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2 November 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 306: The Dæmons, Episode One

Dear diary,

If Colony in Space was interesting to me (well, to start with, anyway) because I knew next to nothing about it, then The Dæmons is interesting for almost the exact opposite reason. I've never seen this story, but I know it takes place in a small village, features the Master summoning up something akin to the devil, has a troublesome gargoyle on hand to keep UNIT busy, and ends with the church blowing up. I also know that it's considered to be one of Doctor Who's proper 'classics'.

That last fact worries me a little bit. Stone cold classics haven't always fared well with me during this marathon - The Evil of the Daleks and Fury From the Deep stand testament to that - and I'm also taking into account Nick Mellish's words on the subject, in which he described The Dæmons as 'the most over-rated Doctor Who story ever.' Sorry, Nick. There'll be a lynch mob at your door by morning. I'm quite glad to have these opposing viewpoints, because it means that I'm not going in completely wide-eyed and expecting things to be brilliant… which is a good job, really.

Now, don't get me wrong, this was a perfectly good episode, and there's a lot of rather nice little moments that I'll come to in a minute, but it wasn't a particularly Fantastic episode. Sometimes I find myself sitting forward on the sofa really gripped by that day's instalment, whereas today was more of a 'sitting back and watching' experience. That's not through lack of trying on the story's part, mind. The atmosphere is successfully built up throughout the 25 minutes, and it's genuinely quite tense by the time that the cliffhanger arrives. The fact that it features so much night-time location work simply adds to the atmosphere - it's still rare to see in Doctor Who of this age.

And what a pace it's moving at! I assumed somewhere around the middle of the episode that opening the Devil's Mound would be the cliffhanger to Episode Three, or possibly even Episode Four, but they've already gone and done it! They're racing ahead. Even the Master, who was fashionably late to the last story has gotten an awful lot done. His appearance here is handled much better than it was in Colony in Space, too, giving us a great reveal of him as the Reverend Magister. I'm going to assume - based on past form - that he plans to use Azal to destroy the world so that he can then rule over it. Or something.

The story isn't shy of being about 'the supernatural and all that magic stuff', as Jo puts it. In the opening moments, during establishing shots of the village being battered by a thunderstorm, we're given images of a frog, a cat, and an owl (also a dog, but that's less of a magical creature, traditionally…). Miss Hawthorne is shown calming the winds, and even Bessie is seen to move 'magically' around outside the Doctor's workshop (though this is later revealed to be the Doctor with a remote control). I'm not entirely sure how they're going to account for it all, since the series has always taken the stance that all 'magic' has a scientific explanation (indeed, that's what the Doctor says here, and I think this might be the first time that it's mentioned).

I'm going to assume that the most striking bit of 'magic' we see - the wind compelling a local policeman to attempt murder with the aid of a hefty rock - is somehow caused by the Master's hypnotism being somehow 'transmitted', but I'm looking forward to finding out. I bet the Doctor Who production team weren't popular this season, though. There were lots of complaints during Terror of the Autons about the policeman ripping his face off to reveal it was a monster, but I think this policeman gets the scarier job: it's a genuinely chilling moment to watch him robotically pick up the rock and lift it towards the back of Miss Hawthorne's head…

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