The Sea Devils

Region 1

Region 2
3-story box set
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 62, starring Jon Pertwee)
  • written by Malcolm Hulke
  • directed by Michael Briant
  • produced by Barry Letts
  • music by Malcolm Clarke
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each, colour 1972
Story: The conflict beneath the surface continues when the Master (Roger Delgado) discovers the Silurians' underwater cousins and uses them in his plans to escape from an island prison.

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, and director Michael Briant. Moderated by Andrew Cartmel.
  • "Hello Sailor" making-of documentary (36 min.), adding Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Donald Sumpter (Commander Ridgeway),
    stuntman Stuart Fell, Navy personnel David de Vere, Steve Scholes, and Dave King, and castle keeper Digby Coventry.
  • Behind-the-scenes 8mm home movies (4 min.) by Dave King, with commentary from Letts, Dicks, and Briant.
  • Isolated music by Malcolm Clarke
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music montage (9 min.)
  • Piccolo Book "The Making of Doctor Who" DVD-ROM .pdf file
  • Trailers and continuity (6 min.) including the bonus re-cap of episode 1

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

This is the earliest Jon Pertwee story that I don't particularly like. Malcolm Hulke's best work is pretty much behind him at this point, and this offering comes across as a less inspired rehash of material from "The Silurians" (story no. 52). Two Time Lords appear, but not a single TARDIS anywhere in the story. We're also stuck on present day Earth, which usually has the plus of adding the Brigadier and his UNIT buddies to the cast, but in this case we have to settle for some complete unknowns, and go through the whole boring business of watching them get over their mistrust of the Doctor and Jo, and go through their incredulity at the Doctor's theories. Snore! It is not particularly well scripted this time around, instead just going through the motions of the formula.

Alpha Mac Storytelling

All throughout the eighties, I kept hoping that Malcolm Clarke would get to compose music for a story that featured the Master, as I was convinced he would concoct a truly memorable theme for him as he had done for the Cybermen, the Black and White Guardians, and the Daleks. And when I finally had a chance to see "The Sea Devils" for the first time, in a movie length compilation, I began to curse that Dudley Simpson's music was getting way too random, and irritating in its choice of electronic instruments. Thus I was doubly shocked when it was all over, and the music credit revealed that I had been panning the Malcolm Clarke Master-story music I had always hoped for. Well, I have to keep my bias towards the composers aside in this case, and say that most of the music we get for this story does not, in my gut-opinion, suit the moods of this story very well. Some of it is superbly excellent, particularly the part played for the Master when he hypnotizes someone, which is on par with Clarke's 80's Doctor Who work. Underwater and military drum portions are also extremely effective. And there is a signature 5-note Sea Devil motif running through the musical work as whole, bringing it some unity, although the choice of instrument is often so irritating and non-melodic it may be difficult to pick out or appreciate.

But the big problem with the music in this story became clearer when I heard all 45 odd minutes of it on CD - it somehow works better in this format, when one gives all of one's uninterrupted attention to it. Malcolm Clarke seems to be telling the entire narrative of the story in his own language of experimental electronic music. Somehow it seems to work in this format. This format, however, is precisely not what we need to have synchronized with the cinematic story. On TV, the narrative needs to be told by the visuals and the dialogue, while the music supports and enhances the mood. What we get in "The Sea Devils" is the narrative being told twice as music argues with visuals and dialogue over who can tell it best, while the mood is not taken care of at all in many places where it badly needs to be. And viewers more easily understand the visuals and dialogue, while the experimental electronic music is, in effect, a foreign language. I like foreign languages, but don't bombard me with two languages at the same time......

Music by Malcolm Clarke

About 95% of the score
(totalling 44 minutes here) is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Volume 2

More info & buying options

A condensed suite of 5:19 duration
is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who - Earthshock
Silva Screen FilmCD 709

More info & buying options

Wimping the Peaceful Philosophy

Back to the story, Malcolm Hulke is basically getting more and more stuck at cross-purposes in his writing. His passion for the peaceful solution shines through the Doctor's efforts and dialogue, while Jo supports him faithfully. However, the Doctor is often his own worst enemy. What's the point of the Doctor getting angry at the submarine captain for shooting a Sea-Devil, considering that our hero of peace made a special effort to search a downed Sea-Devil for that very gun, and then made another special effort to give it to the submarine captain, adding "Here, take this. ....It's a gun!" Lots. If you want to discourage the use of guns, don't go handing them out like freebies. Then there's the Doctor's ability to negotiate. Admitting the truth to the Sea Devils is important, but leaving out the bits that help your case is idiotic, which is precisely what he does, hanging his head all too easily in the face of the Master's accusations, and not explaining his own motivations.

Many of the characters in this story do a lot of seemingly silly things, and motivation provided to support their actions is usually very one-dimensional and thin. Trenchard's idiocy is summed up in one word and that's all we get. The Doctor seems to enjoy becoming a fool at the end of episode two for no good reason, and at great cost.

And the submarine crew get some of the silliest bits during their first face-to-face encounters with the underwater forces.... I could go into more detail, but I'll have to save those "spoilers" for the In-depth Analysis version of this review.

The Sea-Devils themselves look a bit silly. The hat-headpieces are all right, but they look like they're wearing granny's old rags or something, a far cry from the smart-looking battle uniforms they eventually get in "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131, also available in the "Beneath the Surface" DVD box set). Their ray guns don't provide the visual laser effects I'd have hoped for either, but what we do get is still believable and powerful, emotionally and pyrotechnically.

Redeeming Tidbits

The Master's major motivations are simple in this one, and they work. He needs to escape his incarceration, as secretly as possible, and he desires revenge on the human race, for all the considerable trouble he has been in with them.

There are some major stretches of the rusty old capture and escape routines in this, for both the Doctor and many of his cohorts. The dynamic is pretty dull and overused in this tale. At least some of this is intercut with the submarine crew exploring the depths of the sea, keeping things somewhat interesting.

The character of Mr. Walker is one of the gems of the story, a civil servant consumed with his own importance and not caring about much of anything else. Director Michael Briant does a good job of highlighting this with some unusual camera angles.

The location filming in this story is also a definite bonus, adding a huge measure of realism, and giving the visuals a terrific feel. In fact, I suspect that the extensive and effective location filming is almost solely responsible for the high opinion that many people have of this tale, and it is an element of the story that does deserve to be highly celebrated. Apart from the offices, the studio sets are rarely up to standard, with the castle corridors and the cell in the Sea-Devil base being particular letdowns. The submarine set is not bad, but doesn't look right largely because of ridiculous over-lighting.

The final silliness, of course, won't be revealed in this no-spoilers version of my review. Let's just say that the stage is so obviously set for Pertwee's most classic cliché....

In the end, "The Sea Devils" has its moments, and is not too bad a story, but is just a bit stale and outclassed within Season Nine.

This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
See box set below
VHS Video
NTSC A for North America NTSC B for North America PAL for the U.K.

"Beneath the Surface" 3-story boxed sets:
(Story Nos. 52, 62, & 131: The Silurians, The Sea Devils, & Warriors of the Deep.)
DVD NTSC Region 1
"Beneath the Surface"
3-story box set
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
"Beneath the Surface"
3-story box set
for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Mutants"

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