Sunday, November 18, 2007

Devil's End

DOCTOR WHO - THE DAEMONS (1971)

Doctor Who’s Moriarty: Roger Delgado is The Master.

SHOWN as part of BBC4’s recent Archaeology Night, THE DAEMONS fits neatly under this banner for two reasons. Firstly, this Jon Pertwee DOCTOR WHO serial revolves around the live broadcast (on BBC3 no less) of the excavation of an ancient barrow. Secondly, the episodes themselves are something of a treasured relic; shortly after transmission, four of the original five colour videotapes were wiped. Luckily, BBC Enterprises had made a black-and-white film copy and a colour version (also now lost) for overseas sales. In the 1990s, the BBC painstakingly produced a watchable colour restoration using the black-and-white film and the colour signal from a fan’s home-recording made in the United States.
 
In THE DAEMONS, The Master (Roger Delgado) - posing as local vicar Mr Magister - uses black magic in an attempt to assimilate the powers of Azal. The story’s underlying theme of science versus magic is established early on, then explored during the episodes in which the viewer learns that many of the magical traditions and images are in fact a product of the Daemons “psionic science.” Viewed today, the story suffers from Pertwee's arrogant and inconsistent attitude, and the monumentally inappropriate line when The Doctor refers to Hitler as a “bounder.” The serial is also weakened by its somewhat simplistic denouement - Jo (Katy Manning)’s offered self-sacrifice makes Azal self-destruct - but there's also much to enjoy. In dog collar garb and latterly scarlet ceremonial robes, Delgado’s Master is a highlight, the epitome of evil charm.

The stone gargoyle Bok (Stanley Mason) is brought to life as a servant to the Master. Whether Bok comes to life because of The Master’s rituals or as a side effect of Azal’s appearance is never made clear.

The Time Lord’s writers had always transformed generic material for their own ends, but the Pertwee/UNIT era drew on Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass to create a template for a large run. The Third Doctor’s first story SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE (1970), for example, gleefully referenced - to put it politely - QUATERMASS II (1955). THE DAEMONS’ plot is not the most groundbreaking regardless of outside influences - witchcraft in an English vilage has long been a staple ingredient - and the idea of an impenetrable dome barrier had previously been used in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). But ultimately THE DAEMONS recalls QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1958), with its televised opening of an ancient burial mound which turns out to contain an alien spacecraft, whose dormant crew use technology which Mankind has come to know as Magic.