Doctor Who #305: The Daemons Part 5

"Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.19 1971.

IN THIS ONE... UNIT versus Bok the Gargoyle, the Brigadier utters his most iconic line, and the power of love destroys the Daemons.

REVIEW: So we do get an explanation for magic in the Whoniverse after all. The Daemons' science is predicated on collecting and manipulating psionic energy from lower beings (in this case, humans), usually through their fear and other "negative" emotions. The incantations and "magical" rules are more than window dressing, they apparently trigger certain psionic responses that Daemons require. I buy it (see Theories). And because I buy it, I buy the so-called "deus ex machina" at the end. If negative emotions are the Daemons power source, a counter emotion such as Jo's self-sacrifice might conceivably have caused a kind of feedback. It only feels like a cop-out because it's so sudden, and because the relevant information on the Daemons wasn't set up more in advance. It would also seem that for all his power, Azal had a set of instructions he had to follow, and like a great big computer having a conversation with Captain Kirk, Jo's actions made him explode. Even the Doctor gave humanity a poor report card, his argument against Azal destroying Earth that we would destroy ourselves anyway. Jo represents humanity's true salvation, our capacity for love and compassion. A little cheesy, but it's a large part of what companions are for (usually, to affect the Doctor in a positive way). And perhaps the new series has trained me to accept such pat endings, I dunno.

The Master is a more problematic villain, however, and though he finally gets captured (Bessie always gets her man) here in the season finale, this story more than any other presents him as a cipher. It's like the scripts were written for different villains, then replaced with the Master when he joined the cast. The Satanist cult leader could have been anyone, a black witch to Miss Hawthorne's white, a corrupted vicar. What the Master really needs to get back in the groove is a story where HE'S the threat, not some monstrous ally who invariably turns on him (it happens again this episode). At least he doesn't escape UNIT this time, avoiding at least one cliché (of course, a building blows up, so the production team didn't avoid that bullet entirely). On the one hand, nice to see the show move its characters along rather than stay stuck in the exact same status quo, and on the other, it would have been the lamest escape of all time, with Benton - action hero no more - getting dropped like a bag of potatoes by the Master's cape.

While there are script inconsistencies like that, or the variably motivated townsfolk, the episode is filled with solid technical achievements. The tunnel through the heat barrier is a "how'd they do that?" moment, which is what make effects cool no matter the era they were produced in. The battle with Bok the Gargoyle almost ends when a bazooka blows him up only to see the creature reconstitute itself from the debris. The practical flashes from his hands are also well done, and make me wonder who was luckier, Captain Yates as the only target not to be disintegrated, or Richard Franklin (the actor) for not getting singed at that proximity. The church model explosion is good enough to lend credence to the old saw about outraged viewers at the time believing the BBC had actually blown up a church. Even the Azal CSO stuff, admittedly creakier, works fine thanks to well-directed eyelines and perspectives.

The sweet celebratory epilogue has Benton, Jo and the Doctor dance around the May pole, with the latter admitting magic, of a kind, does exist, while the Brig and Yates head off to get a pint. Compared to today's great big cliffhangers, it's quite demure, but rather compare it to the previous season finale and Liz' forced laughter, and you'll understand it to be an improvement on the same idea. Thanks for watching, have a good summer, and we'll come back in the New Year (literally, on January 1st) refreshed and ready to dazzle you once again.

THEORIES: Magic in the Whoniverse. How does it work exactly? The Daemons are certainly not the last super-beings to both connect to human myth and exhibit abilities that seem entirely magical. While we've seen other creatures feed on humanish drives and emotions before (notably the Web Planet's Animus, and more recently, the blob in the Keller Machine), this story will be influential in such creatures showing up again and again in the canon. Some only feed on particular psychic/psionic "wavelengths", but others have learned to manipulate it. And that's where magic ritual comes in. The Shakespeare Code is perhaps the purest version of this idea, where the ancient Carrionite can use words to affect changes in the physical universe. (See Logopolis and School Reunion for this idea transposed to mathematics instead.) Again and again, we're shown how the Whoniverse is powered by human consciousness. Thematically, it's what the Doctor is all about. He's a free thinker who "liberates" the minds of his companions by showing them the wonders of the universe. The smallest person can change the world by putting their MIND to it. Conversely, the villains are often about subjugating the will and mind of entire populations. Control their minds, and you push the universe in the direction you want. The thematic becomes real on a number of occasions, and fans of the new series will certainly recognize the end games of episodes like The Last of the Time Lords and The Big Bang.

But is there some technology at work? There must be. All overt cases of people magically changing the world have had some kind of tech, from Logopolis' dish antenna to the Archangel Network, and the Doctor speaks of the Daemons' "secret science". The Master certainly never exhibited the power to cast spells before, so there must be something special about the cave under the church, and indeed about any of those sacred places on Earth. If the Daemons and similar alien creatures were responsible for myths, legends and folklore (and they seem to be), they might all be using some kind of secret psionic tech, a tech that doesn't look like human technology at all. Instead, it looks like stone, like old monuments, like Stonehenge. Perhaps it's all just clouds of nanites. People who learn the psionic triggers can tap into its power and create magical effects, whether black or white (Miss Hawthorne and Jo both have strong intuitions, if not premonitions, in this story).

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, the Master's incantation, can more easily be read backwards as "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow and..." (not quite Zatanna level then). There's also a wealth of background information on the Daemons, etc. on account of the book being twice the word count of your regular Target book.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not perfect by any means, but it's an important episode in the overall canon. The Brig's most famous line is uttered, the mechanics of the Whoniverse are irrevocably altered/deepened, and there's plenty of eye candy too.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - From its atmospheric beginnings, The Daemons sort of loses its way in Parts 3 and 4, with too many sunlit scenes and UNIT clichés. However, it remains important historically, and ends with a big satisfying splash. Also, Benton's best ever story?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am much more forgiving of the resolution of this episode after Matt Smith's "Closing Time" and whatshisname breaking free of the Cybermen control. The Doctor was good enough to give us one or two sentences that moved it from "power of love" to "different layer of human consciousness", and okay, that touches on just enough science that it fits.

So at the end of "The Daemons", I imagine the Doctor thinking the technical explanation to himself, and then putting it into terms Jo can understand, even if it sounds dumb that way.

Siskoid said...

That's right. The only reason he explains at all is because this is television.

If the character were a real person in the real world, he would probably leave it at "you wouldn't understand", which is exactly how he treats the Brigadier in most shows.

snell said...

I applaud the attempt to redeem the ending. But Azal's helped mankind develop, had been around for millions of years, and never seen an act love or self-sacrifice before? Bah.

Siskoid said...

What I mean is, his electric beam crosses with Jo's unexpected vibe and makes the whole (nanogene?) system go kablooie. She doesn't know it, but perhaps she's projecting a psionic trigger that is akin to kryptonite to the Daemon.

If I'm trying to get a No-Prize instead of getting into the Nitpicker's Guild, of course.

snell said...

Fair enough. But as broadcast, Azal's reaction is not "uh-oh, she's tripped the circuit," but rather confusion and befuddlement, as if he's never seen anything like this before. "This action does not relate! There is no data!" is exactly the same response as, say, Mudd's androids or Nomad. And if Azal had no knowledge of love or self-sacrifice, well, pretty crappy observation skills, is all I'm saying.

Siskoid said...

I don't know how much of humanity Azal ever sampled. He appears three times with each summoning and stays for a few minutes, and every time probably in the company of evil people. Maybe Atlantis, like Devil's End was full of asses too.

Anonymous said...

Azal was preparing to eat a bacon cheeseburger, and Jo slipped him some cyanide. Cyanide doesn't harm you just by being near you; you have to ingest it, but once that happens, it doesn't take much.

Eh, either things make sense within the "Doctor Who" universe or they don't. I choose to believe it makes sense, maaan.

Siskoid said...

There ya go.

Siskoid said...

If it's any comfort, Snell, Terrence Dicks expresses the same sentiment you do in the Making of documentary. 40 years too late, of course ;-).

Craig Oxbrow said...

The otherwise glowing Doctor Who Magazine review of the new DVD by Gary Gillatt has issues with the ending as well, and suggests an alternative version that would work for him (and me).

Siskoid said...

That would have been a far more intriguing way to go, I agree.

 

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