Doctor Who complete reviews: The Daemons
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The Doctor's got a case of the Mondays again, in this controversial Pertwee story...
Here’s a fascinating-ish fact. You know that clumsy monk in episode five – you know the one I mean, the one that falls arse over face while running away from the soon-to-explode church. That’s my old magazine journalism tutor that is. He also played one of the maypole dancers (I think he’s the young guy with the pudding bowl haircut). Despite this on screen calamity, he was still more than happy to be in Doctor Who, even when discussing this back in 1998, when the show wasn’t exactly the talk of the town.
For a time, it seemed that everybody wanted to talk about The Daemons. Often touted as the quintessential Pertwee story, it seemed that The Daemons could do no wrong. You can see why – it has all the elements that everyone remembers about the Pertwee years: The UNIT family. The Master. A typical English setting. A shouty scary monster. Lots of motorbike rides and car chases. Everything that you could possibly want if you’re a Pertwee fan.
And then, inexplicably, the tide started to turn. The Daemons suddenly started receiving less-than-glowing reviews. It was said to be too clichéd, too hammy… The Doctor wasn’t exactly at his best, while the ending was pretty rubbish really wasn’t it? That’s the problem with so-called one-time classics. Like The Tomb Of The Cybermen, expectations are raised so high, that these sorts of stories are destined for a fall at some point.
"It’s like the occult version of Camberwick Green"
OK, so The Daemons is by no means perfect. All of the above criticisms are perfectly valid. Especially the stack of clichés about English country villages. Apparently, all of the villagers gather in the local pub to sup flat beer and gossip like washer women. There’s a traditional May Day celebration, complete with maypole and Morris Dancers, even though most people wouldn’t realistically be done with this in a million years. We also have: The Policeman. The Squire. The Doctor. The White Witch. The Landlord. It’s like the occult version of Camberwick Green. All we needed was for Brian Cant to be cast for the third time, and the picture would have been complete.
Talking of the cut-out characters, let’s be honest, they are a bit hammy. Most of the characters are required to talk in loud, hammy yokel voices, such as PC Groom, Tom Girton and Bert The Landlord. Yes, Bert’s surname actually seems to be The Landlord, if you believe the credits. What are the odds, eh?
The problem is, there’s no real depth to many of these characters. Bert The Landlord is quite well played by Don McKillop, but he’s not exactly the most memorable second-tier baddie, despite strutting about in yesterday’s newspapers. The Squire is a hammy old fool, and for a high-ranking figure in the village, doesn’t seem to have much clout. Indeed, most of the incidental characters are merely Master fodder to be used in his grand plan to conquer the universe – yet again.
Miss Hawthorne is a hoot, though. Resembling Frances De La Tour’s older sister. Possessing an unnerving habit of batting her eyelids faster than the speed of light, Miss Hawthorne makes for a daffy but enjoyable sub-companion. Damaris Hayman is pitch perfect as the White Witch, adding many charming quirks to her performance. There’s her magic vs science rivalry with The Doctor and amusingly, her flirting with a slightly befuddled Benton. Come on Sergeant, marry the woman and have done with it.
The concept of magic against science is the crux of The Daemons. All of the black magic trappings of The Daemons are in fact the results of science. A stone gargoyle that comes to life. Unnatural gusts of wind. Mysterious murders - The sorts of things to be found in your average horror film, but they’re given the traditional Doctor Who spin by having their roots in science. Even The Doctor’s channelling Christopher H Bidmead in his pooh-poohing of anything magical or fantastical when he rebuffs Miss Hawthorne’s claims that the events in Devil’s End are the results of black magic. This is neatly set up in the first episode when Bessie apparently moves by herself, when in fact The Doctor’s just been operating the roadster by remote control. Overall, the conflict between science and sorcery is handled well without being overdone. It also sets things up well for future stories like The Masque Of Mandragora, which would take this debate even further.
"Jo thinks that her beloved Doctor is frozen to death, and worse still, is on the receiving end of several put-downs from the grumpy old git"
Poor old Jo falls for the magical car trick though. Maybe she’s recovering from a trip to the musical Hair after rambling on about the Age Of Aquarius. Either that or she’s been listening to too many Fifth Dimension albums – she’ll be wanting to go Up Up And Away in the TARDIS again before you know it. During The Daemons, Jo gets quite a raw deal. She thinks that her beloved Doctor is frozen to death, and worse still, is on the receiving end of several put-downs from the grumpy old git. She also has several near-death experiences, such as a fall from a car, an attack by what looks like a killer hedge, and she’s even going to be sacrificed to Azal. Despite this, Jo really proves her worth by preparing to take the bolt of fire instead of The Doctor. The notion of Azal being so confused by this that the energy backfires on him is undoubtedly ridiculous, but there’s something rather charming about Jo preparing to sacrifice herself for The Doctor. She’s very much drawn to the arrogant Time Lord, despite his bluster and aloofness, but is still willing to lay down her life for him. Katy Manning delivers another fine performance in The Daemons, all wide eyes and kooky charm.
And even The Doctor seems to acknowledge this by the end of the story. For most of The Daemons, he’s in even more of a foul temper than usual. He asks the local villagers the way to the dig with all the grace of a bull in a china shop (and naturally loses his rag when The Squire amusingly thinks that he’s wearing a wig). He gives Sergeant Osgood a hard time because he cannot grasp the concept of the diathermic energy exchanger. And poor old Jo gets the full force of his temper. He starts on at her for not reading the map correctly (doesn’t Bessie have an in-built direction sensor or something?) and then he has a go at her after she has criticised The Brigadier for planning to resort to blowing things up (after he’s been doing the same thing for the past two seasons!)
I guess The Doctor’s angry because he’s had a taste of exploring the universe, and now he’s back on Earth again. He’s been allowed the keys to the toy cupboard, but now they’ve been taken from him again, leaving him like a bear with a sore head. And yet, I don’t know – after Jo’s self-sacrifice, it marks a turning point in his relationships with Jo and UNIT. From the next season, we see a considerably mellower Doctor. There’s less of the abrasive confrontational attitude, and instead, more of a relaxed, laid-back relationship with his friends on Earth. Even at the end of The Daemons, in the rather sweet final scene, he proclaims that “There is magic in the world after all, Jo”. He’s seen what he means to Jo and the others, and I guess that he realises that maybe life on Earth isn’t so bad after all.
"There’s even a reference to BBC3, which amazingly, doesn’t seem to include any talking head programmes on the Top 50 Devil Mentions In Film And TV"
The Daemons may contain several of the familiar Earth-bound elements of the early 1970s, but in a sense, it’s still quite novel. With the documentary-style feel of the first episode, it’s a different but effective tack of filling in the narrative background. The characters of Alistair Fergus and Professor Horner may be too hokey for my liking, but the narrative structure is refreshingly different, and sets the plot well. There’s even a reference to BBC3, which amazingly, doesn’t seem to include any talking head programmes on the Top 50 Devil Mentions In Film And TV.
It’s also quite rare for a Pertwee story to feel this gothic. The Earth setting doesn’t really allow much room for gothic horror, and yet The Daemons captures the atmosphere perfectly. I’m a big sucker for gothic stories, with their underground crypts, unusual monsters and spooky goings-on. Christopher Barry directs the story incredibly well, and it helps that the first episode features a lot of night filming (or day-for-night filming at the very least). Bok is one of the more memorable creations of the Pertwee years, and the scenes of him coming to life are quite effective – even if he runs around like a six-year-old in an egg and spoon race at the local sports day.
Azal, on the other hand, doesn’t work so well – partly because he’s rather badly superimposed over the action (with a tell-tale CSO fringe around him) and partly because he’s so bloody loud. This is the first of four shouty Stephen Thorne performances, so it’s time to get that volume control on your TV remote handy. Thorne’s actually not bad, the problem is is that he has to always resort to top-volume bellowing, as if all the viewers have gone deaf at home. To make matters worse, Azal’s voice is obviously treated to give it a weird, echoing quality, so it’s even louder than usual. As Azal would say: “BE WAAARRRRNED!!!! THERE ISSS DAANGUUUUUHHH!!!!” Yeah, danger of shattering your ears in two if you listen to this story on headphones.
Despite the poor realisation of Azal (cool TOTP video effects for his death though), the production of The Daemons is very good. It helps that there’s a higher proportion of location filming than usual, and this helps to give The Daemons a more realistic air than usual. It also helps that the production team seemed to get lucky with the weather. There’s a whole load of scenes where the sun’s beaming down, giving it that authentic May Day feel – even if, as according to various sources, it had been snowing on some days. British weather, eh? Nothing quite like it.
"Despite being in every story of the eighth season, Roger Delgado never lets The Master get boring"
Even the interior designs are excellent, with some impressive gothic sets courtesy of Roger Ford. The costumes are also good, especially The Master’s ceremonial robe. And mention of The Master brings me – yet again – to Roger Delgado’s consistently brilliant performances. Despite being in every story of the eighth season, Delgado never lets The Master get boring. He’s at his best in The Daemons, all suave charm one minute (when trying to persuade Miss Hawthorne to trust him in the first episode), intense power the next (when demonstrating this to Winstanley in episode three) and even vulnerability when he’s cowering away from Azal at the end of the third episode. For the moment, he’s finally captured and driven away to stand trial (to the super-naff sound of cheesy boos), but given Delgado’s popularity, he would inevitably return in the next season.
Despite its problems, I still like The Daemons. It’s never less than entertaining, and has several memorable moments and quotes (the oft-quoted “Chap with wings – five rounds rapid” line from the Brig) to please the fans. Hopefully, the DVD release won’t be as far away as 2012 (as rumoured), since all there is is that slightly washed up colour version from 1992, which is looking a bit creaky these days. Overall, it’s a fine end to what’s mostly been a very enjoyable season. And I’m sure that my magazine journalism tutor isn’t the only one to remember it with fondness.
Now about his role as James Bond’s hand-double in Diamonds Are Forever…
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.