Title: Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils
Televised as: The Sea Devils
Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Teleplay by: Malcolm Hulke
Televised in: February through April 1972
Published in: October 1974
Chapters: Four through Nine
Last time, we talked about the superlative first three chapters of Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils. As great as these chapters were, though, they had very little to do with the actual TV serial itself.
Moving on to the middle portions of the book, which cover roughly Episodes Two through Four of the TV material, we move a little closer to the plot of the story, but what we’re seeing here are the remnants of the original script, and Hulke’s original intentions for the story, rather than what the production team wanted to give us. During the actual production, the realities and logistics of arranging a complicated location shoot, as well as the cooperation of the Royal Navy, gave us a compromise between extensive use of Naval hardware and personnel, and the abandonment of even more action scenes that Michael Briant ran out of time (and good weather) to stage. But Hulke’s book is a story about people; there’s a lot of authentic naval detail (Hulke was a veteran), but not a whole not of pages dedicated to describing pitched battles. This is a book about human characters, first and foremost.
And politics, too. In Hulke’s original telling, mankind’s accidental revival of the Sea-Devils had a topical spin; the Sea-Devils were awakened by drilling for English Channel oil. Hulke’s notion of Channel drilling was sparked by the recent discovery of North Sea oil (which Hulke in the novelization dates three years into the future, to 1977). But the production team couldn’t secure permission to film on an oil rig, which would have been required for Episodes One and Two, so they turned the corresponding location into a sea fort. On TV, the two sea fort characters in Episode One talk about repairing the fort’s undersea foundations, and that, we’re supposed to assume, is what revived this colony of Sea-Devils – not drilling for oil. Hulke’s take proves more interesting.
(One of those two sea fort characters — and the only one retained for the novelization — is played by Declan Mulholland, i.e. the original Jabba the Hutt. On TV he supports the same Irish brogue that you recall from the deleted Episode IV scenes, where his pleasing lilting tones referred to Harrison Ford as “Han, me boy”.)
Hulke also restores characters who didn’t make it into the TV production, and continues to give them the perspective of ordinary folk who believe that they’re the man character of the story. For example, the island’s lone police constable tries to solve a rather perfidious crime:
“And he arrived by boat” said P.C. Watkins. It was the first time he had ever been inside the Naval Base, and he intended to make the most of it. For fifteen years he had been the only policeman on the island, where he know everyone and everybody’s business, and it rankled with him that this Naval Base was virtually out-of-bounds to him. Today, however, he had a perfect right to be here. He was investigating what, by the values of the island and its tiny population, was Big Time Crime – someone had stolen Thomas Robbins’ boat.
But the biggest star by far of the middle portion of the book, is Governor Trenchard himself. Trenchard is this story’s dupe. Ostensibly the warden of the special prison in which the Master is the only inmate, Trenchard’s already fallen under the Master’s persuasion before the book opens. Not a victim of hypnosis, he’s rather an orphan of the collapsed British empire; a former colonial governor whose colony proclaimed independence as soon as he arrived, he falls prey to the Master’s psychological warfare, and begins helping the Master, ostensibly in the name of restoring Britain’s good name. What he’s really doing, unbeknownst to him, is enabling the Master to awaken the Sea Devils so that they can reclaim Earth and eliminate mankind (next time, we’ll find out just how well the Master succeeds in this aim …).
A long scene deleted from an over-running Episode Two on TV, is preserved in the book, albeit relocated to the Episode One material, and shows us how the Master comes to persuade Governor Trenchard that the Naval Base must be raided, and sonar stores stolen, in the first place. That’s an example of the persuasive tactics that the Master used (rather than hypnotism) to win Trenchard over to his side, something that was never made quite clear on TV.
On TV in Episode Two, Governor Trenchard smuggles the Master onto the naval base in order to steal sonar equipment; the two men leave before the alarm is sounded. More interestingly, in the book Trenchard (with the Master hidden in the back seat of his vehicle) leaves the Naval Base after the alarm is rung, because the chief on duty at the main gate can’t believe that there’s actually a real emergency on and decides to just wave Trenchard through.
The DVD text commentary tells us that, in the original script, Trenchard was described as a “middle-aged man dressed in conventional country-gentleman clothes – tweed suit, old school tie”. As he did with his scripted description of Caldwell in Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, Hulke lifts this scripted description verbatim for he novelization. But apart from his country-gentleman mien, Trenchard has major personality deficits, which you know that Hulke is not gonna shy away from detailing. When the Doctor and Jo first arrive in Trenchard’s office, Trenchard pointedly ignores them, leading Hulke to remark:
Jo was reminded of a rather stupid headmistress she had once known who had always used this technique when girls went in to see her; it was a trick to make visitors feel unsure of themselves.
I quite enjoy how Hulke adds his own life experiences and (typically caustic) observational humor to make the story flow along. In my law practice days, I appeared before several judges who did this type of thing; going even further back in time to the late 1980s, I had a high school principal who did the exact same thing. Almost everything you need to know about Trenchard is found in that observation of Jo’s.
But within Chapters Four through Nine, Hulke supplies several scenes from Trenchard’s POV, even though he’s already established Trenchard as less than the cream of British empire, and all of these scenes are treats. At first, we hear Trenchard in his own voice justify his perfidy in collaborating with the Master, which he couches in terms of self-delusional modesty.
The Master’s plan was that he and Trenchard would work together to get to the root of the problem; then Trenchard would truly qualify for the recognition he so richly deserved, while the Master would remain quiety in the background.Already Trenchard could see himself receiving a knighthood for his services to England in detecting and exposing its enemies.
We also see Trenchard’s officious posturing as he attempts to hide the truth from the Doctor and Jo, along with his fear of being double-crossed by the Master –the eternal lament of the dupe:
He knew, or hoped he knew, that what he was doing was right. He was trying to save England from her enemies. The difficult thing about it, though, was that in order to do the right thing, he had to do so many wrong things.
All his time in the army had taught him that the simplest solution to any problem was to carry out an order given by someone else.
The reason all of this Trenchard business resonates with me, is that Hulke is portraying Trenchard three different ways at once: as a a sympathetic foil, as a satiric indictment of a particular sort of late-colonial era British army officer, and as a buffoon. Trenchard’s repeated laments about his pact with the Master getting out of hand, generate definite pathos for the poor guy. Trenchard feels hurt after the Master yells at him, and it’s hard not to feel the hurt right along with him.
[I]t was all getting too complicated. He very much wished he was back on the North West Frontier with a kindly commanding officer who told him exactly what to do and what to think at any tie of day or night. Here, he had to take so many decisions …
Trenchard’s inevitable exit from the story occurs in a chapter wickedly titled Visitors for Governor Trenchard. Dupes don’t tend to last long in Doctor Who episodes, but you can read through the entire novelization canon and not find any other dupe (and there are many, many dupes) who’s put as much at center stage as Trenchard is put by Hulke. This makes Trenchard’s fate kind of heartbreaking.
Too late, Trenchard realizes that the Master and Sea-Devils are allies, and that the Master wasn’t using him to destroy the Sea-Devils after all. Rather, the Master used Trenchard to facilitate a jailbreak, and the second the Sea-Devils arrive, the Master leaves Trenchard to his fate (when on TV Roger Delgado tells him that his troubles will soon be over, you know that’s about the kindest death sentence that the Master can deliver, but it’s a death sentence nonetheless). As on TV, Trenchard makes a last-minute phone call to his government superiors, to warn them that his prison is being invaded by sea frogs. That call didn’t save him on TV, and, Hulke being Hulke, it fails to save him even more egregiously in the book. He’s asked here, by a snarky receptionist who’s never heard of him, “Could you write to us about it?”.
On TV, Trenchard dies off-screen after forming a valiant one-man firing line against the invading Sea-Devils. This is a noble exit, and the story appropriately pauses for a moment so the Doctor and Captain Hart can pay him the briefest of homages. That’s a nice moment.
But, yeah, in the books, Hulke doesn’t really do nice. Rather, he aims one last posthumous kick at Trenchard’s corpse. Here, Trenchard recalls an ancestor, a Major who bravely perished in the Indian mutiny, taking several invaders along with him. So Trenchard pulls out his gun to stand against the Sea-Devils. But, no dying for him after unleashing a righteous hail of bullets. No: “In his last moment of life he realized that he had forgotten to turn the safety catch of his revolver. Then he fell dead”. Later, the Doctor furtively turns off the catch in order to preserve Trenchard’s good name.
In Running Through Corridors, Volume Two, Rob Shearman juxtaposes these two versions of Trenchard’s death, and finds that each of them is an appropriate end for the character. Like many other fans who came to this story through the novelization first, I was surprised by how Trenchard’s death was staged differently on TV. In my own head canon, I prefer the novelization’s version. The extra bathos certainly fits the tone of the book. Clive Morton was able to lend Trenchard slightly more dignity on TV than Hulke gave him in the book, and it’s fitting that the TV version of the character gets a more heroic exit. The TV staging is a noble fantasy. The book’s staging is far more wicked and cruel — but then the Doctor commits a generous act and erases the final trace of Trenchard’s mistake. That’s a much more literary and emotionally resonant moment, and moments like that are one reason why the novelizations are held in such high regard compared to the TV series.Anyway, Trenchard is irrevocably dead, and a lot of the air goes out of the novelization when he leaves it. The Episode One material took up nearly a third of the book, and Episodes One through Four combined take up all but about the last 20 pages. When the Sea-Devils arrive in force, they’re reduced to being an afterthought in their own book. They’re no Governor Trenchard.