Monday, 15 June 2009
Doctor Who: The Sea Devils
“Gallipolli? El Alamein? Does it really matter?”
Not what I expected to be the first thing I’d comment on, but a car with no doors! That’s weird. Why?
Good episode though, concentrating on the regulars and giving them a nice bit of character development. And that’s great- let the plot start later. We realise this is going to be a fun episode as soon as the Doctor comments on the Master putting on weight. And the Doctor’s exasperation with the nice-but-dim Trenchard is just the sort of Pertwee rudeness I like- fun, light-hearted, and doesn’t cross a line. The Doctor’s character is consistently being better written this season.
I’m a bit of a Guardian reading wishy-washy liberal, me, but even I reckon the Master’s got himself a cushy little prison regime. The screws even call him "sir"! There’s a nice scene between the Master and the Doctor in which Delgado shines- he injects just enough irony into the Master’s request for the occasional chat with the Doctor. Pertwee nicely plays the Doctor’s inability to shake hands with the man with whom it now seems he was “practically at school together.
Of course, something fishy is going on. Nice that our first inkling of it is when the Master asks Trenchard for a second television set for his bedroom- “Colour, of course.” And one of the best things in this episode, and possibly in all of television, is the Master whistling along to the Clangers. Possibly the only thing better than this moment is the look on Delgado’s face when Trenchard explains that they’re “Only puppets, you know. For children.”
There’s nothing quite so Doctorish, and necessarily absent from the UNIT years, as the Doctor quickly getting himself accepted by the supporting cast, and it’s pleasantly nostalgic to see him do this with the navy here. Better still, we get some top namedropping action: “Captain Hart, Horatio Nelson was a personal friend of mine.”
“I always find that violent exercise makes me hungry. Don’t you agree?”
By this point the music (I’m a fan!) is getting really noticeable. But it’s good to have something new and different in a season which brings more stuff back from the past than we’ve ever seen up to this point. This episode, with the Doctor briefly recounting the plot of Doctor Who and the Silurians (sorry, Doctor Who and the Eocenes!) to Jo, makes it clear that this story will be no exception.
There’s plenty of good stuff here though- the Doctor’s radio geekery, and especially the banter between him and Jo. They seem to be settling into a relationship nicely not based on him snapping at her like a total arse, as was the case last season. Thought has been given to sorting out the characterisation problems, which is good.
It seems everybody can resist the Master’s hypnotism these days, even petty officers! The doctor’s got captain Hart under control though- we’ve already reached the point where he can just demand some transport (how very Pertwee!) and not even deign to explain. Most entertaining. I’m finally warming to this doctor. I mean, dammit, that golf shot trick is cool, and the swordfighting is well classy.
“How very kind of you.”
“How very unkind of you.”
Crikey, that’s a huge reprise. And that bit with the knife- you wouldn’t be able to show it nowadays. In other news, the soundtrack goes from weird to weirder (good!). It’s so very early seventies, sounding a bit like German prog of the time for some reason although I can’t think of any band in particular. Popol Vuh, perhaps?
Good to see Jo’s escapology skills put to use again, and also to hear what the Master’s actually been telling Trenchard all this time. Oh, and a Sea Devil comes out of the sea!
“Well, I presume you’re a trained diver, in addition to your other accomplishments then, Doctor.”
Sonic Screwdriver mission creep continues unabated; now it seems it can both detect and explode landmines. It works in context for now, so I’ll let it slide, but perhaps long term this sort of thing is not too good an idea.
Another great Doctor / Jo scene, as he steals all her food: “For heaven’s sake, jo! What do you think this is? A picnic?” And the plot is thickening, with loads of Sea Devils emerging and, unexpectedly, Trenchard biting the dust. Pity- he was a nice bloke, but his Achilles heel was his unthinking patriotism, and in a Malcolm Hulke script a patriot stands no chance of survival. Well, except when they do. But you can sense the authorial disapproval, and here it’s clearly Trenchard’s tragic flaw.
“Nothing too elaborate, my dear. Just a little eggs, bacon, toast, coffee…”
The story’s starting to drag a bit now. After all the fun with the Master at the start it’s become clear that we’re getting a rerun of Doctor Who and the Silurians without much of the depth. We’re still getting some good characterisation, acting and dialogue, but this stage of the story has been done before. We even get a stupid politician- not a civil servant mind, none of us are at all stupid, of course. And just how many sugars does this man take in his coffee?
The Sea Devil leader is strangely more reasonable in his discussions with the Doctor than even the Old Silurian ever was, perhaps too reasonable to be believable. And it’s interesting how the Doctor freely admits the Sea Devils would ultimately stand no chance in a war against the humans, thus depriving us viewers of a fair chunk of our sense of threat.
Interestingly, the role played by Walker with the humans directly parallels that played by the Master with the Sea Devils, but with the Doctor elsewhere he gets his wish from the start. The scenes in the naval base and with the Sea Devils thus counterpoint each other, with the humans coming off as morally worse.
The cliffhanger’s great, and iconic for a reason.
“”Dear oh dear, Doctor. Will you never learn?”
Things get wrapped up nicely plotwise, and there’s some good character stuff too. It makes sense that Walker would be a coward, and Jo gets not only to use her escapology again but also to pilot a hovercraft- by now it’s starting to look like her character’s getting some proper sustained development, but perhaps I speak too soon!
Hmmm, so guns now work on Sea Devils? I seem to recall they didn’t in the submarine a few episodes ago…
More good stuff for the Doctor, as he offers the Sea Devils a chance before he blows them up, and finally gets the chance to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow! And now that he’s not going to be in every story, it’s a good thing that the Master’s on the loose again.
Overall, by the end it became too much of a retread of Doctor Who and the Silurians without the depth, but still had plenty of good characterisation and humopur to redeem it. I’ll be generous: it just scrapes a 4/5.