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The Cloven Hoof
on 27 October 2014
A devilishly fine tale of pastoral horror, with demonic rites, sacrifice, witchcraft and Morris dancing! Spin this magical DVD and unleash the power of `The Dæmons'! 5*
All was quiet in the sleepy village, dreaming in the spring sunshine on the chalk downs of Wiltshire - until one day the Vicar popped round to raise the devil. `The Reverend Mr. Magister' is not reverent at all, but a fallen Time Lord with a greed for power and a secret alien science at his command, though the `devil' he wants to raise is real enough ...
`The Dæmons' may well be the best of all the Jon Pertwee-era stories. It's a strong field (`The Sea Devils', `Inferno', `Day of the Daleks' and more) but this is a serious contender for the prize, because it combines all the classic elements that make up this era and it's very nearly perfect. This is quite a long review, so thanks if you get to the end, but this is one of my all-time favourite stories and the definitive `Doctor Who' tale of good over evil.
Almost half the story is location filming and Aldbourne looks perfect as the `stunt double' for `Devil's End'. Christopher Barry's direction and experimental multi-camera technique get the best out of their two weeks on location; the English countryside in spring looks beautiful and is put to great use in the story. Roger Ford's studio sets are so believable - the pub, the vicarage and the church. You won't find a hellish cavern crypt under many English churches (!) but that looks great too, as do most of the special effects - the famous model work in the final episode is impressively realistic no matter how many times you've seen it.
The storyline is less unbelievable than the fact that the BBC junked all but one colour episode of this enchanting creation. In an impressive display of technical wizardry, surviving mono film was mixed with a personal NTSC colour recording in some electronic cauldron to raise `The Dæmons' back to life. I still remember the excitement in 1992 when this was first done and watching one of the TV classics of my childhood again. This new, colour reprocessed DVD release is even better. The sound is still slightly harsh in some places and episode 4 does stand above the others in all its original colour glory, but the overall result is - magic.
Producer Barry Letts and Robert Sloman wrote a superb script, under the pseudonym `Guy Leopold' because of sensitivity at the BBC about producers writing their own shows. It's wonderfully atmospheric, with pitch-perfect dialogue between the regulars, well written guest characters and a terrific pace. Admittedly it does borrow elements from `Quatermass' and `The Midwich Cuckoos', but an unmistakably `Doctor Who' twist is put on them to create an unforgettable story - fiendish horror fit for a teatime audience and a `black magic' plot which is revealed to be science fiction.
Miss Hawthorne is convinced it *is* black magic. As the local (good) witch, she's horrified by the plans of the BBC and Professor Horner the distinguished archaeologist to open the mysterious Bronze Age barrow known locally as `The Devil's Hump'. If that wasn't bad enough, they plan to do it live on TV, at midnight on April 30th - Beltane, second only to Halloween in the occult calendar.
Damaris Hayman is superb as the good witch; there was a suggestion she should play the character as more `dithery', which would have been a major mistake. Fortunately, her wish to give a serious performance was granted and she conjures up one of the most memorable `good' guest characters of the Pertwee years.
Because Miss Hawthorne really is a witch; some of the villagers, chatting over their pints at `The Cloven Hoof', think she's more than eccentric but her otherworldliness and visions are the sort of thing that happens if you grow up in the village of Devil's End, where strange forces have been at work for centuries. She taps into fragments of that power for `good' as a white witch; the Master has greater knowledge and very different plans but the source of his power is the same. The idea that identical knowledge may be used for good or evil, and that a choice must be made, is at the heart of this story and is ultimately played out with the Doctor and the Master representing the two `sides'. It's a constant theme of `Doctor Who' but never expressed more clearly than here.
Back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor is watching the archaeological dig on television, sees Miss Hawthorne prophesying doom (live on BBC3(!)) and dashes off to Devil's End in Bessie, not helped much by Jo Grant's map reading skills! The Brigadier is off out to a dinner (and looking very smart in his regimental mess jacket), while Captain Yates and Sgt. Benton are left on duty with TV rugby and corned beef sarnies ... by the time they switch back to watching the dig, all hell has broken loose in Devil's End and the Doctor is at death's door, so off they fly to the rescue ("MY helicopter?" demands the Brig. in outrage!) The opening episode is possibly the best ever, superb writing and filming and the first of four terrific cliffhangers.
The Doctor and Jo need all the help they can get, because from the ancient, pagan cavern beneath the church at Devil's End, the Master and his village coven are raising the primeval force that lay sleeping in the barrow - Azal, last of the Dæmons. His presence is felt throughout the whole story with special effects and camera work, but cleverly, we never actually see him until the episode 4 cliffhanger, when Stephen Thorne explodes onto the screen, bringing Azal to thunderous life. It's a full-on performance and exactly right for Azal's Earth-shaking personality.
Even the Master is afraid - he's in control of the village, through a mix of fear, hypnotism and temptation, but the Dæmon is beyond anyone's control - though that won't stop the Master from trying every incantation he knows, in a brilliant performance. This is probably Roger Delgado's best story; always excellent, in this one he brings new range to the Master - the rational `Vicar', the scheming would-be dictator, the Time Lord fearful of what he has summoned but driven on by pride and a lust for the power he assumes is his for the taking - but the choice is not his to make.
Flying in to the rescue at Devil's End (above a track of terrifyingly large hoof prints ...) Richard Franklin and John Levene have two great roles as Yates and Benton, and slightly unfortunate 1970s taste in `plain clothes'! There's plenty of action to share around, Mike Yates joins an exciting chase sequence and Sgt. Benton is faintly embarrassed to become Miss Hawthorne's "very perfect gentle knight" after he rescues her. She later returns the favour, wielding a deadly handbag containing a witch's secret weapon ...
All the UNIT `family' have beautifully written parts and play them perfectly. Nicholas Courtney gives the Brigadier a wonderful blend of determination and exasperation at his inability to do anything very useful! By the time he reaches Devil's End the village is sealed off behind a barrier of hellish heat, and it takes all of the Doctor's scientific genius, some shouting and the just-about-adequate skills (the bloke's not a Time Lord!) of Technical Sergeant Osgood (Alec Linstead) to break through it.
When he finally confronts the enemy, the Brig. is coolness personified: "Chap with the wings there. Five rounds, rapid." It doesn't do any good (as usual) because the "chap with the wings" is called Bok, shoots fire from his fingers and is made of stone ... The costume, makeup and Stanley Mason's performance combine perfectly to create this horrible little gargoyle. It would have been great to see Bok actually fly but I suppose the resources weren't available then, though it could certainly have used more Axon-style smoke and effects when some unfortunate villager gets vaporised.
Jon Pertwee gives a definitive performance and must have really enjoyed all his driving and motorcycle action filming. As the Doctor, he keeps everyone focused on the truth - they are facing "science, not sorcery", even if the science is from far beyond the Earth. And only he realises how great the danger is - it makes him quite tetchy at times; perhaps even the Doctor doesn't have a way to win, but he'll risk everything in the attempt. Katy Manning does seem to have quite a lot of getting into trouble to do as Jo Grant, but companions usually do; she has some lovely character moments, well written and acted and her choice at the end is Jo's finest hour, totally in character and an iconic moment.
To play devil's advocate for a second, you could say Azal's ending is slightly illogical in the context of "science, not sorcery", but having raised such an all-powerful adversary it was always going to be difficult to find a totally scientific way to defeat him. Perhaps there was some actual magic on May Day in Devil's End after all ...
This is a superb example of all that's best in Jon Pertwee-era `Doctor Who'. To have every story now available on DVD is a delight; to grow up watching this wonderful series was even better. In 1971, the thrilling final episode was the first colour television programme I ever saw, at a friend's house. A Saturday afternoon in June, but we were indoors and glued to the TV - no power on Earth (or from beneath it, or beyond it) was going to make us miss the last of `The Dæmons'!
"DVD with `The Dæmons' there. Five stars, rapid." 5*
DVD Special Features:
The commentary is excellent, as director Christopher Barry, Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and Damaris Hayman enjoy reliving the memories of a happy production. It takes a few minutes to `warm up' then it's fun and informative right through.
`The Devil Rides Out' (29 minutes) - a good `making of' feature with a nicely theatrical opening sequence but I think I enjoyed the commentary even more.
`Remembering Barry Letts' (34 minutes) - an excellent feature looking back at the life of the well-liked `Doctor Who' legend, with many contributions from family and friends. It's a reminder that the classic era was this good because of the quality of the people who worked on it. Producer, director and writer - and he could have guest-starred too!
`Location Film' (7 minutes) - this is a little gem, an 8mm silent colour film shot on the village green in Aldbourne during the story's location filming. So many details to take in, you'll want to watch this a few times. The amateur filmmaker isn't credited but deserves a big `thank-you' from fans.
`Colourisation Test' (25 minutes) - episode 1 as it looked after the first test of recolourisation in 1992. A very impressive demonstration, as is the improvement from there to the new DVD quality.
`Tomorrow's World' (5 minutes) - a segment from 1992 explaining the colourisation process, just before the re-broadcast of `The Dæmons'. This programme was *the* science magazine to watch, broadcast weekly on BBC1 in primetime for decades and very popular. Just like `Doctor Who' - and the BBC dumped both of them!
`Photo Gallery' (6 minutes) - a very good collection with some fun location pictures, and a little surprise ...
`Radio Times' Listings as a PDF, including a short interview feature with Katy Manning.