Written by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Michael Briant
I had previously heard the complaint/observation that many of the longer Third Doctor serials felt padded, and during the eighth season, that was certainly true. This tendency carries over into the ninth season as well, apparently, as “The Sea Devils” could have easily been condensed into four episodes without missing a beat.
Actually, I’m at a loss to say precisely what should have been cut out, because the whole thing was a bit of a mess. Effectively a sequel to “The Silurians”, an interesting but flawed seventh season epic, this covers similar ground much less effectively. “The Silurians” mainly worked as a means to explore the ethics of the Doctor and the Brigadier, thus establishing their character dynamics.
There’s precious little of that here. The Brigadier is absent, so the moral conflict doesn’t come into play until the introduction of an armchair war hawk minister who wants to nuke everything that moves. It’s such a ridiculously unsupportable position that it does nothing to lend question to the Doctor’s desire for peace. For her own part, Jo brings nothing to the philosophical table.
This is also another disappointing appearance for the Master. Considering that Malcolm Hulke also wrote “The Colony in Space”, possibly the serial with the most insight into the Master’s motivations up to this point, I was disheartened to find that the Master was back to making decisions that made no sense. Other than wiping out humanity as some kind of indirect attack on the Doctor, I don’t see the point of his scheme.
I’ll give them credit for the enormous amount of location shooting, which lent some degree of credibility to the production, but it also led to a lot of long, pointless transition and establishing scenes that could have been edited down to maintain a sense of tension. But the real issue is the padded nature of the story. One episode begins with something like 4 minutes of recap! Perhaps not as bad when viewed episode by episode, over a period of time, but I did just that, and it still felt egregious.
One unfortunate similarity to “The Silurians” is the quality of the musical score. As bad as the score for “The Silurians” might have been, this is several times worse. In fact, I’d say that this is a great example of how the lack of strong incidental scoring can make a flawed production seem even worse. From what I understand, much of the music for this serial was “improvised”, and frankly, it shows.
As far as characterization goes, I was a bit disappointed with the Doctor this time around. He had the usual condescending attitude, especially having come back from another thrilling adventure in time and space, but it wasn’t as consistent throughout as it could or should have been. In particular, he seems to let the Master escape rather easily in the end. Considering that the Master left with a rather large and obvious bit of naval tech, I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be immediately pursued. But then again, why tempt fate by asking for an even longer story?
Final Rating: 6/10