Doctor Who – The Dæmons

What with one thing and another, I haven’t got round to many of the ever-growing pile of classic Doctor Who DVDs. This is probably a good thing, as it means I’ll be able to give myself a top-up does of Whoness during the long wait for the new series.

But I did watch this one recently. The Dæmons is one I remembered quite well from its original showing and one or two repeats, but it had been a long time since I’d last seen it. Would it still stand up, over forty years since it was first shown in May and June 1971?

Like the other stories in 1971, the main villain is the Master, once again trying to work with an alien species to gain more power. I’ve mentioned before his tendency towards Terrible Plans, and this one is indeed quite terrible. He appears in a village called Devil’s End, posing as the new vicar, Mr Magister[1]. He’s running what appears to be a coven, using what appears to be black magic to summon up what appears to be a demon. In reality of course, it’s some alien science and the demon is really a Dæmon – an alien creature whose race[2] has interfered in human development as some kind of experiment. The fact that he looks like a sterotype devil (goat’s legs, horns, a face only another Dæmon could love, etc) is of course either coincidental, or an instance of human race memory. Or something like that.

Anyway, the fun starts with a televised excavation of a barrow near the village. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) rush to the village to stop Something Bad happening when a sealed chamber in the barrow is opened.

Well, it wouldn’t be much fun if Something Bad didn’t happen, and so it does. The village is, rather in the manner of John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos, sealed off by a “heat barrier”, with Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton on the inside with the Doctor and Jo. And the Master. And Azal, the Dæmon. Meanwhile, the Brigadier and the rest of his UNIT force are stuck outside.

And so lots of fun follows. The Master is happily bending people to his will, and sends an animated gargoyle[3] called Bok to deal with UNIT once the Doctor has told them how to make a hole in the heat barrier. This leads to one of my favourite lines ever, as the Brigadier instructs a soldier to deal with Bok:

Jenkins – chap with the wings, there: five rounds rapid

Of course, as Bok is a “magical”[4] creature, bullets and bazookas are of little use.

As I’ve mentioned, the Master wants Azal to give hi his power, but the Dæmon has other ideas. He wants to give it to the Doctor, who makes it quite clear that he’s not interested, thank you, got more than enough already. So Azal reverts to plan A, and decides to kill the Doctor[5]. Jo, having recently managed to avoid being sacrificed, intervenes, and pleads with Azal to kill her instead. This is all too much for Azal’s fragile little Dæmonic mind, and in the manner of a badly programmed computer blows himself up, taking the church with him.[6]

All good fun, and still quite watchable. The restoration job has been quite remarkable, too.

And on to the extras. In addition to the commentary, production subtitles, pictures and stuff, we have:

  • The Devil Rides Out – the usual cast and crew looking back at making the story
  • Remembering Barry Letts – a proper documentary on the career of the multi-talented man who co-wrote this story, and worked on many others. Good stuff.
  • Location film – a bit of silent amateur film shot during the location shooting
  • Colourisation test – An interesting demonstration of how far restoration techniques have come. In 1992, the best colour restoration job that could be done at the time allowed the story to be shown on TV for the first time in many years. Considering that it was made by combining black and white film with a poor quality US video copy, it was pretty good. For the time. The first episode is shown here in that early restored form. The difference in quality is remarkable.
  • Tomorrow’s World – a clip from the BBC popular science show demonstrating the restoration technique used in 1992.

[1] And you don’t need a lot of Latin to work out that this is one of his less subtle pseudonyms
[2] Like a few others
[3] Well, technically not a gargoyle, as he’s more of a statue than a drainpipe. Maybe a grotesque
[4] In the Arthur C Clarke, “any sufficiently advanced technology…” sense of magic, naturally
[5] This is a new sales technique. If you kill a few people who refuse to buy whatever you’re selling, you may find resistance is reduced.
[6] Apparently some people complained to the BBC at the time as they were quite upset that a lovely old church should be blown up just to make a TV show…

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