The Sea Devils is the third serial of the ninth season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 26 February to 1 April 1972. It was written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Michael E. Briant. The serial is notable as the first appearance of the Sea Devils and features extensive location filming in cooperation with the Royal Navy, as well as an experimental electronic score by Malcolm Clarke.
In the serial, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and his assistant Jo Grant (Katy Manning) visit the Doctor's nemesis the Master (Roger Delgado) in his island prison and encounter the Sea Devils, the aquatic cousins of the Silurians.
The Doctor and Jo visit the Master, now held in captivity on a small island prison, after being captured by UNIT (at the conclusion of The Dæmons). The Master is being held indefinitely and is the only prisoner. He is watched by CCTV and the island is patrolled by armed guards, trained to resist the Master's hypnotic powers, and even protected by minefields. He claims to have reformed but refuses to reveal the location of his TARDIS.
As they depart, the old-school patriotic governor, Colonel Trenchard, tells them that some ships have been mysteriously disappearing. The Doctor cannot resist investigating and he and Jo are soon attacked, while examining a Sea Fort, by an underwater Silurian. This man-sized bipedal lizard is called a 'Sea Devil' by a crewmember who's been driven half mad. They escape to the nearby naval base, HMS Seaspite run by the efficient Captain John Hart; despite the Doctor's eccentric behaviour (such as claiming to have known Nelson personally), an alliance forms. Hart is in charge of the adaptation of the sea fort for use as a SONAR testing station.
The Doctor meanwhile discovers that the Master, assisted by a misguided Trenchard, is stealing electrical equipment from the naval base to build a machine that will control the Sea Devils. The evil Time Lord intends to use the reptiles as an army to enable him to conquer the planet, and he begins by using the machine to summon some of them from the sea. Soon, however, a battle for the prison ensues, during which Trenchard, who had believed he was aiding his country against enemy agents, is killed. The Doctor and Jo are forced to flee to HMS Seaspite, where Hart tells them a naval submarine has disappeared. The crew prepare to battle the sea devils. The Doctor investigates in a submarine bell and is seized by the Sea Devils, who take him to their leader.
The Doctor enters the Sea Devils' base and tries to encourage peaceful negotiation, recalling how he had failed to broker an agreement between mankind and the Silurians, but matters are left unresolved when the base is attacked by depth charges. This attack has been ordered by a gluttonous and short-sighted politician, Robert Walker, who has arrived at HMS Seaspite to take control of the situation and is intent on repeating UNIT's actions on Wenley Moor: blowing up the creatures, but this time with nuclear weapons. Hart and Jo are opposed to the attack but at least it allows the Doctor cover to flee, even if he has failed in his initial attempt to sue for peace.
The Doctor persuades Walker to allow him a final attempt at negotiation, but in the meantime the Sea Devils capture the naval base. They have been inspired to such actions by the Master, who still wishes to instigate a war. The Master then forces the Doctor to help build a machine to revive Sea Devil colonies all over the world. Returning to the Sea Devil base the Master activates the device, whereupon the Sea Devils imprison both Time Lords, as they are now both equally useless to them. However, The Doctor has sabotaged the machine and he and the Master escape the base using escape equipment from the captured submarine.
As they are rescued, massive power feedback from the sabotaged machine destroys the Sea Devil colony before the military attack can begin. As he has done before, the Master is able to escape capture (this time by faking a heart attack and hijacking a rescue hovercraft) and flees the scene.
The Master is seen imprisoned in a high-security island establishment, having been finally caught at the conclusion of the serial The Dæmons, at the end of the previous season. He states that he learned of the Sea Devils from the files he stole from the Time Lords in Colony in Space.
This story introduces the aquatic cousins of the Silurians, the Sea Devils. The Silurians first appear in Doctor Who and the Silurians, and appear alongside the Sea Devils in Warriors of the Deep. In this story, the term "Sea Devil" is used only by humans, although Silurians and Sea Devils use the term in Warriors of the Deep.
The earlier Doctor Who and the Silurians had resulted in many letters from scientists and geologists who argued that it was impossible for a reptilian lifeform to have existed in the Silurian era. In this story the Doctor admits that the name "Silurian" is inaccurate and states they should more properly be called "Eocenes".
Working titles for this story included The Sea Silurians. Because of the story's location filming requirements it was allocated the second slot in the production run for Doctor Who's ninth season so as to allow filming in October. However, to alternate the stories between those set on Earth and those set on other worlds it was transmitted third in the season. This was the first time stories were produced out of transmission order. The serial was mainly filmed around Portsmouth, HM Naval Base Portsmouth, No Man's Land Fort, the Isle of Wight and HMS Reclaim.
The Royal Navy waived royalty fees on the use of stock footage and clips showing ships in action, happy with on-screen credits and the positive publicity generated by the show. Many sailors volunteered to help with the filming, so that most of the extras during the sequence at the Naval Base were actual service personnel, except in some of the stunts. In the first episode, the script called for Jo Grant and the Doctor to climb up a ladder to get into a sea fortress. The ladder proved too slippery for Katy Manning, so stuntman Stuart Fell did the shot dressed as Grant.
A model of a submarine was created by purchasing a Woolworth's submarine model kit and then altering the propeller. By chance, the alterations to the model strongly resembled an actual prototype submarine being developed by the Ministry of Defence. After footage of the model was broadcast as part of the story, director Michael Briant received a visit from two Naval Intelligence officials, who were concerned about where the visual effects team got the plans for the model from.
When the wiping of episodes ceased in 1978 it was discovered that the first three episodes had only survived as black and white telerecordings made for overseas sales. In the early 1980s NTSC transfers of all six episodes were returned from broadcasters in Canada. These were converted back to the original PAL format.
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Malcolm Clarke composed the incidental music for the story. It was his first contribution to the series and was notably more experimental than the series' usual scores by freelance composer Dudley Simpson. Clarke's score was entirely electronic, created on the Radiophonic Workshop's EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer. His score for the serial has been described as "startling in its range of obtrusive electronic timbres and relative melodic paucity", "mixed music and sound effects" and "presented uncomfortable sounds to a substantial early evening audience on Saturdays in a way not duplicated in Britain before or since". The music was presented as a suite on the 1983 LP Doctor Who - The Music, and was released in full on the 2000 compilation album Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970-1980. Parts of the incidental music, as well as a line of dialogue, were sampled by Orbital on their track Doctor Look Out.
The story was edited and condensed into a single omnibus episode, broadcast on BBC1 at 3:05 pm on 27 December 1972, reaching 8.7 million viewers. An unscheduled repeat of the omnibus was shown again on 27 May 1974, with a rating of 4.6 million viewers. A full repeat of all six episodes was shown on BBC2 from 6 March to 10 April 1992, with ratings of 3.12, 3.55, 2.96, 3.37, 3.10 & 3.04 million viewers respectively. Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial a favourable review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), calling it "a good Malcolm Hulke script", with a "pedestrian" pace that still allowed for some suspense. However, they felt that the music "veers between being eerily experimental and tunelessly intrusive". In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker described the story as "a colourful adventure yarn" with quality direction and high production values. They praised the acting of both the main cast and the guests, finding Trenchard the most interesting. They noted that the incidental music had a mixed reception because of its radical departure, but it remained the most striking aspect of the story.
In 2009, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times wrote that The Sea Devils was the Third Doctor's era reaching an "apex in ambition and quality", praising the design of the Sea Devils and the supporting characters. DVD Talk's John Sinnott wrote that the story was "very good", although he felt it would have been better as a four- or five-parter. He also disliked the incidental music. Den of Geek felt that The Sea Devils was the best story on the Beneath the Surface DVD boxset (including Doctor Who and the Silurians and Warriors of the Deep, though it was also noted that the story would have worked better if it was shorter. The website included the serial on their list of "Top 10 Classic Doctor Who Scores".
A novelisation of this serial, written by Malcolm Hulke, was published by Target Books in October 1974 and was originally to be titled The Sea Monsters. There are, as usual with Hulke, many added sections – including an ironic death for Trenchard as he makes a last stand against the Sea Devils and forgets to take the safety catch off his pistol. Also, the Master makes reference to his alliance with the Ogrons in the later serial Frontier in Space (also written by Hulke). A Portuguese translation was published in 1983.
In June 2012, an audiobook of the novelisation was released, read by Geoffrey Beevers.
The story was released on VHS in September 1995. The copy of Episode Five used was the NTSC version, despite the fact work had been done a year or so previously to remove the scratch from the PAL version. The story's original soundtrack was released on CD as part of the 'Monsters on Earth' tin set along with Doctor Who and the Silurians and Warriors of the Deep in October 2006 and linking narration was provided by Katy Manning. The CD was re-issued individually in January 2008. The Sea Devils was released on DVD as part of a boxed set called Beneath the Surface with Doctor Who and the Silurians and Warriors of the Deep on January 14, 2008.
The complete music score for this serial was released on Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970–1980.