The Making of The Sea Devils

There are many features of The Making of Doctor Who, Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks’ 1972 guide to how the series was made, which proved to be hugely influential upon countless titles published since then. The off-screen history of the programme, the potted biographies of the lead actors, the guide to previous adventures… they’re all here, but perhaps the greatest thrill for any budding script writer, set designer, or visual effects specialist reading was the behind-the-scenes overview of The Sea Devils. Which was fitting, really, given Jon Pertwee is pictured being menaced by one on the cover…

It’s a surprisingly detailed explanation of the work that went in to bringing a story to the screen, setting out in accessible language each stage of production from initial concept (‘They [Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks] particularly wanted a story with something to do with the sea, because there hadn’t been a Doctor Who sea story for some time, and they had been pleased to find that the Navy would give them a great deal of help’) to scripting (‘Hulke’s story-breakdown needed a Naval hovercraft’) all the way through to location filming, studio recording, and transmission (‘Over a year had passed since the producer and the script-editor first thought of ideas for serial LLL’).

There’s also an extract from Hulke’s storyline (‘We open in the radio room of an ultra modern cargo vessel, where a panic-stricken radio operator is sending a desperate May Day call…’), and samples of the rehearsal script, filming diary, schedule, and camera script. Another chapter is dedicated to the programme’s special effects:

“The producers wanted explosions, ray-guns, walls and doors that would melt, space-ships that would take off, and control-rooms to be blown up. Of course, Visual Effects also serves such shows as Monty Python’s Flying-Circus. But by far the biggest ‘customer’ is Doctor Who.”

Sea Devils

It’s worth stressing that in this era, people who watched Doctor Who had not had the opportunity previously to read about how the series was made in this kind of detail, and helps to explain why this book is so fondly remembered today.

A particularly delightful touch is the way the Doctor’s televised adventures are presented in a concise, readable narrative. Rather than simply give us a straight summary of each story, the writers decide to have some fun, so the Doctor’s early travels are presented as High Court transcripts from his trial:

“The Prisoner, himself a Time Lord, has roamed the Universe interfering wherever he possibly could. This could bring great trouble to us.”

For the Third Doctor’s adventures set on Earth there are memos from the Brigadier to his UNIT superiors (“I took normal military action, set explosive charges, and totally destroyed the enemy. Instead of thanking me, the Doctor seemed quite displeased.”) and Time Lord archive entries for when the Doctor ventured off in the TARDIS.

It all adds up to a concise guide to the series with a wonderfully playful approach to the material that it would be nice to see more of in some of the weighty, fact-packed tomes published today.

A ground-breaking classic of its kind, the first edition of The Making of Doctor Who (a second, rewritten edition was published in 1976) can still be found on eBay. It’s likely to set you back upwards of £20 but you can find a PDF copy on the DVD release of The Sea Devils on the Beneath the Surface set.

  • bar

    nice remoinder of ‘Of course you should interfere; always do what you’re good at.’

    • Mark North

      Of course we all know what official Time Lord policy of non-interference is. I wonder if the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) to a limited extent, follows the model of “Of course we should interfere; always do what you’re good at.”

      • bar

        Just watching The War Games (again) at the moment, never tire of it. Their policy is pretty clear!
        the ‘limited extent’ being that the CIA are not very good at it, hence the disappeared population in Neverland. Which makes the Doctor more of a ‘Prisoner’ type as they want him on their side. Actually 8 has quite a McGoohan vibe going sometimes.

  • Ranger

    I always preferred the look of the Sea Devils to their land-based cousins. Even in their string vests.

    I vaguely remember having the follow-up to this book – I think it had a picture of Tom and Mr Sin on the cover, though I’m not completely sure as the cover was quickly ripped off by my so-delightful little sister. And the book crayoned on. But it was the first time that I had a making of DW book and it fascinated me.