Two of my favorite episodes of the regenerated Doctor Who series are “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” Starring David Tennant as The Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, not only do these two episodes introduce the Ood, they also find the doctor battling something that may or may not be the devil. That story isn’t the first time a discussion of the devil appears within Doctor Who though. In point of fact, within those two episodes, the doctor mentions the planet Dæmos, home planet of the evil alien race featured in the 1971 Third Doctor tale, “The Dæmons.”
One of those many episodes where The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is exiled on Earth, “The Dæmons” features The Master (Roger Delgado) as one of the villains. Here, The Master, amazingly enough, is striving for power – the power to control the world and kill the Doctor and do all the naughty things that The Master tends to want to do (he isn’t the nicest of fellows). To this end, The Master is trying to control a very devil-looking creature named Azal (he’s huge, has horns, and generally looks very devil-like).
In reality, Azal is an alien from the planet Dæmos, but that’s really neither here nor there. The story deals with similar questions to those of “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit,” most basically mankind’s desire to ascribe dark, magical, powers to a mythological creature (or to any real creature who resembles the mythological one).
On more than one occasion in “The Dæmons,” the Doctor pretends to be able to do magic when he is in fact simply using hidden bits of technology. It is quite reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law – “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (although that wasn’t published until two years after “The Dæmons” aired). But, then again, The Doctor seems to regularly smash peoples’ myths, legends, ideas, and ideals when those notions come face-to-face with reality.
Honestly, that’s what The Doctor is best at here, and on a semi-regular basis. So many Doctor Who stories feature a group of individuals (be they human or alien) telling The Doctor that things are a certain way (awful) because that’s just how they are. The Doctor turns his head a little to the side, looks at them quizzically, and dismisses their statement as pure foolishness. He then goes on to prove them wrong and make everyone’s life better. While this latter bit (the making everyone’s life better) is often where most of the story lies, for me, it’s watching The Doctor harangue people for their beliefs, or his convincing them of how wrong they are slowly but surely over the course of a story arc, that really are the best moments for the series. The Doctor (in all his incarnations) knows so much and explain things so well that it’s a joy to watch.
This is again true for “The Dæmons,” a story which has all the silliness, bad costumes and less than stellar effects, for which the early series is known. It is a perfectly interesting story—and one with tons of on-location scenes—but it is The Doctor explaining away magic that are the best moments in the story. Jo Grant (Katy Manning), The Doctor’s companion, gets some pretty good bits here too, as does the always enjoyable Delgado, but The Doctor is again the star of the show.
The release is a two disc set and includes some audio commentaries on the main feature. However, the real star of the bonus features are the remembrances of how the entire storyline came to be and what took place during production. Chief among these is the standard sort of making of piece which runs nearly 30 minutes and really provides an excellent understanding of the behind the scenes bits of the episode. There is also a piece on Barry Letts (who co-wrote this story and was a producer on the series) as well as a segment from Tomorrow’s World where they delve into how the episode was restored in 1992. These are both exceptionally entertaining as well. PDF listings for the show, a photo gallery, and silent video of the location shooting are less intriguing as is a silent “Colorization Test” (interesting spelled in the American style on the DVD case and the British in the menus) which is a silent version of the first episode (apparently as colorized during the 1992 restoration discussed on Tomorrow’s World).
“The Dæmons” is a perfectly fun Doctor Who story. I am not sure there is terribly much to distinguish it amongst all the other classic Who episodes (Pertwee’s in particular), but it isn’t lacking in things Who-vian. People who collect the series will certainly want to get a copy, but I don’t know that there is a reason for non-aficionados to spend the money.