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I had initially intended to follow up my little trip out to greet the sunrise on May morning with a ritual viewing of The Wicker Man, but I have seen that film quite a few times now, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that actually I had a copy of the classic Doctor Who story The Daemons recorded on my Sky box (from back when the Horror channel was showing it), which is also set on and around May Day. Furthermore, I had been meaning for ages to track down and revisit The Awakening, which I remember vividly from my childhood for involving one of the Doctor's companions (I'd misremembered Peri, but it is actually Tegan) being about to be sacrificed as a Queen of the May. So a May Day double bill was born.


Third Doctor: The Daemons

I had seen this once before, I think actually at the University of Bristol DocSoc (officially called the Behind the Sofa Society), but couldn't honestly say I had remembered much about it other than a general sense of enjoyment and the demon called Bok with his permanent (what we would now call) blep. I've sharpened my knowledge of related genre film and TV then, though, so a lot of my experience of viewing it this time consisted of dots joining inside my head. These are some of the obvious influences I could see at work, in roughly chronological order:
  • M.R.James' 'A Warning to the Curious' (perhaps surprisingly, not via the BBC adaptation, which was Christmas 1972 so too late) - an archaeological dig into a barrow releases malign spirits.
  • M.R. James' 'Casting the Runes' (this time pretty clearly via Night of the Demon (1957)) - a couple of references to actually casting the runes (though in a context which suggests looking for omens rather than cursing somebody); a fake vicar (the Master) summoning demonic winds.
  • The Midwich Cuckoos, probably via Village of the Damned (1960) - a village is cut off by a force-field.
  • Quatermass and the Pit (1967) - an archaeological dig uncovers a (tiny) space ship; the Devil was aliens all along.
  • The Devil Rides Out (1968) - Satanic rites with nonsensical chanting; chases involving a yellow vintage car on country roads.
  • Witchfinder General (1968) - a direct reference to witches hiding from Matthew Hopkins.
  • Taste The Blood of Dracula (1970) - Satanic rites conducted in a church.
It's quite hard to believe it isn't also drawing heavily on The Wicker Man. There are certainly many parallels between them. I could list the clear central confrontations between opposing belief systems in both (magic and science for The Daemons; paganism and Christianity for The Wicker Man), the motif of the hero-figure becoming entrapped by pagan rituals and offered up as a sacrifice; the pub at the heart of the community with an occult name (the Cloven Hoof; the Green Man); and the woman with the nature-based name (Olive Hawthorne). But the date of broadcast tells us that the direction of influence must be from The Daemons to The Wicker Man if anything - or, more likely, they are both drawing on the common sources which were extremely plentiful at this time.

I was also rather taken aback by the following dialogue:
MASTER: Azal, the time for decision draws near. Once more, I demand the power...
AZAL: You DEMAND?
which didn't half remind me of this from Dracula AD 1972:
JOHNNY: Master, I did it! I brought you here! I released you! In return, I was to be given the power! Now I demand the power of immortality!
DRACULA: You DEMAND?
We all know Doctor Who borrowed heavily from Hammer, but did Hammer on this occasion nick a bit of dialogue from Doctor Who? For once I think it's just possible.

Influences aside, the story's meta-referential interest in television and its production is striking, and another quite common feature of Doctor Who, from the Time-Space Visualiser to Satellite 5. It's always been a very self-aware programme, which is one of the things I really like about it. Speaking of which, I was astonished to rediscover the character of Osgood, the nerdy UNIT sergeant, who I assume we're supposed to understand the Osgood introduced in The Day of the Doctor as a relative of. I also enjoyed Katy Manning's performance as Jo Grant. She's not the brightest, the bravest or the most physically competent of the Doctor's companions, but she is so warm-hearted and gung-ho that you can't help but love her, and her trouser suit in this episode was a triumph. Some people see Azal's reaction to her willingness to sacrifice herself to save the Doctor as a weak way of wrapping up the story, but for me it worked, especially if you remember that this is essentially Doctor Who does folk horror. In the types of stories it is drawing on, Azal would be literally the devil, and so of course an act of absolute good such as Jo's would destroy him. I'm quite happy to overlook that not working quite so well in a story where he is actually supposed to be an alien for the sake of the rest of it.


Fifth Doctor: The Awakening

This one is a Fifth Doctor story featuring Tegan and Turlough, which I don't think I had seen since childhood, but had remembered all that time. It seems to be consciously nodding towards The Daemons, sharing several prominent motifs as follows:
  • The title, recalling Azal's references to his 'awakening'.
  • The devil-figure was an alien all along.
  • It lurks within a church.
  • The village is sealed off from the outside world (though we're never told how).
  • Their May Day celebrations include sacrificial rites.
  • The church explodes at the end.
It also goes a step further in the direction of Witchfinder General than The Daemons by setting the story amongst civil war re-enactors, ghosts and time-slipped villagers, none of which I think I can have understood at all as a child. If you'd asked me to explain when and where it was set before I sat down to re-watch it, I think the best explanation I could have come up with was that it was set on an alien world which wasn't Earth, but where they had May Day celebrations similar to those of a traditional English village nonetheless. That is, I knew it was in some way not really the traditional festivities it seemed to be, but I hadn't remembered or possibly ever understood how or why.

It's a shorter, simpler story than The Daemons, and I probably didn't see it at its best, due to watching it via poor-quality copies on Dailymotion, but even trying to allow for that I think it felt a bit flatter anyway, for reasons I can't wholly put my finger on. There seemed to be quite a lot of scenes of people standing around talking to each other, which hadn't struck me so much as a feature of The Daemons. I was also quite surprised on jumping from a Third Doctor story to a Fifth Doctor one by how quickly Five seemed to piece together what was going on from just a few minor clues (mainly a lump of metal). I suppose that is necessary in a shorter story, but it meant the sense of mystery and tension wasn't preserved for as long. Still, it is certainly a perfectly competent narrative, with the characters of Jane Hampden, the perceptive and individualistic school-teacher, and Sir George Hutchinson, the greedy associate of evil, as particular strengths. The May Queen scene wasn't as climactic and richly-detailed as I had made it in my imagination over the years, but it was still good.


All in all a good way to mark May Day, and perhaps also a timely reminder to myself that lockdown poses an excellent opportunity to fill in some more of the Classic Who stories which I've either never seen, or not for too long.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
huskyteer
May. 10th, 2020 07:58 am (UTC)
Flatmate and I were talking the other day about Daemons and how great it is; it might be my favourite Pertwee (it's that or Green Death). I remember watching it at DocSoc and much hilarity about Jo's flares. Possibly the first time I was brave enough to call out something funny into the hallowed silence of the video room.
strange_complex
May. 10th, 2020 01:46 pm (UTC)
It is a stunner, though you're right that The Green Death is also excellent. I unironically love and am jealous of all Jo's flared trouser suits, though.
livejournal
May. 10th, 2020 08:43 am (UTC)
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