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…