The tale turns on the opening of an ancient burial mound in the tiny village of Devil’s End. The event, which will take place at the stroke of midnight on April 30th (Beltane), is to be broadcast on BBC Three, which, in reality, didn’t come into existence until many, many years later. The whole thing is reminiscent to someone of my age of Geraldo Rivera’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults…only in this instance, something is found, or more precisely, unleashed. The Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) head to Devil’s End to investigate, only to discover the Master (Roger Delgado) is behind the sinister goings-on. He’s summoning forces that have existed since the dawn of man – an alien called Azal, who belongs to a race known as the Daemons, and he’s very displeased with mankind’s lack of progress.
Since most everything that happens on Doctor Who must have some sort of scientific explanation, Barry Letts couldn’t do a straight-up horror tale, but with “The Daemons,” he gave viewers the next best thing, and that’s a tale of science masquerading as, or rather being mistaken for, mysticism, and according to “The Daemons,” which Letts wrote with Robert Sloman under the pen name Guy Leopold, it’s been going on for centuries. The central premise of the story is a great one, and “The Daemons” drips atmosphere and sports one memorable moment after another. There are many different reasons to appreciate all the many different classic Doctor Who stories, but for sheer fun, “The Daemons” is right up there with the best of them. Certainly if you appreciate Hammer horror films – especially fare like The Devil Rides Out, written by Dennis Wheatley, whose work was a clear inspiration for “The Daemons” – then this you just gotta see. (Of course if you know who Dennis Wheatley is, maybe you already have.)
Now all of that said, don’t peel the curtain too far back, otherwise you’ll notice that “The Daemons” is riddled with what I like to call “Yeah right!” moments; the sort of stuff you have to deal with when viewing an action movie, which, when it comes right down to it, is what “The Daemons” basically is: a low budget sci-fi/horror/action film. For instance, in this five-episode tale that’s set entirely within the confines of a tiny English village (which in turn is enveloped by a massive heat barrier for most of the story, so nobody can enter or exit Devil’s End), the Doctor and the Master do not meet until the final episode. It’s mind-boggling that the Doctor never marches several hundred feet over to the church (the Master’s base of operations) to simply confront his enemy head on, especially since he’s been battling the Master in story after story throughout all of Season Eight, which “The Daemons” closes out. To my eyes, that’s a pretty serious “Yeah right!” aspect of the story.
Then there’s the local white witch, Miss Hawthorne, played to utterly kooky perfection by Damaris Hayman, a character that’s sort of emblematic of how much fun this story is. Another great character is Professor Horner, played by Robin Wentworth. He only appears in Episode One, but every single utterance that comes out of his mouth is priceless. It’s almost a shame he wasn’t kept around for the rest of the story. Words escape me for how perfect Roger Delgado is here. But then, words always escape me for how good he was as the Master. There have been many Doctors, and there have many fine debates over which is the best, but anyone, with any amount of taste, must surely admit that Delgado’s Master has never been bested (and maybe, at this point, never will be). “The Daemons” has finally found its way to DVD, but there’s more to the matter than just the quality of the story. What of the disc itself?
There’s no question that with this release, “The Daemons” looks and sounds better – much better – than ever before. This is a story with a problematic history of video and audio quality, and I grew up watching it in black and white, because for years all (well, mostly all…but we’ll get to that shortly) that existed were tapes made from the 16mm monochrome telerecordings. In the early ‘90s, “The Daemons” became one of the Restoration Team’s first projects. Using their own “black magic,” a color version was released on VHS in ’93. I remember being pretty bowled over by it at the time, but by today’s Who DVD standards, it would no doubt look pretty creaky. So another round of work has gone into “The Daemons,” although I’ve honestly no idea what exactly was done to it, or how they got it to the level of quality displayed here. Sorely missing from this release is any kind of featurette on the restoration. Perhaps such mini-docs are considered redundant at this point? They shouldn’t be, as not every fan buys every Who DVD. The Team has recently started updating their site once again (after a period of inactivity), so hopefully they’ll put up an article on this release some time in the near future.
DVD Extras: It is in this area that “The Daemons” DVD truly falls short. Although the commentary track featuring Manning, Franklin, Hayman, and director Christopher Barry is a nice one (particularly the contributions from Damaris – the woman’s a hoot), it’s a massive oversight and shame that Barry Letts and Nicholas Courtney weren’t secured for participation. I know for a fact this was Letts’ favorite story, because he told me as much when, upon meeting him back in the late ‘90s, I asked him what his favorite story was. Nicholas Courtney went so far as to call his autobiography Five Rounds Rapid!, after a piece of dialogue from the story – one that is quite possibly the Brigadier’s most famous.
Aside from the commentary and the making of, also present is a very nice 33-minute documentary called “Remembering Barry Letts,” which traces the man’s career, and features both of his sons discussing him at length. This is a sweet, warm piece, and even though there’s nothing in it that’s “Daemons” specific, it’s a welcome addition. There’s six minutes worth of silent “amateur” 8mm film footage that was made during the original “Daemons” shoot; doesn’t sound all that interesting, yet it really rather is. The entirety of Episode One is also presented as it looked after the very first colorization test in 1992, along with a short piece on the ‘92 colorization from a show called “Tomorrow’s World.” These seem like somewhat baffling inclusions (talk about redundant!) given that they don’t reflect the current work put into this story, although the ability to do a “now and then” comparison of Episode One 1992 vs. Episode One 2012 is fairly enlightening in regards to the strides that have been made in technology over the past 20 years. (Again, here’s where a short piece on the current restoration would’ve fit in nicely.) Finally, there’s the usual photo gallery, production notes subtitle option, Radio Times listings in PDF form, and a coming soon trailer for “Nightmare of Eden” which will be out next month.