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The Dæmons

TV Review by Graham Howard

This is one of my very favourite stories, so what follows will be unashamedly biased. While it is certainly highly regarded amongst fans The Dæmons is also often quoted as a favourite of the production team and cast of the Pertwee/UNIT era. Indeed it is well known that The Dæmons is Jon Pertwee's favourite story. But does it deserve its reputation? In my view it does.

The Doctor: "If my theory is right, we're all in mortal danger."

From the first hints in episode one that something is not right at Devil's End, to the final confrontation in episode five, The Dæmons is in my view Doctor Who at its best. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but the strength of the foregoing action is such that this can be forgiven. Perhaps in recognition of the high regard with which this story is generally held, a number of the concepts and ideas introduced in The Dæmons have been reused in different forms in a number of subsequent stories (e.g. The Awakening, Image of the Fendahl, Battlefield), with varying degrees of success. In a recent issue of TV Zone Barry Letts commented that he felt one of the reasons for the story's success was its blending of science fiction and the supernatural - a view I entirely agree with. Letts also noted that such a combination was new to Doctor Who in that a supernatural theme was something which "really hadn't been used in Doctor Who before".

Miss Hawthorne: "This man [Professor Homer] is tampering with forces he does not understand... death and disaster await you!"

The supernatural aspect of the story is introduced early in the first episode. An archaeological dig near the village of Devil's End is preparing to open an ancient barrow known as the Devil's Hump. The area is infamous for having been a centre for occultist and black magic activities for hundreds of years. There have been warnings of doom and disaster should the barrow be opened. As if to tempt fate the opening is to be performed at midnight on Beltane - "the greatest occult festival of the year bar Halloween" - for dramatic effect (the opening is being televised). There have also been "queer goings on" in the village including a curious death and abnormal gusts of wind. Mysteriously, the Doctor, who is normally quick to dismiss claims of magic or supernatural phenomena as mere superstition, is also convinced opening the barrow will result in disaster. He and Jo rush off to the scene of the dig. Before too long the Doctor and Jo, and later Sergeant Benton and Mike Yates will have to contend with occult rituals, a white witch, a being who looks like the Devil, an impenetrable heat barrier, a living and deadly stone gargoyle, and of course the Master who is involved in a devilish plot to take over the world.

Brigadier: "You know Sergeant? Sometimes I wish I worked in a bank." *

Apart from the story itself, a further factor behind the success of The Dæmons is the strength of the characterisations given by both the regulars and guest actors. Of course the "UNIT family" is now well established, some would say at its peak. I think it is true to say that the camaraderie of the actors was reflected in the high degree of onscreen rapport between the characters. I suspect the recent Myth Makers release Return to Devil's End will confirm this view.

Miss Hawthorne: "The forces of evil are abroad tonight!"

A couple of guest characters deserve special mention. Damaris Hayman plays to perfection the wonderfully endearing, if slightly eccentric white witch Olive Hawthorne, who, like the Doctor is trying to prevent the opening of the barrow. Her character fits in effortlessly with the activities of the UNIT team and her belief in magic served as a useful foil against the Doctors belief in science. Another character to I liked was the long suffering Sergeant Osgood, UNITs "technical chap" who, has to endure the impatience of both the Brigadier and the Doctor, while having to try to make sense of the Doctor's "impossible" scientific concepts.

The Master: "Give me your Knowledge and your power so that I may rule these primitives here on Earth."

Roger Delgado gives another powerful performance as the Master. There is something quite unsettling in seeing the Master attired as a Man of God, when throughout the story he is unquestionably evil. I particularly liked the scene at the end of an episode where the expression on the Master's face turns to that of genuine fear, as he begins to realise his ambition may have overreached itself.

The Brigadier: "We're going to blast our way in!"

I particularly liked the idea of the heat barrier as a way of isolating the Brigadier and the main UNIT forces (or anyone else) from entering or leaving Devil's End, and the subsequent attempts by the Brigadier to break through the barrier.

The Doctor: "Science, not sorcery Miss Hawthorne."

One of the predominant themes in The Dæmons is a that people should look to science not magic for the answers to life's mysteries, that they should always look for a scientific over a supernatural explanation for some seemingly unexplainable occurrence.

The Master: "I'm sorry Miss Grant, but you are to be sacrificed in a noble cause."

It now seems certain, that the version of The Dæmons that will be screened in New Zealand will be black and white. This is unfortunate as there is no reason that I can think of why the recently recolourised copy could not be shown. Having seen the recolourised version there is no doubt in my mind this it is far superior to the black and white. While the superiority of episode four shows the recolourisation process is not perfect, it is about as perfect as it can get, and colour certainly enhances the story. A pity.

* This line was inexplicably cut from the 1985 TVNZ screening.

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).

Index nodes: The Daemons