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DVD Review: Doctor Who – “The Dæmons”

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The finale serial of season eight, which broadcast in the spring of 1971, Doctor Who‘s “The Dæmons” arrives on DVD this week. Despite the warnings of town witch Olive Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman, The Pink Panther Strikes Again), Professor Horner (Robin Wentworth, Coronation Street) plans to open a tomb in Devil’s End in Wiltshire. It’s all part of The Master’s (Robert Delgado, Pursuit of the Graf Spree) latest plot. Rushing to stop him, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is quickly subdued, and Jo (Katy Manning, The Quest) calls to UNIT for help. But soon the village is cut off from the outside world by a heat-producing shield, and no one can get in or out. Are there demons inside the dome, or are they just aliens?

The question of magic versus science is an age-old debate. Throughout history, many things that people cannot explain have been attributed to magic, and its close cousins, religion and the supernatural. “The Dæmons” tackles this myth head on, setting up a story that appears to be rooted in magic, but is explainable to those in the know. The titular beings are not demons, but aliens come to Earth. The villains appear unbeatable by normal men, until they are defeated.

That being said, there is a little cheesiness to the tale, too. Azal (Stephen Thorne, David Copperfield) at first appears to be all powerful. But he is confused enough by Jo’s act of self-sacrifice that he dies over it. First all, confusion causes a painful death? Really? Second of all, a rational, thinking being cannot comprehend self-sacrifice? Sure, it may not be something Azal would ever do, but surely he would see that as weakness by Jo, not something incomprehensible. Has he never encountered anyone else? This ending sort of cheapens the story, though it isn’t an unexpected wrap up for the time period in which it was made.

Overall, “The Dæmons” is a pretty neat story, despite some criticizing it for lack of consistency in the characters’ actions, in particular, the Doctor and The Master. It has a clear plot, colorful guest characters, and some fun special effects. It makes viewers think about the world around them, and the validity of religion. Most of all, it is entertaining.

Lots of fun trivia surrounds “The Dæmons.” For instance, there was a rumored sixth episode to the five-part series that has The Master and Azal murdering the Doctor and everyone else. This was an April Fool’s joke in a fan magazine, and there is no truth to it. There are also some unexpected references. The Master’s chant is merely “Mary Had a Little Lamb” backwards, and the helicopter crash footage is reused from the James Bond film From Russia With Love. None of these things change the story in the slightest, but for fans of anecdotes, “The Dæmons” is more accommodating than most serials.

For a non-Special Edition, “The Dæmons” has quite a few special features. There is an audio commentary track featuring actors Manning and Hayman, serial director Christopher Barry, and Richard Franklin, who plays UNIT Captain Mike Yates. Of course, a photo gallery and PDF materials are also included.

The picture and sound have been remastered. Looking back at various states of the footage from this serial, nearly thirty minutes are included on the colorization process that “The Dæmons” underwent in 1992. There is also six minutes of amateur 8mm film without sound. For anyone interested in seeing the “before” that goes with this finished product’s “after,” this is for you.

Further featurettes include a half hour special dedicated to the memory of Barry Letts, who was a producer and co-writer of these episodes. Barry also penned the novelization of the serial, and read an audio book version, so he is instrumental in much of this story being brought to the public.

Additionally, a half hour looks behind the scenes at how “The Dæmons” was made. This “Making Of” features key players who appear elsewhere on the DVD, such as Manning, Franklin, Hayman, Barry, Letts, and others.

In short, Doctor Who – “The Dæmons” is an interesting and thought provoking story, with a fair amount of extras. It is yet another worthy edition for anyone faithfully collecting the Doctor Who DVDs. Pick up a copy this week, as it goes on sale Tuesday, April 10th in the United States.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com