THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Sea Devils
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Sea Devils

Author Malcolm Hulke Cover image
Published 1974
ISBN 0 426 10516 8
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: Whilst visiting the MASTER, who has been exiled to a luxurious castle prison on a small island, DOCTOR WHO and Jo Grant learn that a number of ships have vanished in the area. Whilst investigating these mysterious disappearances Jo and the Doctor are attacked by a SEA-DEVIL, one of a submarine colony distantly related to the Silurians. Soon they discover that the SEA-DEVILS plan to conquer the earth and enslave humanity, aided and abetted by the MASTER. What can DOCTOR WHO do to stop them?


Reviews

A rushed ending by Tim Roll-Pickering 27/11/03

The television story The Sea Devils is often considered to be a weaker retelling of Doctor Who and the Silurians, losing some of the earlier story's prominent features such as the internal divisions amongst the reptile people in favour of action and encounters between the Doctor and the Master. Unfortunately the novelisation Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils (the term is hyphenated throughout the book) also suffers heavily when compared to Hulke's novelisation of his earlier story, Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters. Whilst some of the problems may stem from the difficulties in translating an all-action adventure to the printed page, there is also the sense that this novelisation has been rushed with the result that in the latter parts at least Hulke has failed to work his usual magic.

As with his previous novelisations, Hulke has taken the opportunity to cut scenes where it adds to the tension (for example we don't find out what has happened to the two maintenance men on the oil rig until after the Doctor and Jo arrive whilst the Master's encounter with the Clangers has been cut), alter material (changing the sea fort into an oil rig - highly topical in 1974 when the book was printed - and the hovercraft into a helicopter) and provide charecter insights that can transform even on-screen extras into real people. We learn more about the crew of the ship that is sunk at the start of the story, making their loss seem very real, whilst the attitudes of Robbins towards the Master's incarceration give us a sense of how the general public feel justice should have been served and Captain Hart's attitude to interference by UNIT personnel is made all too clear. The character who benefits the most from these expositions is George Trenchard, who is brought to life in some wonderful passages which explain his reasons for helping a major criminal far more than the televised version ever does. There is an especially poignant moment when Trenchard dies with the safety catch still in place on his revolver but later when his body is found the Doctor discreetly flicks it off and thus allows Tenchard to be remembered as having died a hero.

Unfortunately there is one group of charecters who are sorely neglected and they are the Sea-Devils. Unlike in his previous novelisation Hulke does little to bring the reptiles to life. Throughout the book he refers to them using the title inaccurately given to them by humans. Furthermore he declines to give any of them names or individual personalities. The only distinction made at all comes with the Chief Sea-Devil, who is shown as willing to briefly consider the Doctor's hopes for peace but who is quickly swayed by the Master. Later the Chief Sea-Devil is shot dead at the Naval base but nothing is made of the succession and whether it in any way influences the Sea-Devils' final attitude to the Master.

The general feeling that one comes away with from this novelisation is that Hulke started out writing a book that had the potential to be as good as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters or Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, but was forced to finish it at an extremely fast rate and the result is a sense of his usual magic fading in the latter parts. This book is still a good read, but does not come close to his earlier two masterpieces. 6/10


Beware the Justice Hand by Jason A. Miller 27/4/19

The Sea Devils is a flawed TV story, although very enjoyable nonetheless. It's far from Malcolm Hulke's most energizing scripts, but Delgado and Manning and Pertwee are supremely watchable in anything. The story's a condensed version of The Silurians, with the Master worked in and the Royal Navy subbed in for UNIT. Primarily this is an action serial, without much philosophy or poetry.

In print, Hulke works some next-level magic on the TV story, and turns in a far superior book. He audaciously removes the Sea Devils from the narrative. What he replaces them with is... brilliance.

Chapter 1 is told from the point of view of a doomed low-level officer named Mason, who watches the (off-screen) Sea Devils wreck his boat and take his life. Mason is quite a progressive character; his best friend on the ship is called "The Jamaican" (from Trinidad). Doctor Who wasn't really "about" interracial friendships at this point of its history, so for Hulke to have added this scene is, in hindsight, astonishingly radical.

"Visitors for the Master", Chapter 2, follows the Doctor and Jo as they visit the Master (last seen getting arrested at the end of The Daemons) in a special island prison. Even though it's basically plotless, this chapter is a remarkable bit of work. "When do we get there?" "As the porcupine said to the turtle," shouted the Doctor, "When we get there." It sounded like a quote from "Alice in Wonderland", but Jo suspected the Doctor had just made it up. As far as Google tells us, the Doctor (and Hulke) did indeed make it up. As they walk from the quayside to the prison, the Doctor reads roadside markers and a medieval poem about "The Justice Hand" ("Little boats like men - beware the shore"). When asked by Jo why any of this matters, the Doctor responds with one of his great credos: "Physical exercise without mental exercise is a bore." There's also a fascinating inversion on the death penalty, as Jo thinks: "Although the horror of capital punishment had long been established in Great Britain, many people had wanted to see the Master put to the death" (here in the States, there's no "although" about it). As well, there's comedy of manners, as the Doctor clashes with the Master's prison guards. One of my favorite philosophies of life is revealed by an Officer Crawley: "The way I look at it, the world's divided into three groups of people - those who have been in prison, those are are in prison, and those who will be going to prison." Speaking as a former criminal defense attorney, I've never heard a truer word spoken. Oh, and there's also time for a lecture on coastal erosion and the remains of Sandown Castle.

None of this advances the story of Doctor Who and the Sea Devils one iota, but it makes Chapter 2 one of the most quotable stretches of any Target novelization; removing the Sea Devils and all the naval stuff from the rest of the story, it's classic literature in and of itself. It takes up a full fifth of the book, and it's just a shame that it didn't take up a fifth of the TV story as well...

As is typical with Hulke, Episode Five of this six-part story is gutted in print, taking up just about ten pages of text. Episodes Five and Six, when the Sea Devils emerged as characters on TV, with dialogue and personality, are condensed to merely the final sixth of the book. Unlike with Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, the Sea Devils are not granted individual names. They're pretty one-dimensional, if that, but that's fine, because the Sea Devils are not really what the book named after them is about.

Hulke replaces the Sea Devils with a three-part character study, as the rest of the novelization is told essentially from the points of view of three people: Jo Grant, George Trenchard and Captain Hart (the episode's replacement character for the Brigadier). Trenchard is this story's dupe. Ostensibly the warden of the Master's special prison, he's already fallen under the Master's persuasion as this story opens. Not a victim of hypnosis, he's rather an orphan of the collapsed British empire; a former colonial governor whose colony proclaimed independence as soon as he arrived, he falls prey to the Master's psychological warfare and begins helping, ostensibly in the name of restoring Britain's good name. What he's really doing is enabling the Master to awaken the Sea Devils and help them reclaim Earth. Any scene told from his POV is a treat; we see his officious posturing as he attempts to hide the truth from the Doctor and Jo, but we also see his fear of being double-crossed by the Master. His exit from the story (in a chapter wickedly titled "Visitors for Governor Trenchard") is kind of heartbreaking.

While Jo was treated as something of a joke by Hulke in Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, here she becomes quite sympathetic. Apart from her usual moments of stupidity foisted on her by the nature of her role (a non-scientist forced into becoming the Doctor's lab assistant and the secret service agent who got her job by nepotism, she's forced to reveal the plot for the audience by asking a series of obvious questions), in this one she also sees right through Trenchard's treatment of the Master and works out vast bits of the plot just by observing the Doctor. There's even a bit of irony, if you're familiar with the TV series' behind-the-scene hijinks: "Jo wanted to kiss the Doctor but restrained herself."

There's other great stuff too, as long as you're not reading this to get a sense for what the TV story was like. There's a truly awful joke about the Strand, and, based on the number of characters we meet on the island where the Master is imprisoned, it seems clear that Hulke had designs on writing a straight novel about that island someday. The naval detail is also authentic. It's only when the TV plot takes over the final sixth of the book that things distract from the characterization and poetry. Walker, this story's iteration of the officious civil servant so beloved by Hulke, is a bit jarring with the earlier established tone. The Doctor casually shoots Sea Devils, and the Master anachronistically recalls working with Ogrons, which he hadn't yet by this point. Once Hulke has to get to the point of the story, I lost all my interest.

But fortunately, he doesn't reach the point of the story until the tail end of the book, and, even after you've survived that, it's all worth it for the first two chapters alone. Chapter 2 is something I've internalized and quote from endlessly in my daily conversation. The whole of book is not as perfect as Hulke's first two novelizations (Cave Monsters and Doomsday Weapon), but it's still one of the high points of the whole Target run.