Sunday 16 March 2014

Doctor Who - The Daemons

On The Devil

Doctor Who - The Daemons
UK Airdate: 22nd May to 19th June 1971
BBC Region 2

The Daemons is the last story in the second series of Jon Pertwee’s stint on the show. It’s a much loved classic among fans and, I believe, it was Pertwee’s personal favourite of the stories he worked on for his run as The Doctor.

I didn’t remember much of this one from when I was a kid, I was two years old at the time,  but I have a fair few Doctor Who memories from before this so I must have seen it and I think I vaguely remember Bok, the stone gargoyle that comes to life as a servant of Roger Delgado’s character The Master in this particular five parter.

Seeing it now with fresh eyes, I can see why people like it so much and it’s very obvious that the influence on this particular story probably stems from Nigel Kneale’s groundbreaking teleplay for the third of the four Quatermass serials, Quatermass And The Pit (my review of the movie remake of that serial is here). Like the Quatermass story, The Daemons uses supernatural belief and terrors as a way into a tale which eventually turns out to be rooted in science, cannily exploiting the “best of both worlds” scenario to elicit the fantastic curiosity of the supernatural, specifically in this case The Devil, with the “grounded in science” personality of this show’s lead protagonist. Both the Quatermass story and this one both use the idea of another race of creatures chaperoning the human race in some sort of experiment although, it has to be said, Quatermass And The Pit was far more intriguing than this exploration of that concept.

One of the things going for it is that you have a full range of regular characters in the line up for this story, which was in one of the “Doctor is exiled to earth by the timelords” series, due to budgetary restraints at the time. Here we have my favourite of the female companions, the hippyish Jo Grant (as played by Katy Manning) and you have a full compliment of UNIT characters, featuring Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton and, of course, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who in this story utters his famous line, which actor Nicholas Courtney plundered for the title of his memoirs, Five Rounds Rapid. When faced with Bok, the stone gargoyle who is running around and disintegrating people, he casually turns to one of his men and barks the wonderful order... “Jenkins. Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid.”

This particularly story is a bit of a romp and includes a force field around the sleepy village of Devil’s End which is keeping The Doctor, Jo, Yates and Benton inside the village while the Brigadier and his team are trying to find a way in. It’s pretty much action fuelled with lots of running about, Jon Pertwee driving both a motor bike and his faithful car Bessie, and lots of explosions (including a helicopter explosion which was tracked in from the James Bond film From Russia With Love, which I reviewed here).

Roger Delgado is in great form as The Master in this one... he’s always a delight to watch. I was, however, surprised to find that the two trained soldiers, Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates, get beaten up and have to be rescued so much by people who wouldn’t be as trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat as they are. I was also disappointed that The Doctor tends to talk down to Jo Grant quite a lot in this one, constantly pointing out her shortcomings to make relevant plot points apparent. However, it is at least Jo who saves the day in the end when she demonstrates the human trait of self sacrifice to The Deamons... or Daemon in the singular, actually, since you only ever see one of them. The make up on the Daemon is excellent but, alas, the special effects which superimpose his gigantic form over the rest of the setting is particularly bad, which is a shame.

There are some sequences when the titular monster is rampaging about the countryside where he is never actually seen on shot and is just glimpsed by others as we see their reaction shots to let our imaginations fill in the blanks. I expect that’s probably a shrewd move on knowing the limitations of the special effects rather than an all out attempt to be subtle but, whatever the reasoning, it works quite well.

Despite the conclusion of a classic but, frankly, silly scene where The Doctor is captured by Morris Dancers and almost burnt on a maypole, the story has some very nice moments and, although I prefer stories like The Sea Devils in the Pertwee years, this is certainly a pretty good jumping on point if you’ve never seen one before... although three scenes rely on Jon Pertwee making use of driving Bessie by a remote control device... when seen as a whole that’s a little over done but it would certainly have made sense when the story was originally spaced out over the course of five weeks. Reminders would have been necessary so we can see why The Master finds himself returned to UNIT captivity at the end of the story.

The other big weakness on this one for me was that, although I can fully understand that the idea of a stone gargoyle coming to life as The Master’s assistant is a pretty scary concept, Bok has his stone tongue permanently stuck out of his mouth... which makes him look rather silly and unthreatening in my book... but I’m sure as a kid I would have been as petrified as this stone monster is himself, so I can understand why he’s become one of the iconic images of the Pertwee years.

Still, a bona fide classic Doctor Who story and one which is well worth a watch if you are interested in the third incarnation of the United Kingdom’s favourite science fiction export. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know...

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