Sunday, 1 July 2012

59: The Dæmons - Undeserving Of Its "Cult" Reputation?

Written by: Guy Leopold (Robert Sloman & Barry Letts)
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, Brigadier, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Master, Azal, Bok.
Brief Synopsis: The Master, posing as a rural vicar, summons a cloven-hoofed demon in a church basement.
Rating: 6/10.

So this one has quite a reputation. It's a 'fan favourite,' or least that's always been my understanding. But who actually cites The Dæmons as their dearest Doctor Who story and why? The story clearly relies quite heavily on referencing a sort of British Hammer Horror kind of genre and the story itself is rather unsubtly lifted from Quatermass and the Pit. The rather charming British Horror style certainly adds an atmosphere to the story but the stories are glaringly similar. Both utilise the idea that devils and demons may be a race memory of horned aliens who conducted a eugenics experiment on early humans. The village of Devil's End is essentially the same as Hobb's Lane, the fictitious London setting of the earlier story; Hob being an old name for the Devil. Even the use of iron to hold both Azal and Bok at bay is an old folk superstition that is also referred to in the Quatermass story.

It's clear to see why this story is perhaps wrongly held in such high regard. It's got all the elements that epitomizes this era of Doctor Who: the UNIT 'family,' the Master, a memorable location, a strong supporting cast and some good 'monsters' with the Dæmon Azal and the animated stone gargoyle Bok. The Dæmons is a well produced story as well and really looks great, with the possible exception of Azal, whose CSO growth falls down the wrong side of impressive, but the plot just isn't very good.

There are some odd holes in the story line. When Azal descends on Devil's End, why does he create the heat barrier as a kind of force field around the village? He's an incredibly powerful being, that can destroy with a look, the last of a race that has molded mankind for 100,00 years, he seems hardly the type who needs to hide away. Also the Dæmons' ability to shrink and enlarge objects, particularly shrinking their spaceships. Surely it would make more sense to save on resources, build small ships and then shrink themselves to fit.

The Master, rocking out in the cavern.
Roger Delgado is at the high of brilliance as the Master, excelling as both the Minister, Mr. Magister and in his true colours, leading the cult in his red robes. He achieves a popularity that might even be said to rival the Doctor; even being threatened in an end of episode cliffhanger. 

Damaris Hayman is perfect as Miss Hawthorne.
The theme of Science versus Magic, is a good touch, but perhaps comes down a little too firmly on the side of science, stating that something should never be assumed to be 'magic' just because the explanation for it is not immediately apparent. Damaris Hayman does an excellent turn as the self professed white witch, Miss. Hawthorne. The Doctor is rather unusually non-accepting of Hawthorne's magic beliefs. In a few scenes the Doctor is uncharacteristically presented as a bit of a patronising, know-it-all. This character nuance is probably intended to convey his irritation at being exiled on one planet, but it results in rendering him as rather unlikeable, in contrast to his usual charming and comforting self.

Azal, played by Stephen Thorne.
The back-story of the Dæmons from the planet Dæmos is impressively fleshed out. Azal is the last of his race. The Dæmons came to Earth 100,000 years ago to engineer mankind's genetic development. They helped Homo Sapiens kick out Neanderthal Man and inspired the Greek civilisation, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Azal says "my race destroys its failures," even claiming the responsibility for the destruction of Atlantis; something which was explained in The Underwater Menace and would go on to be touched on yet again at the end of this very season in The Time Monster.

Two of 'The Headington Quarrymen" from Oxford
hold the Doctor prisoner.
The inclusion of evil demonic Morris Dancers and an ominous May Pole are strokes of genius. It's Doctor Who taking something ordinary and turning it against you. It's great and the morris dancers are a troupe based in Oxford, which is also where I hale from. For those of you who don't know, a May Pole is a mast with multiple thin strands of multicoloured material attached at the top. In a rather odd May day tradition (that I unfortunately had to take part in at school) a group of people each take up a strand and perform a sort of intricate dance, entwining the various strands, for some unknown reason that must be demonic in nature.

The Doctor tied to a May Pole.
Yates and Benton in their civvies flying a helicopter.
Yates and Benton get some good action sequences and more to do than usual and the Brigadier utters his perhaps most infamous order to despatch the Gargoyle statue creature Bok: "Chap with the wings there, Five Rounds Rapid"

Without a doubt the weakest part of the whole story is the ending. The Doctor has refused Azal's offer to give him his almighty power. Azal decides to imbue the Master instead, and is about to kill the Doctor when Jo steps in front of him, offering herself in his place, and Azal just goes mental. This act of self-sacrifice doesn't make sense to him and he just dies taking a model-shot of the village church out with him. So technically this one concludes with Jo committing the accidental genocide of the Dæmon race, who helped mankind progress and develop. Oops! Maybe that's why the world is on a decline?

Azal "blows a fuse."
The execution of this denouement is laughable. It feels so rushed and spoils all of the good stuff that has gone before. The Master is taken prisoner and we get a funny little coda, with the Doctor, Jo, Benton and Miss. Hawthorne May pole dancing. While Yates quips: "Fancy a dance Brigadier?" To which the Brig replies, "I'd rather have a pint."

The elements are all there and it's certainly well produced, but with the plot holes, "borrowed" story line, uncharacteristically in-compassionate Doctor and rushed ending it just doesn't quite do it for me. There is certainly a lot there to love about The Dæmons, but I'm still not convinced that it deserves it's  reputed cult status.

And so we've reached the end of Season Eight. The season in which we saw the introduction of the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master and the return of the Autons. We met an evil mind Parasite, suffered the not so impressive Axons, witnessed the struggle of the miners and the colonists and finally, met the Devil, of sorts. We lost a companion and gained one. My favourite story in this season has to be Colony In Space, but The Mind of Evil is a close runner-up. My least favourite is The Claws of Axos. Out of a possible 50 points I scored Season Eight 32/50. Giving it an average of 64/100. It was a fairly strong season let down by one or two weaker stories.

Join me next time for the start of Season Nine and a long awaited return in Day Of The Daleks.

1 comment:

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