Editorial The Sea Devils

Published on June 20th, 2014 | by Philip Bates

EXCLUSIVE: Original Sea Devil prop from 1972 found?

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.

Sea Devil 2

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!

Sea Devil 3

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.)

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About the Author

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When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.



4 Responses to EXCLUSIVE: Original Sea Devil prop from 1972 found?


  1. Thanks for linking to my blog for this feature.

    The Sea Devil in question here doesn’t look original to me at all. That said, the head cast appears to be a fan made recast from the late 1990′s to early 2000′s that probably has some casting lineage to the 1970′s BBC sculpt, but that’s about it.

    I’ve seen may of these over the years with the painted (moulded in) eyeballs, just like this one and that’s a great indicator for it being a reproduction. The TV versions weren’t made like this one in that regard as the eye balls then were painted clear plastic hemispheres.

    There are surviving original BBC made Sea Devils from the story of the same name *out there* – but let’s be honest here, they’re almost entirely rotted away. This one isn’t. The condition is just too good for it to have been made in 1972.

  2. avatar DrGaz says:

    Thanks for such a great article based on the pics I sent in! I was really surprised to see this thing slumped in the corner of the meeting room of this local business. The manager (who had acquired it from a “mate” in the ’70s who had been transporting props), really had not much of a clue about Doctor Who and was just keeping it there more of a curiosity. The bizarreness of the situation makes me believe that this is definitely an original costume, but of course that is probably impossible to prove…

  3. avatar Dave Wood says:

    Fun story, but the prop looks to be in far too good condition to be authentic. Twenty+ years ago there was an exhibition at Museum of the Moving Image in London and even then, latex/rubber costumes from the 1970s were severely decomposing (the Axon and rubber brontosaurus model were in tatters), so it’s difficult to believe that a sea devil could survive so well for so long. It’s no surprise that current exhibits from the early years displayed at the Cardiff Doctor Who Experience are all fibreglass, metal or hard materials (Bessie, Daleks, Ice Warrior, Cyberheads, K1 robot). Everything else has perished or gone to dust. I think that it’s either a very good fan replica, or an original that’s been so extensively restored over the years that the only original part left is its string vest.

  4. avatar Andrew Lewis says:

    It definitely looks the part! If it is a replica its a bloody good one! Can there not be any tests performed on it to determine its age?

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