If you haven’t seen The Dæmons (and why the flippin’ hell not??) then you probably already know that it has quite the status in the world of Doctor Who “classics”. Now, as some of you may be aware, I’m not the biggest fan of the Pertwee era* but this five~parter (five???) is a supreme delight from start to finish. Even with the inclusion of UNIT.
The opening few minutes alone are worth re~watching endlessly for its sheer eerie evocation of the sleepy English village, caught in a Satanic storm. Throughout the story Devil’s End, the village in question, is shot beautifully – once more reminding us just how stunning Doctor Who could look on film (a point I do make from time to time, sorry to be such a bore). The direction throughout is superb and hats off to cameraman Fred Hamilton for lending a cinematic eye to the proceedings.
Showing an awesome feat of prescience, BBC Three gets invented some thirty years or so before the digital channel vomited onto our screens. In fact, the first episode has an incredibly modern feel with the use of an live outside broadcast, behind the scenes and television stylings. Likewise the pace of the story is also upbeat; never lingering too long on one scene, constantly driving forward.
On the cast front, Pertwee and Manning are on top form. The grumpier side of The Doctor is seen during some delightful traditional pub scenes where his arrogance reminds us that the Time Lord has some social issues. Roger Delgado’s Master is as suave as ever with the Gallifreyean endulging in some truly evil doings with utter delight. The evil in The Dæmons is portrayed spot on throughout and culminates in the gargantuan appearance of Azal and his little buddy Bok.
Full marks must go to actress Damaris Hayman, local “witch” Miss Hawthorne, who steals each scene she inhabits even in the company of the show’s icons and characters. Who has a history of memorable and eccentric “older” women and Miss Hawthorne comfortable resides near the top of that particular list (note to self: do a Top 10 of Memorable and Eccentric “Older” Women in Doctor Who).
I’m often critical of stories that pass over the four episode mark but this tale treats each part with justice, delivering fully with no filler. Believe the hype, The Dæmons is a true classic.
To match the perfection of the story are an almost perfect set of special features. Almost. But I’ll broach this later. First up is the making-of documentary, The Devil Rides Out, another stylish affair from Chris Chapman that utilises Aldbourne (where The Dæmons was originally filmed) and some wonderfully creepy and specially shot footage in a crypt – greatly adding to the mood of the tale it’s documenting.
Terrance Dicks, Katy Manning, Barry Letts, Richard Franklin, Christopher Barry, Damaris Hayman are all engaging interviewees and one feels at home with their anecdotes and warm memories of the shoot. Best of all is Sue Hedden, Assistant Floor Manager, who leads the way on the on~set temper tantrums from Mr Pertwee. Sadly, he’s not there to give his thoughts on the events (I’m sure he would have been magnanimous about it #smileyface) and, likewise, there’s no evidence from Courtney.
Which is a real shame as the iconic duo are completely absent from the extras. There’s no archival footage or interviews with the actors who’ve had much to say about The Dæmons in the past; thus rendering this release a slightly incomplete record of such a classic story. And that’s why, if you cast your eye below (steady), you’ll see that it manages a “9” – it would have been a “10” but for these exclusions.
Anyway, we also get another doc, Remembering Barry Letts; a very moving and incredibly insightful look into the life of a man who can genuinely be described as a true Doctor Who legend. Letts had a substantial career outwith Who which is explored entertainingly by his sons.
For tech buffs out there, and those even slightly curious about such things, included is a 1992 Tomorrow’s World piece on the colour restoration on The Dæmons. It’s a simple piece, being a prime time weekday BBC show, but it neatly illustrates the time and effort (and intelligence) that went into bringing Doctor Who to the home video market.
The most remarkable and certainly the most charming extra is the amateur behind-the-scenes footage shot in the village of Aldbourne during the location filming. You will be simply in awe of its candid nature and close proximity to the subjects. But all too brief. I could have sat watching that one for hours.
The audio commentary features Christopher Barry, Katy Manning, Damaris Hayman and Richard Franklin. Now, here lies another small negative point. All these people are featured in the main documentary and we’re presented with them again. This is where the voice of Pertwee or Courtney (or even John Levene) could have made the entire output of this release that much fresher and enlightening. It’s the same voices all over again unfortunately.
However, it is highly entertaining it must be said. The gang loved the show and loved working on it and their camaraderie is most apparent and makes for a wonderful listen.
Lastly, a very special mention must go to the highly informative Production Information Subtitles from Martin Wiggins. For every stone-cold fact there’s a smile and a giggle to be had, thanks Wiggles (his new name).
The Dæmons ranks as one of the very best releases in the range; a magnificent story with impeccable extras, despite being somewhat incomplete (hardcore fans may also question why Return to Devil’s End wasn’t included, for example). I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I look forward to the story being revisited once more; enjoyed and appreciated all over again.
BLOGTOR RATING 9/10 Thanks to BBC Worldwide Consumer Products
(Convention Exclusive Edition)
This is a Doctor Who Convention slip~cased edition of the DVD Limited to only 1000 copies!