Judge Erich Asperschlager has been played by ten different actors over the course of his career.
"He's dead! They killed him! They came from the sea…the sea…the Sea Devils!"
Somewhere between junior high and high school I went through what I've come to think of as my "Brit nerd phase" (a subset of the "nerd phase" which began on Aug. 26, 1977 and will hopefully end sometime soon). I spent most of that phase bouncing between Monty Python and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but somewhere along the way I took up with the owner of a certain time-traveling blue police box. It was a fling and it ended quickly. I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say things changed. He changed—nine times, I think. Anyway, as half-forgotten summer flings often do, he showed up last week, unannounced and for the first time in nearly a decade and a half. What could I do? I invited him in for a cup of tea and a chat. Before I knew it, he was gone. But, as he was leaving, he gave me a DVD to watch—something he was in. Typical. He said if I liked it, I should give him a call. Well, I've finished Doctor Who and the Sea Devils and here I am, sitting by the phone with the receiver in one hand and his number in the other. But I'm just not sure what I should do…
The Sea Devils storyline is from the original series' ninth season, in 1972. It was the third year for the Doctor's third incarnation, played by curly haired raconteur John Pertwee. Essentially revisiting the Doctor Who and the Silurians story from season seven, The Sea Devils introduces the reptilian Silurians' aquatic counterparts who, the Doctor finds out with the help of companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning), have been attacking ships passing through the same area as the island on which his nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado), has been imprisoned.
I'm not a huge Doctor Who fan, but only because I've spent so little time with the series. I watched some of the Tom Baker episodes when I was a teenager, but that's about it. Coming back to the good Doctor so many years later, it's easy to see why the series has so many fans, even though my lack of nostalgia made it harder to ignore the cheesier moments than it might have been otherwise.
The Sea Devils is perhaps most notable for the extensive involvement of the British Navy in its production. As director Michael Briant explains in the making-of featurette, most of the budget ended up going to building the Sea Devil costumes. Without the charitable (and enthusiastic) assistance of the Navy in providing locations, extras, stock footage, and heavy artillery, there might not have been enough money to finish filming.
Unlike most of the Doctor's adventures, The Sea Devils is more creature feature than science fiction (though you could argue about both the "science" and the "fiction" of a race of ancient amphibious creatures awoken from hibernation to find they've been out-evolved by monkey men). There's no time travel, no TARDIS, no spaceships, and hardly any sonic screwdriving. I like a goofy rubber monster as much as the next guy, but I'll admit I was hoping my grand return to the series would feel a bit more "authentic."
For its age, the disc looks and sounds surprisingly good—even more so considering how lucky we are to have these early Doctor Who episodes at all. Many of the first three Doctors' adventures were lost—the victims of less-than-stellar storage protocols in the BBC video vault. Thanks to extensive restoration efforts, some of those episodes have since been reassembled from a variety of found source materials. Others, sadly, are gone. The Sea Devils doesn't look like it was filmed yesterday, but it wasn't. There are minor differences in picture quality from episode to episode I could nitpick about, but considering what might have been, a grateful fandom can breath a sigh of relief.
I usually like my TV in box set form, but BBC Video is doing something right with their piecemeal releases of classic Doctor Who on DVD. The discs are packed with enough bonus material to satisfy even the nerdiest fans, making each new release of this classic sci-fi serial feel like an event. The Sea Devils boasts an impressive list of extras, including a full-length commentary, a collection of BBC bumpers and recaps from the time it originally aired, 8mm home video shot by a naval extra, and a 36-minute making-of featurette called "Hello Sailor!"
Though some of the information is repeated between features, the attention to detail on these Doctor Who sets proves the BBC knows their demographic. Obsessives who want to go through the disc a third time (or fourth, if they've already listened through the isolated music track), will enjoy the "Production Notes Subtitles"—a Pop Up Video-type collection of tidbits and minutiae about the episodes including, for instance, the fact that many viewers missed all or part of the first episode thanks to power outages caused by a coal miners' strike. The DVD also includes PDF files—viewable from your computer—of Radio Times listings for the series, and all 115 pages of the 1972 Piccolo book The Making of Doctor Who. It's all there if you want it. Of course, you could also just watch the episodes, enjoy them, and get on with your life.
Although The Sea Devils isn't the most original Doctor Who storyline, it still deserves a place in fan libraries—not only for the military realism afforded by a star-struck British Navy, but also because it marks another chapter in the cat-and-mouse rivalry between the Doctor and his evil Time Lord nemesis, The Master, played by the Mephistophelean Roger Delgado. It's an aquatic adventure full of mystery, intrigue, and guys running around wearing rubber turtle heads and fishnet dresses. What's not to love?
For their tireless effort in preserving pop culture history, BBC Video is free to go and release more episodes of this landmark sci-fi series on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Commentary by Director Michael Briant, Producer Barry Letts, and Script Editor Terrance Dicks, Moderated by Andrew Cartmel
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