Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 5

The exciting final segment of this story.

Jo's sacrifice

It’s a rare thing for a Doctor Who serial to run 5 episodes. Usually, they’re 4 or 6, with the occasional 2-parter to fill out the year. To me, most of the 6-parters feel as if they go on too long, with the plot lagging around the 4th or 5th episode as the Doctor and his companion(s) sneak down endless corridors or are captured and escape–yet again.

One of the advantages of The Daemons as a story is that there is none of this lag; losing an episode tightens the narrative. And there’s not a corridor in sight.

Another advantage is that much of this story was filmed on location in and around Aldbourne: the village green, the churchyard, the barrow site, the meadows and country lanes that the Doctor zips along on a motorbike. No quarries, though. Only the interiors are studio sets, and this open-air setting gives the story a sense of freshness and just a bit of grounded, this-is-England reality to balance out the fantastic elements.

AzaelLike the giant Daemon who makes his  appearance at the end of Part 4.

While the bluescreen effect as Azael  grows from tiny to 30 feet tall is not as well done as his initial appearance–he doesn’t seem to be connected to his surroundings in the cavern–he is impressive once he’s up there towering over the coven.

His voice is recognizable; this is Stephen Thorne, the same booming-voiced actor who played Omega in The Three Doctors.

As usual, the energy Azael expends to grow to this size creates an earth tremor  that knocks everyone in the village off their feet. Even out on the village green, they know that he’s returned.

While the coven is distracted, Jo Grant and Mike Yates try to run for it–but the stone gargoyle Bok is awake and blocks their exit with a few zaps.

The Master decides that a chicken isn’t the best blood sacrifice to get Azael on his side. A human being–Jo, in this case–will be a much better offering once she’s dressed for the part. Black-robed minions drag Jo off to prepare her to be sacrificed.

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Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 4

At the barrier

The Doctor’s companion Jo Grant, who was concussed when she jumped out of Bessie in Part 3, wakes up in her bedroom at the Cloven Hoof pub during the latest earth tremor that signals the appearance of the Daemon. Before the local doctor sedated her, she was insistent on going to the cavern under the church in search of the Master. Now that she’s conscious again, it’s the first thing on her mind.

Her UNIT friends, Sergeant Benton and Mike Yates, along with Miss Hawthorne, are right at the foot of the stairs, blocking her exit. So Jo sneaks out  instead, climbing out of her window, walking across a flat part of the roof, and finding a handy ladder to get down so she doesn’t have to make another dangerous jump.

Jo climbs out the window

I thought for a moment that she was intending to hijack Bessie, parked nearby, but she only slips around the car on her way to the church.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is still at the barrier that encircles the village of Devil’s End and prevents anyone from getting in or out by incinerating them. He’s advising the UNIT technical team on the other side of barrier about how to generate sufficient electrical power to supply the oscillator he described in the previous episode so they can create an opening in the barrier big enough to drive their van through.

How to do it? “Reverse the polarity!”

You knew he was going to say that sooner or later

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Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 3

Doctor on a motorbike

Part 2 ended with the Doctor explaining to Jo that the “tomb” in the longbarrow is actually a container for the shrunk-down but still very heavy spaceship they’ve found on the floor.

While they’ve been talking, the little gargoyle from the cavern under the Devil’s End church has followed them down into the barrow. As Part 3 begins, it stands at the tomb entrance, blocking their way out.

But it’s difficult to feel that Jo and the Doctor are threatened by this creature (whose name is Bok); whenever I see it, I can’t help thinking of the Flying Monkeys from Oz.

The Doctor isn’t intimidated by it either. Brandishing a small object made of iron–a trowel, I think–he shouts some words in an unfamiliar language at it. Even though the Master, back at the church, is mentally urging the little monster on, Bok cringes before this “incantation” and retreats.

BokAfter the gargoyle has gone, the Doctor tells Jo that the words were lyrics to a old Venusian lullaby. Roughly translated:

“Close your eyes, my darling, or three of them at least.”

 

The Doctor doesn’t believe in magic spells, but Bok does and that’s what matters.

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Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 2

While Part 1 had a good set-up, with a stormy night, an archeological dig into an ancient longbarrow burial mound with the ominous name of the Devil’s Hump, and a Black Mass calling up something evil, but this second episode is where the daemons of the title really start to get out and around. The Master

Part 2 begins just where the first part ended; Mr. Magister (aka the Master), having successfully summoned up a certain powerful being, is shouting “Azael! Azael!” His cowering coven notice that the stone gargoyle in the corner of the cavern now has glowing red eyes.

Back at UNIT HQ, Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton are watching a rugby game on the office telly and realize they’ve missed the midnight archeology program about the opening of the Devil’s Hump longbarrow–which the Doctor had wanted to prevent. They switch channels to try to catch the end of the show, and the first thing they see is Jo sobbing over the supine and frosty form of the Doctor. The transmission breaks off.

The two men first attempt to contact the Brigadier, who’s out for the evening dining in his dress uniform. When they can’t get hold of him,  they decide to head for the village of Devil’s End themselves.

The Doctor has been frozen by the blast of snow and icy wind that emerged from the Devil’s Hump barrow once Professor Horner opened it. I assume the professor was killed by the same blast, since we never hear another word about him. Other people who were a little bit farther from the opening seem to have survived.

The village doctor gently tells the sobbing Jo that her Doctor is indeed dead–but before he can turn into Tom Baker ahead of schedule, a faint pulse is detected. The small-d doctor is confused by what sounds like two heartbeats in his patient’s chest, but he has the Doctor conveyed to a bed in one of the rooms at the Cloven Hoof to be thawed out.

BokThe television news team at the barrow site swiftly pack up their gear, eager to get away. After they depart, we see a pair of larger red eyes glowing in the dark from within the barrow.

In the morning, even though his coven has gone, the Master is still down in the cavern below the church quietly praying. I take it that his duties as parish vicar don’t require him to do any morning services up in the church. As if in response to his prayers, some very large creature we don’t see comes stomping out; it casts its shadow over the hapless constable, who was sitting on guard at the gate of the barrow field.
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Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 1

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.

The Daemons

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?

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2019

When I attended the NecronomiCon in Providence last summer, I had the opportunity to view a number of the Film Festival candidates and to offer my opinions on some of them, if not an actual vote on which ones I thought were the best.

So I’m not surprised to see some of the films on this latest DVD from the Film Festival, although I am a little disappointed that other short films I did like were not included.

The Colour

Ammi Pierce and the meteorite

This German adaptation of The Colour Out of Space is a wonderfully done 10-minute stop animation film with some interesting live effects: Steam rises from the tea kettle, smoke or mists curl around within the rooms of an old house and, best of all, blue goop drips upward from between the slats of the wooden floor.

Ammi Pierce is writing in his journal as if he’s addressing his long deceased friend–presumably Nahum Gardner, although that name is never used.

In this version of the story, there was no Gardner family to be afflicted by whatever came in with the meteorite from outer space, and what happened 50 years ago occurred on a remote farm that Ammi and his friend worked together. It also appears as if Ammi has been living in the old house alone ever since the disaster, with the glowing meteorite sitting in a back room.

Meteorite Drawn to the well

The meteorite’s glow projects silent images upon the wall; Ammi watches and remembers that day when it came shooting down from the sky and crashed into the well. Ammi looked away from the light, but his friend was drawn toward it, even fighting Ammi when he tried to stop him from going to the well to meet his doom.

At last, Ammi takes a sledgehammer and goes out to deal with the meteorite once and for all. Hitting it isn’t really a good idea, but I suppose at this point he’s past caring.

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The Ballad of Tam Lin

I had never heard of this obscure 1970 film until I read someone else’s review of it last fall. I was so intrigued by the description that I sought my own DVD copy to watch. As the narrator explains early on:

“There is a story in verse that belongs to this part of the country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Faeries… A dangerous lady. It is called the Ballad of Tam Lin.”

Tam Lin panel

The film retells this old folk ballad in a modern setting. It is Roddy McDowall’s only film as a director (It was his work on this that kept him from playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes).

The film begins with a young black man in cool-cat 1960s clothes playing a sultry sax while sitting in the front hall of a grand London townhouse on a staircase beneath a crystal chandelier. He’s seen through a glass panel with frosted images painted on it which depict people wearing medieval clothes and enacting key scenes from the old ballad–and also showing us the plot of the story we’re about to see.

The camera then takes us upstairs past the chandelier and into a vast white bedroom containing a vast white bed. Two naked people recline beneath the sheets, Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) and Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret (Ava Gardner). They have the following post-coital conversation:

Tom: “I love you.”
Mickey: “I’m immensely old.”
Tom: “It doesn’t matter.”
Mickey: “It doesn’t matter to you. You grow older every year. I grow older every sordid second.”

He insists again that it doesn’t matter. She grows more beautiful with age.
She responds, “I love you…. I will love you and leave you for dead.”

Tom and Mickey

He should be paying more attention to her side of the conversation, but he’s too young and besotted. Instead, he kisses her, and they go at it again.

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K9 & Company

Sarah Jane, K9, and Brendan

The Sarah Jane Adventures were not Elisabeth Sladen’s and John Leeson’s first mutual spinoff from Doctor Who. In 1981, a single episode of K9 & Company aired on the BBC at Christmastime, featuring two of the Doctor’s most popular companions.

The show received respectably high ratings, drawing an audience of over 8 million. John Nathan Turner, the producer for Doctor Who at that time, had hopes that this would lead to a whole new series–but, sadly, nothing further came of it.

The single episode is given its own disc on the recently released BluRay set for Tom Baker’s final series as the Doctor, along with a set of related features.

A Girl’s Best Friend

The opening credits show us Sarah Jane and K9. She sits atop a stone wall in the countryside, reading a newspaper. She sips champagne at an open-air table outside a restaurant. She jogs. She drives around the country roads. He scoots along in his usual fashion. All accompanied by the theme song, an electronic, upbeat melody with the following simple lyrics (sung by John Leeson in his K9 voice–something he apparently still enjoys doing):

K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! 

Good luck with getting that out of your head after you’ve heard it a couple of times.

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The Witches

Also known as The Devil’s Own, which was the title of the book this film was based on.

The Witches is a fairly obscure and peculiar little mid-60s film from the British Hammer Studio. The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, but it’s not his original material. It stars an actress one doesn’t normally associate with horror films: Joan Fontaine. Yes, that Joan Fontaine, of Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. The great actresses of her generation did dabble in horror during this period, late in their careers, and this is her turn. IMDB has a story that she bought the rights to the book so she could star in the movie version, then retired when it flopped. I’ve no idea how much of that’s true.

African knifeThere’s one other very peculiar peculiarity about this film, but I’ll get to that later.

Joan plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary / teacher. We meet her in the opening scenes in an unnamed African country; the local witch-doctor has turned  his tribe against the missionaries, and the school where Gwen teaches is under attack. Gwen is packing up the school to make her escape, but she doesn’t get out in time. A group of men in enormous decorated masks come into the school, and the witch-doctor does something undefined but horrible to her. That he’d “eat your soul” is what the native men who worked for Gwen were afraid of, and she pooh-poohed that idea as nonsense only minutes before.

A year or so later, after recovering from a nervous breakdown following this incident, Gwen is back in England. She takes up a job teaching at the small and remote village of Heddaby, and finds that she hasn’t gotten away from witchcraft after all.

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Trilogy of Terror

In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Waiting for MomJack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper–who were changing American film during that era, as well as established film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. She’d won two Golden Globe awards, and would be nominated for another. She had also received one Oscar nomination and was even up for a shared Grammy for her song work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

But when her name comes up among people of my generation, the words that we automatically associate with it are “Zuni fetish doll.”

No one who saw this 1975 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, when they were a child has ever forgotten the final segment.

While I can’t call the first two segments of this trilogy terrifying, I do think they’ve been unjustly disregarded. Along with the third segment, they provide Black with a rare opportunity for a young actress to showcase her talent by playing 4-to-6 different characters (depending on how you want to count them), from meek to menacing. One might assume that she chose this TV movie as a vanity project, but she always said that, when it was first offered to her, she didn’t want to do it.

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