The 3rd Doctor’s second season ends with a brilliant story that is a lot of fun and has very few flaws. The story embraces the trappings of sorcery and black magic while at the same time explaining the science behind it all and it does so in a way that balances the fantasy and science fiction aspects quite wonderfully. The story also utilizes the characters quite well, letting all of the extended UNIT family have wonderful moments in the spotlight.
The story is centered on an archaeological dig in the village of Devil’s End. The mound that the archaeologist is excavating has many myths centered on it, with most saying it contains the Devil himself. The opening of the mound is to be broadcast live. The Doctor dismisses it as pure hokum at first but then comes to a frightening realization. He races to stop the dig but is too late.
Meanwhile the Master is posing as a vicar in the village and plans on using the power located in the mound for his own nefarious purposes. To that end he has gathered around himself a dark coven to summon the daemon Azal.
The pacing here had to be commended. At five episodes this could have dragged but it moved along at a fast pace. In fact, the first episode was over before I even realized we were close to the end. It did a wonderful job of setting the narrative up.
Being a horror fan, a story centered around dark magic and summoning demons was going to appeal to me. What makes this a classic story is that it does more than just treat the magic stuff as window dressing. It explains that magic is basically just higher science we humans can’t understand while at the same time saying that performing rituals and wearing silly cloaks is all part of that high science.
I have to say, I was getting tired of the Master at this point. Roger Delgado is fantastic in the role, but having the Master be a villain for five straight stories weakened the character’s impact. You could have removed the Master from Claws of Axos and Colony in Space and both stories would still have worked. In this story though the Master is back in top form and is a worthy adversary to the Doctor. His plan has been set in motion long before the Doctor became aware there was a problem so the dastardly villain always remains one step ahead. In fact, the Doctor doesn’t save the day. The Master technically wins and would have enslaved humanity if it wasn’t for Jo Grant.
I would say this is the Master’s best showing outside of Terror of the Autons. It makes me wish the Master hadn’t featured in the three middle stories. The Master shows that he knows a lot about human nature as he appeals to the villagers’ greed and lust for power in order to convince them to aid him. He also knows that a threat works just as well when he has the demon Bok kill one of the villagers.
Jo is in top form here. She is constantly being told by the men surrounding her to just sit there and be quiet and safe and she is constantly doing the opposite of that, which is good for humanity. Her actions here and in previous stories have helped save humankind time and time again.
She saves the day here when the Doctor can’t. In fact, the Doctor makes things worse honestly by refusing Azal’s power which makes the Master the winner by default. Azal is going to give the Master the ultimate power and kill the Doctor. Jo heroically steps in front of the Doctor and begs the Daemon to kill her instead. Azal can’t understand this act of self-sacrifice and is destroyed. It is a wonderful moment and really cements Jo as a fantastic companion.
This does lead me to a quibble. We are told that Azal is a Daemon, and that the Daemons are a powerful species that have been using Earth and humanity as one big experiment. Humanity is about to be judged, which is where the Master sees the opportunity to become lord of humanity. (This is also another quibble because why does the Master care about ruling mankind when he has a working TARDIS). Jo’s act of self-sacrifice is foreign to Azal and that’s how humanity wins. That is fine. However, if the Daemons have been monitoring humanity for centuries don’t you think they would have seen other instances of self-sacrifice?
The Doctor is, well, the Doctor. By this point Pertwee has his Doctor’s mannerisms down cold. He can be sweet and lovely but also condescending and quit to cut down any insufferable human with a pithy retort. His scenes where he is trying to get the UNIT scientist Osgood to build a device that will bring down the heat shield were really funny. The Doctor may love and protect humanity but that won’t stop him from expressing how stupid we all are from time to time.
The UNIT family is great here. Yates and Benton are trapped in the town with the rest of UNIT on the outskirts, trying to take down the heat shield. This grants both characters more autonomy than they usually have and it is a boon for both of them. They get a lot of screen time and plenty of opportunities to show off whether that be by fighting a cultist, riding a motorcycle, or trying to blow a demon up.
The demon Bok looks ridiculous. It is obviously a guy in grey tights and a mask but honestly that didn’t bother me too much. Heck, that sentence could be applied to most of the villains in Power Rangers. The episode treats Bok seriously and that goes a long way. He is shown to be basically indestructible and able to kill quite easily.
I liked the scene where Yates and Benton are in the helicopter and discover the giant hoof prints scorched into the surrounding country side. It was well shot and added to the strangeness of the episode.
I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to pull off Azal very well but I think overall the episode did a good job. He is kept off screen for a good amount of time and all we see are a large shadow and hear a booming voice. When he is shown he looks okay. Like with Bok, he is treated as a serious threat despite the fact that it is obviously just a normal sized guy in a bad costume.
I quite liked the ending, with the Doctor, Jo, Benton, and the villagers participating in the May Day Dance while the Brigadier and Yates go for a drink in the local pub. It was wonderful seeing all the characters having a happy moment and not caught up in end of the world business.
I really can’t stress how much I loved The Daemons. While I do have some minor quibbles they pale in comparison to all the great stuff this story is packed with. This is definitely one of the stories I would show someone reluctant to try Classic Doctor Who.