I’ll be honest straight away and confess that I have always absolutely adored this story. In fact it is probably within my top 10 Doctor Who serials; if not top 5. Let’s look at why that is.
After the outer-space adventure in the last story, the Doctor is back to his job at UNIT. We see him right at the start, doing work on Bessie and showing that he has made a remote control for her. He uses it to poke fun at Jo, who was just arguing that magic could exist. The Doctor pretends that Bessie is sentient and tells her off for driving away by herself. Firstly this sets up the events in the final episode, secondly it is a fun little scene with the Doctor, Jo and Captain Yates, and thirdly I marvel at how the car was driven without anyone being seen. I feel sorry for the poor man crouched on the floor of the car steering with one hand and using the pedals with the other. But the effect really is worth it.
As I mentioned in my thoughts of one of series 2 Torchwood episodes: fantastical and mythological things can appear in this universe but must always have a scientific explanation. And this story explores why Humans believe in magic (which is obviously nonsense to the Doctor). There were once huge ancient beings known as Dæmons from the planet Dæmos that came to Earth a long, long time ago and have secretly influenced Humans in events throughout history for their own experiments. They look like what most of our depictions of the devil look like. This is where our beliefs of Satan come from – seeing this Dæmons at various points. They are beings of huge power and have technology indistinguishable from our concept of magic. Hence the Human fascination with magic. These are all such strong ideas for the show to deal with. Especially since it allows us to see the Master (disguised as a vicar named Magister) take part in what is basically Satanic worship. And still a gentleman.
A large amount of the story takes place in the charmingly named village of Devil’s End. I have always wanted to visit the village that they used for filming. Maybe I will one day. Anyway, the Master wants to summon one of these Dæmons to give him their power. He also uses a lot of their technology to make a huge forcefield heat dome around the village. A bit like in The Simpsons Movie if you like. This leaving Mike Yates, Jo, Benton and the Doctor trapped in the village while the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT are trying to get in. Since the dome obviously had to be invisible, the practical effects used to represent the heat field work amazingly well. You really believe that it’s there.
This brings me onto one of the reasons that I love this story so very much. All of the regulars of UNIT are there along with the Master in a great claustrophobic scenario. For me it’s almost like the best bits of the era all put together in one story. Fab. All of the characters are on top form here too, showing the best characteristic elements from all of them. The supporting characters of Miss Hawthorne and the pun landlord adding nicely to the story.
This story features a nice dollop of action too. We get Mike Yates and Benton entering the village via helicopter. Later on that helicopter is stolen by one of the Master’s slaves. Yates gets a decent punch up with the guy before giving chase on a motorbike. It all culminates in the helicopter getting blown up by the heat field while chasing the Doctor and Jo in Bessie with Mike on the motorbike behind. Great little action sequence.
There’s also the wonderful camp and zany way that the Doctor gets tied up and about to burnt alive by mind controlled Morris Dancers. The Doctor with the help of Benton and Hawthorne (who totally has a thing for Benton), he convinces them that he too is magic using the remote control for Bessie. It’s a great payoff to the setup in episode 1. The Master later tries to escape UNIT in Bessie and the Doctor is able to take him back to the guards using the remote.
This ends the long run of consecutive stories to feature the Master though he does continue to turn up intermittently in the near future. The Dæmon named Azal is summoned a couple of times by the Master. Their race believe that Humans are a failed outcome to their experiments and so plans to destroy Earth. Azal is persuaded otherwise when Jo attempting to give her life for the Doctor confuses him. He doesn’t understand why someone would do that and he releases off a massive amount of energy. This completely blows up the church.
I’m trying quite hard to write about everything that I love in this story but there is genuinely too much stuff to talk about. As well as Azal, we are treated to seeing a demonic statue come to life. Now everything about this is unintentionally funny. Firstly it’s name is Bok. Now that’s just a funny name. Secondly it prances around like a tiptoeing cartoon. Thirdly it is clearly just a man in tights and a mask. But it’s amazing. For me Bok just adds to the charm of the story. I should maybe add him to the list of little action figures that I want to have on my desk. He also leads to one of the most iconic lines in the entire show.
At the end of the story, the Morris Dancers start dancing around the Maypole. Benton gets dragged in to dancing by Miss Hawthorne (told you she fancied him). The Doctor and Jo join in with the festivities leaving Yates and the Brigadier to have the following exchange.
The story may not be as loved by other fans but for me it is quintessential Doctor Who and I don’t know if anyone could convince me otherwise. Therefore I award the serial with ten Cloven Hoof signs out of ten.