Aired 22 May – 19 June 1971
Jon Pertwee’s second year in the titular role is undoubtedly less experimental than his first, the stories for the most part very clearly following the template laid out in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and using that template to good effect. ‘The Daemons’ also marks the first attempt at a dramatic season finale that offers a dramatic settlement of what has come before it. Its execution is somewhat reserved as it only underscores the multiple appearances of the Master in this season and features a much bigger foe than any previous story, but it’s an important step nonetheless that adds extra weight to this serial and with refined effects that are still felt and implemented in the modern television series.
‘The Daemons’ expertly blends together a certain New Age philosophy with the much darker culture of the occult, and the satanic foe and imagery around hallowed grounds is employed superbly at a time when The Church of Satan was gaining prominence as an organized religion. Indeed, the Master seems quite acclimated with Earth’s studies and theories of the occult, even offering a spin on one of the the famous occultist Aleister Crowley’s declarations, presenting himself with a heightened guise of darkness and power so far unseen while using subversive messaging hidden in plain sight. For the first time, Doctor Who also plays upon the Pagan and mystic rituals that are such an important part of British history, the ghosts and spirits relating to somewhat forgotten or diminished cultures still of great import.
Even though the Satanic beast is, of course, and alien that the Doctor must confront, ‘The Daemons’ is unafraid of incorporating these more magical and mystical elements rather than simply offering a strict scientific explanation for the seemingly irrational events occurring, and the end result is all that much stronger as questions of just how arbitrary comprehension can be when discussing science and magic are raised. The incomprehensibility of certain aspects of the world and universe makes an exercise in trying to make everything conform to one scientific viewpoint is futile, and this story seems to accept that fact more than any other so far.
‘The Daemons’ also affords Katy Manning’s Jo Grant the opportunity to better step into the spotlight, her adopted New Age ideas putting her front and centre. Her determination to stay by the Doctor’s side despite the enormity and danger of the situation is telling, and it also affords Pertwee the opportunity to imbue much more passion and kindness into his performance than he is allowed to with anyone else. Given his propensity for arrogant outbursts, his fatherly affection for Jo rounds out this incarnation beautifully and hints at a much softer core beneath the gruff exterior while also explaining why he is willing to stay on with UNIT throughout this incarnation even after granted the ability to freely use his TARDIS. Not directly related to the growing double act of the Doctor and Jo, the Brigadier does not get the best characterization in this serial, inserted more into a supervisory role than a truly active role- bar one great scene where he takes control- and almost acting as comic relief in some instances as the Doctor and Jo find themselves in trouble when he’s away elsewhere. Courtney is affable and magnetic in the role as always, but a stern military man only has so much growth he can undergo within the confines of the programme.
Fascinatingly, despite involving the very Devil himself, ‘The Daemons’ presents the creature as one of pure knowledge who has been responsible for some of the greatest leaps in human education and evolution without passing any sort of moral judgment. The fact that Earth and its citizens are just experiments to the alien is a fascinating concept, as is the fact that a failed experiment can easily be discarded to start anew. In presenting the creature this way, it draws clear focus to the Master being the true foe of the piece, and this is unquestionably his grandest and scheme yet that shows him at his darkest and most villainous. At the same time, however, the story is not so negligent as to overlook the fact that ultimately it is the humans’ decision with what to do with the knowledge imparted upon them that results in good or evil, creating a further level of nuance to the particular threat imposed by the Daemons. It’s also quite fitting that in a story steeped in theology, religion, and cosmic threats, it’s the smallest human gesture of Jo willingly sacrificing herself that ends up saving the planet from Azal’s threat.
Even if the costuming of Bok perhaps lets down verisimilitude and the Master continuing to summon a being beyond his control seems overly reckless, though perfectly fitting in with the arrogance and ego of the character, ‘The Daemons’ itself moves along at a quick pace and features plenty of wonderful and sometimes-iconic imagery. Though not a season finale in the modern sense of the phrase, ‘The Daemons’ brings to a close Jon Pertwee’s second year as the Doctor with a story that amplifies the threat on multiple levels while not forgetting about its usual humanism and optimistic outlook.