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. The Doctor's chase to arrive at the dig is not filled with quality scenes - he is particularly irritating in the bar: unable to ask for directions pleasantly, and not at his best. Most of his scenes in Bessie are dark and equally aimless as well.
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 like an exploding van reveal problems that our protagonists will not completely deal with until the end of the final episode. However, while most of this is going on, Jon Pertwee gives us a good dose of the Man of Sleep, doing very little until a few minutes before the cliffhanger, while Jo herself puts in way too many scenes doing nothing but blubbering over him. Low quality stuff indeed. Yates and Benton save the drama, 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 Master puts in a fairly good showing this episode, controlling mysterious forces and aiding the creation of all those problems for the protagonists, but it is a disappointment that we don't get to see Azal when Benton and Miss Hawthorne look straight at him. I'd rather have a bit of Stephen Thorne in make-up CSO-ed onto location larger than life, complete with shaky lining-up and fuzzy outlines - the story then gets told much more clearly and can grab some extra viewer attention while it's at it.... And you can still do all this without revealing his face until the last cliffhanger. It's also kind of ridiculous not seeing anything new of Bok until episode two's cliffhanger, particularly as we saw him in solid form beginning to move last episode. The electronic sound effect for his flying and wing-flapping is just barely passable when combined with visuals of him; on its own it seems quite silly and unable to tell its part of the story well.
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. His speech to the Devil's End citizens is particularly stupid, as he aims to recruit them and ends up insulting them and turning them off instead. Villains shouldn't be perfect, I often say, but I'd always thought the Master was capable of better powers of persuasion. In the end it comes down to duress, which could work for about as long as the meeting lasts, but it doesn't seem to be enough to motivate all the shenanigans of the May Day celebration.
The helicopter chase is a fun and enjoyable sequence.... in fact, the henchman piloting it seems to have fun and joy in mind, for he certainly isn't trying to do much of anything else, or Jo and the Doctor could have been birdsquash from the beginning when they were sitting still in Bessie.
The Doctor and the Brigadier get to have fun tackling the heat barrier together, and then we get something a little a-typical for Doctor Who: it is the villain instead of the hero who is threatened for the cliffhanger. I think that was a brilliant stroke, and demonstrates the popularity of Roger Delgado's Master rather better than the reluctance of the extras to "boo" him as he is led away at the end.
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. It takes the Doctor forever to finish up with the Brigadier and Osgoode at the barrier, then the whole business with Bert the inn-keeper is drab as written and also as the actor playing him (Don McKillop) has put already put the best of his performance behind him, and really doesn't do well for the rest of the story. Then we've got the missing Doctor dynamic, followed by the prisoner Doctor dynamic. Ho-hum. Jo and Mike have equally silly and poorly motivated things to do this episode, although they fare a bit better together than when they're each alone. At least the Master stays on top of things, having some great confrontations with Azal.
Putting the Theme to the Test in front of Malleable BeliefsBenton and Miss Hawthorne finally 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 the villagers. Once more, science is real, while magic is just side-show trickery, deftly used here to get the Doctor out of trouble. 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 in episode five does an excellent job of this.... too bad there wasn't more of that type of thing.
Episode Four concludes well by wrapping up the middle act of the story and making it look as though science has won over magic, with just enough suspense left over for the cliffhanger to make us anticipate a powerful final confrontation with Azal.
Episode Five begins with truth triumphing over trickery, much to the horror of our neighbourhood advocate of magic. It's a good thing in the longer run though, as magic and science have stopped fighting long enough to listen to each other and find common ground here. It's all still science to the Doctor at this point though.
Science then proves effective, but only in a very limited way, as Sgt. Osgoode's efforts succeed in getting the Brigadier and his troops through the barrier. The Doctor's hope of using more of the same science to foil Azal is then dashed.... "gone west, blown itself up" to use the Brigadier's own words. Time to get technology out of the way and focus on inner qualities.... Shades of Star Wars! And thus the Doctor heads into his confrontation with Azal, while that infamous "chap with wings" helps entertain the others in an exciting bit of battle.
The Doctor is quite the Doomsayer in his arguments, allowing the Master's position to appear more positive. Dialogue for both of them stays true to character and gets the job done, but could be better. The Doctor's references to historical figures here depends on an audience that not only knows who they are, but who also shares the writers' opinions of them. I prefer arguments that can clarify themselves more independently; they are usually stronger. In any case, Azal is still unmoved, and Jo has to move in to save the day.
For years I found the ending 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!
I don't buy the idea that the illogic of "sacrifice" confounded Azal enough for him to self-destruct, as the Doctor explains it. "Sacrifice" is an overused element of many religions, often misused as well because it offers such a low level of understanding. I think it's more of Jo firstly acting more on emotion than intellect, which is alien enough already to Azal, but more than that acting on a sense of faith, fearlessness, and love, without spending any time trying to work out the consequences to herself. She acted in the moment. It kind of gets me right here, in the heart, to think of it that way. It probably got Azal there too, only his heart really wasn't accustomed to it, lack of use over the years.... probably led to chest pain and heart attack, and seizures, which in his case leads to accelerated heat waves and explosions and such. That I can buy.....
The Doctor's been hard on Jo in this story, particularly when he chides her in the Inn for agreeing with his negative assessment of the Brigadier, so it's appropriate that she gets the better of him a bit in the end, and nice that he can be appreciative and take the opportunity to open his own mind beyond his scientific beliefs and embrace her ideas a little more. "The Daemons" ends on a fun and humorous note, 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 Bok, 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 the Azal "Shrinking" theme 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.
Final Line: "You're right, Jo. There is magic in the world after all!" Rating: Profound. The scientific and supernatural viewpoints have found each other and come to understand each other inside several characters, and finally in the main character with this last line. This perfectly wraps up Letts' and Sloman's essay on this subject and makes a terrific concluding moment.
Season Eight Rankings:
To be honest, I have often changed 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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