Tag Archives: michael e. briant

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part six)

Our son impressed me by talking earlier this evening about part five of the story, and the disappointing cliffhanger to part four. He’s really thinking constructively and creatively about the show, which makes me very happy. He was much happier with this installment, except, of course, for the ending, which sees the Master getting away again. It’s difficult to say just how effective an exit that would be in the real world. Surely the British Navy wouldn’t have a great deal of trouble tracking down a stolen hovercraft?

Honestly, parts five and six could have been compacted into one installment. There’s a lot of padding, and a lot of Jo being very loudly worried about the Doctor, and a lot of repetition. The civil servant of the month is just as gluttonous and cowardly, the talk about a lasting peace between humans and Sea Devils isn’t going to go anywhere, and there’s more stomping around the echoey underwater base.

But Pertwee and Delgado continue their beautiful, twinkling chemistry (the Doctor gets to say “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” for the first time), and there’s a lot of well-directed action and explosions. “The Sea Devils” isn’t anybody’s favorite third Doctor story, but it certainly is entertaining, and I’m glad our son enjoyed it!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part five)

As the Pertwee years continued, they got away from one of the things that defined the series in 1970: the civil servant of the month. With the speaking part played by Clive Morton freed, one of the all-time “best” of this misbegotten bunch shows up, a Parliamentary Permanent Secretary played by Martin Boddey in one of his final roles. He’s supremely vulgar and stupid, and I love the way the director emphasizes his obsession with breakfast and coffee by lingering on his mouth.

Our son says that this story is more scary than exciting. We asked whether it wasn’t exciting when the navy launched (stock footage of) depth charges into the sea, and he said it wasn’t. “That was not exciting because they could have killed the Doctor!” He’s taking everything that Jo Grant says very, very seriously.

For me, this story’s only disappointment is the Sea Devils’ base. It’s a black “limbo” set like we saw in the third season of Batman, with lots of black tablecloths over everything to give it some kind of depth and shape. The designer came up with some interesting ideas for the props within their base, things like alarms and cages, but it’s all undermined by the lack of walls.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part four)

Thankfully, much better copies of the second half of “The Sea Devils” were available for the wizards at the BBC to restore the visuals. Part four of this story looks great, almost as though fate wanted the monsters to shine. The Sea Devils look organic and wet. The closeups of the latex and rubber show it looking more like skin than the plastic of the monsters in the previous story.

I’ve written before about how we enjoyed the novelizations of the stories in the days before our local PBS station bought them. The book version of this serial wasn’t one of the greats, but it did have a delightful embellishment by writer Malcolm Hulke. Onscreen, we see the doomed Colonel Trenchard get off a couple of shots against the monsters before dying. But in the book, he realizes too late that he left the safety on, a fitting end for the character.

Unfortunately, while the last episode ended with a fantastic cliffhanger, this one… doesn’t. Jo looks into a diving bell. Either the Doctor is inside, dead, or he’s not inside at all. We’ll check back in a few days for the answer.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part three)

Part three of this story ends with a delicious cliffhanger, with the Doctor and Jo trapped on a beach with a minefield on one side, four men with rifles on another, and a Sea Devil rising from the ocean. It’s a really effective scene that had our son utterly stumped how they’ll get out of this. Helicopters and International Rescue’s Mole were considered.

Speaking of effective, I love how the titular Sea Devils have completely dominated the narrative despite only appearing onscreen for maybe two minutes totally throughout the first three parts. We wondered whether our son would pick up the subtleties in how the Master has convinced Colonel Trenchard to let him take over the prison, and he didn’t. The Master has given him some song and dance about enemy agents operating in British waters, and how only he can stop them, and Trenchard will soon have the thanks of a grateful nation. I think he treated this as new, additional information, like the enemy saboteurs were real, and yet another obstacle and headache.

I think the problem with six year-old viewers is that they will take everything at face value, and not quite understand when characters are being dishonest yet. I realized this when I had to pause the first couple of Avengers episodes we watched because he didn’t really get that Steed and Mrs. Peel will lie about their undercover activities. Television that’s really designed exclusively for younger viewers will wink at the kids a little more obviously.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part two)

There’s so much to like about “The Sea Devils.” It’s just a terrific and fun adventure story, with some monsters that look fantastic, wonderfully classy and claustrophobic direction, great set design, and a fun performance from Edwin Richfield – he had played the father in the deeply weird serial The Owl Service a few years previously – playing a military role that the Brigadier would not have been right for. The Brig had learned to trust the Doctor’s wild stories, but this is one of the few examples of the Doctor being seen by the authority figure as being utterly mad. I think Richfield had fun playing Captain Hart as an even more weary straight man than Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier.

A slightly more controversial thing to praise in “The Sea Devils” is the music, which is a harsh and discordant wall of electronic noises played by Malcolm Clarke as though he was angry with whomever sold him his synthesizers. Three months after “The Sea Devils” aired, Roxy Music released their debut LP. Writing in The Evening Standard, Andrew Bailey dismissed the record as sounding full of “Dr Who gimmickry.” I’ve no doubt this story was what Bailey had in mind.

That may require a bit of explanation, since Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry have been defined in the public mind by that one melodic song with heartbroken lyrics and sixty-four tracks of dense, interwoven guitars and keyboards that Bry wrote in 1980 and has been rewriting ever since. I don’t mind, because while sure, Bry has evolved into a one-trick pony, it’s a more entertaining and rewarding pony than just about anybody else in music, even if all ten songs on his last LP could have just as easily been released on any of his previous ones.

But before he became the impeccably-dressed cool ruler, Bryan Ferry was downright weird. With his incredibly noisy collaborators Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, and Eddie Jobson, those first three Roxy Music LPs, beyond the crooning odes to accountants and blow-up sex dolls that namecheck Baby Jane Holzer, Lolita, and Guernica, are, musically, unlike pretty much anything in the world… except for what Malcolm Clarke did with this performance. Check ’em out if you don’t believe me. Better yet, find First Kiss, a bootleg of their BBC sessions, where Eno turns the ending of “Ladytron” into a rocket blasting off in a wash of bubbles while Manzanera batters his guitar to death, and an under-rehearsed “Virginia Plain” sounds like a Studebaker built in Frankenstein’s castle.

But if that bootleg’s not immediately available to you, just watch “The Sea Devils.” The cacaphony that goes on while that monster chases the Doctor through the fort sounds so much like the beginning of side two of that first LP that it makes me think about stars shining so bright and growing potatoes by the score.

Interestingly, the Doctor explains to Jo that the Sea Devils are probably related to the Silurians, and that story had a similarly divisive musical score. Well, I say divisive, but I don’t think anybody actually enjoys Carey Blyton’s lunatic kazoo on that story, while this music is amazing. I can’t wait to hear more of it in a couple of nights…

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part one)

Here’s my guess as to why “The Curse of Peladon” looked a little, shall we say, financially underwhelming. “The Sea Devils” teams up writer Malcolm Hulke, director Michael E. Briant, and guest star Roger Delgado from the previous season’s “Colony in Space” and it looks twice as expensive as any other period Doctor Who adventure, with lots of location filming, a great big cast, and a real sense of space, three important qualities that “Peladon” lacks.

The home video copy of “The Sea Devils” is an uglier than usual washed-out mess that was returned from Canada, reverse-engineered into PAL, then re-converted to NTSC, so the images I’ll use to illustrate posts about this serial will be pretty ropey, but if you haven’t seen this one, you really should. It’s a great adventure story, with Hulke turning down the politics in favor of really impressive set pieces. The Master has been sentenced to life imprisonment on an island, in nearly solitary confinement under the watchful eye of a Colonel Trenchard. But it didn’t take long for the Master to start running the place. He’s got Trenchard running errands for him, and is every bit as interested in the recent sinkings of three ships as the Doctor is when he finds out about it.

While our son was most charmed, of course, by the Master showing off his fascination with children’s television – Trenchard interrupts him when he’s trying to enjoy Clangers on his weird Venetian blind color TV – he was properly creeped out by the shadowy appearance of a strange monster on an old sea fort. “We’ll watch part two tomorrow night, and I hope those strange sea monsters won’t freak you out,” I told him. “I’m ALREADY freaked out,” he replied.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part six)

Over the last week, I didn’t stop to praise Morris Perry for his terrific, all-business performance as the nasty Captain Dent of IMC. I love everything about his work here. He’s obliged to be a very different kind of villain than the charming and fun Master, and so he’s ruthless, unsmiling, and straightforward. He simply doesn’t care that he’s sending the colonists to their certain deaths. Alive or dead, as long as they’re out of his way, it doesn’t matter.

The other high point to this story is one of the definitive examples of the Master trying to tempt the Doctor into joining him. This happens several times throughout the series, but it’s usually kind of rushed. Here, Delgado and Pertwee get a lot to chew on, and it’s a really great scene.

It’s a little undermined by the frankly bonkers climax to the problem, as the strange little alien who lives inside the doomsday weapon just decides to have the Doctor destroy the weapon, and, with it, their entire city, rather than let the weapon fall into the Master’s hands. Maybe they spent so much time with the lovely Doctor-Master interplay that they didn’t have any room to develop this decision, which also seems to involve recalling all the primitives and priests to their deaths as well.

I mentioned a few days back that Malcolm Hulke’s eventual novelization of this story, renamed Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, was one of the great triumphs of the line of books. In the US, this was one of ten titles licensed by Pinnacle Books and given very weird new cover artwork and a glowing introductory chapter written by Harlan Ellison. I found the first four books in Pinnacle’s line in a nearby Starvin’ Marvin’s convenience store and gas station and reread them until they fell apart. I loved Ellison’s introduction – he apparently greatly preferred the Doctor to either Luke Skywalker or Kimball Kinnison from Lensman, though why he singled those two characters out for abuse, I couldn’t tell you – in part because it gave this odd-looking show that we watched late at night on PBS a really impressive seal of approval.

The first three of those books, the others being the novelizations of “Day of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” were adaptations of stories that our PBS station, WGTV, hadn’t yet purchased. It’s an understatement to say that the visuals I concocted in my head, helped by that dopey artwork, were far wilder and just plain better than what the BBC could create in 1971. I think that Hulke described the primitives as having six fingers on each hand, and this was reflected on the cover, where the basic, spear-carrying primitive was a shirtless Tarzan dude and the mole-like priest became a rat-faced monk. The story was just amazing, real Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff. Of course the BBC couldn’t match it, but what they did really wasn’t all that bad.

It really could have used Susan Jameson, though.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part five)

“Colony in Space” is another of those Doctor Who six-parters that is at least one episode too long. This one’s the turkey in this serial, and I think it and the next part really should have been combined into one, “Dominators”-style, for a leaner five-parter.

There are a few interesting points in this one. I’m not sure why, but I like that the episode spends so much time inside the Master’s TARDIS, and I like that the real adjudicator from Earth, whose identity the Master stole, is actually given a name, Martin Jurgens. Poor Martin probably got dumped out an airlock or had his tissues compressed and eliminated.

But having the IMC people come right back to the area of the colony after being forced off the planet gives this half-hour its repetitive feel. The episode begins with the wrap-up of the shootout from episode four, and then climaxes with another one. The entire installment is just about turning the tables with the supporting players, while the real meat of the Doctor and the Master going to explore the primitives’ city is pushed back to part six. It would have been more interesting, and less of a dull runaround, if the mining corporation had left the narrative completely and two of the colonists found the key to the Master’s ship instead of Caldwell and Morgan.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who