Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Daemons


In many ways, ‘The Daemons’ is the ultimate 1970’s Dr. Who serial, choc-a-bloc with hauntological resonance, a wonderfully entertaining and involving melange of horror and science fiction, Nigel Kneale, Dennis Wheatley and T.C Lethbridge, folk dancing, fertility rites, witchcraft, ancient Gods and devil worship.
Originally broadcast in June, 1971, the story revolves around the village of Devil’s End, where an ancient barrow is about to be opened live on TV. Concerned, The Doctor rushes down there only to find that The Master has got there before him and, using what looks like black magic, has resurrected the inhabitant of the burial mound, Azal, an enormous horned satanic figure who was revered as a God in ancient times but is, in fact, the sole survivor of an alien race, The Daemons. The Daemons used to go from planet to planet seeding life,  occasionally returning to either help it develop or, if they determined that the experiment had failed, to destroy it.  Azal must now pass his awesome power to another (hence the Master’s interest) or, if he can’t find anyone worthy of the honour, pull the plug on the whole planet and everyone on it.
About an episode too long, not all of ‘The Daemons’ make sense, and some of it is plain daft, especially the ending which is along the lines of ‘does not compute – initiate self destruct’ but with a big hairy legged devil alien - but none of this matters, it’s such good fun. UNIT get to shoot supernatural things, there’s action by HAVOC and The Master is absolutely in his element, dressing up in scarlet robes and chanting a backwards version of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ in a tea time version of a black mass.
There’s something terribly comforting about this period of the show for people who grew up in the seventies: it seemed a real pleasure and privilege to have The Doctor exiled on Earth, knowing that he was here and saving our beleaguered nation’s pale, dimpled arse week after week after week. I do like all the space stuff, but, for me, it was never quite the same once The Doctor got his freedom. As ‘The Daemons’ more than demonstrates, England can be a pretty weird and fantastic place: who needs an alien filled quarry far, far away when you can battle Lucifer in a pretty village in Wiltshire?


  1. The Return to Devil's End is quite a good documentary about it too.

  2. I absolutely love this episode--saw it recently. It's a shame that the only copy remaining is in such bad shape. I believe this was a particular favorite of Trish Keenan; she mentioned this fact in her last Wire interview.

  3. @ Michael - You think the DVD is poor then you should see the copy of episode 5 included on the Pertwee Years VHS tape back in 90's. It was an unrestored black and white telecine recording with very poor contrast.

    It's that shame so many of the early colour stories survive in such bad shape because IMO series 7 and 8 (and the series 6 and 9 stories that bookend the run, The War Games and Day of the Daleks) are Doctor Who at it's most consistently imaginative and entertaining.

    The Ambassadors of Death looked much better than expected and the new(ish) Claws of Axos special edition is a vast improvement over the original DVD (though it took a viewing of a friends copy before I seen considered an upgrade) so I've high hopes for the forthcoming Inferno remaster and Mind of Evil colourisation. However my understanding is that without spending an uneconomical amount of time and money The Daemons we have at the moment is as good as we can expect.

  4. This is my fav (The Sea Devils does come close) have just ordered the DVD of this and still have a very very beaten up old Target paper back copy. I should say that at the time Bok did scare the hell out of me. "Chap with wings, there! Five rounds rapid!"