Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: The Daemons (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
Back in the days before the large scale release of Doctor Who on VHS, several stories from the first ten years of the program were always brought up when long-term fans attemmpted to make the arguement, "It's not as good as it used to be." Two of these stories were Patrick Troughton's Tomb of the Cybermen and Jon Pertwee's The Daemons.
Thankfully, now with the release of most of the available Dr Who stories on VHS (just in time for us to purchase them all again on DVD!) fans have access to stories and can make the decision for themselves. Are the stories that were once labelled classics really classics and were certain stories that got a bit of a bid rap actually better than we were lead to believe?
I will admit, that when the debate over "It's not as good as it used to be" would erupt on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine (this was long before the Intenet brought us all together to debate stories and argue about them on a more or less daily basis) and I'd see that The Daemons was held up as one of the examples of classic Who, the argument lost me a bit. I was fortunate that when I began my magnificent Who obsession, I was near a PBS station that bought the entire run of Who in syndication -- including the recently recovered "lost" Pertwee stories. I'd seen The Daemons and my thoughts on it were that it was in black and white and it surely wasn't quite as good as every one remembered it to be. Several years went by before I could see it again, and my reaction was still the same -- good story, but not quite a classic.
Then, along came the restoration team. Ah, those early days when all they had to do was the incredibly tedious process of overlaying the original color images over the rather degraded black and white master tapes the Beeb still had in their possession. I remember what a huge stir it caused when they did this -- and how I was eager to see the work, if only to see a story in color that was filmed in color. Finally, the VHS release made it to our shores and I was able to run out and buy a copy. I have to admit, that for a story that up until that point I'd dismissed as a decent but not great story, I was rather excited to get to see it again. It was almost like a new Dr. Who story.
And on that viewing, something in the story just clicked. It took a couple of tries, but suddenly the enitre story just came together and I saw the magic. The Daemons stunned me with how good it was and how much I'd been missing. Maybe it was the excitment of seeing it for the first time in color and made me approach it as a fresh story, I'm not sure. But I will have to say that I consider The Daemons to be one of the definitive stories of the Pertwee years.
Obviously, I'm not alone. The production team and cast from that era all seem to endorse The Daemons as one of those stories they just all enjoyed working on together. And that enjoyment shows through on screen. The cast is having a marvellous time. The sense of a family UNIT (pun fully intended) is evident here. Yes, UNIT has fallen a few pegs from being the crack military group it was in Troughton years and season seven (Yates and Benton both seem to have glass jaws... one punch and down they go!), but they still aren't the foils for Pertwee that they will later become in the series.
The story itself is pretty much your standard Pertwee era Master story. The Master has hatched some ingenious scheme to get some kind of power that will make his either the ruler of the universe or the destroyer of Earth and he's going to take out the Doctor in the bargain. And as with a lot of the Master's plan, he hasn't alwys thought the whole thing through and ends up having to ask the Doctor to help bail him out of whatever mess he's gotten hismelf into this time. The one cliche that doesn't make it through is that the Master doesn't somehow or other escape to fight another day in this one (and Benton captures him! Go figure!).
But taking that rather standard story, writer Barry Letts (under the pen name of Guy Leopold) runs with the structure and makes it into something more. We get an examination of the nature of magic -- almost a debate on the merits of technology vs. magic. We also see the Pertwee era sensibilty of man being his own worst enemy -- there are several lines of dialogue about our ability to pollute everything now thanks to the wisdom given to us by Azal and his people. We also see a bit of the misunderstanding and outcasting of all things different -- indeed, the only person in the village who doesn't give into Mr. Magister's promises is the outcast local white witch, Ms. Hawthorne (who apparnetly has the hots for Benton). The script is an absolute delight from start to finish and I'll give you that some of episode five is a bit padded (Azal's repeated threats of "No, seriously I am going to destroy you now... or maybe now" make him seem a bit like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies, but that's OK), but it's so enjoyable I don't really mind. Kind of like my feelings on Inferno -- yes, the final episode drags a bit, but the whole ride getting there makes you overlook a few slow moments as things wrap up.
The relationship between the Doctor and Jo (no, not that kind!) is at its most real here. We see the Doctor acting as a kindly uncle to her -- encouraging her to stretch her mind a bit and complimenting her when she does actually use her brain cells and then getting after her when she criticizes the Brigadier. The give and take between Pertwee and Katy Manning seems very real here and I like that. Honestly, Jo is not my favorite companion so anytime I see merit to her being there, it's a huge deal.
There are also a lot of small moments that push the story from the merely good into the great category -- poor Sgt. Osgood, seeing the Brig at home, Bessie driving herself around. All in all, I can't think of five episodes that more suitable capture the essense of what the Pertwee years are all about. I'd argue there are better overall stories, but not many that really capture all the elements that made the Pertwee years so much fun to watch.
And that's more than enough to rate this story as a classic, not only of its era, but also of the series as a whole.
Last Updated: 3/2/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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