This third Doctor adventure has been anticipated for quite a while now and has firmly cemented itself as both a fan and cast favourite and it’s easy to see why. Doctor Who is the perfect vehicle for a supernatural setting and the opening moments set the tone brilliantly.
A village in the middle of a storm where stone gargoyles lurk, graveyards are black ominous pits, strange shadows move across headstones and a man dies of fright when walking his dog.
Just to note the shadow that is seen moving among the graves was in fact one of the assistants fur hats, pulled along on a piece of string which just shows how inventive these guys were to add to the atmosphere. Can you imagine that happening today?
The Doctor learns of an excavation of a burial mound at Devil’s End, the quintessential English village and he rushes to stop it. But he is too late as the mound is opened and everyone is killed. The local white witch, Mrs Hawthorne is doing her best to warn people but her cries fall on deaf ears. And it is when the Master turns up, played by Roger Delgado, posing as the local vicar, do we realize there is something much more evil and malevolent than was first thought.
Black magic is spilling into the village but the Doctor recognizes it as an ancient science created by the Daemons, giant horned half man half goat creatures that have inspired the look of the Devil himself. They are a race of ruthless scientists that have visited Earth before and the Master intends to gain their power for himself using a newfound cult of Satanists.
Everything about this adventure shouts quality and is perhaps the most perfect use of the Doctor and UNIT we have ever seen. Helicopters land in the village and UNIT troops in jeeps swarm the area but they could never have imagined what they were up against and the stakes are really high and the Earth is in mortal danger. Everyone gets their fair share of the action and as a result some of the most beautiful and well remembered character moments are here.
Indeed this is the story where the Brigadier famously says, “Chap with wings, five rounds rapid!” when face by Bok the stone gargoyle who dispatches any of the Master’s enemies. Bok is remembered to this day as he looks like a child in a monster mask which adds to his effect. Not all monsters have to be the size of Ice Warriors and part of what makes Doctor Who successful is taking the norm and twisting it into something evil and here Morris Dancing is perverted into an open air display of attempted murder. The villagers are suitably nasty in their quest for power and the pub scenes add a level of reality rarely seen in the show.
As mentioned the UNIT characters all have bigger parts to play; Mike Yates goes undercover and shows why he is the perfect foil to the Brigadier. The Doctor has to try and take down a heat shield that has cut the village off in preparation for the summoning of Azal and he has a great rapport with the poor technician who is left to try and understand his instructions for a device that shouldn’t work but does. The Doctor’s frustration at his seeming inability to understand how to put the device to use is wonderful. But by far the man of the hour is Sergeant Benton who gets to play action man. He and Mrs Hawthorne form the perfect partnership and you can believe she has a crush on this dashing young man who fights Master and Satanists alike to save the day. John Levene obviously relishes this rare outing for his character and gives it 110% but as he admits he nearly killed his co stars when he touched the wrong controls on the helicopter and nearly decapitated Jon Pertwee and co. From that day he never touched another machine on the show. Jo Grant equally is thrown right in and faces down the Master and his cronies as they race to prevent Azal from being summoned. Azal is a great creation, played the wonderful Stephen Thorne who would later play Omega in the Three Doctors with that cracking thunderous voice that lets you know a God is in the room. And even his cloven hooves left this young viewer sure it was real because no human’s feet could fit in there.
Every scene sings in this story and the climax when the Master succeeds in bringing the monster forth is brilliantly directly. From the special effects to the camera shake the arrival of Azal is frighteningly done as he grows into this giant beast from myth. The Devil really has arrived.
And when the Master persuades him the Doctor is the real threat and almost kills him the viewer is genuinely concerned that out favourite Time Lord is on the way out but it is Jo’s offer to let herself die in his place that saves the day. It might seem twee for many but it is still used in shows today eg Xander persuading the evil Willow that she is loved to save the world and for me speaks from the heart of the show. Such is the loyalty and love the Doctor inspires no matter where he goes, people will put him first as they know he is needed in the world. This concept is enough to send Azal into meltdown allowing the Master’s plans to be thwarted and his arrest by UNIT is the moment fans had been waiting for.
Even Mike and the Brigadier’s final line shows the magic is still there right to the end.
“Fancy a dance, sir?” asks Yates.
“I’d rather have a pint,” deadpans the Brigadier. Of course, why Yates is asking his boss for a dance is questionable. I’ll let you decide.
The extras are a mixed bunch and I feel the weakest part of the disc. There was a documentary year ago called Return to Devil’s End with Pertwee and the cast returning to the village to discuss their memories of the making of the story. Unfortunately we get a watered down version of the remaining cast and crew’s experiences and obvious love for this story but I feel the inclusion of this documentary would have been the icing on the cake. At the end of the day, it gave us Jon Pertwee’s opinions on this shoot which given the importance of this story is sadly needed. It’s no secret Jon took the hump one day and cleared off on a motorbike returning hours later when he had calmed down so I would have liked to see what his thoughts were on the whole thing.
Outside of that, this personifies the whole Pertwee era for me; five episodes of great story which justifies why this group saved the show from cancellation.
Owen Quinn is an Irish sci-fi author. Follow him here