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Recap / Doctor Who S9 E3 "The Sea Devils"

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"So... ... Sea Devil. ... ...h-how's that going for you?"
The Doctor: If Horatio Nelson had been in charge of this operation, I hardly think that he would have waited for official instructions.
Captain Hart: Yes... a pretty impulsive fellow. If one can believe the history books.
The Doctor: History books? Captain Hart, Horatio Nelson was a personal friend of mine.

The one where the Doctor steals the Master's lunch... and reverses the polarity of the neutron flow!

Written by Malcolm Hulke. This six-episode serial first aired from February 26 to April 1, 1972.

The Doctor and Jo visit the Master in his high-security offshore prison and find out that ships have been disappearing at sea. The Doctor investigates, and learns that the sinkings appear to centre around an abandoned sea fort. Heading out there, they encounter what one sailor calls a "Sea Devil" — apparently an amphibious breed of "Silurian" (see "The Silurians"). In fact, the Doctor hangs a lampshade on an error in the previous serial by pointing out that the discoverer got the name wrong — the creatures are from the Eocene period, not the Silurian.

It turns out that the Master has the prison governor under control. The latter is procuring parts so that the renegade Time Lord can build a machine to revive the Sea Devils from hibernation. Jo sneaks around to rescue the Doctor, and the Doctor engages the Master in an awesome fencing battle, disarms him, holds him at swordpoint and munches down on the Master's lunch before tossing him back his sword simply because he's having too much damned fun.


Using cars, boats, stock footage of a helicopter, a close-up toy submarine and one giant actual ship, the Doctor tries to establish contact with the creatures. He goes down in a diving bell to try and negotiate with the Sea Devils, but politicians have got involved now and a depth-charge attack soon disrupts to negotiations. In the confusion, the Doctor frees a captured British submarine and heads back to the surface.

The Sea Devils attack and capture the nearby naval base and with it the Doctor, who is taken to the Master and forced to help him finish the machine. But the Doctor sabotages it, and the two Time Lords get away on jet skis. The Sea Devils are all killed in the explosion, but the Master makes his escape in a hovercraft.



  • Action Girl: Jo Grant is one in this story. She rescues the Doctor, incapacitates a guard and pilots a hovercraft.
  • Actionised Sequel: To The Silurians, which was a slow-moving character-based story.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: The Master is somewhat enamoured with The Clangers.
  • Armchair Military: Walker orders the naval assault on the Sea Devils' base while eating a meal on dry land.
  • As You Know: The Master says this while explaining to the Doctor the Sea Devils' plan.
  • Author Appeal: More like Actor Appeal, really: Jon Pertwee was, according to accounts, in seventh heaven during the filming of this serial, as a number of vehicle sequences were written in expressly for his benefit, including a jet-ski chase.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Jo climbs into the ventilation shaft and onto the roof after the Sea Devils have chucked her, Captain Hart and the Personal Parliamentary Secretary in a room.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: Averted. Genuine Royal Navy ordnance is shot off (including a Bofors anti-aircraft cannon), but the soft (for varying values of "soft", of course) "paf-paf" sound that the real guns actually have on camera is nothing like what an audience might expect.
  • Big Bad: The Chief Sea Devil, who is determined to lead his people into war against the humans. The Master thinks they're in a Big Bad Duumvirate until the Sea Devils pull a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world is saved but the Sea Devils, who weren't bad, just misled, are destroyed and the Master, who caused all this, escapes.
  • Blatant Lies: The Doctor bribing Robbins to leave, so he can take Robbins' motorboat:
    Doctor: I'd go myself, only my bad leg's playing me up a bit. The Crimea, you know.
    Robbins: I see. Crimea?
    Doctor: Oh, Gallipoli? El Alamein? Does it really matter?
    Robbins: I reckon not.
  • The Brigadier: Not, for once, the Brigadier, but Captain Hart.
  • Creator Cameo: This serial's director, Michael Briant, provided the voice of the radio DJ in Episode Two.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: The Clangers: the picture is inserted via yellowscreen (yellow was the preferred matte colour for BBC Chromakey work in the '70s).
  • Death Equals Redemption: Redemption from being an Unwitting Pawn (and all-round dumbass) rather than being evil, but Trenchard spends his last moments buying some time for his guards to escape and making a futile attempt to keep the Sea Devils away from the Master.
  • Dirty Coward: Walker will happily send other men to die, and massacre the Sea Devils without even attempting diplomacy, but when his personal safety is at risk in Episode 6 he is revealed as an abject coward. He tries to discourage Jo and the Captain from escaping in case they take reprisals on him, and when they make their escape, he's so scared of the Sea Devil he retreats back into his cell. When he is freed, it's also clear that he has not learned anything nor changed even slightly.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: During the fencing fight, the Doctor disarms the Master, steals his sandwich at swordpoint and eats it. He later steals Jo's sandwich too, the swine!
  • Establishing Character Moment: Walker's first actions are to tell the first woman he sees to bring him breakfast (despite her being the Third Officer, not the Steward) and calling for the elimination of the Sea Devils as though they were animals.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: During the fencing fight, the Doctor disarms the Master, steals his sandwich at swordpoint and eats it.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: The Sea Devils had to be given string vests at the last minute as someone objected to this issue late into production.
  • Fake Shemp: In the jet ski chase, the Master is played by a stunt double, which is why he tries to keep his face hidden.
  • Fish People: The clue's in the title.
  • Flynning: During their sword fight, after the Master disarms the Doctor, and has him pinned in a corner ready to deliver the killing blow, the Doctor escapes by kicking the Master back.
  • For the Evulz: The Master flat-out admits he's only working with the villains so they can get rid of "the human race of which you are so very fond."
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The Doctor, Jo and The Master share a couple of jokes and chat amiably for a few minutes when The Doctor and Jo first arrive.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The Master is apparently left by himself with one sailor to guard him on a small hovercraft. He somehow has time to hypnotize the sailor, place a perfect disguise on him and palm him off as the Master's own corpse. Then, as the Doctor and the Royal Navy troops are gawking at the reveal, The Master makes off with the hovercraft.
  • Hazardous Water: The Sea Devils make every attempt to turn the North Sea into this.
  • Humans Are Warriors: The Doctor tells the Sea Devils that attacking the humans would be a bad idea because of this.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes:
    Doctor: As far as they're concerned, man is just an ape who got above himself.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The Doctor at the end.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The Master forces the Doctor to help him fix a gadget. And genuinely expected that to go just fine. To be fair, the Master thought he could threaten the Doctor's companions as leverage, but as soon as they were safe and sound, his plan backfired entirely.
    • Right at the very end, the script punts the ball squarely in the Doctor and the Navy's direction, and they catch it. This one happens to be a fastball and nobody really saw it coming because of how unbelievable the Karma Houdini trick the Master pulled was. The Navy has the Master under guard, with The Doctor watching, on a relatively small hovercraft. Somehow, even among all those sailors and one Time Lord, in a confined space, The Master is able to a) hypnotize a sailor into playing dead, b) slap a perfect mask of his face onto the poor schlub, and c) swap clothes with him. And then, he's able to make off with the hovercraft, because the Navy decided not to have at least two people mind it. (Though admittedly that last bit might have also been the master using hypnotism on getting said two people out.)
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: The prison guards are armed with Combloc SKS rifles.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: You can almost hear "these aren't the droids you're looking for" as The Master hypnotizes a CPO set to guard him in the last episode.
  • Karma Houdini: The Master, as usual.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Played for laughs when the Master, locked up in a sea fortress, exercises on a rowing machine. It doesn't seem to be working, though — the Doctor remarks that the Master has put on weight!
  • Klingons Love Shakespeare: The Master enjoys The Clangers of all things.
  • Last Chance to Quit: The Doctor gives one to the Sea Devils. To his regret, they refuse.
  • Latex Perfection: The Master pulls one of these, along with another faked death, to escape at the end of the final episode.
  • Lima Syndrome: Colonel Trenchard falls under the Master's influence without even needing to be hypnotised.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: The Master, during his imprisonment. The Doctor had evidently pleaded that he be made very comfortable in captivity, as he meant for him to be there rather a long time.
  • Master Swordsman: The Doctor is able to out-fight the Master in a fencing duel. He then eats a sandwich while holding the Master at swordpoint. A sandwich that happened to be the Master's lunch. And then he throws the Master back his sword so they can have some more fun.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: The Master (possibly) mistakes The Clangers for actual aliens.
  • Noodle Incident: The Doctor lets on that he was a close personal friend of Admiral Lord Nelson.
  • No-Sell: Trenchard claims that his guards are immune to the Master's hypnotism, and demonstrates it to a sceptical Doctor. It proves to be an Invoked Trope — Trenchard and the Master staged the scene for the Doctor's benefit.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: In the scene where the Doctor and Jo arrive at the sea fort, Jo is clearly not being played by Katy Manning (in fact, the stunt double is a man, stunt regular Stuart Fell).
  • Office Golf: Colonel Trenchard seems to be fond of this. The Doctor has a go, too, but he does it blindfolded.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: That little nuclear sub? A modified toy from Woolworth's.
    • ... that was apparently so convincing looking that it got the production team in trouble with the Navy, as they were concerned that top secret designs were just leaked on national television!
  • Play-Along Prisoner: The Doctor pays the Master a visit, finding that he's rather content and resigned to his certainly centuries of confinement... because, as he later finds out, he's got the entire prison staff working for him and is just biding his time before he unleashes the Sea Devils.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The Bofors gun firing in the last episode, and many of the rifles throughout, don't seem to have their sounds adjusted, and were recorded as they'd naturally sound, making for a less-than-dramatic effect for those unaccustomed to how guns actually sound when fired.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Averted. When trying to rent the launch from the quaymaster, The Doctor mentions that his leg was injured in The Crimea. The quaymaster doesn't buy it. Then he tries Gallipoli. Still no luck. Finally he tries El Alamein, by which time he gives up and says "It really doesn't matter, does it?"
  • Retcon: The Doctor points out that the cave creatures from "Doctor Who and the Silurians" should have, in fact, been named the "Eocenes" instead of the "Silurians," because of the epoch they originated from, which is the real-life author (same for both stories) correcting his earlier mistake when he was called on it after the broadcast of the first story. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that that they could have come from the Eocene period, either.
  • Reverse Polarity: The Doctor sabotages the Master's machine by "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow". This is the only timeinvoked the Third Doctor utters the whole phrase instead of just parts of it.
    Doctor: Before you reactivated it, I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow.
  • Scare Chord: A jarring, grinding, beeping sound is the first cue on this story's soundtrack. Have a listen to see if you can describe it any better.
  • Sequel Episode: To "The Silurians".
  • Shout-Out:
    Master: Do you know who I am?
    Guard: You're The Prisoner.note 
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Walker quotes Julius Caesar: "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war".
  • The Smurfette Principle: Aside from Jo, the only female character in the story is 3rd Officer Jane Blythe.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Played with. Midway through the story, Third Officer Blythe is only too happy to sort out coffee and sandwiches for the Doctor and Jo, but she's clearly doing it out of sympathy for what they'd just been through on the fort. When Walker first arrives and tells her to sort out breakfast for him, however, she's visibly rankled by his request and even points out that she is not, in fact, the Steward, but he pays no attention.
  • Stock Footage: A helicopter changes make and colour between the stock footage of it taking off and the stock footage of it arriving.
  • Sword Fight: Consisting of the Doctor disarming the Master, holding him at swordpoint as the Doctor munches down on the Master's lunch and then tossing the Master back his sword simply because he's having too much damned fun.
    The Doctor: I always find (grabs the sandwich) that violent exercise makes me hungry. Don't you agree? (takes a bite)
  • Temporary Substitute: The Royal Navy fill the role usually occupied by UNIT, with Captain Hart substituting for the Brigadier.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Naturally, The Doctor averts this during the sword fight by eating the Master's sandwich.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: A postmortem one when a Sea Devil played by Stuart Fell does a backflip when shot.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played With when Jo comes up with a plan to break the Doctor out of prison. We do see her telling the Doctor, but since she's stuck on the other side of some soundproofed glass at the time we see her communicate the plan through mime. It's just difficult enough to understand that when we see the Doctor and Jo perform parts of it, it feels less like a spoiler and more like, "oh, that's what that hand gesture meant".
  • Villains Out Shopping: The Master whistles along to the Clangers.
    It seems to be a rather interesting extraterrestrial life form.
  • Visible Boom Mic: During the minefield scene the Doctor appears to fend off a boom mike with his sonic screwdriver.
  • We Have Reserves: When Jo and Captain Hart point out that Walker's plan to bomb the Sea Devil colony will in all likelihood kill the Doctor and the submarine crew, Walker simply shrugs off their objections by saying that some deaths are always inevitable in war.
  • We Used to Be Friends: The Doctor admits that the Master used to be a friend of his. "A very good friend. In fact, you might almost say we were at school together."
  • Why Does it Have to be Water?: Roger Delgado, who couldn't swim, was not happy at all about having to float in the ocean for the rescue scene. For the ski-boat chase, they had to have Jon Pertwee chase a stunt double, as Delgado flat-out refused to shoot the sequence.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: The Doctor keeps up a steady stream of smartassery while duelling the Master.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • While the Master never outright says this to Trenchard, the trope is demonstrated in him not warning Trenchard about the impending Sea Devil attack, nor even reacting upon seeing his dead body.
    • The Sea Devil Chief later pulls this on the Master after he thinks the hibernation activation machine has been completed.