While I did first see Doctor Who during the early part of Jon Pertwee’s run, those episodes that involve UNIT fighting off various alien invasions of Earth never engaged me very much. They still don’t–apart from this one.
What makes this particular story stand out for me is that its alien invasion is dressed up as a Hammer-type horror movie. Its setting in an English country village and the trappings of witchcraft throughout the story evoke films like The Witches and The Wicker Man. And yet, in the end, the film it’s most closely related to turns out to be Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit.
This first episode of The Daemons begins on a dark and stormy night in a village called Devil’s End (actually, Aldbourne in Wiltshire). We get close-ups of a toad watching from the underbrush, a cat peeking out from shelter, and something black and slinky crawling along beside the road (actually, it’s a furry hat pulled on a string). A man is leaving the local pub, the Cloven Hoof, with his dog, when the dog breaks free of its leash and chases the creature up into the churchyard. The man follows it there, where he sees something horrible.
The man is found dead the next morning. The village doctor tells a concerned middle-aged lady dressed in a cloak belonging to Margaret Rutherford that the death was caused by a heart attack, but the lady, Miss Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman), vehemently disagrees. She sees it as part of something more dark and disastrous that’s going on.
“The signs are there for all to see,” she insists. “I cast the runes this morning!”
At UNIT HQ, the Doctor and his assistant Jo March (Katy Manning) are debating the central theme of this story: science versus superstition. Jo is very much an Age of Aquarius girl. The Doctor doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but is certain that there are always scientific explanations for phenomena that aren’t yet understood. He despairs of ever making a scientist of her.
As a demonstration, he shows her and Captain Mike Yates some “magic” by making his car Bessie start up and drive around the garage yard by herself. The two are astonished, until the Doctor reveals that he’s doing it all via a remote-control device in his coat pocket. Did they really think that it could be anything else?
The name of Devil’s End comes up in the conversation. There’s an archeological program about a dig at the long-barrow near it, the Devil’s Hump, airing that evening; Jo is eager to see it and the Doctor is suddenly interested. They go inside, where Sergeant Benton is already watching a preliminary preview on the office television.
During this time with UNIT on Earth, Doctor Who was filmed in the early 1970s, but set in the not-too-distant future. So it’s on the not-yet-existent BBC3 that a fatuous announcer provides the viewers–both the Doctor’s team and us at home–with all the background information and exposition we need to understand what’s going on.
The announcer, who reminds me of Eric Idle’s unctuous parodies, first takes us into a cavern beneath the church, where the 18th-century lord of the manor was rumored to perform his own version of a Black Mass (all the best families have an ancestor of that era who was in the Hell-Fire Club). The niches of the cavern are currently decorated to look like a cheap Chamber of Horrors, presumably to bring in the tourists. A stone gargoyle sits at foot of a column with its tongue sticking out.
Then the announcer brings us out to the site of the Devil’s Hump, where distinguished archeologist, Professor Horner, is digging. The professor says that he expects significant archeological finds, on par with Sutton Hoo, but he won’t be breaking into the barrow’s burial chamber until midnight.
Why not until midnight? The announcer wants to know.
Horner’s reason sounds more like superstition than science: Because today is April 30, Beltane or May Eve. Next to Halloween, it’s the most powerful occult night of the year. Also, his new book will be coming out tomorrow, so it’s a good publicity stunt.
The Doctor, watching this along with Jo, Mike, and Benton, declares that “Something is dreadfully wrong,” even before Miss Hawthorne appears on camera to interrupt the professor’s interview. She objects to the dig. There will be “death and disaster” if the barrow is opened. She recites part of an old poem:
“When Beltane is come, tread softly
For, lo, tonight the Prince himself draws nigh.”
Being a white witch, Miss Hawthorne knows about these things–but saying that only makes the announcer smirk and the professor scoff at her warnings.
Given his attitude toward superstition, you’d except the Doctor to be as dismissive of her claims as the professor and announcer are, but surprisingly he takes Miss Hawthorne’s side and decides to drive out to Devil’s End as quickly as he can. He wants to be there before midnight.
The village folk have also been watching this interview on the pub telly, and opinion about Miss Hawthorne is divided: some think she’s a lunatic who should have been put away years ago, while others agreed that she’s absolutely right. Odd things have been happening in Devil’s End since the professor started digging, and the dead man found in the churchyard that morning is just the most recent example.
As Miss Hawthorne heads through the village on her way home from the dig site, we see another example. A fierce wind comes up out of nowhere and the local constable, who was friendly enough a minute earlier, gets a glazed look in his eyes and sneaks up behind her to brain her with a huge rock.
Fortunately, the lady knows a spell to protect herself. Although she doesn’t even turn to look at the murderous policeman right behind her, her gestures as she recites an incantation to lower the wind also cause him to lower the rock. He comes out of his trance, confused and dazed. She walks safely on to the church to have a word with the new vicar. It seems that the old vicar was suddenly taken ill and this new man, Mr. Magister, has appeared to take his place.
What’s really going on here at Devil’s End becomes clear to the viewer, even those who don’t have a rudimentary grasp of Latin, when we meet Mr. Magister: he’s played by Roger Delgado, the Master, so we know right away that he’s behind all this village weirdness.
Mr. Magister laughs off Miss Hawthorne’s concerns about the danger to the village. He tries to hypnotize her, as he presumably did to the constable by long-distance, but she’s wearing an amulet that protects her and she resists his attempts at mind-control. So he gets one of his minions to deal with her instead.
Another gust of wind has twisted the sign at the crossroad around so that Jo and the Doctor take the wrong turn and get hopelessly lost. It’s after dark by the time they finally find their way to the village, where they stop at the Cloven Hoof to get directions to the dig site. The archeological program has just started on the television. The villagers are generally unhelpful–they seem to think that the Doctor, with his flowing silvery locks and his cape, is a pouncey actor–except for one elderly gent, the local squire, whom Jo asks nicely.
While the Doctor and Jo hasten up to the Devil’s Hump before midnight, one of the men who was at the pub scurries off to the church to inform Mr. Magister about the strangers. From the description of the Doctor, the Master recognizes his old foe. But he has a Black Mass to attend in the cavern with his coven of black-robed followers
While the Master performs his occult ceremony and tries to call up something by the name of Azael the professor is at the dig with the BBC3 crew, working at the stone wall of the barrow burial chamber.
The Doctor reaches the barrow just a bit too late. The moment Professor Horner moves a big slab of stone aside, a blizzard bursts out of the chamber inside and everyone is engulfed in icy winds and blasts of snow.
This is, apparently, just what the Master wanted. He laughs triumphantly and shouts out “Azael! Azeal!”
The little gargoyle by the column turns its head. Its eyes are now glowing red.