Friday, 7 June 2013
The Daemons written by Guy Leopold (Barry Letts & Robert Sloman) and directed by Christopher Barry
This story in a nutshell: Devil worshipping in deepest mummerset…
The Mighty Nose: ‘Everything that happens in life must have a scientific explanation’ is the Doctor’s creed from this point on and he often goes out of his way to prove it. It was always the case with William Hartnell’s Doctor that science was a very important foundation to his adventures whilst Troughton’s jubilant second Doctor exploited science but he was never a slave to it. More than all the others the third Doctor says it how it is and he blatantly dismisses the very foundation of Miss Hawthorne’s life and tells her the supernatural is merely science that has been misconstrued. He seems frightened by the very name of Devil’s End and I see a missing adventure featuring one of the earlier Doctors conjuring before me – the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan land in 17th Century Britain to discover a coven of devil worshippers in the cavern beneath the church in Devil’s End and set about breaking the curse. When you hear stories from Katy Manning and Lis Sladen about Jon Pertwee driving them to locations I always imagine the scenes in this story with the two of them losing their way, fighting over the map and defying obstacles such as trees falling on the road! He is no sort of chap! The Doctor’s deadpan reaction to being told that he must be on television because he wears a costume and a wig made me howl with laughter. Let me build you a picture. You know when you let your freezer ice up for too long and find one sad forgotten little ice pop at the bottom covered in wintry frost, that’s what the Doctor looks like after he has been attacked by the hump. Given his penchant for Venusian Akido and lullabies it does seem remiss that we never got to visit the planet on TV but given the everything but the kitchen sink relisation of Metebelies Three (or is that 'Merh-teb-eles'?) in The Green Death and the comic strip background in Planet of the Spiders perhaps it was a smart move that we never did. The award for most arrogant Time Lord goes to the Doctor with his ‘Jo the Brigadier is doing his best to cope with an almost impossible situation and since he is your superior officer you might show him a little respect.’ If I were Jo I would have cuffed him on the nose and told him he wipe the frost off his own brow next time and storm off in a right Devil's Hump. Pertwee looks fantastic riding a motorbike through the countryside with the wind whipping at his hair…if there was ever an image that summed up his Doctor it was this one. He falls off it in great Terry Walsh style too! I love scenes of him pretending to be the great wizard QueQuiQuod, it is one of my favourite scenes of the era because it shows him at his improvisational best whilst being silly, clever and witty. You have to admire his faith in humanity; risking telling them the truth about tricking them into thinking he is a wizard and on this occasion that faith is rewarded. The look on his face when he tells the Master he better watch out because he has nothing to lose knowing he is a dead man is enough to chill the blood. We needed some kind of climax to the Doctor/Master rivalry for now and the Doctor being offered what the Master most seeks (dominion of the over) is a great humbling moment for the villain.
Dippy Agent: You can absolutely imagine Jo falling for the dawning of the age of Aquarius, the occult and all that magic bit, can’t you? She always has been a bit of a dreamer and a hippy. It's amazing to see how far Jo has come in just one season though, walking a fine line between being a hysterical dormouse frightened of her own shadow (The Claws of Axos had some great grab-your-head-in-horror acting) and a spunky, resourceful friend (she pretty much gets herself out of a prison riot in The Mind of Evil) and by the seasons climax she emerges as a fun, slightly kooky companion and perfectly paired with this glittering lightbulb of a Doctor. At this stage its clear that no matter how rude Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is to her (and he has a good go at pushing her to the limit in this story) Jo will still give him moon eyes and sacrifice her life for him because she is so desperately in love with the man. Jo shows the Doctor how you should ask for help rather than his bull in a china shop approach. After she has stayed by his bedside and wept for him to wake up the Doctor graciously wakes up and insults her for failing Latin as well as science. Jo has these moments of inspiration where she stares straight at the camera and exclaims where she has to be and her ‘I must get to the cavern!’ is a hilarious example in episode four. Characters simply don't behave like that on television anymore. Fair play to her though, she does manage to save the world by irrationally attempting to commit suicide.
Satan’s Little Helper: ‘You rule? Why you’re all less than dust beneath my feet!’ Not watching the show in order but with my own unique scatterbrained approach I have not experienced season eight sequentially and experienced what those in the medical profession call ‘Master fatigue’ so it's fabulous to see Roger Delgado’s Master in such fine form for the last story of the season. After being sidelined in The Claws of Axos and making a cameo in Colony in Space he needed to really make his mark again and dolled up in vicars garb with his devil worshipping cult he succeeds admirably. He’s still my favourite Master despite some stiff competition and at his best (The Mind of Evil, The Daemons, The Sea Devils) he was practically untouchable. It's not surprising that Pertwee felt as though Delgado was usurping his position as the shows lead at this stage because he is giving terrific, scene stealing performances that would go down in history. He fancies himself as a politician methinks with his fabulous rant about bringing strength, power and decision to the village (I had images of David Horton from The Vicar of Dibley) but then he blows it with his first speech to the people by spilling their dirty little secrets telling them to either obey him or suffer the consequences. If he didn’t have a homicidal gargoyle to back him up I fear his brief foray into politics may have come to a sticky end. The Master is such a charismatic presence in the show now that he can even be the subject of a cliffhanger and the end of episode three deserves kudos for being brave enough to put the villain in a position of jeopardy. If he isn’t safe what the hell does that mean for the rest of us? Given he has been the principal villain for the entire season there needed to be some kind of conclusion to his meddling in the affairs of the Earth and the image of him being carted off in a UNIT jeep under arrest is very satisfying after all the chaos he has caused. But you can't hold this jackanapes down for long.
Chap With Wings: Doesn’t Nick Courtney looks resplendent in his dress uniform? Although the Brig clearly isn’t looking forward to whatever official function he is off to by the way Yates is ribbing him. It’s the only time we ever get to see the Brig in bed and its shame there wasn’t a pretty lady beside him (well there might have been the camera isn’t revealing that much to us). He’s got the mind of an account apparently but then the Doctor never thinks about cost when causing the mass destruction of UNIT property. He earns his immortal line in this story, but it is shame that he is kept out of the action for so long (he doesn't show up in Devil's End until episode five).
Camp Captain: There are few things in life that are funnier than private school educated, camp-as-Christmas Mike Yates watching rugby and crying ‘that’ll learn ‘em!’ as though he is a firm supporter of the game and that this the kind of thing men say whilst gripping their pints down the pub watching the game. With no Doctor and no Brigadier it is time for Yates and Benton to finally step into the limelight, acting on their own instincts and getting into civvies. Sometimes he wishes he worked in a bank. He has a gift for the overstatement when he tells Jo that ‘the place is alive with booby traps – spells, elementals, the Doctor’s force fields!’ Especially the last one where I don’t have a clue what he is talking about. Mike Yates was never going to win the UNIT personality of the year award but he does display a fair amount of charisma in this tale.
The Sarge: Aren’t the scenes between Benton and Miss Hawthorne a joy? They have their own little narrative whilst the story ploughs on around them and her description of him as a gentle knight saving a long in the tooth damsel always makes me grin. Benton gets a great fight with the verger until he is walloped by the sacred stone. Isn't it hilarious when Yates says that Benton knows where they are and will rescue them and we cut to him and Miss Hawthorne about to have a tea party! How very British! Benton grasps his gun during the QueQuiQuod sequence as though it is his very manhood and watch it fall limp as he is outsmarted by the Doctor.
White Witch: So strong a character she deserves her own section in this review, Miss Hawthorne plays the part of a female Doctor in the early part of this story by arrogantly barging in where she isn’t wanted and trying to prevent a calamity. Damaris Hayman is one of those wonderful old school character actresses that has turned up in everything and you know must have turned up in Doctor Who at some point. I’m just pleased that she was saved for a story worthy of her talents. She knocks out a BBC Three worker with her brolley (‘I’ve come here to protest and protest I shall!’), locks horns with Professor Horner (‘Death and disaster awaits you!’) and has no modesty about admitting that she is a witch (‘White, of course’). Miss Hawthorne is powerful enough to calm an elemental storm but not smart enough to ask why Mr Groom is cradling a rock the size of a baby. Olive gets a double whammy of great moments when she smacks an evil Morris dancer over the head with her crystal ball and then heads out to convince the others that they have kidnapped a Great wizard in the shape of the Doctor. She's one of those era defining character that sticks in the memory, like Carstairs & Lady Jennifer and Professor Todd.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I see Yates, the Doctor was frozen stiff at the Barrow and then revived by a freak heat wave, Benton was beaten up by invisible forces and the local white witch claims she’s seen the Devil’ – Only Nicholas Courtney could say that line without a hint of sarcasm!
‘I see so all we’ve got to deal with is something that is too small to see or thirty feet tall, can incinerate you or freeze you to death, turn stone images into homicidal monsters and looks like the Devil?’
‘My race destroys its failures…remember Atlantis?’
‘Chap with the wings there, five rounds rapid!’
‘Thanks to you man can now blow up the world and he probably will! He can poison the water and the very air he breathes!’
The Good: You can’t get much more stereotypically British than opening on a stormy night in a village with the lightning lighting up the church and a man leaving the pub with his dog at closing time! Things are coined stereotypical because they have been overused and they are overused because they work and this works a charm. Especially well since the bloke in question dies horribly and the atmospherics are so good (I love the little mouse that scurries from a grave and throws a huge shadow across it!). The little bit of nonsense with Bessie driving around the car park on her own is very amusing (although it has to be said the UNIT car park is of particularly inferior stock with only a weak iron fence stopping people climbing over and having it off with their stores). The Alistair Fergus/BBC Three (how prescient) element of reporting the cataclysmic events at Devil’s End is a wonderful way of giving this story a contemporary feel and some urgency. It helps that we see behind the scenes and Fergus himself is a complete nob jockey (he’s so vain he has his massive seventies sideburns touched up before he goes on air) as we imagine all aspiring reporters to be and Professor Horner takes every opportunity to take the piss out of everybody (‘Righto lad I’ll do my best to be absolutely super!’). It really gives the first episode (which lacks the Doctor’s presence as he braves the elements to reach them in time) some personality. The Master’s devil worshipping cult summoning up the Beast himself is told through some pretty strong imagery for the time the time and the end of episode one with wind and snow effects going mad, people screaming and being blown off their feet is by far the most climactic moment of the entire year (although the climax of episode four almost topples it). Clearly the production team know that they cannot pull off a giant devil walking across the British countryside (shame they didn’t remember that when it came to the Giant Robot) and they pull off the trick imaginatively with camera shakes, shadows and the clever shot of the hoof prints pressed into the fields from the air. That is then imaginatively followed up by the POV shot of the beast shrinking down onto the stone. All of the effect, none of the embarrassment. They can’t afford a life size spaceship either so they go for the ingenious solution of having it be the size of a Dapol model. It goes without saying the location work in Aldbourne is absolutely gorgeous and manages to sum up the beauty of a picturesque English village sublimely. Some people seem to have a real problem with Bok but I think he genuinely does look like a statue that has come to life and the director wisely focuses on him in his inanimate state for long enough in episode one to make this work. He’s a Weeping Angels before their time. Perhaps his little puff of smoke is Bok sending his victims back in time. Letts and Sloman allow for two episodes of frightening incident and wisely choose the third episode when things might flag a little to offer the explanations about the Daemons. It's exposition for sure but there is nothing clunky about it because there are plenty of interruptions and opinions to keep the dialogue bouncy and interesting rather than dictatorial. The Doctor cites the Greek civilisation, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution as all being inspired by the Daemons…does that mean without alien intervention we would come to nowt? What with the Jagaroth and the Racnoss sticking their noses in too and the Doctor being responsible for every other historical event I can't help but think that there is very little we’ve accomplished on our own! A helicopter diving at Bessie with Mike Yates riding a motorbike and shooting at its engine before it dives into the energy barrier and explodes – this really was the action fans dream period of Doctor Who. Playing the Devil is no small task and given the amount of build up to his appearance it is astonishing that Stephen Thorne doesn’t disappoint – he is absolutely terrifying. Evil Morris dancers is an idea so brilliant they deserved to make a return appearance in the new series – it's absolutely loopy but great fun to watch as the Doctor is tied up in ribbons and threatened with bell sticks. I couldn't help but get an echo of the witch trials when the Doctor was tied up and a whiskers singe away from being burnt at the stake. It bothers me that some people will dismiss this story simply on the illogical moment where Azal cannot understand why Jo would sacrifice herself for the Master. There have been far crazier methods of a villain to be defeated and if we were to condemn every Doctor Who story that has a moment of illogic there wouldn’t be a single story left to recommend. It is a bit silly but it's hardly the worst sin considering the entertainment this story provides. The Doctor and Jo are dancing around the maypole, Benton has pulled the local white witch and the Brig and Yates are heading to the pub for a pint – I can’t tell you how snugly that makes me feel inside. It's all kinds of Pertwee era sunniness and the perfect way to end the season.
The Bad: My only major complaint about this story are the barrier sequences because they go on for far too long and remove the Brigadier from the action for the length of a bible. When everybody is having great fun fighting alien Devils, animated statues, satanic Time Lords and mad Morris dancers the Brig is stuck on the periphery waiting to be let in on the action. There is a very odd moment when Jo is attacked by plant creepers which isn’t explained at all. An early Krynoid scout party? You can’t help but laugh when Bert tells the villagers thou shalt not suffer a witch to live and one of the crowd hilariously nod in agreement and say ‘that’s what they say…’
The Shallow Bit: I’ve known a few horned beasts in my time not to mention the queer goings on! When Benton exclaimed ‘Well I’ll be blowed!’ I nearly spat out my drink. I’ve always said that the seventies bred the least attractive looking men which is a little unfair because it is all about the styling rather than the looks but I have to admit that John Levene raised an eyebrow or two throughout the story in his civvies. And Azal has the ultimate hairy chest.
Result: I fell in love with The Daemons through its premise alone – an alien being posing as the Devil pushing humanity's progress forward and ready to bring its experiment to a grand conclusion. It's such a brilliant idea for a Doctor Who story that when you factor in the glorious location work, wonderful characters brought to life by British stalwarts, great lines, action, stunts, grand cliffhangers and scares you have what can definitively be called a Pertwee classic. You could watch this story for its atmosphere alone. It has become hip to knock The Daemons of late, such is the way of things that are considered popular but by any standards this is a superior action adventure tale with some real love injected into it. Christopher Barry has done a grand job of bringing the script to life and milks it for every drop of tension and excitement and the whole story moves at an incredible pace. All the regulars get a moment to shine (Yates and Benton get out of their uniforms and get a great fight scene each) and the story is headed by two charismatic performances from Jon Pertwee (with his arrogance turned up to eleven) and Roger Delgado (who is the very essence of smooth villainy). With Dicks script editing and Letts writing the backbone of the adventure it is an intelligent one and it all leads to an impressive climax with a church going up in flames and a lovable closing scene of the dance around the maypole which always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. As you can tell I really enjoy The Daemons, it is seventies Who at its most confident and it looks bloody impressive too. Turn off your critical faculties when it comes to the odd illogical moment and bask in the atmosphere of this superior adventure: 9/10