Doctor Who: The Dæmons
(5 episodes, s08e21-e25, 1971)
It was a dark and stormy night, almost the setting for a Doctor Who Halloween Special, but aired in early summer.
Professor Horner and his team are excavating a site called Devil’s Hump, and they are surrounded by a series of events that are like magic. The local village witch, Olive Hawthorne, comes out to protest but is ignored, so she returns home and goes to visit the vicar, a new man named Mr. Magister, who is really the Master. Also, she’s immune to his hypnotic powers, unlike everyone else in the town.
Turns out, the Master is attempting to summon a demon. Well, a race of demons. Well, really an alien race that looks like demons that are kind of like scientists that run experiments on civilizations. They’ve been on the planet for 100,000 years, and when the experiments are deemed successful, they spark a technological revolution. When the experiments fail, you get Atlantis.
Anyway, this serial is an exercise in Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Dæmons have been around for so long that they’ve been worked into our mythology, and when they appear/disappear, it requires a conversion between energy and matter. That energy release when they shrink resulted in a shield dome being constructed around the village. The Doctor helps UNIT cut a hole in it so they can keep the gargoyle Bok busy while the Doctor attends to the larger Dæmon named Azal. The Master and the Doctor negotiate with Azal as to who will serve it best, and it sides with the Master. Jo offers to sacrifice herself to prevent Azal from killing the Doctor, and that somehow short circuits Azal’s brain. Azal explodes, the Master is finally captured by UNIT, the Doctor and Jo dance around the maypole, la fin.
It was an interesting idea, but it felt poorly executed, and I think a lot of that is because of the sensitivity at the time regarding demons and the supernatural on the BBC. This story could be done now and not feel so awkward or ham-fisted, but I think the prevailing culture crippled the story’s potential.
There were some good points, like the realistic special effects (the helicopter shot, originally sourced from From Russia with Love, and the church explosion) and the continuing thread of the Master biting off more than he can chew, but then there were also some really bad points, such as the resolution. The threat was stopped by accident, and if Jo hadn’t been there, the Doctor would have failed to stop the Master from taking over the world. Similarly, the Master was captured by Sgt Benton’s good timing.
This story also has a few potential links to the future of Doctor Who. First, Bok is apparently made of stone. Are the Dæmons precursors or ancestors to the Weeping Angels? Second, the UNIT sergeant who builds the force field defeating contraption is named Osgood. Is he related to the current personal assistant at UNIT who saved the world? Both of them are scientists and they both wear thick-rimmed glasses.
The Master offered the villagers anything they wanted for the price of their servitude, and I heard echoes of Needful Things.
Finally, UNIT needs to stop shooting things. It hardly ever works.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
UP NEXT – Series Eight Summary
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
11 thoughts on “Timestamp #59: The Dæmons”
This one gets a TON of love, but I’ve never gotten it. I think it has a nostalgic charm to some people because it was risque back in the day, and they remember that feeling when watching it. I feel like the fact that Azal has never encountered self-sacrifice before in his long existence and that the mere concept is enough to destroy him to be one of the most ludicrous endings to a Who series.
On the upside, the Master defeated by such a simple method that he failed to anticipate it and the fact that he won’t be required to appear in every story from here on out I think is a very positive move and I’m glad that Barry Letts figured out that they were overdoing it with having the Master in every story.
I’m VERY interested in your assessment of the next serial.
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