The Dæmons

Written by:
Guy Leopold
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1971
Video Availability: Try Blackstar

Out of all the Pertwee stories hit by the backlash, The Dæmons is one of the worst affected. Its irreparable reputation still sees it break top forties in polls, but this used to be a top ten, top five, and even a poll leader. It doesn't help that the elder statesman fans passed down its rep of a dark gothic horror for years. The reality is vastly different, a silly, self-amused comicbook. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an awful story by any means - but it's no great either, and that's the problem. It has a reputation to which it cannot possibly attain.

Another oddity is the belief that this is the "classic" representation of the third Doctor, when it's actually the last story where he doesn't use physical violence, and is captured throughout. Personally, I prefer the physically underachieving Doctor, but the karate-chopping dandy is how people remember him most fondly.

While weaker than the first seven Pertwee stories, this is still a qualitative step-up from Colony in Space. The beginning, a collection of stock horror clichés spliced together, is still effective in a shallow way, and the deteriorated picture quality (no criticism of the colorisation team, who did their best with a bad job) means it's less obvious which are stock footage and which are newly filmed stuff, too.

The tweeness of a "television announcer", first used in Ambassadors of Death, is repeated here (and in the following story, Day of the Daleks), though here it's far camper and less realistic. In fact, it probably breaks the fourth wall even more than Hartnell wishing the viewers a Merry Christmas. What is special about this now is the mention of BBC3 - so the UNIT stories were set in 2003?

It's stunning that, despite being in the role for five years, Jon's reign ended so prematurely. Here comes the red velvet smoking jacket and the lazy, by-the-numbers performance. What's worse is that at this point we still have three more years to go. Katy Manning again overplays terribly as Jo, though she's probably tired of the marginalised role she's been given to play a one-dimensional foil to Pertwee's ego. At least in season ten we saw the emergence of a real character, here she's just there to feed plot lines, and, in an unusual development, take bile from the Doctor. ("Did you fail Latin as well as science?" - episode two; an unusually harsh berating over the Brigadier - episode three) Though I did laugh at the "wig" line. Even Delgado seems to be going through the motions a little here (after this, he only had one decent performance left in him).and appears to chant Harry Ramsden to conjure up Azal. Finally, Bok is far too camp and silly to scare nowadays, as is a barrage of polystyrene. The whole concept and execution of this one hasn't aged well, and seems much more of a curio than any other Pertwee story.

But while this isn't the summit of Who that past history led us to believe, it's still a nicely average Pertwee romp.
* * * ½

It's entertaining watching the UNIT extra in the Yates/Benton scenes, who obviously hasn't got a clue what to do. But the "Doctor in a coma" guff is just b-movie filler, adding nothing to the plot. I guess the idea of a Devil-worshipping Vicar was quite daring in 1971, but over three decades later it now seems quaint at best. It's little things, like all the characters addressing each other as "sir", and yet more whimsical scoring from Dudley, that makes The Dæmons less than it could, or should, be.

Christopher Barry's direction does at least give things a pace that the script doesn't naturally demand, and it's commendable that acting and a sound effect alone can convince you that Benton is incapacitated. Also nice, albeit in a purely shallow way, to see some pyrotechnics in the show. For a change, the cliffhanger sees the Doctor and Jo confronted by Bok in the dig.
* * *

What occurs to me over the last two stories is that Jo is really the basic companion archetype, just the bare bones of one. Often it's only Katy's performance that gives her any semblance of personality, as she's just there to ask all the dumb questions, and - in this episode - laugh at Pertwee's jokes to convince you he's funny. She tries hard, but no one's THAT good an actress.

There's a scene here where the production team goes to the great expense of filming a RAF plane from above. What's that? It's stock footage? Oh, well, never mind it blends in seamlessly. We get most of the plot dealt out to us here in relatively inspired exposition, and it's apparently a blatant rip-off of Quatermass. Though if you're pig ignorant when it comes to SF heritage, like I really am, then this matters little. One thing that's rarely touched upon with The Dæmons is that it's a sequel to an unmade story. With no logical explanation the Doctor knows all about the Dæmons and their entire backstory.

A group of sideburned villagers are terrified of a man in a green leotard, while there's some awful lines like "I'm not going to sit here like a spare lemon waiting for the squeezer." And considering Yates and Benton are trained army personnel, then they're not very good at unarmed combat, are they? In a way the dreadful Battlefield was a perfect recreation of the UNIT era, because, like that story, The Dæmons has characters it doesn't really seem to know what to do with. So it is that Yates and Benton are punchbags while the Brigadier is kept out of the action on the other side of the heat barrier and either Jo or the Doctor are incapacitated.

The cliffhanger is famously stupid, given that it shows the villain in danger. Yet in a funny sort of way I can understand it, as with even the major baddie under threat, then how much scarier does that make Azal? Though as the Master is regularly kicked by Pertwee and spends his whole life saying "I'll kill you, but for now…" then his credibility is zero anyway.
* * *

Fair credit to Delgado for being willing to go so far over the top, and it's amusing when Jo gets up from the bed and misses the pick up of her coat and has to reach back for it. "Reprieve the banality" gets another mention, while there's some questionable "comic" relief as Sergeant Osgood has a machine blow up in his face. My, how we all laughed!

In the first of his four Who appearances (The Three Doctors, Frontier In Space, The Hand of Fear) Stephen Thorne makes his debut as Azal. A truly tremendous actor, he instils depth, complexity and nuance by shouting at the top of his voice like a loony. Surely one of the worst guest actors to ever appear in the series, apparently even his own mother switched the TV off after seeing him in this. He's absolutely awful, and even Colin Baker didn't bellow as much.

One of the more distracting elements of this series is the obvious use of studio sets, and the disjointing clash between video and film. Okay, I know this is symptomatic of all stories of this period, but here it seems more pronounced somehow. Paul McGann's critics should be silenced by Jon riding a motorbike in what is regarded as "traditional" Who. Weird how his hair changes colour and grows a foot when he falls off the bike though. A bit similar to how Jon can talk without moving his lips in the Morris dancing scene. I ask you - Morris dancing in Who - it just ain't natural, is it?
* * *

Episode five, and - The Dominators and The Krotons excepted - this is a unique format for a Doctor Who story. The site of Thorne in a devil mask, made "tall" by virtue of crappy CSO, may have scared two-year-olds, but it really is terribly unsophisticated nowadays.

The special effect of the tunnel in the barrier - reportedly tinsel and vaseline over a hoop - is remarkably effective. Yet the reason why the Pertwee years got so crap can be evidenced by the fact that Nicholas Courtney still thinks "chap with wings there - five rounds rapid!" is a good line.

Surprisingly, though, a Pertwee sermon is a highlight, with "thanks to you man can blow up the world and he probably will" taking on a chilling context. And his "no, I don't want it!" rejection of power actually shows Pertwee acting at this late stage. Yet it has, of course, one of the most idiotic resolutions in Who history, even by Pertwee standards. The contrivance - and illogic stupidity - of Azal destroying himself by Jo's willingness to sacrifice herself is absolutely ludicrous. And why would she do such a thing after the way he's been a git to her all story? And what young, go-getting girl in her 20s would get off on Morris dancing? Maybe it comes down to the bizarre father/daughter love relationship they share, taken to its ultimate resolution in The Green Death.

It is kind of sad seeing the Master finally captured in a way, though this is far from a highpoint of the series.
* * * ½

A fun, moderately likeable romp that's nothing special in itself.
* * *