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Doctor Who: The Dæmons

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1971
Studio: 
2 Entertain
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Christopher Barry
Cast: 
Jon Pertwee
Katy Manning
Nicholas Courtney
John Levene
Richard Franklin
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5

For many fans of DOCTOR WHO in its ‘classic’ incarnation, this is the biggie: the 1971 adventure “The Dæmons” is the story everyone remembers if they were five years old in 1971 (I was three, so it’s actually still a little before my time); it’s the one with the Doctor being attacked by malevolent Morris dancers and threatened with being burned at the maypole,; the one with the stone gargoyle with eyes that glow when it comes to life and a twenty-foot alien from the planet Demos who looks like the Devil. You’ve got to hand it to series producer, Barry Letts though (whose idea it was), and Terrence Dicks, script editor during the Pertwee Years: the early seventies was an era in which, yet again, the programme was becoming notorious in the pages of right wing tabloids and with bandwagon jumping MPs alike for supposedly being unsuitable viewing for children; the BBC was getting it in the neck (as usual) and so what do Letts and Dicks go and do? Yep, introduce a story about paganism, New Age beliefs, the occult, witchcraft and Satanism! Televised a full two years before the release of “The Wicker Man”, “The Dæmons” sees the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) becoming involved in the sinister goings on afflicting the quaint rural community that is Devil’s End after the excavation of an ancient Bronze Age burial mound (a barrow called The Devil’s Hump!) apparently unleashes a great long-dormant evil, while at the same time gullible pub regulars at The Cloven Hoof and some menacing local Morris dancers fall under the influence of a charismatic new vicar who’s intent on raising the Devil in the ancient cavern attached to the vestry of the village church!

Of course, this charming patrician C of E vicar, who goes by the name Reverend Magister and likes to pontificate in deliciously satirical asides on ‘the outdated concept of the soul’ but nonetheless assembles his robed acolytes (one of whom is your actual Matthew Corbett … best friend of Sooty!) at night for secret ceremonial chanting and the utterance of diabolical incantations, turns out to be The Master (Roger Delgado) at his most mischievous; but essentially this story is particularly notable for crystallising everything that defines the Pertwee period and its knack for capturing in essence many of the concerns and social developments of early- to mid-seventies Britain. That and the fact that the sequence in which The Master finally summons the hoofed  Dæmon Azal (Stephen Thorne) was undeniably one of the scariest things to ever be screened to an audience of children on a Saturday afternoon at teatime.

The five part adventure was scripted by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman using the nom de plume Guy Leopold, and inaugurated a ‘tradition’ which held for the remainder of Pertwee’s tenure, whereby Letts and Sloman always wrote the final story of each season together. The habit resulted in another three classics (yes, I include “The Time Monster” alongside “The Green Death” and “Planet of the Spiders” -- it was way better than, for years, everyone said it was) although Letts had to keep his involvement with the writing side of the series a (sort of) secret for a long time since it was, officially at least, against BBC policy for series producers to moonlight in that area as well. Meanwhile, Sloman -- then also distribution manager for the Sunday Times -- was already involved in a writing partnership and didn’t wish there to be any confusion with regard to his main commitments. The first name of Sloman’s son and Letts’ middle name together supplied the duo with their screen credited alter ego for “The Dæmons” screenplay, but Sloman would take solo credit on all of their subsequent collaborations. Nevertheless, Letts’ varied interests would always be prominent components in the narratives of all the scripts the two contributed, never more so than in “The Dæmons” which seems to tie together a veritable feast of ‘fringe’ interests which were all trendy topics of popular discourse back in the early-seventies, resulting in the modish Erich von Daniken meets Dennis Wheatley subject matter informing much of the story.

The Individual elements of the story were nothing new and, indeed, the Pertwee era as a whole is often discussed in terms of an overarching influence deriving from Nigel Kneale’s 1950s “Quatermass” serials. This was in some ways a natural consequence of Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks’ forerunners having already saddled them with a Doctor marooned on Earth after the Time Lords deactivated his TARDIS as a punishment for past meddlings in alien affairs. Subsequent stories naturally tended to focus on alien invasions, with the Doctor helping his UNIT associates defend the Earth from successive attempts by a variety of alien species to dominate the planet via a takeover of the English Home Counties.

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During the course of his confinement to Earth in his first two seasons, Pertwee’s dashing Doctor took on an identifiably Bernard Quatermass-type role for UNIT, acting as a scientific consultant who, like Kneale's maverick rocket scientist before him, frequently tends to rub authority figures – ministers, civil service ‘suits’ etc.– up the wrong way; and his adventures quite often echoed the first few Quatermass storylines involving missing astronauts, government conspiracies and top secret research projects. By “The Dæmons” this kind of material had become the bread and butter of the series and, since Barry Letts had obviously been one of the main decision makers with regard to the show’s development during the seventies, it should come as no surprise that his first self-scripted effort is steeped in the Quatermass ethos – to such an extent in fact that the central idea at the heart of it has been blatantly cribbed from “Quatermass and the Pit”, the third and best of Kneale’s three 1950s Quatermass adventures. That story involved the excavation of the fossil remains of a strange-looking Neolithic man from a dig site at the London Underground, clearly related to humans but soon found to have been laid to rest next to an advanced alien spacecraft. The episodes (and the following film version for Hammer) then developed into an investigation going back through history to reveal a Martian influence on the evolution of man and leading to the revelation that all of our superstitions and lore involving ghosts, ESP, poltergeists and even the concept of evil itself, and its symbolic representation in the guise of the Devil, are mere trace remnants of a forgotten Martin inheritance. The uncovering of the buried alien craft unleashes what James Chapman refers to in “Inside the TARDIS: The Worlds of Doctor Who” as ‘elemental psycho-kinetic forces’, and the appearance of a gigantic horned demonic apparition over the London skyline, which is in reality a projection of a long-dead Martian ancestor.

“The Dæmons” begins in a very similar fashion, but with the scenario transferred to a traditional English village setting, much like the kind of thing regularly seen in “The Avengers” in episodes such as “Murdersville”.  The Doctor is alerted to what he claims is a potentially dangerous situation after seeing a live TV broadcast beamed direct from The Devil’s Hump site where the BBC is covering the results of a local archaeological dig as it happens, much to the displeasure of local eccentric and self-styled white witch Miss Olive Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman) who predicts doom and disaster if the ancient burial mound is disturbed. Despite earlier dismissing Jo’s ‘naïve’ interest in the so-called Age of Aquarius (‘all that occult jazz … there must be something in it!’) and claiming that there is no such thing as magic, the Doctor suddenly appears very worried about the plans of the blustering local archaeologist, Professor Horner (Robin Wentworth), and immediately heads down to Devil’s End in Bessie to stop the dig, taking Jo with him.

The events of episode one derive much of their content and approach from “Quatermasss and the Pit”: otherworldly energies are seen to be unleashed when the entranceway to the Barrow is breached by Professor Horner’s unwise intervention just before the Doctor can get there to stop him, killing him and at first appearing to kill the Doctor as well. A giant demonic presence is also sighted soon afterwards, and it becomes apparent that the Master’s role in proceedings involve his attempts to control this entity (now unwittingly released from the mound) using what look like the trappings of witchcraft and magic but which are in fact merely a means of manipulating human fear to contact the entity which, the Doctor later reveals, is really the last member of an ancient race of all-powerful alien beings who have used the Earth as their experimental test site since the dawn of homo sapiens, and have in fact manipulated all the stages of human development from the extinction of the Neanderthals onwards, even overseeing the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution! It’s easy to see the connection with Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass story here. There’s even a scene in which the Doctor gathers Jo, Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates and Miss Hawthorne around a slide projector and illustrates his claim that the Daemons have always been present in human culture and civilization throughout history with a slideshow of ancient gods, demons and monsters from Egyptian times to the present -- all representing powerful god-like entities down the ages as horned creatures to be feared and looked upon with awe.

One of the most prominent features of the story is the way in which it attempts to reconcile scientific method and theory with ancient forms of magical thinking usually either dismissed as superstition or else championed by those who have a dislike of modern science, positing the then-popular idea that what appears to be mere superstition does in fact relate to reality and is really just a form of science that hasn’t yet been fully understood. This was a theme which was also central to “Quatermass and the Pit”, which had itself developed this take from the popularity in the 1950s of a now-discredited piece of pseudoscience outlined by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book ‘Worlds in Collision’, which posited the notion that all of the traditional Biblical myths and stories detailing seas parting, plagues descending or worldwide floods etc., were really remnants of true life catastrophic planetary events.

In the 1970s, Erich von Daniken’s book ‘Chariots of the Gods’ was the means of popularising a similar idea in the guise of the author’s claim that the development and accomplishments of human civilisation had been aided by extra-terrestrials. The Dæmon Azal is obviously DOCTOR WHO’s version of this idea, and the character of Miss Hawthorne the white witch (whose mode of dress is almost as flamboyant as the Doctor’s due to actress Damaris Hayman borrowing her tweed cloak from her friend, the equally eccentric actress Margaret Rutherford), who explains everything that happens in terms of the occult, is nevertheless in perfect accord throughout with the Doctor rather than against him, since he  explains the same happenings and comes to the same conclusions using advanced scientific terminology, while countering the Master’s ‘spells’ with a Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg contraption he has UNIT build for him called a diathermic energy exchanger!

These ideas had also been broached by Arthur C. Clark in “Childhood’s End”, where aliens take the form of the Devil, and, of course in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, where an alien intervention is responsible for the evolution and development of mankind. The reconciliation idea is perhaps best summed up in Clark’s famous aphorism, codified as one of Clark’s three laws, in which it is stated that: ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. Thus Letts and Sloman get to have their cake and eat it – all the trappings of black magic are here, such as sacrifices, ceremonial robes and the Master’s incantations (although rather than the Lord’s Prayer, Letts and Sloman have him chanting ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ backwards. Is it just me, though, who finds the idea of someone chanting a children’s nursery rhyme backwards in order to summon the Devil infinitely more creepy?); we have a demonic-looking, cloven hoofed Azal summoned by the energy released by the Master’s black magic rituals and deriving in human fear, and a goblin-like stone gargoyle from the church cavern called Bok (originally the black magic was to have been performed inside the Church at the high alter until a last minute concession to Christian sensitivities!), which is brought to life to keep the superstitious locals in order. Meanwhile other phenomena which look supernatural, such as the blast of kinetic energy which freezes Professor Horner to death, and the heat barrier which surrounds the village of Devil’s End afterwards accompanied by the stench of sulphur in the air, is the energy displacement caused by the shrinking of Azal and his spaceship (okay, so I don’t say the ‘science’ necessarily made that much sense!).

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However, another element of the story which is made very prominent, and which tapped into a seam of interest that was just about to become very important to British horror during the early seventies, concerns the tension between a-then rising interest in paganism and in the idea that lots of ancient old English wisdom and custom was threatened with being lost, along with a competing strain of thought that saw superstition arising as the result of officially sanctioned persecution by those with power of those without a voice who were condemned as witches for not fitting the proscribed mould of their society. 1971 was also the year in which “Blood on Satan’s Claw” was released (a story in which a group of rural 17th century peasant children resurrect a devil by growing patches of his skin on their bodies after the discovery of buried fossil remains in a field) and Ken Russell’s “The Devils”, which concerned the mass hysteria of an order of enclosed nuns which is promoted by the authorities to aid them in the achievement of political goals.

Both followed in the wake of “The Witchfinder General” (1968) (Mathew Hopkins even gets a mention in “The Daemons”. He was very active at Devil’s End apparently!) and were indicative of an age which saw a rise in interest in the occult and paganism in the form of wicca and New Age beliefs, allied with distrust of authority figures in the guise of both the military (as Vietnam became ever more of an issue in the early seventies) and western governments in general which were now being seen as increasingly more corrupt. The acme of this trend was reached with the release of “The Wicker Man” in 1973, but there are some basic overlaps between it and “The Dæmons” with the Master being portrayed as a similar character to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle – a charismatic charlatan who uses the traditional beliefs and superstitions of the locals to turn them into his own private lynch mob, exploiting their superstition and promising them unlimited power.

 Interestingly, the story indulges in a spot of satire on this one point, signalling the Master’s double-talk and duplicity by having him one minute taking on the guise of a trendy modern vicar, who doesn’t really believe in the soul and is more inclined to witter on about existentialism than quote the Bible, but the next moment becoming a ruthless right-wing authoritarian demagogue who conjures the gargoyle Bok to kill the village squire (Rollo Gamble) and rails against lack of discipline and dissolution caused by ‘heretics’ such as the Doctor or Miss Hawthorne (once again, the free thinking exponent of modern secular science is bracketed alongside the white witch and believer in the occult).

The third Doctor  gives full vent to the more intolerant and professorial side of his nature during the course  of this adventure, and for some fans, particularly those who generally dislike Pertwee’s characterisation as a whole and dismiss the Doctor from this period for being an insufferable know-it-all, this is probably one of the main reasons why they have a problem with this particular story, which involves the Doctor dismissing the occult but dealing out explanations that seem to offer little more in way of illumination than the magical ideas they’re supposed to replace. They amount to little more than swapping one set of terms for another and do represent one of the weaknesses of the script. But Pertwee’s Doctor is often given an excessively hard time by those who forget that Letts liked to deliberately build up the Doctor’s pomposity to cosmic proportions then bring him down to earth with a bump for comic effect. We get several examples of that here, which illustrate the contrast in personality between the thoroughly evil Master, who is nevertheless easily able to ingratiate himself with the locals, and the unimpeachably good Doctor who despite the best intentions is unable to abide the unreasonableness and credulity of the villagers and reacts with irritable loftiness in their presence -- never more so than when he is accused at one point of wearing a wig by the squire! His detainment by the Morris dancers is also accompanied by the humiliation and indignity of being whacked on the rump by the ‘bladder man’ as he attempts to negotiate the village’s mayday celebrations.

The resources of the BBC couldn’t quite swell to having a giant wicker man constructed, so the Doctor is threatened here with being tied to the maypole on the village green instead, while Morris dancers do a jig around him and the pub landlord whips up the watching locals (made up of the real residents of the Wiltshire village of Aldbourne, which was where most of the story was shot) by quoting ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!’ at them from Exodus and inciting them to burn him alive. Morris dancing is a traditional English rural pastime that still seems bloody weird to the rest of the country and so engenders a suitably bizarre atmosphere here when the Oxfordshire Headington Quarry Men are brought in to do their thing. The remote rural village setting and the creepy locals ‘who don’t think like us modern folk’ and are in the thrall of weird outmoded beliefs which, nevertheless, still might retain some power we moderns can’t fathom or are too blind to see, was a theme that would become increasingly prominent in horror and fantasy fiction after “The Wicker Man”: an episode of Brian Clemens’ anthology series “Thriller” from 1973 called “A Place to Die” featured a similar storyline and Nigel Kneale even tackled the ‘science versus folk tradition’ motif  in a less conciliatory way than “The Dæmons” a few years later in his one-off drama “Murrain” (which sees a city vet railing against the witchcraft beliefs of a local community after an outbreak of disease in the local sheep) which then led him to one of the creepier stories in his anthology series “Beasts” the following year, which tackled a similar theme.

All these factors help explain why “The Dæmons” has become such a fan favourite, particularly seeing as how the story anticipates popular areas of subject matter in contemporary horror and fantasy fiction by several years. But there’s another reason of course -- and that’s because of its portrayal of the UNIT team, with Letts and Sloman finding plenty of ideas to keep the semi-regulars active throughout this five-part story: you get Benton and Yates in their hilarious civvies for a start (burgundy slacks indeed!), with Benton getting into an almighty punch-up with a particularly aggressive Morris man in the pub. He slightly disgraces himself at the end though when the Master somehow manages to knock him clean off his feet simply by throwing a small cloak at him! It’s one of the funniest, most ludicrous moments in classic DOCTOR WHO, made all the more amusing by the committed way in which John Levene tosses himself to the ground as soon as the flimsy piece of material touches his head!

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Meanwhile, Richard Franklin gets to be all heroic and chivalrous, still hopefully nursing an obvious unrequited love for Jo Grant and later getting to pilot a UNIT helicopter and ride a motorbike at high speed, although in the latter case it’s only a matter of time of course before Pertwee gets his mitts on it as well. Jo functions here again in her usual capacity as girlish ingénue, whose wholesome innocence and devotion to the Doctor is what in the end defeats Azal when she -- not for the first or the last time -- offers to sacrifice herself to save the Doctor’s life during the final confrontation. Such an act is apparently so irrational to the cosmic alien experimenter Azal that he literally self-destructs in a Technicolor riot of 1970s Top of the Pops visual effects, in what is surely a last minute resort to Deus ex machine solutions that would make even Russell T Davies blush; but you’d have to be a terminal curmudgeon not to be charmed by Jo’s unthinking selflessness and there is also a nice irony (which I can’t believe wasn’t intended by Barry Letts and was probably the whole point of the sequence to start with) in having this ultimate manifestation of the supernatural, summoned in the dark with ancient ceremonies and magical incantations, turning out to be just another bloody scientist who can’t abide irrational superstitious claptrap.

Roger Delgado turns in what is perhaps his ultimate performance as the Master in a season which had seen him appear in every single storyline. He’s at his indomitable best here, running rings around the stereotypical country yokels of Devil’s End -- and no one looks better conducting Satanist ceremonies and then having the cheek to command the horned demonic presence conjured up by them to obey him. This being the last story of season eight, the Master’s reign is apparently brought to an end when he’s finally captured (not withstanding that little incident with Sergeant Benton and the knockout cloak) and driven away by UNIT whilst being booed by the fickle village inhabitants who’d previously been hanging on his every word up till then! This was also the story that perhaps sealed Nicholas Courtney’s brilliance in the collective mind of DOCTOR WHO fandom: the unflappable Brigadier gets some of his finest moments and delivers two of his most memorable lines here, one when faced with the demonic gargoyle Bok, after which he instructs a UNIT solider to open fire with the immortal line: ‘chap with the wings there … five rounds rapid!’ and the second coming as a result of  a bit of business worked out between Courtney and Richard Franklin when the Doctor, Jo and the rest of the village celebrate their delivery from evil at the end of the story with a jig around the maypole and Captain Yates asks the Brigadier if he’d also like a dance, to which the Brig replies, ‘kind of you to ask Captain Yates … but I’d rather have a pint!’

“The Dæmons” was very quickly recognised as one of the programme’s most significant achievements, notching up huge viewing figures and earning plenty of plaudits from BBC management at the time. So, it comes as little surprise, then, knowing the unfathomable ways of the BBC, that all of the original 625-line PAL colour tapes were junked apart from one episode -- episode four. However, both the poor quality NTSC recordings taken from on-air American broadcast versions, and black & white 16mm telerecordings of the missing episodes were recovered, and the restoration team was able to recover the colour information from the first and apply it to the latter in order to make a screenable presentation back in 1992, which for many years was the version broadcast in TV repeats. Now the serial has had even more attention applied to it thanks to recent developments in restoration methods, and although it doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the classic restored WHO DVD’s usually do (apart from episode four, of course), it’s a considerable improvement on the original restoration and should delight fans familiar with the older version.

 One of the reasons the story is held generally in such high regard by fans is that the cast have made it very apparent down the years just how much they enjoyed the making of it, entailing as it did extensive location shooting in the picturesque Wiltshire village of Aldbourne. This comes across in the disc’s cast commentary, in which director Christopher Barry is joined by cast members Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and Damaris Hayman. We learn about the unique three camera system the crew used on location, mimicking the methods normally associated with multi-camera studio recording in order to increase the efficiency of the location shoot by running three cameras simultaneously, although the technique ended up using so much film that it was never tried again. This story does feature an inordinate amount of material shot on 16mm film rather than video tape though, which gives it a distinctive look when set beside most of the other serials DOCTOR WHO had broadcast that year. The participants are full of tales and anecdotes and talk about the joys of shooting on location while the tone remains jolly throughout, despite a recounting of the panic that ensued when the crew woke up in their hotel on the second day to discover a thick blanket of snow had descended overnight!

For even more detail than you could possibly ever imagine wanting to know about the making of this story, you can turn to the on-screen text production notes in which you will learn such facts as the name of the pet cat seen crossing the screen in the opening sequence of episode one … yes, it really is that detailed, and remains so all the way through. No stone of Devil’s End is left unturned as every precedent and influence on the plot is listed and analysed in detail and every aspect of the production schedule, including which scenes were filmed on what date and at what time, is painstakingly explored. We’re even informed that this story notched up a record-breaking 53 minutes and 35 seconds of filmed material in total.     

We can remind ourselves of the improvement in quality the Doctor Who Restoration Team has been able to achieve with this release when we compare their efforts to the original colourised test version of episode one, included in its entirety on disc two of this 2-disc special edition. There’s also an excerpt from a 1990s edition of  “Tomorrow’s World” in which the restoration process is explained in a presenting style that’s  not a million miles away from that of  Alastair Fergus, the outside broadcaster seen reporting Professor Horner’s dig from Devil’s End in episode one for DOCTOR WHO’s uncanny 1970s anticipation of BBC3. Other extras on the disc include a photo gallery full of production photos and behind the scenes stills, including some which feature DJ and Crackerjack presenter Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart visiting the studio set – a hugely well-known personality from TV and Radio alike back in the early seventies but, I’d wager, almost completely unknown today to anyone who didn’t grow up in the era. Take heed Dale Winton!

Some 8mm location film, shot by a resident of Aldbourne when DOCTOR WHO came to their village, perfectly captures the local ambience which made its way onto the screen so beautifully and helped give the whole production some of the creepy but quaint authentic atmosphere which foreshadowed the off-kilter style of “The Wicker Man”, especially in the strange grouping of local extras who make up Reverend Magister’s slightly dazed-looking followers in the later scenes on the village green.

The half-hour making of documentary, suitably titled “The Devil Rides Out” begins with Omenesque music and shots of a shadowy crypt (sorry, I mean ‘cavern’) and leads into an account of the story’s origins in a scene that producer Barry Letts originally drafted for Katy Manning’s audition the year before. In it she had to react to a number of supernatural phenomena ending with the appearance of the Devil himself. Letts always fancied working the scene into an actual story, but reckoned DOCTOR WHO could never tackle anything with a supernatural theme, until script editor Terrance Dicks pointed out that as long as they gave the whole thing a thin veneer of a plausible scientific ‘explanation’ they’d be alright. Dicks does admit, though, that he’s not so sure they really succeeded in doing so!

Dicks, Manning and the late Barry Letts (in an interview recorded back in 2008) are joined by guest artist Damaris Hayman, who turns out to be fairly similar in outlook to her character, the white witch Miss Hawthorne, and who reveals that she had to fight to stop her character being turned into a dotty old bat by director Christopher Barry.  She also talks fondly of the location shoot in Aldbourne and how each day would get hectic during the mid-afternoon when all the children who had been bussed out of the village in the morning to go to school would be bussed back again, and descend on the film crew en masse. She recounts how Jon Pertwee would tell the visiting children stories, sign autographs and give rides in Bessie during recording breaks. Sue Hedden, the assistant floor manager, and director Christopher Barry recall a slightly more temperamental star and recount how Pertwee had a hissy fit and went AWOL from the location one day on the motorbike used in Captain Yates’s scene during the helicopter chase. The participants sum up their feelings about the story’s place in DOCTOR WHO history, with Dicks revealing that he still doesn’t like the end, since it seems a bit unlikely that an all-powerful God-like alien entity which had been observing humanity for all that time, had never before witnessed an example of human altruism or self-sacrifice (well maybe he was already in a weakened discombobulated state after earlier exposure to the Doctor’s energy exchanger [this reviewer said optimistically!]). Hedden recalls the wonderful setting and mentions that the story still stands up because there’s none of that ‘peering around corridors’ in it, while Christopher Barry calls the story ‘interesting and unusual’.

Finally, the disc finishes up with a wonderful biographical piece on the life and career of Barry Letts, with contributions from his two grown up sons (both of whom are now actors) and Letts himself, in clips taken from video interviews recorded in 2008. The documentary explains how Letts came from a theatrical family and was offered the chance of becoming an assistant stage manager at the Theatre Royal upon leaving school and then later became a repertory actor while still at a very early age. He excelled at the profession during his time in the theatre but a mooted film career was cut short by the war during which Letts became a naval officer. He played a role in establishing live drama at the BBC during the 1950s and appeared as an actor in many shows from the period, earning himself a fair degree of public recognition as a result; but he was also enamoured at the prospect of becoming a writer and eventually managed to break into this area, once again thanks to the BBC.

Now married and with three small children to support, Letts supposed that directing would be a more financially secure route to take and after finally being accepted onto the BBC’s producer-director course in 1965, he found himself directing a DOCTOR WHO story during Innes Lloyd’s time as producer, “The Enemy of the World”. Although he was initially not keen on the idea when first offered the job of producer on the programme in 1969, he calculated that accepting would at least get his name well known and might lead to more prominent directing jobs in the future. He and script editor Terrence Dicks were persuaded to stay on until Jon Pertwee left in 1974, during which time they managed to completely transform the show and make it one of the most popular BBC institutions of its day; and Letts was never afraid to cover esoteric issues such as environmentalism, Globalisation or spirituality.

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The documentary pays just as much attention to Letts’ post DOCTOR WHO career as director of a series of classic literary adaptations as well as covering his return to directing for the programme during the Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes era (“The Android Invasion”) and his stint as executive director in the early eighties. The documentary is great in allowing Letts’ two grown up sons to recall on screen their childhood delight in the early-seventies at the realisation that their dad was then responsible for making ‘the programme they would have been watching anyway’ at that age, and ends with a moving tribute from Terrence Dicks, who reveals just how deep the two men’s friendship actually went, with some very heartfelt words on Barry Letts the man.

“The Dæmons” clearly remains one of the highlights of the Pertwee era despite revisionist attempts to disparage it, usually by fans of the later series who don’t like Pertwee’s portrayal of the character. The wait for this story to reach DVD has been a very long one, but it’s been worth it when the results of the restoration team’s efforts are compared to the earlier 1992 version. This 2-disc edition does the serial full justice and will assuredly be snapped up by fans new and old.

PDF files of Radio Times listings are included as usual on disc two, along with a trailer for the fourth Doctor & Romana 2 adventure “The Nightmare of Eden”.

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