EPISODE: The Dæmons: Episode One
OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 299
STORY NUMBER: 059
TRANSMITTED: 22 May 1971
WRITER: "Guy Leopold" (pseudonym for Robert Sloman and Barry Letts)
DIRECTOR: Christopher Barry
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: VHS: Doctor Who: The Dæmons
Episode Format: 16mm b&w film recording recoloured using 525 off air video
For many years the Dæmons was touted as the best Pertwee story and probably the best Doctor Who story. It's certainly well loved by those that worked on it with most of those involved speaking very fondly about it. Then it got repeated in 1993, right in the middle of Doctor Who fandom's big re-appraisal of the series and suffered a huge backlash damaging it's reputation, a feeling that persists to this day. So how is it now?
Disclaimer: I've seen this relatively recently (end of April) before watching for the Blog. Some friends and I visited Aldbourne where this story was filmed (more on that later) and we rounded the evening off by watching it. So it's still quite fresh in my memory.
In the villages of Devil's End preparations are being made to open a local burial barrow. Local white witch Miss Hawthorne voice her concerns to the new local vicar The Reverend Magister: The Master. Jo is keen to stay up to watch the dig opening the barrow live on television but the Doctor's curiosity is pipped and he & Jo drive to try and stop the dig. In a cavern under the church the Master and a local cult are holding a ceremony to summon something.... The Doctor arrives just as the barrow is penetrated and torrent of cold air comes out freezing him. The Master calls on the name of Azal as the gargoyle in the crypt, Bok, comes to life.
Oh look, it's the Master. Again. There's a lot of little detail to like in this episode: The Doctor playing with Bessie fitting the remote control, the Brigadier dressed up for a do, Yates & Benton wanting to watch the rugby and the casual insinuation that the Master may have had something to do with the disappearance of the previous vicar Cannon Smallwood. All this is against a background of black magic and village cults pre-dating The Wicker Man by two years. It's a very un-Doctor who sphere to be wandering into especially taking this episode in isolation and not knowing how the story progresses. I can imagine there may have been some slight unease amongst some viewers at the subject matter this week. The TV presenter, Alistair Fergus, played by David Simeon who was Private Latimer in Inferno, seems a lot like a parody of a TV Presenter that Monty Python's Michael Palin would have done. The resemblance between the two actors doesn't help either.
The Dæmons is the only Doctor Who story credited to Guy Leopold: That's because it's actually a pseudonym for Robert Sloman and Barry Letts, Doctor Who's producer formed from the first name of Sloman's son and Letts' middle name. The events of this episode at least look like they were inspired, at least in part, by a BBC Televised dig at Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, not that far from the locations used in this story. Silbury Hill and it's neighbouring neolithic sites Avebury Stone Circle and West Kennet Long Barrow are well worth a visit.