Saturday, October 08, 2005

'The Sea Devils'

6 episodes

I liked 'The Sea Devils' a lot; it's big, flashy and expensive and there's very little to denigrate, but oddly the many good points never seem to add up to something truly great - it's simply so rock solid it almost defies reviewing in either positive or negative terms. The Doctor/Master characters and relationship are fabulouly portrayed: Jon Pertwee gets to show off his action-man persona more than ever, hopping in and out of a diving bell and piloting a speedboat and jetski-type mini speeder with great aplomb - I was nearly overcome with anticipatory glee when I saw the Master take off on one of the latter with a second waiting conveniently on the shoreline! The Master, after his recent dalliances with interplanetary machinations and black magic, is back to his customary position of forging an uneasy alliance with an 'alien menace' and teaming up with the Doctor when his plans go a little awry. Despite all their antagonism, the strange mutual respect between the two is shown up well in their entertaining swordfight, where the Doctor hands his adversary his blade back, and in their absorbed collaboration on the Master's machine - even if the Doctor has his own motives - and in their joint escape from the doomed underwater base at the end. That they can make such a good team when necessary is partially explained by the Doctor finally admitting that they were once good friends in their youth. There are a series of great Master moments: when we see him glued to The Clangers and imitating their whistling 'speech', followed by his tongue-in-cheek comment that they are a "rather interesting extraterrestrial lifeform", it is so unexpected that I was rolling; the moment where his frustration boils over and he abandons hypnotising a guard for a vicious blow to the neck; and of course his cheery, sardonic wave from the hovercraft as he makes good his escape at the very end.

The Sea Devils, as they are so nicknamed early on, never get an official monicker within the story, just like their cousins the 'Silurians' - who, in a neat addressing of his own error, get a mention in Malcolm Hulke's script when the Doctor suggests they should be more accurately known as Eocenes. Sadly neither period of Earth's history is actually appropriate for having fostered large reptilians parallel with early apes, but hey... The aquatic versions have a different look, partly lizard, a touch of bat, a smidgeon of pig and a whole lot of springer spaniel if I'm being honest. The long neck and high head are effective, although the lower bodies look a little too human and their netting clothes a bit silly and unnecessary. That, like their relatives, they have a senior claim to Earth and face the choice of conflict or coexistence with humanity again features strongly in the plot, and it is a shame that all sides descend into a state of ultimate antagonism and distrust and the Sea Devils all have to be destroyed. The reptiles do deserve special mentiom for their often spectacular demises, with some impressive flips, twirls and various crash-and-burn landings on being shot by the Navy - who totally replace the absent UNIT in this story, the real Navy having lent hardware and manpower to make the serial look as realistic as possible. The sheer weight of ships and explosives is impressive, although the large number of minor characters who drop in and out is hard to follow when you're as tired as I was while watching this. There are three supporting roles of note, though: Colonel Trenchard, the Master's jailor, conspirator and an enthusiastic golfer, who dies protecting his prisoner to the last; Captain Hart, who fills the Brigadier's role well, overcoming his inital scepticism to ally himself strongly with the Doctor; and the latecoming, pompous, overbearing, dimwitted, cowardly civil servant Walker, who alienates everyone he comes across, treats the female 3rd Officer Blythe as a tealady and fortifies himself mid-crisis with the likes of toast and marmalade in order to come up with the none-more-crass idea of nuking the South Coast in order to destroy the perceived threat of the reptile race. Nice to know the real world could never be so crazy, eh?


Episodes watched: 209
Episodes still to watch: 513

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