Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Sea Devils - "Is there nothing I can say to make you reconsider?" "Nothing." "I'm sorry."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Sea Devils - Details

Season 9, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #62) | Previous - Next | Index

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We're so used to hearing Tennant's Doctor say "I'm sorry," these days, we might almost forget how ruthless Pertwee's Doctor could be, and how that ruthlessness weighed on him as well. When all is said and done here, the Doctor has once again been on the side of humanity against their planet's reptilian antecedents. When the Sea Devil's leader states his intent to destroy humanity and take back the Earth, the Doctor's simple, "I'm sorry," says it all. He's going to save humanity, and it's going to be bloody hell for the reptiles when it plays out. Perhaps, as Davison's Five famously says after another encounter, "There should have been another way."

If the Pertwee years are polarizing, I'm on the side that cheerleads for them, despite how much they clash with the rest of the series. Would I ever want to see the Doctor stranded on Earth again, without a functioning TARDIS, as much of these years found him? No. However, even if the premise was broken for a while, it was a valuable break, a learning experience, and probably saved the series.

Pertwee is marvelous here. Jo, too! Between the two of them there's motorcycling, hovercraft piloting, and sword fighting (with a pause to nosh a sandwich, The Doctor was hungry for much of this one) and then there's a helicopter, a submarine, a big battle, and some effective location shooting in which all the action takes place.

Even if it makes virtually no sense for the Master to be imprisoned (having been taking into custody at the end of "The Dæmons") in a house with a bunch of swords laying about, so near a secret naval base, under the charge of a witless, easily manipulated buffoon, the fact that he's not revealed as the villain behind the mess in a totally un-surprising twist, as he was in Season 8, is a relief.

The six-part stories typically have pacing problems as the story is stretched or becomes circular, but this is well-crafted by Malcom Hulke. We move from location to location, meeting new characters and only coming back to ones already visited after something has happened. The 'get captured, escape, get re-captured, escape again' formula isn't leaned on quite so heavily here as it often was. The fact they were able to film aboard an actual Royal Navy ship and use the hovercraft goes a long way towards helping avoid the other frequent dissatisfiers that have plagued the show over the years: cheaply dressed sets and heavy reliance on location shooting in disused quarries.

Again, it's worth acknowledging Roger Delgado's brilliant work as The Master. When he's play-acting at being stumped by an un-hypnotisable guard, or playing The Master irritated at his henchman's thick lack of humor when pretends to mistake a children's puppet show for a documentary about an alien species, he's so charming and maniacal, you get the sense he not only wants to destroy humanity because it will prove his superiority over The Doctor, but because of guys like Colonel Trenchard just on principle.

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