Aired 26 February – 1 April 1972
‘The Sea Devils’ is, in essence, a complementary sequel to ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians,’ arguably the most ambitious and morally complex story of the early Pertwee era. Though the sequel may not attempt to explore the inner emotional and moral turmoil as well as its predecessor, its ambition is every bit as great while at the same time offering a more balanced pace, a greater emphasis on action, and an improved costume design to create another very engaging story.
Filmed in collaboration with the Royal Navy, ‘The Sea Devils’ is a classic British adventure story, and the production values are phenomenal, lending a true sense of scope and peril to proceedings. With thrilling boat chases, explosions, and even a nearly-laughable escape by the beguiling Master at the end, ‘The Sea Devils’ is certainly not going to appease those looking for a slower character piece. As the notion of humans cohabitating their planet with another sentient species had already been discussed and proven impossible with the Silurians, writer Malcolm Hulke thankfully does not overindulge in retreading familiar territory with the Sea Devils, instead allowing the threat to unfold naturally while only hinting at the underlying interspecies tragedy.
Indeed, the story devotes a substantial amount of its running time to exploring the relationship between the Doctor and the Master as well as that between the Doctor and Jo. The Third Doctor is certainly no stranger to taking a more proactive role in events than either of his predecessors would have, lending his time of exile on Earth a very distinctive era of the programme that has never been replicated. While it’s impossible to imagine Hartnell or Troughton in extended chase sequences or directly fighting a foe like Pertwee fences the Master here, Pertwee exudes the quintessential essence of a British man of action and intrigue perfectly, even adding on witty remarks after a particularly successful action. These three almost have an air of family about them with the Doctor continuing to act as a pseudo paternal influence on Jo as she continues to stand up for herself and prove her mettle and with the Doctor unafraid of casually mentioning that the Master seems to be gaining weight as if talking about an old friend.
In fact, even as the Doctor visits the Master in prison, the Master seems convinced that the Doctor must have an ulterior motive, either in finding the Master’s TARDIS to escape Earth or to glean information about the recent series of wrecks at sea. As the Third Doctor always seems quite irritated with the Master’s schemes or, indeed, anything that takes him away from his studies and experiments, it’s intriguing to see that he would take the time to reach out to his foe whom he once considered to be a close friend. This story hints at a sort of inferiority complex the Master has regarding the Doctor, always a few steps behind and wanting nothing more than to scar the Doctor emotionally, here by bringing about the genocide of the human race.
Perhaps even more fascinating is the evolution of the relationship on display between the Doctor and UNIT, however. Whereas with the Silurians the two sides were seen to be completely against one another, here the Doctor and Jo are completely reliant on military intervention. Spending quite a bit of time keeping UNIT informed of everything going on around them. With strong direction and truly alien costume designs and voice effects, ‘The Sea Devils’ comes together as a strong action thriller that highlights the continued evolution of both the Third Doctor as a character and of his time spent exiled on Earth.