In many ways, ‘The Daemons’ is the ultimate 1970’s Dr. Who serial, choc-a-bloc with hauntological resonance, a wonderfully entertaining and involving melange of horror and science fiction, Nigel Kneale, Dennis Wheatley and T.C Lethbridge, folk dancing, fertility rites, witchcraft, ancient Gods and devil worship.
Originally broadcast in June, 1971, the story revolves around the village of Devil’s End, where an ancient barrow is about to be opened live on TV. Concerned, The Doctor rushes down there only to find that The Master has got there before him and, using what looks like black magic, has resurrected the inhabitant of the burial mound, Azal, an enormous horned satanic figure who was revered as a God in ancient times but is, in fact, the sole survivor of an alien race, The Daemons. The Daemons used to go from planet to planet seeding life, occasionally returning to either help it develop or, if they determined that the experiment had failed, to destroy it. Azal must now pass his awesome power to another (hence the Master’s interest) or, if he can’t find anyone worthy of the honour, pull the plug on the whole planet and everyone on it.
About an episode too long, not all of ‘The Daemons’ make sense, and some of it is plain daft, especially the ending which is along the lines of ‘does not compute – initiate self destruct’ but with a big hairy legged devil alien - but none of this matters, it’s such good fun. UNIT get to shoot supernatural things, there’s action by HAVOC and The Master is absolutely in his element, dressing up in scarlet robes and chanting a backwards version of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ in a tea time version of a black mass.There’s something terribly comforting about this period of the show for people who grew up in the seventies: it seemed a real pleasure and privilege to have The Doctor exiled on Earth, knowing that he was here and saving our beleaguered nation’s pale, dimpled arse week after week after week. I do like all the space stuff, but, for me, it was never quite the same once The Doctor got his freedom. As ‘The Daemons’ more than demonstrates, England can be a pretty weird and fantastic place: who needs an alien filled quarry far, far away when you can battle Lucifer in a pretty village in Wiltshire?