Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE DAEMONS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE DAEMONS

Tony has sympathy for the Devil.
Season 8 of the Classic era of Doctor Who had a lot to do. When Season 7 brought the wandering Time Lord to exile on Earth, it placed him in the body of Jon Pertwee, made him scientific adviser to a military organization dealing with alien threats (UNIT), and gave him a brilliant scientist as a companion (Professor Elizabeth Shaw, played by Caroline John).

While the format worked to a degree, there were things that needed tweaking if the show was to retain and expand its fan base.

Caroline John left the show at the end of Season 7, and at the start of Season 8, Katy Manning came in as the Doctor’s new companion – the small, slightly squeaky Jo Grant. Empathetic where Liz had been intellectual, she was arguably a better ‘fit’ for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, as he no longer had to fight for the role of ‘Cleverest Person In The Room.’

But more than a change of companion, the show needed an arch-enemy for the Doctor to fight. That was useful because you could personify the mischievous and evil aliens in the universe in a single, returning foe, and use them as a reason for other evil aliens to be attacking the Earth week after week.

The idea of the Master was born – a renegade Time Lord and old friend of the Doctor’s, who worked as his equal and opposite, dedicated only to domination or destruction. And in the body and the voice of Roger Delgado, he became an instant legend, appearing in every story in the eighth season.

The Daemons was the season finale, and having seen the Master meddle with invaders, dabble in criminal justice and the lost city of Atlantis, and attempt to steal the ultimate space weapon, in The Daemons, we see him go full-on Dennis Wheatley, with a Doctor Who take on the likes of The Devil Rides Out.
The story starts innocuously enough, with an archaeological investigation into an ancient barrow in Britain, a kind of new Sutton Hoo discovery. It also finds an unusual way to deliver its early exposition, through footage of a reporter for BBC3 – a station which didn’t exist in 1971, when The Daemons was broadcast.

But the villagers of the neatly-named village of Devil’s End are divided on the dig. Most locals are in favour of the publicity and the tourists it will doubtless bring with it. But the local ‘White Witch,’ Miss Hawthorne, played with a suitably dippy self-certainty by Damaris Hayman, warns of all kinds of Satanic shenanigans if the ‘Devil’s Hump’ is opened.

Surprisingly given his usual science-all-the-way stance, the Third Doctor is convinced she’s right, and rushes off to Devil’s End to stop the dig.

Not to spoiler you, but he’s too late, and suffers some ghastly consequences as a result. But in the true Hammer Horror tradition, Devil’s End is then sealed off from the outside world. What forces have been unleashed in the barrow, and what can it possibly all mean?

Miss Hawthorne thinks she knows. And she knows what to do about it – she goes to the local vicar.

Except the long-incumbent, much-trusted vicar left a little while ago. There’s a new cleric in town, a Mr Magister, and he sees the Good Book more as a teaching aid for the conscience than as a scourge of Satan and all his works.

Mr Magister of course was familiar to anyone who’d watched the rest of the Season. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Roger Delgado.
And that’s the joy at the core of The Daemons. Roger Deglado won the role of the Master by looking positively saturnine and vaguely ‘Satanic’ in the first place. Casting him – and his Master – as both a humble village vicar, and – naturally – as a robe-wearing summoner of the forces of darkness is sublime, both in terms of the comic undercutting, and the sheer on-the-nose play-to-the-rafters dark camp of the thing, which is a joy to watch.

Perhaps the most fun in the story is that Delgado’s Mr Magister is far scarier when he’s being a village vicar than he is when he goes Full Cackle and tries to raise the forces of darkness. That’s because Delgado pitches his vicar as the thinnest skin of civility over a truly twisted personality.

When he addresses the village locals, he turns what is absolutely not meant to be a sermon into a kind of diabolic recruitment drive, not by force of will so much as by the exposure of a handful of secrets to a gasping public. Post Office chicanery, short measures at the grocer’s, small little secrets and lies all come out, then, in an extra dark twist, he asks a local if his wife has returned from her sister’s. And then, deepening the horror, he asks in the lightest of tones whether she’ll EVER return…

Its Delgado at his most persuasive, impish and yet malevolent, and while he came into the series with a sublime performance in Season 8 opener, Terror of the Autons, it’s in The Daemons that he looks most at home.

It’s fair to say that the script, written by series producer Barry Letts and Robert Sloman under the name “Guy Leopold,” includes a lot of standard Pertwee-era padding to fill out its six episodes – the Doctor on a motorbike, the Doctor being shot at, a helicopter chase with the Doctor and Jo Grant running into peril in the bright yellow roadster, Bessie, and the Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) bickering over the right way to solve a problem. It’s classic Pertwee Who, but if you’re coming to it entirely new, you might wonder how they made iconic science-fiction drama out of it in the Seventies.

There’s also a fair bit of what might be described as ‘deeply dodgy stuff’ in The Daemons, including a prancing homicidal gargoyle (for which read ‘Bloke in a leotard with a funny head on’), and some of the most vicious Morris dancing you’ll ever see.
But weirdly enough, in its heart of hearts, The Daemons works. It works in a six-episode binge of Time Lords at war, vicars raising ‘the Devil,’ attempted witch-burning and the perils of cynical archaeology. Needless to say, the Master’s not actually trying to raise ‘the Devil.’ After all, that would be silly. No, he’s actually trying to raise a 30 feet tall alien scientist who just happens to LOOK like the Devil, and who has been occasionally helping and hindering humankind for the last 100,000 years. The ‘Daemons’ are a neat conceit, mentioned as they are in Greek mythology, and always regarded in pre-Christian societies as helpers, like muses with muscle.

As it turns out, they’re alien scientists in Doctor Who lore, with a shocking tendency to destroy any experiments they judge to have failed. The Master is here trying to get himself nominated to take on the powers of the last of the Daemons, Azal, who was trapped in a miniaturized spaceship inside the Devil’s Hump. Naturally.

Azal (Stephen Thorne) is a somewhat confused and confusing character. Unimpressed with the Master, he decides to give his colossal powers to the Doctor instead – who politely tells him where he can shove them. He rapidly takes against our Dandy Time Lord, and decides to kill him instead. Because… Reasons.

The ending gets even more peculiar when still-new companion Jo Grant steps between the Doctor and danger, yelling that he’s a good man, and that if anyone needs killing, it should be her, not him.
It’s a joyous little statement on behalf of Doctor Who fans everywhere – the universe needs the Doctor more than it needs any one of us. But Azal absolutely loses his Daemonic mind at this display of altruism, and his powers are rebounded against him, killing him and, in a mark of spectacular scripting convenience, destroying his spaceship in the barrow too.

The season ends with the Master captured by UNIT troops and hauled away under guard, to be dealt with by Earth authorities.

Because what’s going to be wrong with that plan?

Viewers would have to wait until Season 9 opener The Sea Devils to find out.

The Daemons is a fantastic, popcorn-chewing homage to all the devil worship novels of Dennis Wheatley and others, but with a joyously Seventies Doctor Who twist.

It set a trend in the programme for explaining the iconography of good and evil as simply alien that would be revisited several times. Pyramids of Mars (1975) took on Egyptian gods and mummies and explained them as aliens who had inspired ancient Egyptian culture. The Awakening (1984) trod similar ground to The Daemons, with an English village under the psychic grip of a power that looked like the Devil and fed on hatred. Ghost Light (1989) featured another all-powerful alien scientist, this time looking like a glowing angel.

And in the revived show, both the Heavenly Host in Voyage of the Damned (2007) and the Weeping Angels in several stories beginning with Blink in 2007, have inverted the form, so that the angels are the powers of death and darkness. Meanwhile, the on-the-nose Satan Pit in 2006 presented us with the closest thing to Azal yet seen in New Who, and borrowed from the idea that this alien ‘Beast’ had ‘inspired’ all the archdemon myths of the universe.

But The Daemons doesn’t really live or die on its ‘Devil village’ premise, but largely on the wonderful watchability of Roger Delgado’s Master at the height of his powers, and the perfect Doctoring of Jon Pertwee, combining action, technology, diplomacy and ultimately an ultimatum. And also of course, it depends on Katy Manning’s pitch-perfect omni-fan companion, Jo Grant, being prepared always to put her life between the Doctor (and the Earth) and the bullies who want to destroy them.

Together, that’s a trio that makes The Daemons sing, and once you’ve started this story, you’ll be there until the final Morris dance.
OF COURSE there’s a final Morris dance. This is Doctor Who, after all…

Watch Doctor Who: The Daemons today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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