The Dæmons

Written by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts

Directed by Christopher Barry

“Every newspaper in America, with very few exceptions, has a daily astrology column. Astrology is bunk. Astrology is fraud. How many of them even have a weekly science column?”

Carl Sagan 1934 – 1996

“try anything once except incest or Morris dancing”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900

I like this opening with a quote lark. I’m no good at saying clever or insightful things, so I might as well let someone else do it for me. Unfortunately, so far this week the most intelligent and insightful things were said by a man best known for sexually harassing his wardrobe assistants. I irrationally dislike Russell Brand for two reasons: he looks like a more handsome version of me, and he’s not George Cole*, so when he says something smart, which he actually quite often does, I get quite cross.

A few posts ago I talked about how the boring rural fuckhole that is Buckinghamshire had been going through something of a transformation in the 60s and early 70s into a hotbed of horror and sci-fi madness. Up until now Who had mostly left the horror to the blokes at Hammer, but with the Dæmons that was set to change. Although is it set very much in the UNIT era, the whole story is infused with the gothic atmosphere of the best Victorian horrors, particularly the first episode or so, which has a fair amount of action at night. Later on Who would embrace that gothic atmosphere to a much fuller extent, and watching The Dæmons its easy to see why. There is something undeniably appealing about it, and it sits very well with Pertwee’s dapper style.

As for the story itself, the Doctor’s constant debunking of everyone’s superstition is a joy to behold, even if pretty much every technical sounding word to come out his mouth is 100% pure unadulterated gobshite. Everything moves along at a smart pace and never quite gets bogged down despite being somewhat on the long side.

Sadly, the budget and time limitations of Who meant that some the of dæmonic effects don’t translate to screen quite as well as they could. Low budget as they may have been, but the hammer guys usually managed to created a better dæmon than a bloke in a hallowe’en mask and tights. They could afford an elaborate and pointless helicopter chase though. Go figure.

I’ve said before that I felt like the huge overexposure of the Maser in this series was both a blessing and a curse. There is no story that I would ever want to taked Roger Delgado away from, but confining the Doctor to one planet, in one era made the show a lot more monotonous than it had been**, and having only one villain for a series only exacerbated this. That gripe aside, Delgado is nothing but fantastic in this story. The way he swings from brash overconfidence to abject fear in a fraction of a second is just one of the spectacular feats of his performance.

While on the subject of the Master, I’d like to remark on what a great name he has. On the surface, in normal parlance, a doctor is someone who helps people, while a master is one who subjugates and oppresses. Which works pretty well for a hero/villain pairing. In technical academic speech, however, a doctor is someone who has obtained a doctorate degree, such as a PhD (or a DPhil if you’re in Oxford), whereas a master is someone who has obtained a masters degree***, a step below a doctorate****, meaning that the Doctor’s name right out implies that he is at least more qualified than the Master.

Much as I love the Master, by the end of this series it rather felt like the writing staff were trying to force a popular recurring villain on the audience, rather than letting one grow organically from villains never intended as being recurring. There were a number of such monsters in Who’s past, but the best of them, the most terrifying by far, the one’s who had helped make the show the stunning success it was, had seeming left the show forever some four years previous. But as I’ve said before, despite what many may think, it was always the Doctor himself that made the show. None of his villains could ever survive on their own, and try as he might, Terry Nation never could get his murderous spice shakers to work in any context other than who, so sooner or later they were bound to return. But in what way would they make their appearance? Find out next time in Day of the Daleks.

*I sort of wish I had an irrational dislike of everyone who is not George Cole, not just the ones who have played Flash Harry.

**yeah, most shows are thus confined. Most shows don’t run for fifty years.

*** derived from the very earliest degrees, which were effectively apprenticeships in philosophy – you’d go from being an apprentice philosopher to a master philosopher upon completion of your masterpiece, like any other craftsman, which is what a dissertation is. Sorry for that sidetrack.

**** I only have a masters. And an inferiority complex. And a goatee. Wait, I don’t like where this is going…

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