Tuesday, 27 March 2012


The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the Master (Roger Delgado) lock horns with the alien Azal (Stephen Thorne) in the latest DOCTOR WHO classic DVD release. Images: BBC.


Starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor and Katy Manning as Jo Grant.

Now available on DVD from 2ENTERTAIN/BBC WORLDWIDE

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Having previously experienced his first full colour intergalactic adventure with the Colony in Space, its back to Earth with a vengeance for our Time Lord hero, the Doctor (here in his Third Doctor persona, as played by Jon Pertwee), and his charming companion Jo Grant (the equally charming Katy Manning), as they fight sinister spectral and occult-based forces emerging from the no longer sleepy English village that soon lives up to its aptly titled moniker: Devil’s End. It’s a place where the Master, always the troublesome Jackanapes for our fine duo, plans to reawaken a dangerous alien force with designs on destroying their once scientific experiment called Earth. Suitably given a well deserved double-disc treatment, THE DÆMONS is finally unearthed and restored on DVD after nearly twenty years languishing on disintegrating VHS tape, and its an adventure widely regarded by the shows dedicated fan base as one of the greatest of all his escapist time travelling yarns.

Inspirationally born out of a brief audition piece originally developed for the casting sessions for Jo Grant, this is surely watered down Dennis Wheatley for kids and families to enjoy, full of the action, wit and charm that signified the early seventies WHO seasons, without offending any potential religious parties with its dark side trappings.

The Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) pose for a publicity image.

Writer “Guy Leopald” (a pseudonym combination of Producer Barry Letts and long time writer/journalist friend Robert Sloman) knows how to make the most of the shows then strengths in story and production ability, crafting a tale that would capture the show at its best and win acclaim from audiences. It also presents some fine moments for the entire shows then Earthbound UNIT era ensemble to enjoy. Sergeant Benton and Captain Mike Yates, as played by John Levene and Richard Franklin, break into their civvie flairs and get the chance to spread their wings a bit in the story, running, thumping and shooting but with a few more choice moments of humour and military savvy, which is great to see-no wonder it’s the actors favourite story of their era. Stars Pertwee and Manning continue to be an audience friendly and formidable pairing as they dart to and from the action in their yellow roadster, Bessie (the vehicle even gets a few HERBIE-like moments, too!). It’s that moustached military wonder, the Brigadier (as personified by Nicholas Courtney), though, that easily has some of the story, and the series, best lines here, including the now legendary instructions to one of his UNIT soldiers when fighting a new foe: “Chap with wings, there. Five rounds rapid!”
Roger Delgado returns as the menacing Master.

There are some excellent supporting characters who make their mark, too, most notably Damaris Hayman as the quirky white witch/village protector Miss Hawthorne, whilst the much missed Roger Delgado’s Master is as irresistibly superb as always, looking more menacing than ever in his church vicars outfit and glasses, as well as later on as the head of a powerful sacrificial coven cult, resplendently nasty in his flowing red robes. At the time, many of the viewers were unhappy with an entire season comprising the Doctor’s Time Lord Moriarty as its main villain, but now, with the benefit of time and hindsight since his sad passing, Season Eight contains a veritable gold mine of great material for his character to be savored, especially in the actors always-terrific scenes opposite Pertwee.

The Doctor is held hostage by some mean country dancers!

After a deliberate few years break away from the series, Christopher Barry returns to the WHO directors chair for his first colour adventure and is clearly enjoying the material he’s working with: the first episodes atmosphere at the Devil’s End archaeological dig site and the build up to the cavern’s doomed opening is well generated (a special nod, too, to the character of the Dig’s Professor Horner, well realised by actor Robin Wentworth, who brings some fine biting edge to the character alongside his distaste for the news team from the fortuitously named BBC 3 channel!). Barry’s handling of the tales many action sequences are also generally good, against a fine backdrop of picturesque location filming in Aldbourne, Wiltshire (which take up at least two thirds of the story), that is first rate, and certainly giving the show a much glossier look than ever before.

Back in the studio, the director also makes the most of the new technology that has been developed in his absence, like the love it or hate it CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) techniques used so prominently in the Pertwee era. And, despite earlier criticism of the shows special effects by the press, some of the model work here would prove so realistic that, at the time of transmission, one viewer complained to the BBC over the corporation’s destruction of the village church at the end of the tale! Aw, bless!

The nasty little critter Bok the gargoyle (Stanley Mason) terrorises the Doctor and Jo.

So, you’ve got your story and characters, but a DOCTOR WHO story without its monsters just wouldn’t be the same, and THE DÆMONS presents us with several intriguing new creations to the shows legendary roster, including the menacing death delivering stone gargoyle come to life, Bok, played with menacing, death delivering impishness by dancer Stanley Mason, who makes his memorable mark in numerous effective moments throughout the tale, and also takes on the bazooka blasting boys of UNIT in the finale.

The Satan-like alien scientist, Azal (Stephen Thorne).

Sadly, the arrival of the much-anticipated DÆMON of the title, in the form of the mighty satanic-looking human with the bad chest hair problem-Azal- played with the immense I can take on Brian Blessed any day! vocal talent of Stephen Thorne (later to portray another equally mighty threat to the Doctor in the form of Omega, for the 10th anniversary story THE THREE DOCTORS) is painfully underused in the tale: his major appearance in the fifth and final episode thwarted by poorly conceived writing when he quickly seems to go haywire on himself after Jo illogically, and as the best representative of humankind, places herself in harms way to protect the Doctor. The rushed ending dealt in the last five minutes made me wonder why the story wasn’t ultimately a six-parter-the extra episode could have made the story feel a whole lot rounder.

With regards to the overall picture quality of the story on DVD, the BBC, incredulously destroying so much of their WHO material in the seventies, sadly only kept the original part 4 in its original PAL master tape quality, so the rest of the episodes mix colour NTSC with black and white film. It’s an intriguing fusion from the BBC’s dedicated Restoration Team that is, expectedly, of varying quality, but this overall new regenerative attempt for the release is far superior to their original first efforts from 1992 for the VHS release-the opening two episodes of the DVD being particular standouts in comparison. My hat continues to be raised to the Restoration Team for their continued enthusiasm, dedication and fine work within limited time and resources.

Jon Pertwee and Damaris Hayman have fun on location.

Packed with super extras on a special second disc, Chris Chapman, who did a fine job with his prior documentary for THE FACE OF EVIL release, creates an interesting successor with The Devil Rides Out, his look at this 1971 tale, with vital contributions from script editor Terrance Dicks, Katy Manning, Richard Franklin, Damaris Hayman and the late Barry Letts, there’s also a short but sweet section of cinefootage from the time of the original filming, a look at the Restoration Team’s work in fusing the colour and black and white footage together from a 1992 TOMORROW’S WORLD programme (plus some other early test work), a photo gallery that feels a little incomplete (it doesn’t have much of the material that superfan Andrew Beech has in his private collection), a lively commentary from Terrance Dicks, Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and Damaris Hayman, PDFs and subtitled production notes. The discs icing on the cake has to be a lovely documentary tribute to the late Barry Letts, covering his behind the scenes work in and out of WHO, as an actor, writer, producer and director of note-with some lovely contributions from his sons Dominic and Crispin Letts and nice career footage. Remembering Barry Letts is a warm and deserving tribute to the much-liked man. Rounding the extras material off is a little bit of Mandrels monster mania, with a fun trailer for the next DVD release: Tom Baker’s lively NIGHTMARE OF EDEN.

With their having been a previous fan DVD –Return to Devil’s End-which saw many of the shows surviving cast travel back to the Aldbourne location and recall the shows making, I understand the BBC DVD team’s reasoning in not wanting to cover existing trod ground for their new release, but I feel that the use of a little bit of that archive material should have been included with regards to the late Jon Pertwee. The lack of Jon’s presence in any of the major behind the scenes related material (bar the cinefootage) is keenly felt-even if they hadn’t used any Return footage, its a shame that something from somewhere (an old talk/interview) couldn’t have been incorporated for the release, for what is such an important story of his five year TV reign as the Doctor.

There might some occasional tame moments here and there that date the production, within a genre type which could probably be explored again more effectively in the Modern WHO, but the vast majority of THE DÆMONS works very well after forty-one years. The general rushed nature of the show’s final episode, for me personally, robs it of its all-time classic status, and doesn’t get me country dancing around the veritable May pole, but, nonetheless, I can certainly see why it’s regarded so fondly. It triumphantly retains its position as one of the essential purchases of the DVD range: not only invocative of the Pertwee era but of Classic WHO, too!


STORY: A Beltane busting 4 out of 5
EXTRAS: 4.5 out of 5

It's also available in a special, limited edition slipcase (shown above) here: 

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