Sunday, 10 February 2013

Story 59 - The Daemons

In which things are quiet at UNIT HQ. The Doctor has fitted a remote control device to "Bessie". Jo is more interested in an archaeological dig which is going to be featured live on BBC3. The Brigadier is off to a fancy regimental dinner. And Yates and Benton would prefer to follow the rugby international. The Doctor watches part of the BBC3 build-up to the dig at Devil's End and observes local white witch Olive Hawthorne challenge archaeologist Professor Horner. He agrees with Miss Hawthorne that the excavation of the ancient barrow poses a great risk, and so he and Jo rush off to try and stop it. They arrive just too late and a freezing blast from the barrow chamber kills the professor and incapacitates the Doctor. Yates and Benton change channels just in time to see their friends in trouble before the TV signal is cut off. They are unable to get hold of the Brigadier, so commandeer his helicopter and fly down to the Wiltshire village.
The next morning, Yates and Benton arrive - noticing large hoof-like markings in the local countryside. There is a wave of intense heat - which causes the Doctor to wake up from his icy trance. The Brigadier finds out everyone has left the HQ - along with his helicopter - and so he too makes for Devil's End. However, when he gets there, he finds that the village has been cut off by an incinerating heat barrier.

Benton is looking round the church when he finds Miss Hawthorne held captive. He releases her - for which she is extremely grateful - and they go to the village pub, "The Cloven Hoof", where the Doctor is taking stock of the situation. The Brigadier is able to radio to them about the heat barrier. Miss Hawthorne is scathing about the recent behaviour of the new vicar, Mr. Magister. 'Magister' is the name given to the male leader of a black magic coven - and is Latin for 'Master'. The Doctor's old enemy is here, attempting to make contact with an ancient alien force which has lain dormant in the barrow for millennia. The Doctor and Jo go to the barrow and find what appears to be a model spaceship. It is a real craft, capable of altering its size. The barrow was originally built around it. The alien occupant - a Daemon - can also change dimensions. This process generates heat. They are attacked by Bok - a stone gargoyle which is normally to be seen in a cavern beneath the local church. It has been animated by the Master using psionic powers borrowed from the Daemon. The Doctor chases it off by confusing it with an apparent spell and the use of iron.

Members of the Master's coven try to kill the Doctor - trying to force him into the heat barrier (which results in the destruction off the UNIT helicopter), shooting at him, and later trying to burn him as a warlock. The Doctor gives the Brigadier a means of getting through the barrier. After Jo is captured and finds herself facing sacrifice, the Doctor enters the cavern under the church where the Master is summoning the Daemon - Azal. Daemons have been tampering with numerous civilisations' developments for thousands of years. One of their number is left behind in suspended animation - to awake later and evaluate the experiment. If successful, the Daemon hands over its powers and departs. If deemed unsuccessful, the experiment is destroyed. Their appearance has given rise to the many Devil legends. The Master wants Azal to hand over his powers to him - but the Daemon chooses to give them to the Doctor instead. When he refuses them, Azal is about to kill the Doctor when Jo offers herself instead. Such irrationality is too much for the creature to comprehend and he suffers a mind storm and self-destructs. Bok reverts to lifeless stone, and everyone flees the cavern before the church is blown up. The Master attempts to escape in "Bessie" but the Doctor uses the remote control to bring him back, and into the custody of UNIT.

This five part story was written by Guy Leopold, and broadcast between 22nd May and 19th June, 1971. It is the final adventure of Season 8. Returning to the programme after a lengthy gap is director Christopher Barry. He had some serious changeable weather conditions to contend with at the location - the village of Aldbourne.
Guy Leopold was actually a pseudonym for producer Barry Letts and his writing partner Robert Sloman. Whilst it was okay for Letts to direct occasionally, he could not be seen to be commissioning himself as a writer. The nom de plume derives from Sloman's son's name (Guy) and Letts' middle name (Leopold). Both writers were fascinated with the then current obsession with the mystical and esoteric - epitomised by New Age hippy culture. Whilst most looked back to ancient, pagan, supernatural myth, some writers had already tried to add extra-terrestrial elements to the mix. Letts and Sloman took these ideas and ran with them - having our occult legends and mysterious prehistoric landmarks explained as products of ancient alien intervention.
One function of the story was to bring the Master's involvement in the series to a temporary end - having appeared in every story of the season. He would be captured at the conclusion and put on ice for a bit - to reappear and escape later on in the following season.

For everyone associated with this production, there is nothing but good things to say about it. It is regarded as the ultimate "UNIT Family" story. Whilst it is a very, very good story, I would not go so far as to say it is even the best Pertwee era story. The Doctor is particularly "liverish" and snappy in this - especially towards poor Jo, though others get slapped down by him as well. Everyone else is having a wonderful time. Jo acts a bit dim but is eventually (inadvertently) instrumental in the defeat of the alien menace. Yates and Benton get to don their civvies and have a much greater share of the action, and the Brigadier gets some of his best lines. It's one of Delgado's best stories - even getting a cliffhanger to himself. To have him posing as the village vicar - a total subversion of the role - is a superb idea. I love the scene where he hangs out the dirty laundry of the self-righteous villagers. Such mundane things - when he is planning the conquest of all humanity.
The monsters derive naturally from the material (no giant wasps clumsily shoehorned into Agatha Christie, or flying sharks into Dickens, here). Azal (played by Stephen Thorne) is a huge half man, half goat being - with horns and cloven hooves. Bok (Stanley Mason) is an animated gargoyle - based on one from Notre Dame in Paris - who is a fire-spitting winged imp.
Principal guest artist is the wonderful Damaris Hayman as Miss Hawthorne, who has the hots for hunky Sergeant Benton. She nabs him for a fertility dance at the conclusion. Jo drags the Doctor into the maypole dancing as well - whilst the Brigadier and Yates quite sensibly make for the pub.

Episode endings for this adventure are:

  1. The Doctor rushes into the tunnel in the barrow as Professor Horner breaks into the inner chamber. Both are cut down by a freezing blast.
  2. As the Doctor and Jo examine the barrow interior, they are attacked by the gargoyle, Bok.
  3. Alone in the church cavern, the Master attempts to summon Azal. He finds he may have been over-confident in his abilities...
  4. The Master again summons Azal - this time with the full coven. Jo tries to stop him - but the horned beast materialises and grows to monstrous size...
  5. Azal is destroyed and the Master is captured. Yates invites the Brigadier for a dance round the maypole with the others, but he would rather have a pint...

Overall, a terribly good story but one which is very much of its era. Excellent performances from the regulars, and a wonderful turn from Damaris, though there is that irritable Doctor. If you are into the Age of Aquarius, Dennis Wheatley, Nigel Kneale and all that occult jazz then this is the story for you.
Things you might like to know:

  • Azal mentions the destruction of Atlantis as though he is responsible (a failed Daemon experiment). As I mentioned in my look at The Underwater Menace, this doesn't have to contradict the same writers' of this story's later assertion that Chronos was to blame.
  • According to Damaris Hayman on the DVD commentary - and having an interest in the occult she acted as a sort of unofficial adviser - the aliens should be pronounced "Dymons". The working title was the more straightforward "The Demons".
  • Hayman's cape was borrowed from her friend Margaret Rutherford - the cinematic Miss Marple.
  • Miss Hawthorne gives the Doctor the wizard name Quiquaequod - and Latin scholars will know exactly Who this refers to.
  • The exploding helicopter shot was lifted from the Bond film From Russia With Love.
  • Whilst the dig at Devil's End predicts by decades BBC3, such a programme would obviously never feature on that youth-centric channel. It's definitely something for BBC4. In the real world, BBC2 had covered the excavations at the prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill between 1968 and 1970.
  • There is a bit of an error with the heat barrier's dimensions. It is supposed to have a five mile radius, yet we clearly see a signpost giving only one mile to the village.
  • The explosion of the church really did elicit letters to the BBC - people not realising it was a model shot.
  • The BBC ran shy of upsetting any religious sensibilities, and so the cavern is never referred to as a crypt (part of a church) and the Master's invocations include the nursery rhyme "Mary had a little lamb..." recited backwards.
  • We get the Doctor's first use of Venusian lullabies (sung entirely coincidentally to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"). It translates as "Close your eyes my darling, Well, three of them at least...".
  • Probably the Brigadier's most famous lines - "Chap with wings..." were almost cut. Terrance Dicks got rid of them, only for Letts to reinstate them. Clever Barry.
  • The pub sign for "The Cloven Hoof" can now be viewed in the first section of the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. As for the Bok prop - apparently someone nicked it and used it as a garden ornament. I wonder Who...?

"And these over here are Nestene Autojetsus..."

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