Thursday 28 June 2018

Inspirations - The Sea Devils

Malcolm Hulke was keen to further explore the moral questions thrown up by his earlier story, The Silurians, and so was eager to write a follow-up revolving around the Earth's original masters. Rather than feature the same land-based creatures, however, he envisaged an encounter with their marine cousins. They are known as the Sea Devils, though that name is given to them only by a deranged workman who has seen his colleague killed by them. By the time of their next appearance, a decade later, the name has stuck and even the Silurians are using it.
Barry Letts and Jon Pertwee had both served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Pertwee had been transferred off of HMS Hood just before it was destroyed by the Bismarck at the Battle of the Denmark Strait - his recollections of losing everyone he had known on that vessel upsetting him to his dying day. Throughout his time on Doctor Who, Pertwee had continued to record the hit BBC radio comedy The Navy Lark. Hulke had also served with the Navy. Though he hadn't joined the series when The Invasion was filmed, Letts would have known of the co-operation his predecessor had been given with the Army on that show. For The Mind of Evil, co-operation had been sought and granted from the RAF. Hoping to make use of more than just stock footage, Letts approached the Senior Service (the Royal Navy) to see if use could be made of some of their ships and other facilities. Permission was given - especially once the Navy heard that the other services had already assisted with the programme. The one main stipulation was that the RN would be seen in a positive light.

The Master had been captured at the conclusion to The Daemons at the end of the previous season, and it was felt that the time was right to have him return. He would be seen in captivity, but would be manipulating his gaolers and be in league with the Sea Devils. He would escape at the conclusion - so that he would be free to feature in the season finale, now that it had lost the Daleks to the opener.
Hulke had written well for the Master in Colony in Space.
Following the production of Season 8, Letts had taken a long holiday and he took Hulke's scripts with him. One of the things he wanted to change was the geological era claimed for the origins of the Silurians. This made it into the dialogue as the Doctor blames Dr Quinn for getting it wrong, and correcting it to the Eocene epoch. That was 56 to 33 million years ago - so allowed for the mammals hated by the Silurians. However, it was well after the end of the dinosaurs, so just as problematic.
The director chosen was the one from that previous Master story - Michael E Briant. He had not served in the Navy, but had a relative in the Merchant Navy and had been born in the coastal town of Bournemouth. He had a love of the sea, which helped when it later came to directing the BBC mini-series of Treasure Island (1977) and a number of episodes of 1980's yacht club-based drama Howard's Way. He has sailed round the world and written a number of books on sailing.
Briant had also worked on the last Doctor Who story to be based around the sea - Fury From The Deep - so he was familiar with the logistics of working in this environment. Rather cheekily, Briant provided the voice for the DJ picked up on the Doctor's transmitter lash-up. Letts was not happy to hear of this (much later) as this went against actors' union Equity rules.
Production order was swapped with The Curse of Peladon, as we mentioned last time - the first time that this had ever happened. The production team would be filming on the coast and at sea in the Solent (the body of water which separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland). The production swap was made mainly to try to ensure favourable weather.

The man in charge of the VFX was Peter Day. He likes to tell the story of the submarine's propeller. So does Briant. And so does Letts. Unfortunately, no two versions of the story entirely match. The one thing they do agree on is that the design Day conceived for the propeller just happened to match a top secret one being developed by the Navy, leading to interest from Admiralty spooks.
As for the real Navy vessels, Letts was informed that the fleet he wanted to film with was about to head up to Scottish waters on manoeuvres. However, were Letts to write to the Admiralty then the dates for these manoeuvres could be amended. It was to be kept under wraps that the Navy were changing their plans just so that a TV programme could be made, as this might have prompted an outcry.
The story opens with the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in his island prison, where he enjoys a rather luxurious lifestyle. He even has a colour TV - with a promise for a second set for the bedroom.
Most of the people watching this first episode would have been doing so on B&W sets. (Due to industrial action, lots of people missed episodes anyway - prompting the use of narrated recaps before each new episode was shown).

No retrospective of Roger Delgado's Master should ever omit the Clangers sequence. Russell T Davies riffed on it when he brought the Master back - updating it to him viewing the Teletubbies. The Clangers was a BBC stop-motion puppet show about aliens, which ran for 26 episodes (and one election themed special) between 1969 and 1974. It came back in 2015, narrated by Michael Palin (and William Shatner for the US version). The band The Soup Dragons got their name from one of the characters.
The Master scheming from his island base points us to a possible inspiration for certain elements of this story. Following on from the success of the various ITC adventure series, Southern Television thought it might be a good idea to develop something similar, aimed squarely at the younger market. Southern were based in Southampton - just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight. Launching in 1968, The Freewheelers, was an action adventure series featuring a group of youngsters, helped by an older authority figure. He was Colonel Buchanan of MI5 (played by Ronald Leigh-Hunt, whom Briant would cast in Revenge of the Cybermen, and who had previously played Commander Radnor in The Seeds of Death). One-time Doctor Who companion Wendy Padbury would join the series later on. For the first couple of seasons, Geoffrey (Hepesh) Toone played a recurring villain - an ex-Nazi officer named Von Gelb. He was based in a lighthouse. His first scheme was to hijack Polaris submarines to launch a missile strike on the UK. Von Gelb was dropped when the series was sold to West Germany, to be replaced by a run of similar characters. A couple of the later villains were played by Jerome Willis (The Green Death) and Kevin Stoney (Mavic Chen and Tobias Vaughn, and another actor hired by Briant for Revenge of the Cyberman). The Freewheelers ran until 1973. Later colour episodes have recently been getting an airing on the Talking Pictures channel.

One possible inspiration for the prison governor Trenchard might be Captain Bligh, of HMS Bounty notoriety. The Doctor mentions Trenchard having governed a small colony, which promptly sued for independence. Some 17 years after the Bounty mutiny, Bligh was made governor of New South Wales in Australia - prompting a popular rebellion which saw him deposed. Of course, Captain Hart's assistant just happens to be called the similar sounding Blythe.
The Civil Servant, Walker, is just the latest in a line of similar authority figures in the series whose bureaucratic thinking rubs the Doctor up the wrong way (Chinn being the most obvious example).
The problem with restarting the Silurian ethical debate with a new set of creatures simply means that we get a retread of the previous story's arguments, rather than something new. Apart from a brief moment when the Sea Devil leader might be about to trust the Doctor, the Sea Devils seem to be a much more belligerent branch of the reptilian family. The Doctor seems to have no qualms whatsoever about blowing them up. Compare with his reaction to what the Brigadier did in Derbyshire.

The means by which the Doctor achieved this wanton destruction is that he reversed the polarity of the neutron flow in the Sea Devils' power systems. This is the only time that Pertwee utters the full line during his tenure as the Doctor. He usually hated technical jargon, but told Terrance Dicks that he did not mind this line as it could be sung to the tune of The Sailor's Hornpipe. This jig, which always proves popular at the Last Night of the Proms, was first recorded around 1770.
Once again, the Master is found to have chosen the wrong side - the Sea Devils only wanting his technical expertise to fix their wake-up machine. Just as it looks as if he might be heading back to prison, he feigns death and runs off in a stolen hovercraft - free to fight another day.
Next time: the Doctor is sent on another mission by the Time Lords, in a story inspired by colonialism, racism and Empire...

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