Doctor Who and the Dæmons
May 22 to June 19, 1971
“Do you know when the last black magic act was repealed in this country? 1951. It’s as alive today as it ever was.”
There are strange goings on at Devil’s End where a televised excavation is arousing trouble from the locals. The weather goes mad, a resident wish warns anyone who will listen that the forces of darkness are being awakened and only the strange new vicar Mister Magister seems perfectly at peace. When Jo Grant tries to get the Doctor interested in the televised event, he gruffly discounts it as nonsense, insisting that there is a rational explanation for anything, no matter how unlikely. He then talks to his souped-up vintage car, Bessie, which promptly appears to respond to his commands with a rebellious nature. Proving his point, Jo assumes that all of this is magic only to be shown that the Doctor had a pocket remote control by which he arranged the whole ‘trick.’
The science vs. magic theme is a strong idea that can be traced through several Doctor Who stories such as Face of Evil, Meglos and others. This story, however, employs the argument on contemporary Earth with a white witch, a masquerading extra-terrestrial villain posing as a priest and our hero, the technological genius practically dressed as a stage magician. When the Doctor arrives in Devil’s End, he is misdirected and manipulated by what appear to be angry spirits determined to see the excavation succeed and dark forces released from captivity.
Upon arriving, the Doctor and Jo are assaulted by what appear to be evil spiritual forces. The Doctor befriends a local witch, the charming Miss Hawthorne (played hilariously by character actress Damaris Hayman) who has been proclaiming doom for ages but discounted as a crank and a lunatic by villagers and strangers alike. Ironically, the Doctor is a sympathetic ear but he akso discounts her beliefs entirely. Their exchange of ‘Magic!’ ‘Science!’ ‘Magic!’ ‘Science!’ is made all the more absurd when the Doctor explains that what they are facing is an aeons-old extra-terrestrial threat that has been guiding the development of humanity using technology that appears magical. In other words, ancient demons with powers beyond our understanding. The difference is almost completely one of semantics.
The Doctor even employs magical means to ward off the Master’s servant, Bok, pointing out that while he does not believe in magic, an animated gargoyle certainly does. The power resides not so much a mystical kind of energy, but in the belief of others in magic as a concept. The Doctor has again and again proven that psychic energy and the like are real and can be used by gifted individuals to shape reality using technological means (such as Castrovalva or even Timeflight). This is another example of such an ability as the Master employs his mental and psychic power to summon a being of immense power, the Daemon known as Azal. Appearing to be the cloven-hoofed Devil of legend, Azal is actually a scientist of an ancient race who has been guiding humanity through its evolution. Unfortunately for the human race, the experiment has been deemed a failure. The planet Earth faces extinction unless the Doctor can win an argument proving that humanity deserves to live.
Of course it must be noted that the plot is very similar to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (a story involving the excavation of an ancient artifact that predates man and is connected to both the Devil and the influence of alien beings on the progress on human civilization). Back in the early days of the BBC’s foray into televised entertainment, they shot for the moon with an innovative sci-fi drama that is still relevant today. The Quatermass series strongly influenced Doctor Who in general and the Pertwee era in particular as it mainly dealt with extra-terrestrial threats that were aimed at the planet Earth.
Later adapted by Hammer films, the Quatermass series is available on DVD in the UK as a beautiful multi-disc set that I cannot recommend enough.
The Master shares a quality with Azal the dæmon in that he seeks to control and shepherd the humans to meet his own ends. Still posing as the vicar Mister Magister arranges for a town meeting in which he exposes the darkest secrets of the villagers. As the town vicar, he was obviously privy to the townsfolk’s numerous sins, a position that he uses to prey on their insecurities, thereby humbling them into a position of shame and offering them not only a way out but the means to rule the planet. He makes for a strong salesman!
The Master is determined to use Azal and hold the planet in the palm of his hand almost in spite of the Doctor if for no other reason. It’s a startling quality of the Master’s, that he playfully threatens all of creation out of his own character. Just as the Doctor is compelled to meddle in the affairs of others in the name of what he thinks as just and right, the Master is driven to destruction by a similar and opposite compulsion. The man is EVIL incarnate.
Delgado has been described by his fellow actors as a gentle and friendly sort of person, more interested in drinking a nice glass of port by the fire than destroying all of creation. Yet we can witness Delgado’s Master arch an eyebrow and impose his will on the villagers of Devil’s End who attempt to burn the Doctor at the May pole as if his mere voice would leave a frost in the air. It’s a stunning performance.
Steven Thorn (who would later shout his way through the Three Doctors), is absolutely mad as the mad ‘god’ Azal. For all of the horror trappings, the only real fear that I experienced in this 5 parter come from worrying that Thorn has lost his mind as he spouts spittle and foam from his fake fanged face. One of the best moments of the Dæmons is when the Master is awe-struck to face Azal in all of his glory yet still proclaims that he is the more powerful, ‘who in the whole galaxy is not my inferior? There is not one creature!’ The Master is one of the major supervillains of popular fiction, alongside Doctor Doom, Darkseid and Darth Vader (before he became a bowl-haircutted kid).
Along with Azal and the always entertaining Delgado as the Master, there is the gargoyle Bok. I know that Bok gets a lot of stick for being a silly monster but it is also so strange that I can’t help but be taken in by it.
A generous actor, Pertwee often spoke fondly of his time on Doctor Who as being part of a family. This era functions well as an ensemble piece with the Doctor, Jo and the U.N.I.T. crew just as important as the Master is. It’s an odd realization to count a recurring villain as a member of the ensemble and it does cause problems from time to time as Delgado becomes a bit too comfortable as a the mustache-twirling baddie, but it also creates a backdrop and continuity for the program that had not been there before.
Amazing fan trailer
(More art by Harnois75 at http://harnois75.deviantart.com/art/The-Daemons-Azal-126241824)
While the colour prints were mainly lost of this 5 parter, the VHS copy used an off-air American recording to restore the story to an approximation of its original vibrancy. Regarded as a classic by fans, the Dæmons is a time capsule capturing the best qualities of the Earth-bound U.N.I.T. stories. Hardly as intelligent as the Silurians, it is lots of fun and has some excellent performances along with high production value.
Pertwee’s Doctor has its fans and detractors. For years I disliked the dashing dandy with his gadgets and Venusian akido, but as my appreciation of Doctor Who has broadened, I now count the third persona of the Doctor amongst my favorites. Pertwee imbues so much of his showman personality into his incarnation of the Doctor but also plays it with sincerity and conviction. It’s a tough call, but he may have faced some of the goofiest monsters and sock puppets ever in the program’s history yet he acted opposite each one in an entirely straight manner. He believed in the importance of Doctor Who’s fantasy and the responsibility that it had as not just a source of entertainment for children but one of guidance as well.
I know many find Pertwee quite jarring and I can sympathize with those who are not won over by is charisma and derring do. This era is a product of its time and at that means lots of car chases and comic book-ish plots. Doctor Who of the Pertwee’s first year was very sophisticated and exciting, an evolution from the Troughton era. However, the following series was far more action/adventure-oriented with the introduction of the arch nemesis the Master. A strong start was found in Terror of the Autons, but it must be said that the following adventures were of a mixed quality. Nevertheless, it was a reinvention of Doctor Who that had proven successful with fans and is still regarded fondly today. Even with the fluctuating quality, the conclusion to the ‘Master-centric’ series 8 has a remarkable conclusion with the Dæmons.
The Dæmons is also the first Doctor Who story that I saw with a large group of fans. At a Boston Sci-Fi Comic Con, I walked into a private showing of the adventure back when it only existed in B&W. I was confused as the audience belly-laughed out at specific moments as I had revered the series myself and defended it against the claims from others that it was silly nonsense. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it could be both reverential and silly nonsense all at once.
Currently Doctor Who – The Dæmons is set for an undetermined release date on DVD from 2 Entertain. There is a wealth of material available including an excellent documentary return to Devil’s End that reunites the cast and crew at Aldbourne, Wiltshire with Richard Briggs (current Cyberman/Dalek voice actor of the new Doctor Who) interviewing Richard Franklin, John Levene, Nicholas Courtney, Christopher Barry and Jon Pertwee about the filming. I have high hopes that the DVD will be a landmark release that celebrates this incredible period of the program.
Clip from Return to Devil’s End