Doctor Who: The Daemons
Directors - Christopher Barry
Cast - Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Nicholas Courtney
Country of Origin - U.K.
MSRP - $29.95
Distributor - BBC Home Video
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Serial (5/5)
When I was a teenager Doctor Who was my favorite late night, find it on TV at random thing to see when I was channel surfing in the middle of the night. I didn't catch it often, but when I did it would blow my mind. The only Doctor I can remember at the time is Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. In late 2007 I started getting the DVD's, and about a year later I got my first Jon Pertwee DVD the Green Death. The Green Death simply blew my mind, and immediately made Pertwee my favorite all-time Doctor (a position that has not changed since).
Since 2008, I have seen probably 75% of Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who serials, and I still hold the Green Death in the highest esteem amongst them all. Well, I did until I finally got a hold of The Daemons. The Daemons is not only quite possibly the greatest of all Jon Pertwee Doctor Who episodes, but quite possibly one of the finest serials in the entire 26 year classic run of Doctor Who.
Admittedly, this serial feels like it was made for a atmospheric horror loving guy like me. One of my favorite films is the Wicker Man, and as much as it is derided amongst Hammer enthusiast I have always quite enjoyed the Devil Rides Out. If you were to combine those 2 films alongside the influence of 70's British Occult cinema, and the writings of Dennis Wheatley , H.P. Lovecraft, and Algernon Blackwood and finally mix them into the sci-fi landscape of Doctor Who, you would have a good starting off point for the Daemons.
The Daemons begins during a dark and stormy night in the rural English village of Devil’s End. A dog escapes it’s owner, and makes its way to a cemetery. The owner pursues the dog, and in the middle of the cemetery dies. The coroner believes it to be a heart attack, the local witch Olive believes the man died of fright.
Soon after these events an archaeological dig is going on at Devil’s Hump an ancient burial mount on a piece of land adjacent to the village. It is being covered on national television, and is considered quite the event. So much so, that the entire UNIT Family, including the reluctant 3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee) are all gathered around to watch the broadcast of the excavation.
The Doctor, while not buying into the superstitions surround Devil’s Hump, does find that the whole situation is indeed strange, and decides to pack up Bessie (his car if you don’t know), and head out to Devil’s End with Jo Grand and UNIT in tow. It turns out there is indeed something amiss in Devil’s End, the new local clergyman Rev. Magister is actually the Master in disguise, and he is trying to utilize the power of the intergalactic demon Azal in order to take over the Earth. It isn’t just the Master working alone in this escapade, he has taken control of the minds of many of the parishioners of Devil’s End to do his bidding. However, that might not be enough power for the Master to gain control of Azal, and after 3 attempts Azal may use his power to destroy Devil’s End and the world. It’s up the Doctor, Jo, and UNIT, to stop the Master, and his collective from summoning Azal and destroying the world.
Many fans of Doctor Who normally point to the Hinchcliffe era as the point where Hammer Horror and the Doctor meet. This mid-period Jon Pertwee episode begs to differ. It offers small town atmospheric Hammer style horror with an almost Quastermass-esque twist. This is the Doctor taking on the Bray studios scene, a few years before Hinchcliffe took over the reins. The Daemons is easily the equivalent of Hinchcliffe’s gothic best (I’m looking at you Talons of Weng Chiang), and may even better those later works. This is absolutely amongst the best of classic Doctor Who, and is positively dripping with atmosphere.
By now the Letts-era casts has been in their respective roles for about 2 years, and are at a pretty comfortable point. That being said their respective performances feel fresh, and convincing, and among the best of the entire Pertwee era. These are characters they have lived in, and rather than getting bored and going through the motions, they are really fleshing out the characters, and what is on display here is fantastic. This is also quite possibly the greatest of the Delgado-Master performances, he is really getting into his role here, and having fun with the material he’s been given.
The only minor downside is the effects, and having watched enough Doctor Who you realize this comes with the territory. The titular Daemons are not the most well realized creatures in the series roster. The gargoyle servant Bok is all right in appearance, but Azal, is definitely lacking. That being said he is much better off than say the Rats in Talons of Weng Chiang or the maggots of the Green Death.
For the past few years I have been devouring classic Doctor Who in an attempt to see as much of the existing classic series as possible (I haven’t started doing recons yet). It’s become a pretty major obsession, and watching so many in quick succession you realize what works, and what doesn’t, and for the most part Doctor Who in the classic era consistently told great stories, some of them weren’t realized well, but the writing was usually there. The Guy Leopold (Barry Letts and Robert Sloman) script for The Daemons is absolutely one of the finest of the 70’s mixing elements of supernatural horror and science fiction into a fantastic hybrid cocktail.
The Daemons is one of many of the amazing works of the Doctor Who Restoration Team. The episodes prior to the 90’s existed in one color PAL recording, and 4 black and white film recordings. The restoration team managed to re-add the color back in the early 90’s, and further restoration was done now creating what is truly a fantastic image in the film sequences, and a fairly good one in the video ones. Episodes 1, 2, and 5 bear the strongest image while episodes 3 and 4 offer a slightly softer one probably due to the nature of the material used in the restoration process. Nonetheless, the material looks truly great. All episodes are presented in their original 1:33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio.
The audio on these episodes has been presented in a Dolby Digltal Mono English Track. The track is more than suitable for the episodes. The dialogue is mixed well with the effects and music, and I couldn’t pick up on any pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
As usual BBC Home Video have put together an excellent slate of extras The set kicks off with an excellent commentary track featuring Katy Manning, Richard Franklin, Damaris Hayman, and director Christopher Barry. We then get a 30 minute making of featurette appropriately titled The Devil Rides Out. This is a great behind the scenes look at the making of the Daemons, and really goes in depth on the production side. We then have a tribute to one of the greatest of Doctor Who Showrunners in a short featurette entitled Rembering Barry Letts, which serves as an overview of Barry Letts career, before, during, and after his tenure on Who. We then have Location Film a short 8mm piece shot during the making of the Daemons, a 19982 colorization test, which is episode 1 taken from the 1992 colorization. This is great to compare to the current episode one to see how far the restoration process has come. We then have Tomorrow’s World a piece on the 1992 color restoration process. To wrap things up we have a Photo Gallery, and a subtitle trivia track.
One of, if not, the greatest serial of Jon Pertwee’s run on Doctor Who. The Daemons is a wonderful mix of supernatural horror and science fiction, with fantastic writing and great performances throughout. The A/V on this disc is up to the Restoration Team’s usual excellent work, and the extras just add to the awesomeness. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.