Doctor Who #314: The Sea Devils Part 1

"This place is supposed to be top secret! People treating it like Brighton beach!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.26 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor visits the Master on his prison island and runs afoul of an undersea menace.

REVIEW: Thanks to the Royal Navy's participation, The Sea Devils promises to feature a brand new environment and set of locations... off the coast of England! That in itself is exciting, with the Doctor whizzing about on the water, stuntman Stewart Fell in drag climbing up an old sea fort as Jo Grant, and set-bound ship cabins reeling with the waves under attack from something just awoken from beneath the sea. We see more and more of the creatures as the episode moves along, and whole, they're humanoid snapping turtles with flared heads and tunics made from nets. A striking design. And if we're here, it's thanks to the Master's warden (or really, the Master's servant), a distracted petty bureaucrat who tells the Doctor about the vanishing vessels, which of course, piques his interest. Loose lips, as they say, sink ships. And it's all scored by newcomer Malcolm Clarke, who brings to it foreboding alien cues which I quite like.

But while the setting is a wonderful alternative to Yet Another Quarry(TM), what most impresses me about this episode is the twinkle in the Doctor's eye. Pertwee is having a grand old time of this, and the script allows him to be witty and charming, with little of his usual bluster and impatience. I much prefer him this way. He and the Master share pleasantries, though it may hide his agenda to get a hold of the Master's TARDIS, as he goes darkly quiet and it's denied him. His negotiation with the boatman, covering his obvious fabrication with a bit of money (mirrored by Jo later, the boatman would have made out really well if his skiff hadn't been sunk by episode's end). Landing on the beach at a secret naval base like it's nothing and immediately taking control of the situation, eliciting smiles even from Captain Hart's assistant. Jo's own grin when the Doctor, not doing himself any favors, name-drops Nelson. This may well be a turning point in the third Doctor's personality, where he can finally stop shouting at the bureaucratic world, and instead poke fun at it and do what he pleases in spite of it.

And then there's the return of the Master. There was a moment in Day of the Daleks when I thought he might show up, but not in The Curse of Peladon. After appearing in every story the previous season, we had to forget he might do the same in this one. Here he is, still in custody at the midpoint of the season, and the break has done him (and us) good. Practically a joke by The Daemons, here is instead mysterious, in complete control, and even kind of crazy. Fans of the new series may recall their Master (John Simm) watching the Teletubbies when they see this era's (Roger Delgado) watching The Clangers (see picture above). The Master's got Trenchard and the prison staff completely mesmerized (or is that what's going on?) and has turned the former island castle-turned-prison back into a castle, his own. Will the Doctor trust his assertions that he is a changed man? He may want to. He confesses here that the Master used to be a very good friend of his, and the fondness and nostalgia are clear in his voice. And the use of a rowing machine to get the Master some exercise, in this seabound story, hasn't been lost on this viewer either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A great start! Pertwee is in rare form and, one supposes, totally in his element (he was in the Navy himself). The Master's back and he's not a big joke. And the briefly seen monsters look cool from here.


Anonymous said...

I'm very fond of the Clangers bit, and how the Master deigned to play the part of a slightly befuddled scientist to win the Warden's trust. When he is turned away from the Warden you can see the sense of indignity in his face.

Martin Gray said...

I always liked that the stuntman was named Stuart Fell.

Siskoid said...

Easy to spot, he's the short acrobatic one who can do a standing flip and fall on his back. Aptly named indeed!

Mitchell Craig said...

This is one of my favorite Third Doctor stories since I saw it on DVD just a few weeks ago. There's also a nice tidbit of Delgado trivia I plan to share later on.

Siskoid said...

When people ask me to recommend a single Pertwee story, this is the one I always push on them.


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