BBC Video // 1971 // 122 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // April 18th, 2012
The village of Devil's End. A pagan festival. White witches. Black magic. And a new Vicar who looks disturbingly familiar.
UNIT Captain Mike Yates: "So all we've got to deal with is something
which is either too small to see or thirty feet tall, can incinerate you or
freeze you to death, turn stone images into homicidal monster, and looks like
The Doctor: "Exactly."
BBC's live coverage of an archeological excavation at "Devil's Hump" catches the attention of The Doctor (Jon Pertwee), but he and Jo (Katy Manning) arrive too late to stop the townsfolk from unwittingly unleashing an ancient evil. However, with the help of UNIT, they may just have enough power to put things right before all Hell breaks loose...literally!
Ah, Jon Pertwee. The more time I spend with the Third Doctor, the more I adore him. Having grown up during the Tom Baker years, there was no other Doctor. Now, through wizened eyes of adulthood, I value what these other men brought to the character and the series; my favorite now being Pertwee.
Over the years, Jon was often quoted as saying The Dæmons was his favorite story arc and it's not hard to see why. It's an archetypal tale of Good vs. Evil -- The Doctor vs. The Master -- couched in one of the era's biggest fear-inducing issues (Satan Worship) and this family series did not shy away from making the most of it. We get a full-on Black Mass, an animated stone incubus, and an appearance by the horned one himself. Of course, this being Doctor Who, all is not what it appears, as science often usurps those who believe in magic.
Also at play in this five-episode run that capped off the series' eighth season, the great Roger Delgado (The Road to Hong Kong) who defined the role of The Master; Nicholas Courtney as UNIT's magnanimous Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; Damaris Hayman (The Pink Panther Strikes Again) as the outspokenly resourceful good witch Olive Hawthorne; a village-of-the-damned populated by Stepford-esque minions; and a host of progressive in-camera visual effects that adds to the overall creepiness of the tale. There isn't anything here that will unnerve modern audiences, but it's the perfect addition to your must-see Halloween DVD rotation. The isolated village, a secret society fronted by a charismatic leader thirsting for power, a team of heroes working against all odds to prevent the end of the world, and a big bad *this close* to meeting our 1971 expectations of The Devil incarnate (just ignore the costuming flaws).
Of course, there are those who will argue against the transparency of the tale, the clunky dialogue, and often misguided or confusing character motivations, but consider the era. This is not Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat Doctor Who. There is just as much heady exposition and philosophical discussion here, as there is demon hunting and racing against the clock. Credit director Christopher Barry and his team for going above and beyond the call of duty to take what could have easily been an overblown cheese fest and grounding it in reality. In fact, The Doctor makes reference to The Master's quest for limitless power as being similar to that of Gengis Khan and Adolph Hitler's ambitious rise to power. And to me, that's when the series is at its best, challenging viewers to consider where they fall on a particular issue without ever trying to sway them in one direction or another.
The truly amazing this about this particular arc is that all but one segment (Episode 4) were wiped clean from the BBC's videotape archives soon after its original broadcast. What we have before us is a painstaking restoration from a series of black and white non-broadcast recordings used to sell the series to the United States back in the early '70s. Special thanks to the classic Doctor Who DVD production team for salvaging this storyline.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, the visuals do show their age, especially since the majority of it was shot on film stock in exterior locations. Colors tend to be washed out, the black levels operate more in shades of gray, and there's a varying amount of defects and grain from episode to episode. No real complaints about the Dolby 2.0 Mono track, aside from the occasional broadcast edit that trimmed its layers a bit too close. English SDH subtitles are available for those who have trouble with thick English accents or just need a quick reference when not paying too close attention.
As always, BBC's Doctor Who team has done a magnificent job in assembling a wealth of material guaranteed to enhance your viewing pleasure. It kicks off with a 28-minute retrospective documentary called "The Devil Rides Out." (Just wait until you see the title sequence). This is followed by a rousingly insightful feature-length commentary from director Christopher Barry, Katy Manning (Jo), Richard Franklin (Capt. Yates), and Damaris Hayman (Ms. Hawthorne). We also get a tribute to the late writer/producer Barry Letts (33 min), a full episode colorization test from 1992, a 5-minute segment of BBC's Tomorrow's World that details the restoration project, a silent 6-minute 8mm film shot on location by a member of the crew, production photo gallery, and text features (Radio Times listings, production notes).
Whovians rejoice! Doctor Who: The Dæmons is one of the series great story arcs, and a must-see for Jon Pertwee fans.
Not bloody guilty!
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* Photo Gallery
* Text Features