Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Daemons | A Personal Reaction

I was going to do this as a video review, but there were a few thoughts I needed to write down sooner, rather than waiting then speaking for thirty minutes, boring everyone.

So instead I'm boring you with text! The Daemons is a very famous Doctor Who story. One of the first promotional pictures for the classic series is the Doctor and Jo with Bok in front of them. I'm not sure if I've ever had that picture on my wall, but I remember looking at it a lot when I was younger and first getting into Who. Wondering what Bok did, more than what the story was like. Bok and the Master in his red dress are key images of the story - they're in every classic Doctor Who fan's memory of the show. Unfortunately - that doesn't mean that the episode they come from is very good.

I realise lots of people love it. I desperately wanted to love it (just as I did with The Ambassadors of Death, except that was wonderful). It was voted 32nd place in The Mighty 200 - which isn't bad at all. The highest Pertwee was Inferno at 30th (what were these people thinking?! Ambassadors and Spearhead need to be much higher!). But generally, The Daemons is considered one of the best.

I'm sorry everyone - but it isn't.

It is a great idea, and the idea of using black magic and the devil is really good. The country village looks perfect, the evil May Day dancers are a weird and quite good idea, the dodgy Vicar is a good idea. The relationship between everyone in UNIT. Everything about this story should work, and it should be amazing. Unfortunately - you then watch it. Considering it's a Barry Letts/Robert Sloman piece and considering I've waited years to see this - I am gutted that I didn't enjoy it that much.

Maybe it had too much to live up to. But so did Ambassadors (since that was another one I'd waited ages to see, and it's another Pertwee, there may be a lot of comparisons). Ambassadors succeeded - The Daemons did not. There's a novel called Grave Matter by Justin Richards, and that seems to bounce off the features present in The Daemons. Grave Matter is better. I once wrote a story loosely inspired by Grave Matter, and featuring the Master as a Vicar. Again - The Daemons was something I was very aware of - but I enjoyed my own story more. So perhaps there is the element that The Daemons could never beat what I thought it would be like.

If we look at the story itself though, there are other reasons why it doesn't work for me. The direction is good, that's not a problem, but I'm not sure if the problem is the script or the performances. I'm going with the script.

It was written for the actors, yes - but it was definitely not written for the characters. The Doctor and Jo are NOT like that in stories like The Claws of Axos, or even Terror of the Autons. The Doctor just bosses her about and treats her like dirt - and yes he's authoritarian in the others, but he always listens to her. He always takes her side, he always treats her as if she is an equal. In The Daemons, he just puts her down at every opportunity - and it really annoys me. That doesn't reflect Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning OR The Doctor and Jo, so I've no idea where Letts and Sloman picked that up from. As a result of the fairly poor writing between the two, it makes it feel like Jo is holding the Doctor back, something I've never felt for a companion who previously I've really loved.

Mike Yates has never been a favourite character of mine (I think I've always seen him as just getting in the way of Benton, who was my favourite), and although he's written strongly, I still haven't fallen in love with the UNIT set up. This story would not be a good one to show to a new Doctor Who fan, as it feels wrong for the rest of the era, strangely.

The Brigadier is brilliant as always - and it's such a shame to see him sidelined behind a heat barrier! Worse than that - he's stuck there for THE WHOLE STORY, pretty much. The WHOLE STORY, in a VAN. (Excuse the capitals.) He's not even there with anyone intelligent, but he's stuck there with Osgood, who does nothing except pad the episode out so it lasts 25 minutes. The Doctor's constant explanations to him make the episode seem longer and boring - when we could be back at the action.

Unfortunately - there's not much of that. The action happens every now and then, as it does in every Pertwee story. Except normally, it has a purpose, or it is generally "how the hell did they get away with that?". In The Daemons, they blow up a few trucks. The helicopter/motorbike/Bessie scene is very exciting I'll admit - but it still feels a bit pointless. The whole of Part Two of Planet of the Spiders, which is just action sequences, is thrilling - action in The Daemons is not. There, sadly, seems to be no passion or point behind it.

This story could very easily be a modern, 45 minute story. That way, the story wouldn't be stretched out. Because there's only one plot in The Daemons, there aren't layers like are present in Ambassadors (sorry, did it again). The Doctor knows what's wrong from the very beginning - and we don't see it until the start of Part Five. We get an explanation (albeit a very intelligent one in Part Three) but that's it, there's no pay off and the drama that promises isn't lived up to. There's not some great Doctor/Master debate about who Azal should listen to - it's just a bit of a quick shouting match. Though it's good they don't meet til Part Five for once.

But the lack of story in The Daemons means it would fit 45 minutes - plus the "saving the day with love" ending would fit in perfectly with what we've become accustomed to in modern Doctor Who. It's reassuring that no one else thinks it fits in The Daemons either. Because it's wrong - though not as annoying as some of the other issues I have, and it is touching.

For once I've mentioned all the problems I have with a story. The only other issues I have are the constant talk of science, and the Master. This story tries to do black magic - but right from the first (comic strip, stupid) scene with the Doctor controlling Bessie with science, it's lost the battle. Because every bit of magic is constantly undermined - so the concept of black magic isn't allowed to take off. It's purely there so the Third Doctor can show off and say how important science is. He's an exaggerated character in this, which is a shame, because I love the Third Doctor normaly.

The Master just annoys me anyway, as he completely ruins any type of story as it tells the audience how similar all these 'stranded on Earth' stories are.

Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks (who also dislikes the ending - woo!) hated exiling the Doctor to Earth and desperately tried to make it different. Unfortunately, they fell into all the traps possible, and the stories in their seasons for me, aren't as interesting as those in Pertwee's first. Season Seven knows the format, and just says "what the hell" with it, trying everything. The Letts/Dicks seasons try to resist it, but end up treading the same water.

This review (rant) has probably sounded so angry/annoyed because I'm so disappointed. I wanted to love it, and I don't know. I'm glad a lot of fans love The Daemons - but for me it's doesn't live up to all those excellent story features it has. There are other good points about it, of course there are, every Doctor Who story has good points. The Daemons isn't the worst of them at all - basically, it is a good story.

The trick is though - it just isn't a good story for me.

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