC)
St John's cufflink

Our new member - yes, we have one! - said that he discovered Doctor Who from the 1990s repeats, though he came to them slightly later, with the 1994 repeat of The Green Death.

The third Doctor is more complicated, and more endearing, than the chauvinist reactionary figure fan critics of the early 1990s thought him.

The Sea Devils are rather spaniel-like - I hadn't seen the resemblance before.

Posted by: calliope85 (calliope85)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 09:42 am (UTC)
8th doctor - wanderer in the fourth dime

Drat it, I wish I had been able to attend! Stupid choir dinner. Not to mention that I seemed to spend half the evening trying to explain Doctor Who to singers who had never watched anything of it, old or new, which elicited some conversations something along the lines of 'So...is that the one with the time travel?' 'Umm, yes, there's quite a lot of time travel.' 'In a car?' '....no, that's Back to the Future. This is the one with the telephone box.' 'I thought that was Bill and Ted?' '...' Honestly, what did these people spend their childhoods doing?

This also means I have *still* never seen a Roger Delgado Master story, which is, as I am aware, more than mildly shocking.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
DavidIcon

I despair of the limited cultural horizons of some people... ;) Not that I should cast stones. Sorry you didn't manage to come along.

The absence of a Roger Delgado Master story from your education must be remedied somehow...

*strokes beard thoughtfully*
*realises shaved off beard many years ago*
*has discovered time travel/is mad*

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)

Yes, I agree about the Master as played by Delgado - it's this disarming charm that makes it all the more unsettling when he resorts to almost childish displays of savagery, and which makes his return some years later as a desperate, mangled corpse all the more shocking. A shame that Anthony Ainley wasn't allowed to be more Delgado-like really, as he's a great actor reduced to the status of a pantomime villain. Why, oh why does he dress up as a scarecrow? Or Kalid? The mind boggles at how wrong JNT's team got it in this instance.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
regeneration

JN-T, Bidmead, Saward et al misunderstood the notes about the Master's penchant for disguise they inherited from Letts and Dicks. All they had, I suspect, was the entry in The Doctor Who Monster Book and the slightly revised form in The Making of Doctor Who second edition, and sporadic input from Ian Levine. Ainley's Master comes over most of the time as little more than a thug in velvet; a pity considering his portrayal of Tremas shows more variety.

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:39 pm (UTC)

Seriously - JNT used the Doctor Who Monster Book as primary reference material?

I suppose it wasn't so easy to research the history of the show in those days, even if you were producer.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 11:20 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
Change

Ainley's Master comes over most of the time as little more than a thug in velvet

Unpopular though this view is, I think the 'smart thug' interpretation had potential, both as a way of preventing the new Master being a retread of the old (much as fans like returning villains/monsters to be exactly the same as they were, it seems pointless to me - a theme I suspect I will be returning to after I get a chance to see Evolution of the Daleks and especially if the rumours about this year's season finale are correct) and of emphasising the desperation of the eighties Master and his closeness to death, a fact implicit in many of the storylines, but rarely emphasised.

Hence my belief that Survival was the best Master story of the eighties, because he finally seems like a terrifyingly sadistic manic who would kill you as soon as look at you. This aspect of the character wasn't really brought out in other stories, except perhaps Logopolis (where he causes a lot of pointless death and destruction, but also acts more like a camp pantomime villain than ever before) and The Mark of the Rani (again, he kills a lot of people for no real reason, but it seems to be due to poor writing than a genuine attempt to make him seem psychopathic; certainly the Doctor and the Rani both regard him as little more than a nuisance).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)

> This is one of Jo's strongest stories.

I was *very* pleasantly surprised by that. Since I first saw Spearhead from Space (no more than couple of years ago) I have not quite forgiven the producers (of decades ago) for replacing Liz Shaw, and I have had a very dim view of Jo.

I think much of the alleged chauvinism of Jon Pertwee's doctor is made inevitable by the portrayal of Jo, and not really his fault. If anything, he seems to trust her where others don't, and I think with this episode I have finanlly found out why!

KT

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:39 pm (UTC)
Sylvester

The relationship between the Doctor and Jo changes the longer she is his assistant, which is understandable and fairly realistic as this programme goes. In the first season the Doctor is initially resentful of Jo and his fondness for her can seem grudging. There are occasionally moments of humiliation for her, such as in The Daemons: 'Did you fail Latin as well as science, Jo? Magister is the Latin word for Master!' but I think that these faded after her first series; I've not followed the Pertwee stories as assiduously as I might have done.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2007 11:23 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 01:49 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)