Title: Doctor Who and the Daemons
Televised as: The Daemons
Written by: Barry Letts
Teleplay by: Barry Letts & Robert Sloman
Screen Credit to: Guy Leopold
Televised in: May/June 1971
Published in: October 1974
Chapters: One through Seven
[An earlier version of this post was published on drwhonovels on September 21, 2011]
Here we are with Barry Letts’ first Target novelization, published in their first year with the Who license; it would be about 20 years later before he closed out the novelization line, in publication order and symbolically, with the execrable The Paradise of Death. Let’s just pretend that later book never happened, and spend a couple of days celebrating this earlier effort.
Doctor Who and the Daemons, clocking in at over 170 pages, remained Target’s longest novelization until Fury From the Deep came out over a decade later. Often cited as the favorite episode of those who actually acted in and produced the Jon Pertwee years, The Daemons has 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 for a time adopted as their own, finds that it “isn’t really very good.”
This was part of my second-ever batch of novelizations, along with An Unearthly Child and The Visitation, purchased in February 1985. Since then, I’ve read this more than probably any other Target novelization, with the possible exception of Logopolis; my copy is physically a wreck. The upper right corner of my copy of the book is water damaged, and the corresponding part of the back cover blurb is eaten away. At some point, for reasons that don’t do me credit, I wrote the story’s production code (JJJ) in big shaky capitals on the title page. When the year of an event described in Episode One on TV 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 Letts’ rather banal chapter titles, so I gave Episode One the rather clunky nom de guerre 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…
What I love about The Daemons is Letts’ gently mocking, but still unmistakably warm, portrayal of the pastoral setting of Devil’s End. Thanks to its extra length, this book is a full novel, not merely a script-to-screen novelization. Letts co-wrote The Daemons, but in the novelization (which, amusingly, gives co-copyright credit to Letts’ and Robert Sloman’s TV pseudonym “Guy Leopold”) goes back to add much extra detail. Letts also deftly adds many subtle character touches – from the top regulars to the most tertiary supporting characters – which befit a full-length novel.
As with almost all Target novelizations, The Daemons is based on Barry Letts’ final scripts as they were brought into rehearsal. Any dialogue alterations worked out by the actors during rehearsal, or material cut for timing by director Christopher Barry (a Who legend as far back as his work in the first few episodes of The Daleks) during shooting or editing, would not be reflected in the book. So there’s a little more dialogue than you remember from TV; scenes go on for longer and there are some sequences which never even made it to TV at all.
The opening paragraph sets the tone, with Letts’ prose style being about as evocative as Christopher Barry’s direction:
Thunder rumbled ominously; fitful lightning mocked the darkness of the green with a sudden day; a few threatening drops of rain splashed heavily on the cobbled road…
“’Night, Pete. ‘Night, Tom.”
Old Josh Wilkins turned reluctantly away from the friendly light of the pub and set off across the green.
(Set off to his death, of course. Incidental characters rarely survive the prologue of any Target novelization.)
The Doctor is introduced in his first scene as “Doctor Who”, as was Target’s house style during the early novelizations. And here making her one and only credited dialogue contribution in the novelization range is Bessie, the Third Doctor’s car, who says, in quotation marks, “Honk, honk.”
When describing Devil’s End, that insular village with dark secrets, where most of the serial takes place, Letts is a very effective scene setter, whether he’s talking about natural beauty, or ominous signs:
High on the ridge known to the village of Devil’s End as the Goat’s Back is the strange mound that everyone calls the Devil’s Hump. It is a bleak place. Even in the bright sunshine of a spring day a cutting wind slices through the silence. Apart from the thin cry of a lonely curlew, no birds sing there.
Much of the early going, though, is humorous. As a TV producer (and writer and director, and former actor), Letts takes great pains to bring to life the TV crew that’s come to Devil’s End to open up the barrow (so much so that, when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault live on TV in the mid-’80s, I was watching, while holding this book as my guide. Unfortunately, no daemons were released on that storied night). When Professor Horner is accosted on-air by Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, “Viewers with colour television were fascinated to see Professor Horner turn a novel shade of purple.”
But, while Letts infuses humor into his prose, he also spends little time as an omniscient narrator. Most of the scenes are told from a specific character’s POV. The hero of the first half of the book is Squire Winstanley. This is a very small role on TV but Letts makes him the unsung hero of the book, with a distinct character arc. We meet him first as the sole survivor of a once well-to-do family, who’s seen “[h]astily averting his eyes from his too plump reflection in the doors of the Chippendale glass cabinet”. He lives in a fine home and has servants (“Feudalism died hard in Devil’s End”), but he’s not exactly a born leader; we see him shirking his Squire responsibilities in order to get rip-roaring drunk at the local pub. Later, the Squire remarks upon “the odd coincidence that these migraines of his often came in the morning after a long evening at The Cloven Hoof”. Naturally, when the Master later attempts to hypnotize Winstanley, the Squire is too drunk to succumb.
We also see a lot more of Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, especially as she tries to enlist the help of the new local Vicar in stopping Professor Horner’s dig. This is the Master’s second novelization and, as in Doomsday Weapon, we meet him first in thinly-veiled disguise:
Slim and dapper in his dark suit of clerical grey, the new Vicar was a striking figure. His handsome, yet almost Mephistophelean, face was curiously ageless. True, the neat black beard had streaks of pure white in it, but these seemed merely to offset and emphasize the smooth skin and youthful eyes.
And yet, as Miss Hawthorn gazed, intrigued and fascinated, those eyes seemed to her to become deep pools of unfathomable knowledge;the knowledge of a thousand years or more.
Alas, we’re missing Hawthorne’s delightful TV takedown of the Vicar: “A rationalist, existentialist Priest?” In the book, she merely goes Lucy-from-Peanuts on him, calling him, as she does, a “blockhead”. The Vicar then tries to hypnotize her: “Of course she must believe this most excellent man, this man with the eyes of such incredible blue, a blue so dark, midnight blue… but weren’t they brown just now?”
On TV, we lost for timing purposes an explanation that Sergeant Benton was supposed to enter a ballroom dancing competition on the night of Horner’s dig, but in print Captain Yates is amused by the thought of “the burly sergeant in white tie and tails doing an intricate twinkle-toe quickstep” (you’ll rarely find a Doctor Who book in which the words “burly” and “sergeant” are not wedded together). But that’s not the end of Benton’s athleticism – during a brawl with the Vicar’s flunky later on, he unleashes “a straight leg kick which would have done credit to a member of the Royal Ballet” (take note, Ingrid Pitt – that’s how it’s done). Benton also gets to lament that aliens are always green, in a line that’s surely a nod to Terrance Dicks. The rest of the UNIT family is also well-served: The Brigadier is also introduced as being cloaked in the “unaccustomed aroma of expensive after-shave lotion”. Mike Yates has a lovely sequence where he’s sitting and thinking about the unfolding mystery really hard, and catches his thoughts drifting as he falls asleep: “If it were to turn out to be a monster, it simply became a question of whether the anteater’s tongue was longer than the jelly baby, or on the other hand, vice versa …”
As I mentioned in my last post, Running Through Corridors, Volume Two mistakenly reported that TV host Alistair Fergus perished when Horner opened the barrow. Not so! Letts returns to Fergus briefly in the Episode Two material (the role featured only in Episode One on TV); he drives Jo back to the village; Jo’s “[b]ouncing about in the front of a three-tonner driven by a man who had never driven anything larger than a sports car”. When Alistair is last seen, before the BBC team departs, he’s dramatizing his role in the disaster for the assembled hordes: “Already the terror of his experience was fading and it was becoming just another tale for the club at lunchtime. Alistair Fergus was too tough a nut to crack easily”. In an ideal world, Alistair would have become an annual fixture on the series, giddily narrating different alien invasions, but, alas, this was his sole appearance.
The light comedy of manners, of course, often takes a back seat to elegant prose; when the Vicar’s flunky is zapped by the Daemon, it’s by a “thread of unearthly light”, as the flunky is “vaporised by a flash of fire hotter than the heart of the sun”. Other novelistic devices abound: the discovery of the heat barrier is told in flashback from the Brigadier’s POV. The Brigadier hope that the village constable of Lob’s Crick can provide tea, runs up against a match cut to the corpse of the village constable of Devil’s End (crushed by the Daemon) who “stared up at the Doctro with dead eyes”.
Only after the Doctor recognizes, from the pseudonym “Magister”, that the Vicar is really the Master, during the Episode Two material, does Letts pull back the camera, and re-introduce the villain with another memorable passage:
Renegade Time Lord, the Doctor’s arch-enemy, instigator of so many evil schemes in the past, the Master’s one overwhelming objective always remained the same: Power! The power of the tyrant, to make slaves of all others; the power of the despot, to be ruler, dictator of a country, an empire, a planet; the power of the demi-god, to command a galaxy, no ambition was too great for the megalomaniac dreams of the Master.
From the Master’s POV, we learn of the Master’s unconvincing belief that killing the Doctor is only “one of his lesser ambitions”. In a more Earth-bound passage, we learn more about the denizens of Devil’s End, including a brief but telling description of how, during “last year’s Garden Fete… the Squire, with a series of chancy bowls, won himself a piglet and insisted on christening it with champagne”. This book is also unique in that three characters have time to dream, including Benton, who wins that ballroom dancing competition before being jolted awake by the R/T set.
The Episode Three material is substantially augmented by several sequences which, even if they came from the original script, could never have remotely made it to air. The characters dine on a rustic lunch menu, which Letts describes in full. Captain Yates and Miss Hawthorne pay a visit to the Squire, hoping to assemble an explanatory meeting with the villagers, to which they would invite all adults (“(defined as being over eighteen, a perhaps unwarranted assumption)”). The Captain’s city ways are alien to Miss Hawthorne, who admonishes him, “You’ve never lived in a village!”.
The Master’s visit to the Squire, which we join in media res on TV, is also expanded, with the Master, still in his Vicar’s role, actually quoting a historic religious figure when declining the offer of a drink:
“Why should I put a thief into my mouth to steal away my brains?”
“Saint Paul, I’m afraid.”
(First thing I do when I get a time machine is go back to 1972 and get Rollo Gamble and Roger Delgado to record that exchange…)
The Master’s later meeting with the townspeople is here held at the Squire’s estate rather than the vicarage. The Squire is allowed an opening joke:
“Now then,” he said, “as you know, my speeches are like me – short, but packed with good solid meat,” and he slapped himself a couple of times on the belly while he waited for the respectful chuckle he knew would greet this terrible joke, which was an old and trusted friend.
But there the joke ends. The Squire, who’s been drunk for most of the book, finally emerges to his calling as a true leader of men. Remember, the Squire’s a bit non-essential on TV, so this bit isn’t quite as impactful when it happens in Episode Three. Once the Master’s attempts to charm the villagers into serving him fails, Winstanley attempts to retake control of the meeting, and ejects the Vicar from his home. At this precise moment of his growing a spine and acting like a true village Squire… the Master summons his animated gargoyle, Bok, and poor Winstanley is vaporized. Thus endeth Chapter Seven, and the first half of the novelization.
Next Time: Fortunately, in the second half, Letts has a new lead character in mind to stand up to the Master, and help to save the day. Remarkably, though, this main character never appeared on TV …