Season 8 – Story 59
“I am the last of the Dæmons. This planet smells to me of failure. It may be that I shall destroy it” – Azal
As archaeologist Professor Horner excavates an ancient burial mound in the village of Devil’s End, the Master, masquerading as the local vicar, leads a black magic ritual beneath the church. The forces unleashed from the barrow kill Horner and strike down the Doctor, so Benton and Yates fly in by helicopter. The recovering Doctor learns of the presence on Earth of Azal, the last of a powerful race of Dæmons. Azal intends either to transfer his powers to another, or to give the planet up as a lost cause and obliterate it…
Episode 1 – Saturday 22 May 1971
Episode 2 – Saturday 29 May 1971
Episode 3 – Saturday 5 June 1971
Episode 4 – Saturday 12 June 1971
Episode 5 – Saturday 19 June 1971
Location filming: April 1971 in Wiltshire at Aldbourne; Four Barrows, Aldbourne; Membury airfield; airfield by Darrells Farm, Ramsbury
Studio recording: May 1971 in TC3 and TC4
Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
The Master (Reverend Magister) – Roger Delgado
Jo Grant – Katy Manning
Captain Mike Yates – Richard Franklin
Sergeant Benton – John Levene
Miss Olive Hawthorne – Damaris Hayman
Squire Winstanley – Rollo Gamble
Bert the landlord – Don McKillop
Dr Reeves – Eric Hillyard
Alastair Fergus – David Simeon
Harry – James Snell
Professor Gilbert Horner – Robert Wentworth
Tom Girton – John Croft
Garvin – John Joyce
PC Groom – Christopher Wray
Baker’s man – Gerald Taylor
Bok – Stanley Mason
Sergeant Osgood – Alec Linstead
Thorpe – John Owens
Azal – Stephen Thorne
Jones – Matthew Corbett
Morris dancers – The Headington Quarry Men
Writer – Guy Leopold (a pseudonym for Robert Sloman and Barry Letts)
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Roger Ford
Script editor – Terrance Dicks
Producer – Barry Letts
Director – Christopher Barry
RT review by Mark Braxton
There have been many fan favourites through the years, but this is the one that ensnared me for life. It’s the scariest story of the Pertwee years, the abnormal five-episode structure works like a dream, and it all bears the imprint of the late, uncontestably great Barry Letts.
He was co-writer as well as producer, though BBC rules meant he couldn’t advertise the fact. As Barry told me back in 2003: “It’s written officially by Guy Leopold. Leopold is my middle name and Bob Sloman chose Guy because that’s the name of his son.”
A stroll down “Letts B” avenue in this case yields ingredients concomitant with a classic: Earth under attack via the microcosm of village life, a genuinely terrifying monster, Unit doing their damndest to foil the foe, and a memorable tussle between Doctor and Master. But let’s look at the detail…
Almost as intimidating as the story’s oversized Pan is the simmering malignancy of the venal villagers, which lies somewhere between The Wicker Man and An American Werewolf in London. If the regulars had been playing darts in The Cloven Hoof when the Doctor and Jo walked in, they’d definitely have missed the board.
Devil’s End is a fully fleshed little world, and the marriage of location filming and canny casting brings all the backdrop threads together as neatly as ribbons round the Maypole. Damaris Hayman’s toothy, good-hearted biddy, Rollo Gamble’s twittish squire, Robert Wentworth’s derisive bone-digger and David Simeon’s narcissistic TV anchor are all delightful little character portraits.
The serial taps into primal, deep-seated fears in the shape of the diabolic Azal, and invents an ingenious history for the Dæmons in they way they’ve manipulated mankind’s development.
Stephen Thorne’s stentorian if one-note Azal is aided by a suitably mythical look, by surprisingly okay CSO that propels him into the big time in the cavern (taking his cue from the Beatles, perhaps), and by point-of-view camerawork that makes his cringing acolytes look suitably feeble. So powerful was the image that it returned, in beefed-up form, in 2006’s The Satan Pit.
A MAGISTERIAL TURN
In his finest hour as the Master, Roger Delgado commands the screen as a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. A simple specs-and-dog-collar combo is by far his most audacious disguise and, with crouching gargoyle by his side, he’s like a psychotic Derek Nimmo.
The burbling demonic wind, unusual image distortion during the “earthquake” scenes and scripted sense of dread all summon up a potent ambience, with one thumpingly good cliffhanger after another – episode one alone has arguably the best steady-build-and-payoff of the entire canon.
And if scares aren’t your thing, there’s Unitarian action aplenty, with a motorbike and helicopter chase, lots of running and punching, plus a ruddy great heat barrier, whose effects are explosively conveyed.
Asked why he thought this curly-bearded fright-fest was so fondly remembered, Barry Letts told me: “It was an example of the sort of story that almost automatically becomes popular because you’ve got the contrast between the everyday life of the village and the extraordinary science-fiction element of the Dæmons. That together with the fact that I think it was a cracking good story even though I co-wrote it. They were always my favourite sort of Doctor Who stories: where there was something solidly ‘of Earth’ with at the same time the science-fiction element.”
The Dæmons brings to a close a masterful season, and not just because it’s full of the Master. I love the way that at the very end, the camera, from a dizzying vantage point, performs a breathtaking zoom out from the May Day revelry, as if to say: “There, beat that!” In some ways, they never have.
[Richard Franklin, Damaris Hayman, Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre TC4, 19 May 1971. Copyright Radio Times Archive]
What Katy did next…
“The Dæmons! A wonderful story. Nick Courtney comes straight to mind. He took no prisoners as the Brig – faultless! Filming in a village with a “juicer” [pub] on the green was Brig heaven. Meanwhile, John Levene and Richard Franklyn became the local heart-throbs.
“We had a stellar cast! Damaris Hayman gave so much truth to role and friendship to me. Oh and count how many trips and falls I achieved. That’s why Jon held on to me so much in the series, otherwise I’d have fallen over the edge of a cliff. Jon and I spent lots of time in Bessie, writing and singing a mini-opera about sprouts!”
(Talking to RT, April 2012)
Radio Times archive material
A lovely Frank Bellamy illustration and episode billings.
RT caught up with Jon Pertwee in August 1971.
The Dæmons was the first “complete adventure” repeat on 28 December 1971.
[Available on BBC DVD]