DVD Extras include:
Tangents and ChasesCo-writer Robert Sloman seems to have a few trademark elements which he always manages to slip into the first episode of any Doctor Who story he works on, and these trademarks are certainly in evidence here. The Doctor will show some initial disinterest towards the main issue for the story, preferring to indulge some urge to go off on another tangent, while supporting characters are used expertly well to provide exposition for the main themes, ideas and arguments. Then suddenly a chase shall ensue, as the Doctor rushes to get to the scene of the main action before the cliffhanger.
This dynamic plays out in "The Daemons", episode one, as the Doctor takes a stand as the scientific debunker of magic and mysticism against Jo's open-mindedness in their first scene, which becomes really enjoyable as Bessie is roped into the disagreement as well. BBC reporter Alastair Fergus (David Simeon) takes over the role of primary explorer for episode one, detailing the situation and the history of the Devil's End setting, and giving everyone a proper introduction to Damaris Hayman's ever-enjoyable Miss Hawthorne, her viewpoint, and the opposition she likes to tackle. All this is excellent - good dynamics written very well and very entertainingly.
Some other scenes are not as great. A few too many characters come at us in episode one than we can appreciate, although at least they don't upstage the main ones. Sadly, the Doctor's chase to arrive at the dig is not filled with many quality scenes.
The Master is revealed early on in mid-episode, where we get to see a glimpse of his philosophy on spirituality, and that his powers of hypnotism do not work on everyone, particularly those with a strong sense of their own beliefs. He's up to something particularly devilish, which sells the cliffhanger and leaves us wondering what will come next.
Dipping and CrestingThe main plot begins in earnest in episode two, as a number of strange occurrences reveal problems that our protagonists will be truly challenged with. However, the story gets its share of padding as well, including a good dose of the Man of Sleep from Jon Pertwee, while Jo herself puts in way too many scenes doing nothing but blubbering over him. Low quality stuff indeed. Yates and Benton fill in the gap to save the drama a bit, taking over as the lead investigators for a while, finally getting the character development they've always deserved, and the Brigadier isn't too far behind in adding his own excellent contributions. The story attempts to hold back on some of the effects for big "reveals" later on, which isn't really called for story-wise. We should see what the important characters are looking directly at when they first see it, rather than arbitrarily wait for a later cliffhanger. Regardless of how unconvincing the effect of the time may or may not be, I think it would have helped the story flow better.
Episode Three delivers many of the best story beats that "The Daemons" has to offer, proving the effectiveness of its simple but solid plot. The Doctor is at his best in this episode, solving problems, getting lots of action, and perhaps best of all, dipping deep into mythology and arguing his viewpoints with Miss Hawthorne. The Master is another matter, doing so many silly things that he reaches his season eight lowpoint. There is much more to be said about that, but I'll save it for the in-depth analysis version of this review to avoid spoilers....
Episode Four continues what was started in episode three well enough, but seems to get a bit lost, taking too long to finish up past story beats, and not offering very many interesting new ones.
Putting the Theme to the Test in front of Malleable BeliefsSeveral characters finally seem to get something decent to do when the story's conclusion appears to begin a bit early, and the main science vs. magic theme is put to the test in front of a group of villagers - yet another fun and enjoyable sequence, but lacking in a key area. The villager extras are not all that well thought-out: appearing to be a very uniform and simple group of fickle followers, all ready to leap behind whoever should win the philosophical debate in absence of having any strong ideas of their own. Many writers create such crowds when they have philosophies they wish to impart passionately, and it never seems all that believable. Pretty much the opposite of most of Malcolm Hulke's characters, whose viewpoints typically wouldn't budge an inch no matter what happened. The best balance for believability and optimism probably lies somewhere in the middle, and change is probably more easily triggered by more emotional events than intellectual ones. In crowds, this means close-ups of facial reactions, if not lines of dialogue. The tall thin man shouting down the innkeeper does an excellent job of this.... too bad there wasn't more of that type of thing.
"The Daemons" settles into a satisfying focus on its main issues and conflicts near the end of episode four, and stays there throughout episode five, delivering some good developments, escalations, and twists. Lengthy discussion of these will of course have to be saved for the in-depth analysis.
For years I found the final climax to be quite a let-down, until I freed myself from accepting the explanations offered by the characters in the story. (In a similar way, it also helped me accept the events of Star Trek: First Contact when I allowed Data to be free to give a wrong explanation for the time travel involved - to remain in character Data must be unoriginal enough to continue to follow the backward Starfleet ideas of time travel.) In other words, don't judge a territory by its map..... Judge the mapmaker by the map instead, and check out the territory on your own!
Of course, if you want my take on the actual climax, well, you should know where to go by now....
In terms of the wrap-up, "The Daemons" goes out on a note that brings a very satisfying conclusion to the season.
Production NotesMusically speaking, Dudley Simpson seems a bit burnt out by the time he gets to "The Daemons". There's a nice five-note motif for one of the characters, and a few new interesting Radiophonic sounds here and there, but most of the music seems more random than usual, and the instruments are far too cheesy and/or light-hearted to match the required mood for most scenes - there's not much sense of power, and suspense is hard to take too seriously. There seems to be something half-interesting composed for Azal, but it's based around one of the most overused cliché's in Doctor Who/suspense music - what I like to term the "semitone drop". Basically, you play any note very briefly, and then drop one semitone to hold the note below it for as long as suspense is necessary. The higher your pitch, the sillier it sounds. Bill Murray made fun of something very similar on the piano in "Ghostbusters", commenting that ghosts hate that. So do I. Roger Limb was particularly bad at overusing this throughout many of his scores in the eighties, and indeed one cue in particular sounds like something out of "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124). At least Dudley Simpson has a decent bass rhythm going at the same time, making it a little more respectable. Mind you, semitone drops can really work if you know what you're doing - the first phrase of the melody in the Doctor Who theme tune is a very good working example. Anyway, at least the good old Master tracks are back, lending the score much badly needed support, and often getting new stuff mixed in on top of them this time around. Topping it all off, the pitch wobbles slowly and slightly on my colourized store-bought VHS copy of "The Daemons" - I don't know if it's the same with everybody, but it emphasizes the less than standard quality of the soundtrack in general. Hopefully this can be rectified when the story finally makes it to DVD....
Christopher Barry's direction is pretty standard and solid. There are many really nice shots, the final one being particularly classic. Considering the limitations of the budget, he manages to tell the story quite effectively. A few scenes are a bit hammy, but I think this most often stems from the writing.
ConclusionsOn the whole I like "The Daemons" a lot. Special kudos must go to the ancient mythology dug up around the history between the Daemons and the Earth - it has an aura of the truth about it - and kudos also to the philosophical dynamics of the story in general. "The Daemons" is a lot of fun as well as being largely on the ball spiritually. Not my top-ranking Jon Pertwee story, but definitely a cherished favourite.
I won't give away the "Final Line" here, but I will rate it as profound. It perfectly wraps up Letts' and Sloman's essay on their chief thematic subject matter and makes a terrific concluding moment.
Season Eight Rankings:
To be honest, I constantly change my mind about story and writing rankings for this season, as every story has a range of good elements mixed with a big detraction or two. Also, all the directors have their excellent qualities. Combe, Briant, and Barry are all solidly strong, while Letts and Ferguson are less consistent but more innovative. Season Eight is a smorgasbord of above-average good stuff that just doesn't quite rise to top-notch excellence.
"The Daemons" is available on DVD and VHS video, where it has been fully re-colourized.
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