Bmal elttil a dah yraM,
Wons sa etihw saw eceelf s’ti.
Thguoht retsaM eht yhw wonk t’nod I,
Eof sih taeb dluow emyhr siht.
This is one of those stories where you think “how on Earth did they get away with that?”, because this is basically Doctor Who vs. the Devil. In 1971. And this wasn’t the story that got complained about from the eighth season: apparently shop window dummies dressed up as policemen was a greater cause for concern than a confrontation between the Doctor and Satan. The reason why this happened is not, as you might think, because Azal is shown to be an alien, because the sort of Mary Whitehouses that get stressed about this kind of thing don’t tend to take much notice of plotlines. Let’s face it, they can’t even grasp the concept of a freeze frame. No, the reason Barry Letts and Robert Sloman got away with this is that they contrasted it with the coziest possible setup for a story, complete with a picture postcard English village and the gentle joy of the full UNIT team. The Daemons provides the perfect balance between “aarrrghhh!” and “awwww”.
The Daemons makes such good use of its location filming that Aldbourne, the village chosen to represent Devil’s End, has become arguably the most famous Doctor Who location outside of London. The presentation of a perfect sleepy English village, complete with traditional pub, church and Mayday celebrations, makes for a memorably background to the story, and it’s descent into chaos all the more exciting.
The UNIT ‘family’ are all well served here, perhaps leading to its reputation as the definitive Third Doctor story. The Brigadier is a little sidelined but it is nice to see Benton in particular get the chance to be more fully involved in a story. The Doctor himself does not fare so well, with the flaws in his character somehow more obvious here than before; his understatement-of-the-year description of Hitler as a ‘bounder’ is a good example of how his characterisation is at times a bit off. He doesn’t quite approach things how we would like or expect him to. His decision to turn down the power Azal offers even if it means giving it to the Master or everything getting destroyed is self-indulgent moralising. Where is his own act of self-sacrifice? It seems odd that Jo comes across as a stronger character than the Doctor at the climax of the story. While his blustering and arguing isn’t going to get him anywhere, she is prepared to do whatever it takes, even to the extent of throwing her life away… which kind of puts the Doctor’s refusal to even compromise his principles to save the planet into perspective.
But this is not even the worst of it, because just imagine for a minute how the Eleventh Doctor would have approached this situation, for example. He would have been furious that an alien would turn up and think it had the right to decide the fate of a whole planet, horns and hooves or not. He would have challenged that right and then he would have found a clever way to send the arrogant thing back to the scrap-heap of shouty monsters where it belongs. But the Third Doctor, the most aristocratic, wine quaffing, establishment figure of a Doctor we have ever had, isn’t that kind of anarchist, and instead the story hinges on a resolution that comes from nowhere and makes little sense beyond the admittedly heartwarming sentiment.
Luckily this is a problem that only affects the very end of the story, and before that we have five episodes of the most glorious delaying tactics any Doctor Who story has given us. The idyllic scene of village life at the conclusion sums up the spirit in which all concerned entered into the production. Fondly remembered by cast, crew and viewers alike, the Daemons is an absolute triumph of style over substance. RP
The view from across the pond:
Vampires opened our week leading up to Halloween, examining those scary things that turn up in Doctor Who that send us cowering behind the sofa in terror. Those vampires also lead us into dark water with some Lovecraftian nightmares so we got two for the price of one! One of the few terrors older than vampires, however, is the devil. That is primal; it works on our deepest fear and one within which family viewing is not likely to venture. Welcome to Doctor Who…
Similar to Toby Whitehouse with his Vampires of Venice, Guy Leopold takes our fearsome foe and also makes him extraterrestrial. Like I said before, do what you’re good at, right? Doctor Who is science fiction, after all. There’s no harm in taking elements of horror if they can be converted into a workable science fiction story. The Daemons has all the trappings of good horror too: dark stormy opener, howling winds, a local witch, glowing red eyes watching from the woods, living gargoyles, and the unearthing of an ancient burial site… at midnight… on Beltane! What could possibly go wrong? To add to the glorious mayhem, the town gets sealed off from the outside world by an impregnable heat bubble. (This is years before Under the Dome, but years after The Outer Limits: A Feasibility Study. The idea of isolating an entire town is not new to science fiction but to be fair, Doctor Who pulls it off with more style than either of the aforementioned shows.) The fact that the story exists primarily in black and white also exacerbates the dark atmosphere perfectly.
And then there’s Azal, the Daemon of the story. I don’t think we can say that he is actually evil. He’s certainly not as bad as our Gallifreyan nemesis, the Master! (Imagine that, the Master is worse than the Devil!) There are some interesting ideas here…
- The idea of the devil as something from another planet is actually very fascinating. The negative issue is that so many of Doctor Who’s monsters end up being something other than what they are marketed as (so to speak). Every now and then, it would be nice if the creature in question were actually what it claims to be. (Although I’d venture that should not be the case with the Devil.) Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be the more specific the threat, the less likely that we are up against the actual version. For instance, vampires are a collective and could be any cluster of vampires while Dracula is the definite article and to defeat him, means we’ve defeated him. Better to keep that ambiguous. Same with the Devil; it’s better to find out this is a creature from another world.
- There’s the notion that Azal is not actually evil but just uses a different moral compass. As the 9th Doctor reminds Rose, it’s a different perspective and that makes Azal fairly unusual in Doctor Who’s rich pantheon of enemies. He’s not actually evil just different from us.
- The idea that Jo’s self-sacrifice just doesn’t make sense to Azal is wonderful and a very creative resolution to a big problem. The Daemon clearly does not understand anything that is not self-serving. Self-sacrifice just doesn’t make sense and, in effect, short circuits Azal’s mind. I think it makes a strong statement about being self-less, kind and caring, not manipulative like the Master. It’s another success for Doctor Who as a show. In the modern era, it’s the lot of the companion to save the Doctor, but when the Doctor was the one to save the day (you know, as the title might suggest…), Jo’s sacrifice and subsequent saving of the Doctor was special. And Katy Manning had such a childlike quality to her that she totally sells it! (This is before she got intimate with a Dalek, of course. After that, I don’t know if there is any innocence left…)
Overall, The Daemons is a classic; one of Pertwee’s best, but it’s the atmosphere and the rather unusual resolution that make it really stand out. Delgado was always magnificent and watching him summon the beast, wearing those robes, is marvelous. The Unit team is on form as well, and feels like a group of old friends. The Daemons is a worthwhile visit to the early days of the series and a welcome addition to everyone’s watch-list.
Now if someone could just tell me if Bok just has a really odd tongue or is that a cigar he’s chomping on the whole time? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Day of the Daleks