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Tardis Party: Doctor Who serial close-up ~ The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971)

May 5, 2013

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Better the devil you know: they may not believe it, but The Doctor and companion Jo Grant are far better off facing brought-to-life-gargoyle Bok than his master, the gargantuan Dæmon Azal

Yup, it’s the May Day bank holiday weekend, peeps (and it’s warm and sunny too – who’da thunk it?), so what better post to let loose on The Internets today than this very one – a focus on the may pole- and morris dancing-toting, pleasant-Home-Counties-village-pulverising, Pertwee-in-his-UNIT-supporting prime Doctor Who serial that is The Dæmonsthe latest in the series of single-serial-themed posts here for the sci-fi TV giant.

An undisputed highlight of the show’s high spring, this classic story pitted not just Perts’ Doc against both Roger Delgado’s The Master and a behemoth of a horned beast, but also pitted religion and myths versus science and, well, what passes for reality in the world of Who. Bmal elttila dah yram, indeed, eh…?

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Doctor: Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor)

Companions: ‘The UNIT Family’ – specifically Katy Manning (Jo Grant); Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart); Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates); John Levene (Sergeant Benton)

Villains: Roger Delgado (The Master); Stephen Thorne (Azal); Stanley Mason (Bok)

Allies: Damaris Hayman (Miss Hawthorne)

Writers: Barry Letts and Robert Sloman (under the pseudonym ‘Guy Leopold’)

Producer: Barry Letts

Script editor: Terrance Dicks

Director: Christopher Barry

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Season: Eight (fifth and last serial – comprising five 25-minute-long episodes)

Original broadcast dates: May 22-June 19 1971 (weekly)

Total average viewers: 8.3 million

Previous serial: Colony In Space

Next serial: Day Of The Daleks (Season 9)

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An ill wind is blowing through the ominously monikered Devil’s End, a sleepy village in the Wiltshire countryside – it forces an owner to follow his goosed dog out into the night whence he is found dead. The village doctor claims the man died of a heart attack, but a local white witch, Miss Hawthorne, is adamant it’s the work of the occult. She visits the new vicar, a Mr Magister, whom claims there’s nothing to worry about. This bestpectacled chap seems a wrong ‘un, though – indeed, for some reason he tries to hypnotise Miss Hawthorne, but she unwittingly resists. Now just where is it we all recognise him from…?

Meanwhile, up the road is the equally-as-ominously-monikered Devil’s Hump, a Bronze Age burial site, where an archaeological dig is taking place and being broadcast live on national TV (on BBC Three, no less; no, not that BBC Three, a fictional one – this is 1971, remember). The bods at the UK arm of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) seem to have a casual interest in the dig, so tuning in are the off-duty trio of Mike Yates, Benton and Jo Grant (current assistant to The Doctor, who’s still in his guise as UNIT’s ‘scientific adviser’). For his part, The Doctor shows little interest until he hears the name Devil’s End – for some reason that flicks a switch in his bonce and he instantly becomes concerned.

As he watches, he needs little convincing of his fears and soon tells Jo they must get to the dig as soon as possible and stop it in its tracks, so they set off at speed in his vintage motor ‘Bessie’. Alas, owing to highly windy weather interfering with signposts and blowing a tree across the fast road to Devil’s End, they arrive too late to prevent the dig reaching its objective – to break through a wall into the underground chamber. Unknown to them, however, just as the dig’s archaeologist breaks through the wall, a ritual reaches its crescendo in the village church’s crypt, led by a bright-red robed Magister (whom, now without his glasses, we recognise unmistakeably as The Master – a renegade, villainous Time Lord and nemesis of The Doctor). This ensures an almighty release of energy escapes from behind the ancient wall, killing the archaelogist and seemingly doing the same to the just arriving Doctor.

The latter is found to be still alive, though (both hearts still beating), and Time Lord-like soon recovers. In fact, just in time for Yates and Benton’s arrival in a cool, dinky UNIT helicopter. Setting up shop in the village inn, The Doc and his cohorts, including Miss Hawthorne, discover an invisible ‘heat shield’ (due also to The Master’s ceremony) has now encircled Devil’s End, ensuring it’s cut off and the rest of UNIT’s troops – led by Lethbridge-Stewart – can’t get through in their vehicles.

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Before setting off in Bessie to inform the Brig how to bring down the heat shield, our hero explains to his allies what he thinks is going on: the underground space is not a now-opened ancient burial chamber but most likely a now-opened ancient spaceship, while the site’s and village’s connotation with the word ‘devil’ leads him to believe the spaceship contains an eras-old alien whose appearance (horned, cruel-faced and with goat-like legs) gave rise to the original notion of the Devil; the alien actually being a Dæmon (from, yes, the planet Dæmos), whom like others of his race has visited Earth at different points in the past and helped in/ interfered in shaping civilisation as some sort of intergallactic experiment. And his release – or ‘summoning’ – from his spaceship this time is very bad news. (The Doctor’s also figured out The Master’s behind the Dæmon’s reawakening, as ‘magister’ is the Latin for ‘master’).

Now, arriving at the heat shield, following a motorbike chase involving a village goon hypnotised by The Master and during which the UNIT chopper is destroyed, The Doc explains to Lethbridge-Stewart how to disable it. But the situation in the village is fast developing. Having convinced the village locals of his un-Earthly powers (mostly through science tricks and hypnosis), the dastardly Master manages to turn them all against The Doc and co. Then he summons the Dæmon through ritual a second time and, revealing his purpose, appeals to the being to aid him in becoming Earth’s overlord; the latter goes away to think about it. Like before, the summoning releases an awesome amount of energy throughout the village and, according to The Doctor, a third and final summoning will result in the Dæmon sticking around because, by then, the creature will have grown in enormous strength.

What’s sticking around right now, though, is an indestructible, dangeorus gargoyle-turned-real (Bok), animated by the Dæmon’s first summoning. On The Doc’s return from the heat shield, Bok and especially the villagers manage to prevent him from interceding The Master in the church crypt by carrying out a May Day celebration (eccentrically via morris dancers and a may pole); a ruse to capture our man, Miss Hawthorne and Benton. Although, Jo and Yates have managed to sneak their way into the crypt – just in time, in fact, to witness the third summoning, at which the Dæmon finally appears, instantly growing to a gigantic height and claiming he’s named Azal. Eventually, following a failed attempt by Miss Hawthorne to convince the über-gullible villagers that he’s a wizard (‘The Great Wizard Qui, Quae, Quod’), The Doctor succeeds in showing them The Master’s been tricking them through science by doing the same himself; he simply drives Bessie by remote-control. Turning the villagers then, and Bok being disabled by a general energy drain thanks to the Brig and co. finally breaking through the heat barrier, The Doctor gets to the crypt just as The Master is about to sacrifice Jo as an offering to Azal.

Preventing this, The Doctor tries to reason with Azal that he should leave Earth and humanity in peace, even if civilisation hasn’t turned out as a utopia and his and other Dæmons’ ‘experiment’ on Earth has failed (thus meaning he must destroy Earth according to the experiment’s rules). Azal is swayed and offers The Doc the chance to be Earth overlord instead of the ‘unworthy’ Master; this our hero rejects, forcing Azal to attack him with lightning. In desperation, Jo flings herself in front of The Doctor, pleading for Azal to kill her instead and, surprisingly, this sends the awesome alien into a great tiz, as her self-sacrifice is entirely irrational to him. The Dæmon then undergoes an energy overload, forcing everyone to flee from the church before he explodes, taking the building up with it. Trying to escape, The Master is apprehended and Miss Hawthorne cheerily convinces Benton, Jo and The Doc to join in the may pole-dancing, while Yates and the Brig opt for a well deserved pint.

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For many, The Dæmons is the ultimate Pertwee serial – and, once watched, it’s not hard to see why. It’s arguably the encapsulation of that era of Who at its greatest. At its heart is a rollicking, intriguing, sophisticated, well plotted and excellently paced story; indeed, something of a daring one for early ’70s family drama with all its Christian and occult references – and eventual undermining of them all by science. And then hanging off this, of course, are all those favourite Third Doctor acoutrements – and at their Saturday-teatime crowd-pleasing best, at that.

Yup, there’s dynamic, dapper old Perts gallivanting about the Home Counties on motorbikes and in his vintage yellow roadster, with pseudo-naïve sexpot Jo Grant at his side, learning like a hippie-esque sixth-former about the world of science from the most brilliant (and most brilliantly turned out) man in the universe. And around them is ‘the UNIT family’; here on particularly good, jolly form. The Brig may’ve disappeared for the evening when all the sh*t goes down at Devil’s Hump, but he’s soon on the case, trying to break through the heat barrier with a young Bill Maynard lookalike masquerading as a clueless engineer. Mike Yates and Benton are even sooner on the case; officially off-duty when they arrive, they’re decked out casually – Yates in a garish orange wind-beater and orange motorbike goggles combo and Benton in a ’70s footballer tracksuit top. And they arrive in their oh-so cool toy chopper, of course (see image below).

The Master’s back again too – not that in his opening season, played by the incomparable Roger Delgado, he was ever actually away, but this time his plan is particularly cunning and twisted. And he gets his just desserts come the end when, Lex-Luthor-to-General-Zod-like in Superman II (1980) he appeals to Azal, the mighty brute chooses The Doc over him. Azal himself is a great monster: the-Devil-made-an alien in a way, extra-terrestrial super-intelligence in gigantic form interfering with Earth for wrong (the apotheosis of The Doctor) in another; sort of like the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin (1992) gone very, very wrong. By contrast, his ‘henchman’ Bok – despite his natty knack for shooting sparks from his fingers – is a bit crap, but fun and rather cute along with it. There’s always room for charming, off-kilter naffness in Doctor Who. Well, you know, in moderation.

Special mention too should go to Christopher Barry. His direction ensures the action snaps along, but the science-versus-theological theme isn’t squashed either; the climax in the crypt is particularly satisfying. Indeed, the pace, efficiency and, well, at times cool on display is nicely summed up by the Brig’s best ever (and much loved) line when during the finale he orders an underling to take target at Bok: “Chap with wings there; five rounds rapid!”. Cracking stuff.

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Oddly for one of the great Doctor Who serials, The Dæmons started out as an audition piece for Katy Manning as new companion Jo Grant (she made her debut in this season’s opening story Terror Of The Autons, which also marked The Master’s first appearance). At the discretion of producer Barry Letts, the piece grew into a full serial thanks to him working it up into a script with Robert Sloman (their combined pseudnonym being ‘Guy Leopold’ – Guy the name of Sloman’s son, Leopold Letts’ middle name) in the evenings after the former had finished work each day. Script editor Terrance Dicks made tweaks to the script, though, by ensuring it contained a strong scientific element; before his changes he felt it could be labelled as ‘satanist’ at worse, not ideal then for Saturday-early-evening TV, so any references to God were avoided.

Mind you, unquestionably a big inspiration for the story was the Beeb’s classic sci-fi drama Quatermass And The Pit (1958-59), in which, like The Dæmons, awesomely powerful aliens are discovered on Earth and mistaken for devil-like demons, having played a role in shaping civilisation. Another likely influence was an occurrence in February 1885 when enormous hoof prints were supposedly found in villages (including on rooftops) and across several miles of snow in Devon, reminiscent clearly of the moment when Yates and Benton discover Azal’s giant footsteps outside Devil’s End.

Devil’s End itself was actually the Wiltshire village of Aldbourne, where a comparatively long and leisurely two-week long shoot in February ’71 allowed for much location shooting with villagers as extras; in fact, alterations were made to the script to facilitate this. Other production points worth noting are that the footage of the UNIT helicopter exploding was ‘borrowed’ from the Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) and the trio of Latin words in Miss Hawthorne’s impromptu fake moniker for The Doctor (‘The Great Wizard Qui, Quae, Quod’) are the masculine, feminine and neuter nominative forms of ‘who’ – a deliberate mirroring maybe of The Master choosing for himself the name ‘Magister’,which as mentioned is the Latin translation of his name.

Speaking of Miss Hawthorne, the well respected comedy actress whom portrayed her, Damaris Hayman, maintained an interest in the occult herself, ensuring she acted as something of an occultist consultant to the production. Meanwhile, in a small role in the serial’s climax as a doubting, young hooded acolyte of The Master was one Matthew Corbett – yes, the same Matthew Corbett whom just five years later would take over from his father Harry the puppeteering duties of Sooty (he was suggested for the role by his friend Katy Manning). And with that, in the words of Corbett himself at the end of every Sooty show, bye bye everybody; bye bye…

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Next time: The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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