The Daemons

Novelization by: Barry Letts
TV script by: Guy Leopold (pseudonym for Barry Letts & Robert Sloman)
Episode aired: May – June 1971
Novelization released: October 1974

Overview: This was Barry Letts’ only Target novelization, published in their first year with the Who license.  Up until this point Target had only commissioned Third Doctor novelizations, excluding their 1973 reprint of the three old William Hartnell novels.   Released shortly after Planet of the Spiders aired and on the eve of Part One of Robot, it was paired with the novelization of The Sea Devils.  The following month Target would convert to basically a monthly release schedule and would start to release more than just Third Doctor books.  The Daemons, clocking in at over 170 pages, remained Target’s longest novelization until Fury From the Deep came out over a decade later.  Letts would later return to Target’s successor, Virgin Publishing, in the 1990s, to novelize his two Third Doctor radio plays, and then would write original Third Doctor novels for BBC Books in the 2000s.  Unfortunately.

The original episode: Often cited as the favorite episode of those who actually acted in and produced the Jon Pertwee years, The Daemons suffered something of a decline in fan opinion over the years.  The text of The Discontinuity Guide, whose opinions the BBC’s official Who website have adopted as their own, finds that it “isn’t really very good.”  Granted, the ending is a bit Star Trek, as Jo’s stunning display of illogic causes the main bad guy to “blow a fuse”, as the Doctor explains to Captain Yates (Azal, the titular Daemon, is an advanced alien scientist, not a cheezy leftover alien computer).  Still, that’s really the only problem with the story in general.  Pertwee was always said to have looked for “moments of charm” in his scripts and this one has them in abundance.  Plus, some terrific guest characters, and the moments of padding actually work.

In Print: At 172 pages, this is the longest of Target’s earliest novelizations, and all the extra space makes this much closer to a novel than a raw episode transcript.  As was Target’s policy, no scenes are narrated from the Doctor’s perspective.  Many scenes involving the regulars are from the POV of Captain Yates, including one very effective passage in which he’s trying to solve a problem while falling asleep.  What the extra space also enables Letts to do is take a pluck a couple of minor characters from the chorus and give them center stage.  Squire Winstanley, who doesn’t do much on TV, takes up much of the first half of the book: Letts contrasts the relative opulence of his home and the exploits of his ancestors with his own pathological drinking habit; we’re told that “feudalism died hard in Devil’s End.”  Winstanley introduces a community meeting by saying: “As you know, my speeches are like — short, but packed with good solid meat.”  I read the novelization before seeing The Daemons on TV and felt the loss of that line pretty keenly.

After Winstanley’s premature exit, Stan Wilkins takes over.  Stan’s a lovely character — barely out of his teens, he’s been brought into the village’s black magic coven by his uncle Tom Wilkins, and his left to fend for himself after Tom is killed in Episode Three.  He’s the sole witness to the Master’s first confrontation with Azal, and is the only member of the coven to develop a conscience.  Letts clearly enjoyed writing his scenes.  The only problem: there is no Stan Wilkins, not on TV.  Tom’s character’s surname was Girton, not Wilkins, and he didn’t have a nephew.  The sudden interruption of Jo Grant’s intended sacrifice is caused by someone named Jones… Winstanley and Wilkins were the conscience of the story, added for the book, and it’s great to have them.

In addition, several scenes come from the POV of Miss Hawthorne, the village witch and, along with the Doctor, the only person who thinks it’s a very bad idea for archaeologist Professor Horner to excavate something called “The Devil’s Hump” at midnight on the day of an occult festival (and also the same day The Wicker Man took place, and we all know how that worked out…).  Pity that the one illustration of Miss Hawthorne inside the book looks nothing like Damaris Heyman, the actress who played her on TV…

The Regulars: Jo Grant is probably at her dimmest.  Her main function is to either be corrected by the Doctor (whether they’re talking about magic versus science, or what deference she, as a UNIT employee, owes the Brigadier), or to get knocked out doing something stupid (like not buckling her seatbelt, or trying to interrupt a black magic sacrificial ritual all by herself).  You wouldn’t have caught Liz Shaw doing any of these things.  Instead, Letts elevates four UNIT characters to the forefront: the Brigadier, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton, and Sergeant Osgood.  Osgood appeared in this story only, and his function is basically the same as that Welsh scientist in Planet of the Dead — to build a complex bit of alien technology, guided only by the Doctor over a radio link.

Since this is a book rather than the TV episode, Letts also has the luxury of delaying the revelation that the new vicar of Devil’s End is the Master, until Episode Two, long after “Magister”‘s first scene.  After that reveal, Letts even narrates a few moments from the Master’s POV; we learn some details about his early childhood friendship with the Doctor.

The Chapter Titles of Death: Surprisingly banal.  Three of the 13 chapters have the word “Appearance”.  Back-to-back chapters are yawningly called “Meetings” and “Explanations”.  The most interesting title is Chapter 1, “The White Witch”, in which Miss Hawthorne assaults Professor Horner and various BBC employees with her old green umbrella.

The Cliffhangers: Three of the four cliffhangers properly occur at the end of chapters, but Episode Three — one the earliest, if not the earliest, instance of the cliffhanger placing the villain in jeopardy — is buried in the middle of Chapter 8.  I always loved that Roger Delgado got to star in his own cliffhanger; an appropriate gift for the villain who appeared in every story during Season 8.  To read the novelization, however, is to not be aware of this fact.

Good prose/bad prose: The biggest advantage to The Daemons running about 50 pages longer than the typical Target novelization is in the scope.  Instead of having to economize descriptions, and explain three characters’ backstory in a single paragraph, Letts has time to get deep inside the head of just about every character, except for the Doctor.  When the Doctor’s mechanical contraption fails to work, we learn that the Brigadier “had very little faith in the wonders of modern technology” and that Sergeant Osgood felt “an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the warm sweet smell of his pigeon-loft.”  Sometimes Letts gets carried away with his descriptive powers (the word “spinney” doesn’t need to appear as often as it does), but the humor he adds is largely gentle and observational.  It’s well known that the Master recites “Mary Had A Little Lamb” backwards in order to conjure up Azal, but in the book, Miss Hawthorne also cops to reciting the same nursery rhyme backwards when simulating magic — an interesting counterpoint.

Oddly, however, two memorable lines from the TV show don’t get included in the book: First is Azal’s warning “Remember Atlantis”, the second of Doctor Who‘s three explanations for Atlantis’ destruction; the third of those explanations came in The Time Monster, made after The Daemons aired but before the novelization was written and thus making Azal’s throwaway line unnecessary in print.  Also missing is the final line spoken by the Doctor on TV: “You’re right, Jo – there is magic in the world after all!”; this line is definitely missed. 

Personal Memories: This was part of my second-ever batch of novelizations, along with An Unearthly Child and The Visitation.  I’ve read this more than any other Target novelization, with the possible exception of Logopolis; my copy is physically a wreck.  The upper right corner of the book is water damaged and the corresponding part of the back cover blurb is eaten away.  I wrote the story’s production code (JJJ) in big shaky capitals on the title page.  When a year given in Episode One differed from the year given in the novel, I actually added a footnote explaining the discrepancy.  Finally, when marking the episode cliffhangers, I decided to go all Hartnell and give the episodes individual names.  Unfortunately I drew all my episode “names” from those banal chapter titles, so I gave Episode One the rather clunky title of “The Opening of the Barrow”.  Not for nothing, but “Devil’s End” would have been much more effective.  If I had to do that at all in the first place.  Bear in mind I did write them in pencil, so I suppose nothing’s to stop me from going back in now and fixing it…

Final Analysis: Letts’ later books (starting with his adaptations of The Ghosts of N-Space and The Paradise of Death) would go off the rails, but this is one of a small handful of, say, 20 novelizations, that transcends the format.  The story’s popularity may have waned and Letts may have clouded his legacy with a bunch of unreadable books later on, but they’ll never take The Daemons away from his legacy.  Oh, and he narrated the audiobook, too, and that’s just as good.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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3 Responses to The Daemons

  1. Pingback: Running Through Corridors, Volume 2 | "Doctor Who" Novels

  2. Pingback: Squire Winstanley and the Daemons | "Doctor Who" Novels

  3. Pingback: Stan Wilkins and the Daemons | Doctor Who Novels

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