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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Dæmons


Starring: Jon Pertwee
RRP: £20.42
Certificate: PG
Available 19 March 2012

Science and mysticism are uneasy bedfellows. The Doctor, never one to believe in magic, nevertheless realises that something is very wrong with the archaeological dig at the small village of Devil’s End. The Doctor and Jo rush to the village to stop the dig, but other forces are at work. Beneath the church, the new vicar, Rev. Magister, is using a cult to raise an ancient daemon, whose power he hopes to usurp. With U.N.I.T. converging on the site, Azal is awoken, a being of immense power, who plans to judge humanity, if found wanting he will destroy them...

The Dæmons is a five part, Jon Pertwee, story. Originally transmitted between 22 May and 19 June 1971, the story was directed by Christopher Barry, written by Guy Leopold, a pseudonym for the show’s producer and his co-writer, Barry Letts and Robert Sloman.

Probably, more than any other story, The Dæmons is peculiarly English in its roots. From the barrier which cuts off the village, reminiscent of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), to the idea of an ancient race which both seeded and guided the human race, an idea previously explored in Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959), add to this a large chunk of Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out (1934) and you have an on-going discussion within British science fiction between rationality and superstition.

It may seem strange that, at the time, such a story would have seemed contentious, but Who had built its reputation on the Doctor always taking and proving the rational point of view, to introduce an element of devil worship was both a bold and perilous decision, one which would probably backfire on the program had not the central story been so strong.

The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) realises that a great and terrible power is about to be prematurely released. Although he believes that it is the dig which is responsible, in fact the Master (Roger Delgado) is well aware of what and who Azal is and plans to take the creature's power for himself. The story also occurs at the height of U.N.I.T.S. power, in the show so we have the inclusion of both Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sergeant Benton), both sporting some really appalling seventies clothing and hair styles.

Of course, a U.N.I.T. story would not be complete without the inclusion of Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) who walks away with the stories best line, which perfectly summed up his character's gruff no nonsense approach to danger, when confronted with a devil-like homunculus, “Chap with wings there. Five rounds rapid". It is pure television gold.

The Dæmons was originally one of the casualties of the BBC’s destruction of its programs, only surviving as a black and white film print as a rather poor quality colour recording, taken from the American transmission of the show. Through the abilities of The Doctor Who Restoration Team, the two have been combined so that all the episodes can be viewed in colour. Now, if were being honest, the process has worked quite well, though on some of the edges and during rapid transitions the slight colour blurring is evident. The general quality of the print is good, as the greater majority of the story was filmed with only a smaller amount of the story being set on a sound stage.

The story is presented as a two disc DVD set. The first disc holds the full five episodes, the production notes as well as the full length commentary with Christopher Barry, Katy Manning, Damaris Hayman and Richard Franklin sharing their memories of the show.

Disc two has the bulk of the extras with The Devil Rides Out (28 min, 40 sec) with the surviving cast and crew discussing the show, sharing anecdotes. It also has some intriguing, faux, 3D titles. Could we be looking at one of the stories being converted for the up-coming anniversary? One could hope so. Remembering Barry Letts (33 min, 36 sec) reviews the life and work of a man who contributed so much to the show, he sadly died in 2009. Location Footage (6 min, 42 sec) has off-air footage of the show being filmed.

To give you an idea of how the story was restored, the disc contains a segment from Tomorrows World (5 min, 13 sec) as well as the whole of episode one (25 min, 01 sec) with its original colourisation, which has further been improved for this DVD release. The disc is wrapped up with the, now regular, Radio Times Listings, Production Information Subtitles, a Photo Gallery and the Coming Soon Trailer (1 min, 56 sec) for Nightmare of Eden.

This was Who at its most adult and experimental, although the use of devil imagery is likely to split fans, the quality of the writing, production, directing and acting raises The Dæmons well above the average.


Charles Packer

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