“The Daemons” is the weak link in an otherwise strong second season for Pertwee. I’ve heard that this story was Jon Pertwee’s favorite, and I remember really liking the story back when I read the Target novel. But I’ve found over time and with more recent viewings that I personally don’t actually like it very much anymore.
The main issue I have is all the references to black magic and devil worship. It’s fake of course, but disturbing to watch nonetheless. The very idea of the vile things that Satan worshippers get up to makes my skin crawl, so watching a supposed sabbat led by the Master isn’t my idea of entertainment. I know it’s all explained away with psionic force fields and advanced science of the Daemons, but appearances are everything sometimes. I don’t mind aliens and gun-battles and volcanic eruptions, but occult ceremonies are where I draw the line.
That accounts for my first objection. Second objection: the ending of the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. So Jo throws herself in front of the Doctor and demands to be killed instead of him, and Azal finds the action so inconceivable that he self-destructs. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. It’s a none-too-convincing means of defeating an otherwise nigh-omnipotent enemy. It’s as though Guy Leopold wrote himself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to actually make the Doctor win, so he came up with the “blown fuse” as a solution. Now we know why the Daemons are extinct. They can’t take any emotional stress.
Third objection: the people of Devil’s End are absolute mindless idiots, particularly during the scene where the Doctor is tied to the Maypole. It’s 1971 mind you, and yet the good people of the town are prepared to believe the Doctor is a witch and burn him at the stake. In other words, they’re all prepared to be accessories to murder. They then turn around and fall for the “he’s not a witch, he’s a powerful wizard” ruse. It’s just incredibly bad characterization. Credibility is as shattered as the streetlight that Benton takes out with his pistol.
Fourth and finally, I have to complain about Mike Yates, a character that I actually like most of the time. Throughout this story he’s very smug and smart-mouthed towards the Brigadier, his superior officer. The Doctor may well get away with such behavior, but I can’t see Yates doing so. It is nice to see him and Benton in civvies, though early 70s fashions aren’t that fashionable or easy on the eyes.
Okay, fifth complaint. What’s up with the “Master is in danger” cliffhanger? Isn’t he the villain of the story? Surely if he takes the big dirt nap it’s a good thing. It’s a novel ending for the episode, and it’s really enjoyable to watch the Master so sweaty and panicked by summoning up Azal, but using his potential death as the cliffhanger doesn’t really make sense.
To end this review on some positive notes, I have to admit that every cast member is given a good role in the story. That’s no mean feat when you have five episodes and need something for the Doctor, Jo, Mike Yates, Sgt. Benton and the Brigadier to do, not to mention the Master. They all get plenty of action which is a rarity in a show that really isn’t an ensemble show. All of them are well acted and display an easy familiarity, making it easy to believe that they’ve worked together for years.
Things that are cool: Bok the gargoyle. The giant footprints that Benton and Yates see from the helicopter. The heat barrier around the village and the way it slices the van in two. The barrier incidentally is a nice move on Azal’s part, because it shows that while he’s powerful and confident, he knows he’s not invulnerable. The Doctor’s machine would have settled him if it hadn’t exploded. Special mention has to be made of the bad-tempered professor Horner tweaking the idiot reporter, something I’d love to see some real-life figures do to the brainless twits that pass for TV journalists these days.
I’ve been watching the series in order of course, and I think this is the first story in the series where overall I’ve been more negative than positive about it. I found to my surprise that I like “The Space Pirates”, and even “The Underwater Menace” is energetic and entertaining in its own twisted way. “The Daemons” just leaves me cold. Not the best ending to season eight.