Doctor Who Project: The Daemons

Doctor Who Project: The Daemons

I’ve cast the runes. I’ve consulted the talisman of Mercury.

If the BBC didn’t pay royalties to Erich von Däniken for “The Daemons” (Story Production Code JJJ), perhaps they should have. The premise of aliens having guided Earth’s history, as put forth in von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, forms a central conceit in much of Doctor Who, and that ur-plot essentially starts here, in the Season Eight finale. There are hints of ancient aliens in earlier stories, notably “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” but in “The Daemons,” Guy Leopold (actually producer Barry Letts with Robert Sloman) makes the Chariots connection explicit by linking the alien in question to the Devil.

Gargoyle come to life.

As the Doctor explains—at the Cloven Hoof Inn in the English town of Devil’s End, just in case anyone missed the point—the Daemons, from the planet Daemos, came to Earth one hundred thousand years ago and helped homo sapiens defeat the Neanderthals as a sort of science experiment, in the process forever imprinting the notion of powerful horned beasts into the collective unconscious. The rituals that evolved around the Daemons came to form religious and magical beliefs, though the Doctor avers that because the Daemons are attracted to psychic energy, these rituals, passed down through generations, merely serve to focus human emotions, neatly squaring the science/magic circle.

The Doctor is not the only one who knows of the power of the Daemons, though. The Master is also in on the secret, and he’s dressed to play the part, posing as both the newly installed local vicar and as the head of the local black magic coven, the better to harness the town’s mental energies to summon the last of the Daemons, Azal. Conveniently, Azal just happens to have parked his spaceship in the nearby Devil’s Hump burial barrow.

I'm here all week. Try the veal!

The story goes off the rails quickly enough, with several long expository sequences given over to a giant heat barrier surrounding the town once Azal manifests, and as usual, the Master has set into motion a plot more likely to kill himself than anyone else.

For all the Master’s cunning, he really doesn’t think these things through, assuming that the ability to summon an ancient alien from an advanced civilization using a rooster somehow confers power over said creature (the Daemon, not the rooster). But then, the biggest threat to the Doctor comes not from Azal, nor Azal’s pet gargoyle that for some reason does the Master’s bidding, but rather from the Master’s chief henchman, a newspaper-clipping-clad Morris dancer. That’s the kind of story this is…

Read more

Doctor Who Project: Colony in Space

Doctor Who Project: Colony in Space

The man they arrested last time turned out to be the Spanish ambassador.

One can hardly accuse Malcolm Hulke of burying the lede in “Colony in Space” (Story Production Code HHH)—the very first scene features the Time Lords fretting about the Master, who has discovered the site of a buried Doomsday device. And yet we hear no more of this ominous development for four episodes, during which the Doctor deals with an entirely different set of difficulties involving colonists on an infertile planet and a greedy mining corporation bent on taking the planet from them.

Watching Doctor Who as one does now, with all the episodes available immediately, the omission seems strange, as a Doomsday device should ostensibly be the focus of the story rather than poor cover crop yields and bountiful durilinium deposits. But at the time, when viewers had the show parceled out in weekly chunks, the surprise when the Master is finally revealed carries with it the frisson of remembering that moment from the beginning of the first episode, obscured as it was by the intervening action.

Who did you expect?

It’s certainly not the first time that the Master’s appearance has been teased; “The Claws of Axos,” immediately prior to this story, similarly featured the Master showing up in the middle of the action after his appearance had been suggested at the very beginning of the first episode. In that story, however, the Master was directly connected to the appearance of Axos on Earth and thus to the main thrust of the plot; in “Colony in Space,” he shows up opportunistically, his story arc only tangentially connected to the central plot. Hulke has, essentially, smashed two stories into one here, either of which might have made for a decent story but the sum of the parts not adding up to much at all.

Time Lord Tribunal

The colony arc that gives this story its title starts promisingly enough, with the Doctor and a slightly shanghaied Jo Grant being whisked off to the planet Uxarieus (a quarry, of course, but our first alien quarry-planet in color, one with a lot of mud) at the behest of the Time Lords, who send the TARDIS there so that the Doctor can defeat the Master’s plans. However, the Time Lords don’t actually tell the Doctor to expect the Master, either a signal vote of confidence in his abilities or a fear that he would reject helping them. (Or, perhaps, just a clever narrative elision to extend the story to six episodes.)

The Doctor immediately gets excited to explore the mysteries of why the colony is failing and, with unexplained murders happening right after his arrival, he’s drawn quickly into events, but just to be sure he sticks around, the TARDIS is dragged off by the voiceless “primitives” who are native to the planet. As if the Doctor would try to run away after he realizes that the murders were committed by a mining robot that has fake animal claws attached to it?

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Claws of Axos

Doctor Who Project: The Claws of Axos

Well, gentlemen. There’s your enemy.

From the very beginning of Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s “The Claws of Axos” (Story Production Code GGG), it’s clear that the titular aliens differ from the gold-skinned idealized humanoids they’ve disguised themselves as. Their claws are in the story’s title, after all, and if that’s not suggestion enough, the initial shots of their spacecraft approaching Earth are intercut with quick frames of unnervingly quivering heaps of tentacles. The viewer operates with advance knowledge of what is to come, a fairly rare occurrence in Doctor Who, and yet this story nevertheless provides a moment of real surprise.

We come in pieces. Um, peace!

The story’s opening moments with the Doctor, the Brigadier, and the bumbling bureaucrat of the day, Chinn, center around UNIT finally deciding to do something about the Master. We’re expecting him to be involved somehow, and soon, given that this is a four episode story. It’s to the writers’ and director’s credit, then, that when the Master does finally appear near the end of the first episode, we’re genuinely surprised: he’s a captive, bound to the walls of a living spaceship, in one of the most shocking and well-earned narrative revelations in the Third Doctor’s era.

Funny story, really . . .

Craven as ever, the Master has bargained with the parasitic, space-travelling, hive-mind organism known as Axos, leading it to the rich feeding ground of Earth in exchange for his freedom. Axos buries itself, as aliens always do, in southeast England, and calls for help. The British government’s response to a first contact situation near a massive power plant is to appoint a minor functionary, Chinn (Peter Bathurst), with full military and diplomatic powers to act on behalf of the government. It’s as though this kind of event happens every day, which, as the show’s history suggests, isn’t far from the truth…

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Mind of Evil

Doctor Who Project: The Mind of Evil

Yes, it’s going to be one of those days.

With the recent introduction of the Master, season eight of Doctor Who gathers quite a bit of momentum, as amply illustrated in Don Houghton’s rather frenetic “The Mind of Evil” (Story Production Code FFF). As with Houghton’s last story, “Inferno,” this six episode story splits its action into several disparate threads that all, somehow, tie together in the end, rather hastily in this case. Only another bravura performance from Roger Delgado as the Master, not to mention several classic bits of gurning and general overacting by Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, keeps this overstuffed tale on its rails.

Waving to the camera.

The Doctor visits Stangmoor Prison to witness the Keller Machine, a breakthrough in penological science, in action. This device removes the evil thought processes of convicted criminals, rendering them infantile but incapable of harmful behavior. To the discomfort of no one but the Doctor, these thoughts are somehow stored inside the machine itself.

Meanwhile, UNIT has been tasked with securing the World Peace Conference in London, where the Chinese delegation has been complaining of strange break-ins in their quarters. And, just because UNIT doesn’t have enough to do, the task force also must transport Thunderbolt 2, an outlawed nuclear-powered missile, tipped with a nerve gas warhead, to a dock for dumping at sea. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart thinks so little of this last assignment that he delegates Captain Yates to lay on a small motorcycle escort for the deadly weapon, because that never fails.

That there is Thunderbolt 2!

By the end of the first episode, it’s clear that all three situations will come together somehow, but just how remains tantalizingly out of reach. The typical single-minded scientist who will brook no impediment to his plans, as seen in Houghton’s “Inferno” and in Malcolm Hulke’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” seems to be the villain du jour, but in this case, our suspect, Professor Kettering, just up and dies, drowning in a dry room, victim to the Keller Machine’s ability to manifest its prey’s deepest fears in order to kill. But then we learn that while the Keller Machine is a danger, it’s not the villain per se. That honor belongs to…the telephone repairman?

Read more

Doctor Who Project: Terror of the Autons

Doctor Who Project: Terror of the Autons

We Time Lords don’t care to be conspicuous.

Misery loves company, and Season Eight of Doctor Who provides our exiled Time Lord with a fellow Earth-bound refugee in the form of the Master. Robert Holmes’ season opening “Terror of the Autons” (Story Production Code EEE) introduces a renegade Time Lord, the Master (Roger Delgado), who will appear in all five stories this season, essentially creating the very first story arc in the series. Holmes, a regular writer for Doctor Who by now, reprises his Nestenes to, ah, spearhead a season once more, but everyone, from Third Doctor Jon Pertwee and new companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) through to the Brigadier and the plastic fantastic Autons, takes a back seat to the Master.

Meet the Master

The Master seeks to bring the Nestenes back to Earth so they can conquer it; the Doctor likes the planet and that’s evidently reason enough for the Master to help disembodied plastic entities take it over. Their shared animosity goes back quite far, and in several lines of dialogue, Holmes provides more back story for the Doctor, vis-à-vis the Master, than he has had in the series to date. We learn that the Doctor holds a lesser degree in Cosmic Science than the Master, a failing the Doctor attributes to being a late starter, and as with the Time Meddler, the Doctor uses a lesser mark of TARDIS than the Master. We do not learn just why the Master and the Doctor are at odds with one another, but they’ve obviously crossed paths many times before, being quite aware of one another’s weaknesses.

Typically the Doctor has some encounter with the main villain before the story is too far along, but not here. So strong is Roger Delgado’s presence that he and the Doctor do not even speak until the end of the third of this story’s four episodes, yet one still feels like they are at odds throughout the story. Though Pertwee does get more screen time than Delgado, it’s a close run thing. The producers seem to make up for it by allowing Pertwee to wrestle with, um, a telephone cord.

Death by Telephone Cord

Perhaps it’s for the best that the Third Doctor has received both a new companion and a new foil, as the main thrust of the plot revolves around invasion via plastic daffodils, or, to use the slightly more menacing Nestene terminology, Autojets. But, still, they’re just yellow plastic flowers, given away in great numbers and for free. And they’re here to take over the world.

Read more