Original props: two words that’ll set hearts a flutter for any Whovian. But it’s an uncertain world and even though something’s labelled “original” (or even “screen used”), it might not actually be the real thing.
Could an original Sea Devil costume from 1972 have turned up in an unexpected place?
A faithful reader – a Kasterborite, if you will – spotted the costume at a local business and got in touch. The owner had apparently had it since the mid-1970s from an exhibition – most likely the Blackpool exhibit which stood on the Golden Mile (that’s on the sea front for those not into the bright lights). It opened in 1974 and lasted until 1985 (before reopening for a five year stint from 2004); this was at the same time as the first ‘permanent’ Doctor Who show at Longleat, which opened one year prior to Blackpool’s. Perhaps this Sea Devil went missing whilst being transferred between the two?
Its unusual circumstances put a big question mark over its authenticity, unfortunately.
It could be an original prop. Of course it could. The problem is, it’s incredibly difficult for anyone to tell either way. Even the BBC has been fooled in the past. Prop enthusiast, PurpleBlancmange (ahem) points to a particular instance in which both the BBC and auction house, Bonhams, were tricked, albeit it not intentionally.
A few years back, Bonhams put an “original” Sea Devil costume up for sale. PurpleBlancmange notes:
“It had two letters of provenance to prove its genuine nature, one from the BBC and one from the BBC Doctor Who exhibition organisers where it stated that as soon as the studio recordings for that set of episodes had ended, this costume / prop was swiftly taken into the exhibition circuit and used for display purposes over the years. The reality of this little endeavour was that it was a mid to late 1990s fan replica that somehow ended up in a BBC exhibition, so how the provenance came into being is anyone’s guess.”
The fan who made the highly impressive piece approached Bonhams and proved that it was, indeed, a replica.
Yes, the BBC thought it was real. Yes, this Sea Devil could be real. But you never know!
And that’s the problem with buying original props. Unless you get it from source (ie. directly from the BBC), you can’t say that anything is a screen-used prop or costume for sure.
Turning back to this particular costume found Cambridge way (that’s a bit north of London for non-UK readers), the Sea Devil doesn’t look in as pristine a condition as the one up for auction. That’s actually a positive: if real, it’s over 40 years old. They weren’t built to last either. They were created merely for the shoot.
Comparing it to those seen on screen makes for further elusive results. Of course it looks different – forgetting about the time difference, various other things need to be factored in, not only lighting and direction but also whether the Sea Devils were applied with gloss of some description to show their origins. The camera, after all, adds ten pounds.
And of course, without a human inside, it does look more lifeless!
It does look very close to the on-screen design (but then, any good replica would), so perhaps this is a cast of the original. Or potentially even a cast of a cast. Maybe the Nestene Consciousness is trying to take over the seas with fake Sea Devils but the plan failed and one receiving no signals ended up near London.
At least six costumes were made for the 1972 serial; notably, Pat Gorman played the first Sea Devil we see and he continued to don the mask throughout the six-part story. He was joined by Peter Forbes-Robertson as the Chief Sea Devil in Episode 5. Brian Nolan, Frank Seton and Stuart Fell all appeared as uncredited Sea Devils too. Six were seen all together in that famous scene when they emerged from the waters.
Can those six costumes already be accounted for…?
As I say, it’s a tough one to call. My personal gut instinct is that it’s not an original, but is likely to be a cast from a screen-used prop. But what are your thoughts, dear readers? Anyone have any inside knowledge? And does anyone own an original Sea Devil?!
(Thank you to DrGaz.)