Big Finish continues the adventures of Rory Williams (voiced by Arthur Darvill), that unassuming modern lad from Leadworth who, by a remarkable set of circumstances, ended up as an ageless Auton in 120 CE in a shrinking universe without stars.
At the end the Lone Centurion, when Rory abdicated as Emperor and left Rome, he apparently made his way back to Britain. This second set of audio dramas picks up a few centuries later in Wales, where Rory is now living in Camelot and serving as an apprentice to Malthus, the court physician. Since Rory was a nurse in his human life, this is a job he feels more suited to than gladiator or assassin–although he wryly observes that nurses were underpaid even then.
Amicus Studios was generally considered second-best in British horror after Hammer, but this anthology film is just the sort of thing they did so well during the 1960s and ’70s and are best remembered for: The House That Dripped Blood, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and Asylum.
From Beyond the Grave is Amicus’s final horror anthology. It showcases four tales written by R. Chetwynd-Hayes–who is not an author I’m familiar with, so I can’t say how these segments compare to his original short stories.
The framing story features a dusty little antique shop named “Temptations, Ltd.” in an obscure back street in London, run by a mild mannered, equally dusty proprietor (Peter Cushing, playing it in a very understated manner). The premise connecting each story is that the type of customer you are determines your ultimate fate.
Our first visitor to the antique shop is Edward Charlton (David Warner), dressed in the mod style of the late ’60s. He is immediately attracted to an old gilt-framed mirror. The elderly proprietor wants £200 for it as a genuine antique, but Edward questions its authenticity and says he’ll give 25 quid for it. The proprietor accepts this offer without bargaining.
A little later, at a party in his flat, Edward boasts to his friends about how he cheated the old man by making him believe that the mirror was a reproduction. Edward estimates that it’s really about 400 years old.
One of his friends observes that “It looks like it belongs in a medium’s parlor– so let’s have a séance!”
In spite of some qualms by Edward’s girlfriend Pamela, they do. The rest of the party is keen and Edward claims certain mediumistic gifts.
His séance produces interesting results. Blasts of blue flame shoot up from the single candle on the table, and Edward rather incautiously invites whatever spirit he’s contacted to “come in.”
Neither he nor his friends notice that the mirror seems to be fogging over, as if the reflected room on the other side of the glass is filling up with mist.
I’ve written blog reviews of two other adaptations of this, the most influential story written by M.R. James: Night/Curse of the Demon, the 1957 Jacques Tourneur film, and the 1970s ITV version starring Jan Francis. Both adaptations moved the story to a contemporary setting and made changes to the characters and plot, while retaining that central idea of a curse that you can only get rid by passing it back to the man who gave it to you.
Also known as The Devil’s Bride in the US, which is the title as it appears on the film in the version I have on BluRay.
This 1968 Hammer film, directed by Terence Fisher with screenplay by Richard Matheson, is adapted from a 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley had researched into ancient religions, and had made the acquaintance of people like Aleister Crowley; much of what goes on in this story is grounded in the actual practices of black magic.
After the opening credits, which are full of occult symbols and demonic iconography, we meet our heroes, the elegant Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), and the square-jawed and solid Rex van Rys (played by one actor but voiced by another, which is probably why he always seems a little detached even when he’s in the middle of the action).
It’s April of 1929, and the Duc is worried about the son of an old war buddy, Simon Aron. Even though Simon is now of age, de Richleau had promised his father that he’d look out for him, and the Duc intends to keep that promise no matter what. He tells Rex that he hasn’t seen Simon in three months.
Together, they pay a call on Simon at his new house and find that there’s a party going on. The drawing room is filled with an international group of well-dressed and sophisticated looking people with odd names like the Countess d’Urfe, Tanith Carlyle (Niké Arrighi), and Mr. Mocata (the suavely menacing Charles Grey, last seen here in The Legacy). There are 13 of them.
Simon tells his friends that these people are just a gathering of a little astronomical society he’s joined. Rex has no clue what’s going on, but the Duc knows very well and is appalled.
When the two are asked to leave before the meeting begins, the Duc asks to see the observatory at the top of the house. Simon takes them upstairs, but de Richleau seems more interested in the décor of the room than the telescopes–there’s a distinct astrological theme on the walls and the floor.
When he hears a noise coming from the closet, the Duc investigates and finds chickens in a basket. Not a catered dinner. Literally, two chickens in a large wicker basket.
Continuing the Doctor’s and Romana’s somewhat spooky adventures in contemporary Cornwall as they search for the third Key to Time.
At the end of Part 1, Romana was lured away from the stone circle by a voice that sounded like the Doctor’s calling to her, and luring her off a cliff. Part 2 begins with a literal cliff-hanger.
Romana is clinging to the edge of the cliff over the ocean and shouting for help. It’s a good thing she’s barefoot; her toes can find tiny footholds in the rock face and help to keep her from falling to her death and turning into Lalla Ward a few months early.
When we last saw the Doctor, he’d been conked on the head by a couple of Druids. They’ve since conveyed him to the stone circle and called an emergency meeting for their grove (which is the proper name for a group of Druids). He now lies trussed up on the flattish stone in the middle of the circle as the Druids prepare him for a human (or, in this case, Gallifreyan) sacrifice.
The Druid leader’s best friend Martha doesn’t like the idea. Cutting an animal’s throat to get some blood for their ceremonies is okay with her–but this is murder!
“It is the will of the Cailleach,” says the leader, DeVreis, as he draws a big, curving knife from its decorative scabbard. They can’t question the will of the goddess, and the Cailleach demands blood.
DeVreis and Martha argue about it for a bit, until the Doctor regains consciousness and asks if that knife is properly sterilized.
My second venture into 1970s Doctor Who and folk horror for this Halloween season.
The Stones of Blood is one the Key to Time stories from Tom Baker’s 5th series as the Doctor, an overarching plot that connects all of the stories during that year. The Doctor and his new assistant, a younger Time Lady named Romanadvoratrelundar (Mary Tamm) are sent to various places around the universe by an entity known as the White Guardian to hunt down and collect objects that make up the Key to Time. These objects can be transformed into large crystal fragments once they’ve been found. When all six pieces are collected, they must be assembled to create a device that gives the wielder absolute timey-wimey powers.
Before we get to the actual story, this first episode therefore begins in the Tardis’s unlit and minimalist kitchen with the Doctor and Romana attempting to assemble the two pieces they’ve gathered so far from Ribos and the fun but silly Pirate Planet. Behind them is a 1930s-style fridge, in which they store the Key to Time when they aren’t working on it.
The third planet, on which they have to search for the next piece of the Key, will be Earth. Romana’s never been there, but it’s well known to be the Doctor’s favorite planet so he’s looking forward to showing it to her.
Meanwhile, somewhere on Earth (Cornwall, as it turns out), a scene very like the one at the opening of K9 & Company is being enacted. Robed and hooded cultists have gathered for a midnight ceremony, but this group is meeting at the center of a circle of Stonehenge-like stones instead of a ruined chapel, and the name they’re chanting isn’t Hecate. It’s Cailleach (yes, I did have to look that spelling up).
The cultists pour small bowls of blood onto the stones–and the stones glow red and begin to pulse and make a sound like a heartbeat.
One of the cultists raises her head and cries out:
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.
Like 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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
The 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. Continue reading “Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 2”