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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part five)

“The Dæmons” is rightly criticized for its ending, but not for the right part of the ending. The problem isn’t the incredibly rushed and ridiculous part where Jo’s offer of self-sacrifice confuses Azal so much that he immediately starts shouting “Does not relate” – if he were a computer in a sixties drama like The Prisoner or Star Trek, he’d say “compute” – and then self-destructs, most of what he says lost in a whirl of keyboards and special sounds and actor Stephen Thorne bellowing.

No, the problem is all the film stuff they did before the studio session. It’s not just Jo retrieving her clothes from the pub when she was forced to change in the church, it’s the whole way everybody in the village just smiles and grins about all these soldiers turning up, their church exploding, and their new vicar being led away at gunpoint, and then decide it’s time for a nice fertility dance around the maypole. I guess it makes a decent enough image for the season finale, but there’s a pretty big church down the road from us, with their playground across the street, and if their building got blown up by a twenty foot tall 100,000 year-old dæmon from space, I bet that the parishioners wouldn’t be in a big rush to start a game of softball.

On the other hand, Nicholas Courtney is just incredibly entertaining in this episode. He steals the show right out from under Roger Delgado – no easy task – with his frustrated, rational, sensible responses to each new problem. And the fight with Bok is really impressive, too. Our son loved the explosions, both hitting Bok with a rocket from a bazooka and the great big one that destroys the church.

I don’t know whether it’s an old wives’ tale or Terrance Dicks pulling our leg, but there’s a great old story that the BBC received several complaints about blowing up that church for the sake of a silly entertainment show. You watch that today and know that it’s a miniature – a darn good one, mind, but still a miniature – and can’t believe that anybody, no matter how lousy the reception was on their antenna in 1971 to make them think the visual was better than it was, could possibly think they’d actually blow up a real church. But then you remember the stories about old ladies beating up Barry Morse with their handbags demanding he leave that nice Dr. Kimble alone, and all the telegrams the US Coast Guard received asking them to rescue Gilligan and the castaways, and you accept that yes, the BBC probably did get some angry phone calls.

We’ll start watching season nine of Doctor Who in September. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (parts three and four)

There is probably a thing or ten to dislike about each of the four Doctor Who serials that Barry Letts and Robert Sloman co-wrote, but while none of them are my favorites, I really enjoy the way that each captures a little essence of the early seventies in a perfect way. Even “The Time Monster,” which I probably enjoy more than anybody else, not that I’m going to call it art or anything.

“The Dæmons” is a lot like the Bigfoot episodes of the Bionic shows in that regard. From the bit in part one where Jo says that this really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, they’re off in a story that couldn’t have been made in any other era. Of course there’s a Satanic coven sacrificing chickens underneath the village church. This was made in 1971, so I’d expect nothing less.

In About Time, Tat Wood assembled what I think is the best ever timeline of the UNIT stories, and he figures season eight as taking place from October 1971 to May 1 1973. This has to be May 1, because the Doctor gets caught up in the village’s sinister May Day celebrations. Wood also noted that this means that “The Dæmons” takes place on the same day as the events in the remarkable 1973 film The Wicker Man. What a delightful happy accident! “The Dæmons” uses some of the same iconography as horror films of the period, including, of course, The Devil Rides Out, Witchfinder General, Virgin Witch, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man then served as the last word on the sinister subject, incorporating all that came before, including this Who adventure.

Because I have a mild interest in period horror films like these, and some of the other stuff that Hammer, Tigon, and their competitors released in the late sixties and early seventies – 1971’s Lady Frankenstein is another, but that may have more to do with Rosalba Neri than much else – my son has been aware of me talking about old horror movies but not getting to see them. He asked what a horror movie was earlier this year, and I think my explanation satisfied his curiosity completely. But one day down the line, he’ll probably look into scary movies. He may be quite some time in finding the interest in sampling creaky old stuff like the old Hammers or The Devil’s Wedding Night – Neri again – but if he ever does, the fear that “The Dæmons” sparked in him might just pop up in a little corner of his memory somewhere. Some of these scenes have him absolutely petrified, and he says, firmly, that this is the scariest Doctor Who story ever.

Not a bad little introduction to horror movies then, is it?

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part two)

I think that Bok the gargoyle is one of the great Doctor Who monsters of his day. He makes a tremendously horrifying first appearance at the end of part two of this story. Our kid was behind the sofa like a rocket and he’s grousing that this is not a good story, because it’s far too scary.

But with fear comes imagination. He’s let us know that since gargoyles are made from stone, then the Doctor will have to use a rock hammer against the menace. “And those weigh 20,000 pounds!”

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part one)

“The Dæmons” was the final story of Doctor Who‘s eighth season, and the first of four serials to be co-written by producer Barry Letts and his colleague Robert Sloman, who usually got the screen credit due to BBC regulations. This one’s got a pseudonym, Guy Leopold, attached. It was directed by Christopher Barry and the cast and crew had such a great time making it that it became the center of a million loving anecdotes and, in time, received wisdom among the fans of the early seventies turned this into one of the all-time Who classics.

I remember that in the early nineties, when a colorized “Dæmons” was finally shown again in the UK, there was a big backlash against it. It’s a story that really doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but it’s still a very, very fun story with lots of great moments. The problem was that for years and years, newer and younger fans in Britain had to put up with blowhards talking about the good old days, and how “The Dæmons” was an unparalleled UNIT classic, unlike all this eighties rubbish. The myth was just enormous. In the US, where the black-and-white TV movie compilation, with its massive editing error midway through it, was shown in most markets, we could see this story wasn’t the greatest thing ever, just a fun romp with lots of location filming and the Master leading a Satanic coven in a remote English village while posing as the new vicar.

A lot of this, it must be said, went over our son’s head, but he really impressed us with one observation. That’s the actress Damaris Hayman above as Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, who warns of doom and disaster should an archaeological dig in the Devil’s Hump barrow continue. Our son spotted the ankh that she wears around her neck and noted that it’s the same symbol that Jessica wears in Logan’s Run. I can’t swear that I would have noticed that if he hadn’t pointed it out to us!

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part six)

Over the last week, I didn’t stop to praise Morris Perry for his terrific, all-business performance as the nasty Captain Dent of IMC. I love everything about his work here. He’s obliged to be a very different kind of villain than the charming and fun Master, and so he’s ruthless, unsmiling, and straightforward. He simply doesn’t care that he’s sending the colonists to their certain deaths. Alive or dead, as long as they’re out of his way, it doesn’t matter.

The other high point to this story is one of the definitive examples of the Master trying to tempt the Doctor into joining him. This happens several times throughout the series, but it’s usually kind of rushed. Here, Delgado and Pertwee get a lot to chew on, and it’s a really great scene.

It’s a little undermined by the frankly bonkers climax to the problem, as the strange little alien who lives inside the doomsday weapon just decides to have the Doctor destroy the weapon, and, with it, their entire city, rather than let the weapon fall into the Master’s hands. Maybe they spent so much time with the lovely Doctor-Master interplay that they didn’t have any room to develop this decision, which also seems to involve recalling all the primitives and priests to their deaths as well.

I mentioned a few days back that Malcolm Hulke’s eventual novelization of this story, renamed Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, was one of the great triumphs of the line of books. In the US, this was one of ten titles licensed by Pinnacle Books and given very weird new cover artwork and a glowing introductory chapter written by Harlan Ellison. I found the first four books in Pinnacle’s line in a nearby Starvin’ Marvin’s convenience store and gas station and reread them until they fell apart. I loved Ellison’s introduction – he apparently greatly preferred the Doctor to either Luke Skywalker or Kimball Kinnison from Lensman, though why he singled those two characters out for abuse, I couldn’t tell you – in part because it gave this odd-looking show that we watched late at night on PBS a really impressive seal of approval.

The first three of those books, the others being the novelizations of “Day of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” were adaptations of stories that our PBS station, WGTV, hadn’t yet purchased. It’s an understatement to say that the visuals I concocted in my head, helped by that dopey artwork, were far wilder and just plain better than what the BBC could create in 1971. I think that Hulke described the primitives as having six fingers on each hand, and this was reflected on the cover, where the basic, spear-carrying primitive was a shirtless Tarzan dude and the mole-like priest became a rat-faced monk. The story was just amazing, real Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff. Of course the BBC couldn’t match it, but what they did really wasn’t all that bad.

It really could have used Susan Jameson, though.

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part five)

“Colony in Space” is another of those Doctor Who six-parters that is at least one episode too long. This one’s the turkey in this serial, and I think it and the next part really should have been combined into one, “Dominators”-style, for a leaner five-parter.

There are a few interesting points in this one. I’m not sure why, but I like that the episode spends so much time inside the Master’s TARDIS, and I like that the real adjudicator from Earth, whose identity the Master stole, is actually given a name, Martin Jurgens. Poor Martin probably got dumped out an airlock or had his tissues compressed and eliminated.

But having the IMC people come right back to the area of the colony after being forced off the planet gives this half-hour its repetitive feel. The episode begins with the wrap-up of the shootout from episode four, and then climaxes with another one. The entire installment is just about turning the tables with the supporting players, while the real meat of the Doctor and the Master going to explore the primitives’ city is pushed back to part six. It would have been more interesting, and less of a dull runaround, if the mining corporation had left the narrative completely and two of the colonists found the key to the Master’s ship instead of Caldwell and Morgan.

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part four)

Our son has picked up the phrase “Oh, come on!” to punctuate any plot development that he doesn’t much like. The arrival of the Master warranted one. I don’t agree. The Master turning up is precisely what this story needed.

“Colony in Space” features one of the very few times that we ever get to see the Master putting his schemes together without the Doctor’s involvement. Usually, we meet the character in the narrative at the same time that the Doctor does, but here, he lands on Uxarieus using the forged identity of an Earth government adjudicator, and he casually and delightfully plays the role in order to further his interests. If you were paying attention at the beginning of part one, you may recall that this has something to do with an ancient Doomsday Weapon.

And if you’re putting two and two together, you might figure out that the ruined underground city, where the Doctor and Jo spend most of this episode, houses this infernal device. There are three alien species on this planet: neither the green and brown primitives nor the white, mostly-blind priests can speak, but there’s a third bunch, represented by a shriveled and tiny little guy who lives in the core of some power room, who warns the Doctor to leave and never return, under pain of death. You don’t suppose these are all connected?

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Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos (part four)

I’m not sorry to see this one end. There’s only one Pertwee serial I enjoy less than this turkey, and that’s months away, thank goodness. I do enjoy the original story, and there are several amusing moments and lines of dialogue in this installment, it just looks and sounds so awful. However, in director Michael Ferguson’s defense, whoever designed that set for the light accelerator room didn’t give any thought to how they were meant to stage an attack by monsters. Ferguson didn’t stand a chance making it look good; the constant cuts to shots of Katy Manning with her eyes wide and hands on her head as the battle commences suggest what the director himself was probably doing.

But it certainly succeeded in doing its job to frighten kids. Our son tells us that the Axon monsters are the scariest in all of Doctor Who, even eclipsing the Ice Warriors, the previous holders of that award. To be fair, one of the costumes – I think there are four – really does look terrific, even from the jaded eyes of adulthood. The other costumes are just blobby red bags with some noodles and string glued to them, but the one principal Axon really is a triumph, and the best thing, other than Roger Delgado, about the whole production. I guess I was twelve or thirteen when I first saw a photo of this beast, and I was impressed then and I remain impressed now.

One of the blobby red bag Axon costumes was painted green and pressed into service as a different monster five years later, but the Axons themselves never returned to the series, although there were several rumors that Peter Capaldi wanted the Twelfth Doctor to have a rematch with them. Fernanda Marlowe’s character, Corporal Bell, never returned, either. I hadn’t really realized that she was only in part one of this story. That was a missed opportunity; particularly with Benton and Yates due for some needed character development in the next two UNIT stories, it might have been nice to see a woman in a recurring role during this very, very male-dominated period of the program. In fact, the show was so overwhelmingly male-focused in 1971 that we missed out on what might have been a very memorable female villain in the very next story…

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