Doctor Who: The Daemons on DVD

Finally - digital Damaris Hayman!

 

4 stars

 

 

The Daemons on DVD

In DWM's headline grabbing all-time story poll of 2009, The Daemons was the second highest placed Pertwee at number 34 (Inferno just pipped it at 32). The Letts/Dicks era is one that's highly-regarded, despite the light smatter of really great stories. At cons and in interviews its cast will wax lyrical about how The Daemons is their favourite. How could it not be if you're John Levene or Richard Franklin? So often militaristic window dressing, The Daemons gives them something vital to do, decks them out in civvies and has them eating posh in a Wiltshire hotel for two weeks. Doctor Who in the UNIT era looked like an ensemble show, but The Daemons is one of the very few examples of it actually being one.

 

Part of the reason that it's aged so well is that it feels like a programme made a lot more recently than it was. Compare it to the leaden Colony In Space or ratty-looking Claws Of Axos earlier that season, and you realise how unusually peppy and lavish The Daemons was for Doctor Who in 1971. There's a glutton's helping of location work, and that it's centred on an eye-seducing a locale as Aldbourne in Wiltshire helps. There are helicopters and vans exploding and chases... It's what we think the Pertwee era is all about, but often isn't, all hard man posturing and James Bond-chasing ambition.

 

It's also a story that showcases Doctor Who's championing of science over magic. It may have Dennis Wheatley trimmings, but those are quickly ripped down as enlightenment and logic reassert themselves. And how Pertwee must have relished this story, giving his Doctor fresh ways to be a shit to people. The Third Doctor always had a grumpy-chops streak, but his belligerence here is just outrageous, whether it's poo-pooing the supernatural theories, never saying "please" or "thank you" or having a pop at his employers.

 

After talking to the Brigadier as if he's telling off a naughty ten-year-old for planning to "blast his way" into the village ("You'll do no such thing, Lethbridge-Stewart - of all the idiotic suggestions!"), he then admonishes Jo for agreeing with him ("Jo, the Brigadier is doing his best to cope with an almost impossible situation, and since he is your superior officer, you might at least show him a little respect!" he barks at her). If the Third Doctor is in a room and there's no one for him to patronise, does he even exist at all?

 

Corned beef sandwiches

Letts and Sloman's script finds little humanity in the Doctor but lots in its other characters. Damaris Hayman's sweetly dotty Miss Hawthorne is a spin-off waiting to happen, and all the UNIT regulars are given light touches of humanity that aren't usually there. So, Benton and Yates get to watch a football match and moan about corned beef sandwiches and the Brig wants his pint. A reticent Benton even gets roped into a fertility dance by Hawthorne, though we're denied the joy of actually seeing John Levene flounce round the maypole.

 

The Daemons' only real blemish is fleeting, but crucial, and that's its limp finale, as Azal is defeated by not being able to get his head round the concept of Jo offering her life instead of the Doctor's. As Uncle Tewwance asks rhetorically on the documentary here, had Azal's species never encountered selflessness before in all their travels to Earth? Clearly, script-editoring your own boss doesn't ever work...

 

Of course, the last time The Daemons was given a public airing it was one of the washier-looking Pertwee stories, a result of having a picture married from two sources, a black and white tele-recording and and an off-air NTSC video recording. The Restoration Team have done their best with it and while it falls short of looking like it would have done originally in 1971 (unless you had a crappy television), it's a quantum leap on from the recent repeat broadcasts.

 

Christopher Barry, Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and Damaris Hayman (yes, she's still alive) convene for a chummy commentary. Not sure why they've done without a moderator this time round (maybe it was recorded before they were deemed so integral), but having a Toby Hadoke or Mark Ayres here is missed. Manning is slightly less irksome than she often is, with mercifully few moments where she brings out that little girl voice that would have even monks kicking walls.

 

Damaris Hayman

Hayman's the real star here. Surprisingly razor-sharp, but carved from that same strain of Radio 4-listening rural Englishness as her character, she talks about being used as the production's advisor on all things supernatural. Manning is on occasional good form, often bewildering her fellow commentators who clearly live in different worlds to her. "Is that a rap gesture now?" she asks after the Master does the Satanic two finger hand gesture to Azal. Cue mystified silence from Hayman, Barry and Franklin.

 

All four also turn up in the Making Of, courtesy of Chris Chapman. The Devil Rides Out is bathed in Satanic imagery and drowning in manic Omen-style choirs, which slightly overplays how Black Magic-themed The Daemons actually is. Inbetween strangely unrestored clips, Hayman talks about her fight with Christopher Barry who wanted her to play Hawthrorne as ditzy and dithering, and they all talk about Pertwee's occasional on-set tantrums. After one tetchy production number moment, he stormed off to a nearby motorbike and went AWOL for ten minutes. "Never give Jon Pertwee a motorbike when he's having a hissy fit," says Manning. "The Bok came out in him."

 

Ed Stradling's Remembering Barry Letts (what a shame he dumped the title Letts Remember!) is another triumph, along the same lines of his recent Philip Hinchcliffe documentary that illuminates Letts' life and work outside that narrow Doctor Who period. Aided by footage recorded in 2008 and from contributions from Letts' sons Dominic and Crispin, who have a disconcertingly middle class habit of calling him "Barry," it's a loving tribute to a man who seemed almost too nice for showbusiness. The old acting footage of Letts is fascinating as he talks about his belief, fuelled by film director Robert Hamer, that he was going to become a big movie star. Then the war intervened and by the time he returned he was back to the first square.

 

Some fans might be surprised to find out that Letts and Dicks worked together on the BBC's Classic Serials strand for longer than they ever worked on Who, and Dicks seems amused and irritated that no-one ever asks about that period of their careers. His friendship with Letts seemed extraordinarily close, despite them being very different beasts. That Letts died only months after the death of his wife (also from cancer), makes for a particularly sad end, but as his sons testify, on a good day in his last years, his energy was undimmed.

 

On the second disc, episode one reappears to show what the first colourisation tests in 1992 looked like. Although scratchy, they still stand up, but it'll make you appreciate even more what the Restoration Team have done in the 21st century. There's also a Tomorrow's World featurette showing exactly how that first band of AV-boffins achieved those results. Bizarre to think now that ten minutes on television restoration could be broadcast on prime-time BBC One 20 years ago.

 

There's also some fascinating location footage in the extras (6m40s). It's on silent Super 8 film taken from the filming in Aldbourne, where you get to see to see the production bric-a-brac for 1971 and Roger Delgado relaxed in shades, as well as a good look around Bessie and Pertwee signing autographs for local fans.

 

And if you're in any doubt as to how to pronounce this story's name, everybody who matters seems to say it as The Demons, so don't you go worrying about that diphthong, okay?

 

Steve O'Brien

 

The Daemons is released on 19 March 2012

 

 

Click here for some footage from a cast and crew Daemons reunion in 1996:

 

 

 

Doctor Who: The Daemons on DVD
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