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?