Doctor Who and the Sea-ocenes

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Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils, original episode caption card.

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: Ten through Thirteen

True story, courtesy of the text commentary notes on the DVD release of The Sea Devils.  This story was originally to be called The Sea Silurians.  Except, of course, Malcolm Hulke and the production team quickly realized that the Silurians themselves, even if they had been real, could not possibly have existed during the actual Silurian era.  So, during Part Two of The Sea Devils, Hulke has the Doctor explain to us that the Silurians should properly have been called the Eocenes.

Which leads us to the two biggest problems with the naming of this sequel story.  First, instead of “Sea Silurians”, why not just call them “Sea-lurians”?  And, once Hulke decided that the Silurians really were Eocenes, why not call their aquatic version the Sea-ocenes?

Of course, in the event, it was quickly decided that the Silurians couldn’t have lived during the Eocene era, either, because in the original TV serial we learned that Silurians co-existed with dinosaurs, and the last dinosaurs would have died out more than ten million years before that.  And thus, “Sea-Devils” is the name that has stuck.

*****

So now we finally come to the very small part of Doctor Who and  the Sea-Devils that actually has Sea-Devils in it.  When talking about the first three chapters of the book, we talked about how Hulke spent much time adding material that was never on TV in the first place.  And then, last time, in discussing the middle chapters of the book, we talked about how Hulke used extra space to give unusual life and depth (and death) to the tertiary bad guy.  The Sea-Devils don’t take center stage in their own book until the final four chapters, and even then, Hulke never bothers to give them any individual names, or personal memories, or any real distinguishing characteristics.   As a result, the book is far less vivid a portrayal of the monsters than we got in the novelization of The Silurians.

Apart from the Sea-Devils themselves, also missing from the book, sadly, is the absolutely lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry between the three leads: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado. Watching the TV serial, you’ll notice that the novelization doesn’t capture a lot of the lovely non-verbal byplay between Jon and Katy. There are nice moments galore between those two on TV: in Episode Two when the Doctor is trying to lash-up a radio transmitter, to arrange rescue for him (and Jo and Jabba the Hutt) from the sea fort, and winds up accidentally tuning in to director Michael Briant, impersonating a DJ in voice-over, he and Jo exchange a lot of funny, rueful looks.  The two actors also added a lot of  unscripted non-verbal byplay during their prolonged escape from the Master’s prison in Episode Three, in a funny pantomimed-through-a-window sequence which the New Series openly homaged in Partners in Crime.

(Fortunately, though, the brutal bit on TV in Episode Four where the Doctor steals Jo’s lunch at the Naval Base, also doesn’t make it into the book.  Not every unscripted moment that Jon Pertwee added to the original scripts in rehearsal was an improvement on Hulke …)

Another key moment of chemistry lacking is the swordfight between Jon and Roger that ends Episode Two.  As staged on TV, the Doctor wins the fight, pauses to eat a sandwich while pressing the point of his foil into the Master’s collarbone… and then returns the Master’s foil so that they can fight again and he can defeat the Master a second time. But, because that business wasn’t in the original script, Hulke doesn’t include it in the novelization. In fact, he doesn’t include the swordfight, either — giving us only a much shorter fistfight.

Certainly, though, the Master fares better in this book generally than he did the first time Hulke wrote for him, in the last few chapters of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon.  In the earlier book, the Master is clearly the Doctor’s intellectual inferior.  This time, though, Hulke gives him two moments of moral superiority over the Doctor.  In the original Silurians story, the Doctor fights to preserve the Silurians at all costs, and the monsters are destroyed only when the humans go behind the Doctor’s back, and blow up the Silurians’ base.  In this sequel story, however, it’s the Doctor who blows the Sea-Devils up.  In Episode Six on TV, Pertwee and director Michael Briant show us why that had to happen — there’s a moment where the Chief Sea-Devil announces his intention to destroy all humanity, and the Doctor can’t talk him out of it, so Pertwee is given a beat where you can see the resignation on his face that destruction is the only optin.  But, again, that was added during rehearsal; it wasn’t part of the original scripts, which is what Hulke novelized.  Instead, in the book, the Doctor is seen to basically just wipe the Sea-Devils out.

Even though the Master is the one who’s tried to enlist the Sea-Devils’ help, and is still the villain, as Hulke writes for him, he explains to the Sea-Devils why they should ignore the Doctor’s plea for cooperation with man:

The Master laughed.  “Don’t listen to this person, I beg you.  Man is busily exterminating every other species on this planet.  Can you deny that, Doctor?”
The Doctor could not deny the truth. . “Man has been foolish.  It is true that many species have been wiped out –”
“The dodo,” cut in the Master, “the passenger pigeon, the great auk, the blue buck, marsupials in Australia… in the first seventy years of this century, humans have totally destroyed more than seventy species.”

And, of course, all that was written before we know about the current degree of climate change and the sixth mass extinction.  Of course, in the book, even another human bad guy, Parliamentary Private Secretary Walker, tosses in some political digs about humans being unable to share the planet with each other, let alone Sea-Devils (“Look at the Middle Est, or Northern Ireland”).  Walker, though, loses his moral authority with his very next sentence, which begins, “If we could catch some of these things alive and put them in a zoo” …).  But the Master is still given a point.

As written in the book, the Doctor escapes from two Sea-Devil guards during the Episode Five material by grabbing a raygun and shooting a guard dead.  That, at least, did not happen on TV.  Not that the Master is perfect, as he also takes to “contemplating all sorts of interesting ways to kill the Doctor, mainly slowly”.  And then, in his second instance of being given the moral high ground, the Master is given the literal last word, as he observes the destruction which the Doctor has unleashed:

“Very clever of you,” said the Master.  “Do you realize you have just committed mass murder?”

Honest, nobody comes out of the story looking fabulous — not the Doctor, not the Sea-Devils, not even one of the minor human characters who kills a Sea-Devil in self-defense.

The Master looked down at the Chief Sea-Devil’s body.  “You have just killed one of the most intelligent creatures  that ever walked on this earth,” he told Petty Officer Myers.
“Really, sir?” said the petty officer.  “They look like big frogs to me.”

As he escapes at the end of this book, you realize that the Master might actually be one of the least objectionable characters who appears in it …

*****

Captain Hart, this story’s stand-in for the Brigadier, is given a few dimensions, at least, as he evolves from a narrow-minded Naval Base administrator to a warm ally of the Doctor (at one point, Hulke explains, the “deadening personality of George Trenchard had formed a bond between them”). Hart successfully defends his very slow drift toward giving the Doctor all the support he needs (“clearly skeptical that lizards could be in command of a British submarine”), telling Jo that “we aren’t all stupid in the Navy”.  Captain Hart is played on TV by Edwin Richfield, whose career is described in one of the greatest DVD text commentary captions ever written for the Doctor Who line.

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Edwin Richfield (right)’s later career is gracefully summed up, in the greatest DVD text-commentary caption ever written.

Commander Ridgeway (an earlier TV role for Donald Sumpter, last seen by Who fans in Hell Bent ) is demoted to Lieutenant here in the book (which dovetails with director Michael Briant’s rueful lament on the DVD commentary that he got rapped on the knuckles for casting such a young actor to play the commander of a nuclear submarine). Hulke rubs in the man’s youth: “it was incredible to think that a young man who but a year was ago was in his school XI was now entrusted with millions of pounds’ worth of naval equipment.”

In terms of other deviations from the final TV episodes, Hulke optimistically stages the Episode Three cliffhanger as involving six Sea-Devils emerging from the surf.  On TV, there was but one.  In the book, Jo Grant does her own stunts; on TV, those were done by stuntman Stuart Fell, who lacks Katy’s comely figure. The resolution to the Episode Three cliffhanger early in Episode Four is given more drama, as Hulke has the Doctor and Jo running blindly through the minefield as a tactic to get a landmine between themselves and the pursuing beast.  The Sea-Devil attack on the submarine is a lot bloodier in the book, resulting in seven casualties (as opposed to the none on TV).  The Doctor and Hart also need explosives to break into the chateau prison after the Sea-Devils invade.  Lesser TV speaking roles, such as Lead-Telegraphist Bowman (played in four of the six episodes by Michael Briant repertory actor Alec Wallis, later seen in Briant’s Revenge of the Cybermen), are dropped for the book without leaving any visible space in the plot. Before the Master leaves Trenchard to be killed, he reveals all the details of his alien Time Lord biology.  All of this detail and characterization is preferable to the long dead stretches on TV filled up by filmed shots of Royal Navy maneuvers and similar stock footage.

Reading the Episode Five material, which barely takes up ten pages in the book (including illustrations) also shows how much padding was inherent in getting the TV story to 25 minutes. Long dialogue scenes with changes of alliance, and capture-escape-capture loops; the Chief Sea-Devil endorses first the Doctor’s peace plan and then flip-flops to adapt the Master’s kill-the-humans plan; and then the Doctor escapes the Sea-Devils’ underwater base (taking the submarine crew with him), only to be promptly recaptured at the cliffhanger. Hulke keeps in all of Episode Five’s major plot beats for the book, but condenses everything to the bare minimum of text.

Walker, this serial’s contribution to the long run of obnoxious civil servants featured throughout the Pertwee era, is a bit of an odd duck.  He brings a strange sort of levity to the script in the last third of the story, which is traditionally not the time to introduce new major characters.  On TV the character boasts a sort of hollow good cheer; he asks Bowman to introduce himself, and, upon hearing the man’s rank, is visibly flustered with no ready response, before he can riposte with a “Jolly good!”.  But any subtle shading brought to the role by actor Martin Boddey is pared down for the book, where Walker spends more time eating, and bossing people around, and being generally reprehensible.  Hulke spends a lot of time describing Walker’s menus, many of which sound delicious, to be fair.

There’s other great stuff, too, as long as you’re not reading this to get a sense for what the TV story (or the acting) was like.  Hulke supplies an explanation for what “mayday” means and why it supplanted “SOS” as a nautical distress call; in the Episode Four material is a long description of what “sonar” is, written in the style of a junior science textbook. But it’s not all dry and stuffy – Hulke also finds time for humor (“In an emergency a Naval officer is not supposed to start seeing imaginary “giant tadpoles”. He is expected to issue orders and do things”).  There’s a truly awful joke about the Strand, overheard from a radio broadcast (“If your car breaks own between Trafalgar Square and Aldwych, are you Stranded?”).  It’s only when the TV plot takes over the final sixth of the book that things get watered down.  Pardon the pun.

In general, Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils is far richer than its TV counterpart.  More caustic, too, but otherwise superior in many ways.  Just be cautioned that it’s not a book about Sea-Devils.  But all of the other material — about the island prison, about the Master, about Governor Trenchard — makes this one of the great novelizations.  Even if it should have been called The Sea-lurians, instead.

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About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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3 Responses to Doctor Who and the Sea-ocenes

  1. I’m sure that Edwin Richfield would very much prefer that we all forget about his subsequent appearance on Doctor Who. From Shakespeare to slug; there’s a comedown!

    • drwhonovels says:

      I remember reading, I think it was in the Stammers/Walker/Howe 6th Doctor Handbook, that Richfield kept giving very emotive facial expressions in rehearsal for “The Twin Dilemma”, but the director kept telling him to rein it in because nobody was gonna see it behind the heavy latex mask. Poor fella.

  2. Pingback: The Episode Four Syndrome | Doctor Who Novels

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