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Apr 11, 2006

Speak of the Devils!

This isn't the best Doctor Who story.  It might not even be the best Jon Pertwee story - which is fairly damning.  But it remains a great favourite of mine because apart from being the earliest real Doctor Who memory that I have, it also happened to be shown at one of those moments when I couldn't believe my luck. 

Imagine the scene:  Spring Bank Holiday Monday 27th May 1974.  I'm 5.5 years old (aaah!) and I'm enjoying the fact that for once my dad is not at work, and I'm able to maraud around the house mucking about with him.  One problem - telly isn't much cop.  There's the Galloping Gourmet on ATV, Play School on BBC2, but at least The Pink Panther is on BBC1.  Wonder what's on next?  And then came the twelve most beautiful words I have ever heard from a BBC continuity announcer:  "In place of the scheduled cricket...Doctor Who faces The Sea Devils!".  How many times does that happen in a lifetime?  Faced with nothing but the prospect of Larry the Lamb and Inigo Pipkin at midday, and suddenly Doctor Who crops up.  And the monster that really scares the crap out of me as well.  Result!

I'm intrigued now as to just how young I was when I first saw The Sea Devils, as I can so distinctly remember knowing I'd seen them before when this repeat turned up.  Old listings demonstrate that I either saw the original transmission in early 1972 (when I was three and a bit) or the Christmas 1972 repeat when I was a tender four year old.  Just when does the memory kick-in?  My brother liked the show so I would have been plonked in front of it regardless - maybe I became a fan by osmosis.  But if I had to choose the magical moment that made me a devotee, it was when a grave-voiced continuity man made an announcement because of industrial action.

The programme itself was full of great stuff.  Minefields, sea forts, submarines, hovercrafts, diving bells, and, of course, very scary monsters.  These bits still held up strongly when I saw it again on UK Gold recently, but there was so much else I missed when I was younger. Malcolm Clarke's brilliant music, a convincingly malevolent civil servant (unlike Chinn in The Claws of Axos), and a wonderful turn by Roger Delgado.Clanger_master

Whether he's rowing his exercise bike, chatting with the Doctor and Jo (a nice scene), putting up with the exasperating Trenchard, or imitating a Clanger he simply doesn't put a foot wrong.  Rewatching a lot of these Pertwee episodes recently has convinced me more and more that either UNIT should have arranged an "accident" to befall the Doctor, and through force of circumstance taken on the Master as their scientific adviser; or that the Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks gestalt should have simply written a scenario where an alien force puts the Doctor's mind into the Master's body, but the "Master" is then killed off.  Hey presto!  A regeneration without losing a lifecycle, and you end up with a richly ambiguous, dark and charismatic Doctor without the unfortunate tendency to get on everybody's wick.  Oh well.

Blimey_1I'll never forget my first proper look at a Sea Devil.  Lots of programmes have changed my life over the years, but this was the first.  Nice and simple - childish terror at the sight of a froggy eyed ghoul creeping out of the surf.  The complex bit is why on earth I'm still hooked into this stuff thirty-two years later.  Anal retentive angry loner with OCD, or still filled with a child-like capacity for wonder?  Or both?  Roll on New Earth, but it will never quite be the same again.


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