The Sea Devils
By Malcome Hulke
Reviewed By Paul Bowler
"Yes, but the catastrophe that you predicted never happened. And the apes that you left behind on the surface to die became man."
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) decide to visit their old enemy, the Master (Roger Delgado), who has been imprisoned on an island prison off the south coast of England. After learning from the governor, Colonel Trenchard (Clive Morton), that ships have gone missing in the area, the Doctor decides to investigate and visit’s Captain Hart (Edwin Richfield) at the Naval base, where he discovers that all the ships have all disappeared in the vicinity of an old abandoned Sea Fort. The Doctor and Jo take a boat out to the fort and are attacked by a Sea Devil, an amphibious species, who once ruled the Earth in prehistoric time alongside their Silurian cousins.
Realizing that the Master is behind the theft of equipment at the Naval base, and was assisted by Trenchard, the Doctor tries to stop the renegade Time Lord from escaping, but he is too late to stop him from reviving the Sea Devils from hibernation. After narrowly escaping a Sea Devil on the beach, the Doctor and Jo escape through a mine field. Returning to the Naval base to warn Captain Hart, they lean that a submarine has gone missing. Determined not to make the same mistakes as he did with the Silurians, the Doctor uses a diving bell to reach the Sea Devils underwater base, but his attempts to find a peaceful solution are dashed when the Navy are ordered to attack the base with depth charges.
The Doctor helps the crew of the submarine escape and they return to the surface, but he is captured again when the Sea Devils attack the Naval Base. Back at the Sea Devils base the Doctor sabotages the Master’s machinery, the Sea Devils turn on them both, but they manage to escape before the underwater base is destroyed by a huge explosion. When they return to the surface the Master uses a disguise to distract everyone so he can escape in a hovercraft.
The Sea Devils (1972) sees the Doctor and Jo teaming up with the Royal Navy and Captain Hart for this sea faring adventure. Satisfied the Master is still under lock and key, the Doctor sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding the missing ships, and soon enlists the help of Captain Hart. This story was made with the help of the Royal Navy and so it naturally features a number of vehicles: including a motor boat, a diving bell, speedboats, and even a hovercraft - as well as a considerable amount of stock footage showcasing ships, submarines, helicopters, and footage of depth charges being detonated.
Jon Pertwee is right in the thick of the action as the 3rd Doctor, battling Sea Devils one moment, and quickly seeing through the Masters deception the next. Katy Manning plays the ever resourceful Jo Grant, who keeps her cool even when they are stranded on the Sea Fort, and helps the Doctor escape from the prison after Trenchard’s treachery is revealed. Together the Doctor and Jo make a fantastic team, nevermore so than here, when their quick thinking and tenacity helps them keep one step ahead of the Master’s plans.
The Sea Devils themselves are one of the most distinctive monsters from the 3rd Doctor’s era, director Michael Bryant slowly build up the suspense, using innovative camera angles and unnerving close-ups to maintain the mystery surround the creatures until the Doctor finally meets one face-to-face on the Sea Fort. As a race the Sea Devils are portrayed as highly intelligent creatures that are as agile on land as they are at sea. When the Doctor meets with their leader his peacemaking attempts are foiled by the Master, who has managed to convince the Sea Devils that man is weak, and goads them into starting a conflict with the humans anyway.
Few could forget the iconic moment when the Sea Devils rise from the sea. It’s a brilliant scene, one that still has a great impact, really building the excitement as the creatures shamble ashore. The design of the Sea Devils is very striking, and their attack on the Naval Base shows just how quick and deadly they can be as their quickly overwhelm the base. Despite his best efforts, the Doctor fails to convince the Sea Devil’s leader to break off their attacks, and he is left with no choice but to cause the power systems of their undersea base to overload - with The Doctor and the Master managing to escape to the surface before it explodes.
After being captured at the end of The Daemons (1971) the Master makes a welcome return in The Sea Devils. He effortlessly runs rings around his jailer, Trenchard, manipulating the pompous fool with malicious glee before Trenchard’s own misguided treachery leaves him at the mercy of the Sea Devils when they attack the prison to free the Master. The Sea Devils features one of Roger Delgado’s best performances as the renegade Time Lord, fiendishly plotting from his prison cell, causing havoc and chaos without hardy even stepping outside the room. There is a lovely scene where he switches on the television and smiles to himself a he watches The Rock Collector episode of the Clangers, he even jokes about the children’s programme to Trenchard, who fails to see the funny side, further exacerbating the Master and probably sealing his death warrant in the process.
The Sea Devils offers a real insight into the friendship the Time Lords once shared. It’s nice to see the Doctor’s genuine concern for his old enemy, even though their banter is still as barbed as ever, you get a sense of the great respect they still have for each other. Later, when the Doctor confronts the Master in his prison cell, he walks straight into a trap. What follows is a spectacular sword fight between the two Time Lords, its fantastic to watch as Pertwee and Delgado lock swords and duel, and every moment of this tense showdown is superbly choreographed. The 3rd Doctor even takes time out to nibble a sandwich after he disarms the Master, before sportingly giving him back his sword, clearly enjoying every moment of this exhilarating confrontation.
This is a really good story, Michael Bryant’s direction is superb, the production values are also extremely high, with the regular cast all giving great performances, and the excellent location filming really makes The Sea Devils an extra special adventure. The only thing that mares the production is the somewhat bizarre electronic incidental music by Malcolm Clark, it works moderately well in the scenes set on the Sea Fort, but feels out of place and intrusive for much of the story. The Sea Devils is one of the most visually striking adventures from Season Nine, featuring some of the series most classic moments, and remains one of the best stories from the 3rd Doctor’s era.