If ever there was an archetypal Jon Pertwee/Doctor Who story, then surely it must be ‘The Daemons’. Yet oddly, the story is something more akin to the 1958 ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ than the usual ‘Who’. They both share similarities in the discovery at an excavation of demons but the source of them, an alien species that resembles them who are hellbent (sic) in returning to their tyrannical ways.
On seeing a BBC3 TV broadcast of an excavation of the village of Devil’s End, the Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) and his assistant, Jo Grant (actress Katy Manning), race there to prevent it being opened at midnight. At the village and posing as the vicar is the Master (actor Roger Delgado) with his own agenda. There is also the white witch, Miss Olive Hawthorne (actress Damaris Hayman), who is determined to stop the attention-seeking Dr. Reeves (actor Eric Hillyard) from breaking down the final wall at midnight for his own agenda than the pending Beltane. Everything after that point is synergy with everything happening at once. Despite setbacks, the Doctor and Jo arrive practically too late and the Time Lord is frozen in the air blast that kills Reeves as the final wall is opened and elsewhere, the Master and his followers are conducting a witchcraft ritual at unconsecrated church cavern and the film crew are blown away.
Feared dead, the Doctor is returned to the local pub and a medical doctor discovers the Time Lord is slowly returning to life. Jo contacts UNIT and Captain Mike Yates (actor Richard Franklin) and Sergeant Benton (actor John Levene) arrive by helicopter, discovering giant hoofprints on the way in. Benton goes to investigate and passing the church, hears Miss Hawthorne calling out for help and discovers her locked in. Releasing her, they have to avoid the curator and hide briefly in the cavern before being captured after Benton steps on a mystic slab and gets stunned. They only escape when leaving the church, the gargoyle Bok briefly appears and zaps the curate. He doesn’t appear to know who is on anyone’s side.
When there is a brief heat flare, it revives the Doctor who is then determined to go back to the excavation with Jo. Yates had contacted the Brigadier (actor Nicholas Courtney) and his arrival by car with the rest of the UNIT team finds the area around Devil’s End has been blocked off by a heat barrier. In the excavation, the Doctor and Jo are attacked by the gargoyle Bok. Fortunately, the Doctor has a trowel and because it’s frightened of iron or steel, runs off, much to the disappointed Master who is now controlling him.
The Doctor and Jo return to the pub and with a supply of books and slides from Miss Hawthorne explain to her and the two UNIT men that Azal is actually an alien being who lives at a sub-miniature scale and when called upon three times will determine the fate of mankind.
When the Brigadier calls in about being unable to get past the heat barrier, the Doctor accompanied by Jo go in Bessie to the barrier to offer help. Unfortunately, one of the Master’s villagers steals the UNIT helicopter and attempts to force them into the barrier. Although they avoid this, it is this time that Jo takes a tumble and is knocked unconscious and Mike Yates, who arrived by motor-bike takes her in Bessie back to the pub, leaving the Doctor with the motorbike and after giving instruction to create a device to open a way through the heat barrier, an attack by a sniper on the way back to the village. The Master calls up Azal for his second time on his own and found a little wanting but still thinks he can control the Daemon. As this shakes the village, Jo wakes and sneaks off to see what’s happening at the cavern under the church and bumps into Yates.
On his return, the Doctor is attacked by a team of Morris Men and villagers as the Master has been busy recruiting. Captured by them and about to be burnt at the maypole, as there wasn’t a stake available, it is up to Miss Hawthorne and Benton to fool the villagers into seeing the error of their ways and free him.
For the third calling, the Master has his followers with him for the rite and Jo races out to stop him, but it is too late, Azal is back. Inside the cavern, the Master has decided to sacrifice Jo to Azal and although stunned, Yates manages to escape to warn the Doctor. With the Brigadier and his UNIT team through the heat shield, which also weakens both Bok and Azal temporarily, their attempts to get into the church are thwarted by the gargoyle. It does give the Brigadier the chance to use the now famous line, ‘That winged man. Five rounds rapid.’. Magic! Well, mostly science but you know what I mean.
The Doctor gets into the cavern and tries to appeal to Azal’s better nature and succeeds but refuses to accept the Daemon’s powers. Before Azal can give them to the ‘saner’ Master and kill the Doctor, it is Jo’s determination for self-sacrifice that ultimately ends up confusing and defeating Azal.
Watching ‘The Daemons’ again after all these years, it still hasn’t lost any of its intensity. I tend to agree with the extra feature, ‘The Devil Rides Out’, that all of the cast had their time in the spotlight, so it was no wonder that they also liked it. There was also the distinction that it had two weeks of location filming and made good use of the village of Aldbourne and its population, although I do wonder where they all were when there was so many in the final scene. Keep your maypole handy.
The audio commentary with director Christopher Barry and actors Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and Damaris Hayman shows the benefit of having a consistent small number of people chatting about the show than musical chairs. Everything from Katy Manning’s short-sightedness to Damaris Hayman’s expertise in Latin, how to pronounce ‘Daemons’ and wearing Margaret Rutherford’s cape becomes intensely interesting. One thing I did expect them to notice but missed was the fact that in the final episode when Jo changed back from the white gown she was dressed in the cavern yet somehow managed to get her own clothes back in the pub. It was hardly like she had a spare set of identical togs there.
The extras DVD has a behind the scenes look at the making of ‘The Daemons’. Of special interest is a look back at the life of producer/director Barry Letts, through that of his sons and people he worked with, illustrating the point that with some jobs that if you wing it rather than do as expected you’d do better.
The amateur mute footage taken of the outside filming at Aldbourne is fascinating, not so much for seeing the actors but for the crew and camera placements and other equipment.
The first episode colourisation doesn’t really show much difference from the final run although this is pre-current techniques. It might have helped had there been an audio commentary explaining the difference, although there is something of the sort with the ‘Tomorrow’s World’ piece, although this should have been shown first than after. Apart from some graining in the last scenes and the off-key end theme music, it’s just as watchable as ever.
‘The Daemons’ is a worthwhile addition to your ‘Doctor Who’ collection whether you were too young to see it the first time around or, like me, of a certain age to have seen it the first time around. It does make me wonder why the Doctor hasn’t encountered other members of this species as it was stated that they are scattered on other worlds. Maybe the present production team should be reminded of that. In the meantime, don’t get caught practicing ancient rites as you don’t really know quite who you’re calling up.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC . 2 DVDs 122 minutes 5 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: £ 8.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Damaris Hayman, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene
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