Stan Wilkins and the Daemons

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Doctor Who and the Daemons, 1980s Target reprint.  The edition I own.

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: Eight through Thirteen

 

[An earlier version of this post was published on drwhonovels on September 21, 2011]

Last time, we talked about the first half of Barry Letts’ sublime novelization of The Daemons, and how the most interesting character in it, hardly featured in the original TV story at all.  And how that most interesting character was killed off at the book’s halfway point.

But that doesn’t mean the second half of the novelization is any less marvelous than the first half. After Squire Winstanley’s premature exit, it’s young Stan Wilkins who takes over as the de facto main character.  Stan’s easily identifiable — barely out of his teens and still living at home, struggling to make his independent way in the world, he’s been brought into the village of Devil’s End’s black magic coven by his uncle Tom Wilkins.  Not because he believes in black magic or because he wants to follow the village’s Old Ways.  But because he also works for his uncle, and really has no other choice.

After Tom is killed during the Episode Three material (he steals the UNIT helicopter and crashes it into the heat barrier while trying to kill the Doctor in a ‘copter-and-Bessie chase), Letts elevates Stan to front-line status.  It’s Stan who’s the sole witness to the Master’s first confrontation with Azal, and it’s Stan who’s the only member of the coven to develop a conscience.  Stan is the kind of minor civilian character who populated many of the early novelizations, before the page-count shrunk – an individual most incidental to the plot, but who believes that he’s the main character (we’ll see a lot more of this in the following book, Mac Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils). Here, during his first POV scene, young Stan tells us about his life goals – to not be serving as an apprentice in Tom Wilkins’ garage, anymore. Most Doctor Who characters have weighty goals.  The Master wants the Daemon’s power. Miss Hawthorne wants to stop the Vicar. Stan … wants to get out of a dead-end job.

No, he knew what he wanted. Just enough money to put down on a cottage, and a good job so that his Mam wouldn’t have to go scrubbing no more. What was the good of being an apprentice? Learning a trade! Huh! Cheap labor for Uncle Tom, more like.

Letts clearly enjoyed writing the Stan Wilkins 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, in Episode Five, was caused by a one-dimensional character named Jones.  It’s only in the novelization that Winstanley and Wilkins become the conscience of the story.  And the book is much better for taking place partially in their heads.

*****

Nowadays, a big complaint about the ending of The Daemons is that it’s a bit too Star Trek.  The titular alien is not a cheezy leftover computer, he’s actually an alien scientist.  And the story’s main conflict is science versus magic, rather than The Federation versus insularity.  But, at the end, Azal is defeated not by scientific means (the Doctor builds a machine to destroy Azal, but the machine blows up first), but by Jo’s stunning display of illogic — the Doctor explains that Jo made him “blow a fuse”.  Still, that’s not a terrible problem for a story to have.  Pertwee was always said to have looked for “moments of charm” in his scripts, and this one has them in abundance.  Take, for example, this scene, near the Episode Three cliffhanger, shortly after the Doctor tells Jo off for some ill-informed statement or other:

Suddenly Jo realized that the Doctor was singing a jolly little song. She grinned to herself. She could never be cross with him for long. “You sound happy”, she said. “You must be very sure this idea of yours will work.”
The Doctor looked surprised. “I was singing because… oh, because the sky is blue, I suppose.”
“But the Daemon… and the end of the world and all?”
“Oh, yes, of course, the end of the world. But that’s not now. That would be tomorrow – or this evening – or in five minutes’ time. And right now, the sky is blue. Just look at it!”
Jo looked… and looked again. It certainly was blue! A deep, almost cobalt blue overhead fading to a pale greeny duck-egg blue near the horizon. She stared round, drinking in the blueness, becoming the blueness – and suddenly found that she was singing too!
“See what I mean, “ smiled the Doctor.

The Doctor is also given quite a dramatic entrance as he rescues Jo at the end of the story, framed in a doorway with “the light of day behind his head turning his shock of hair into a halo of silver” and causing the coven members to fall back “in superstitious dread”.   Target’s house style at the time was to avoid scenes written from the Doctor’s POV, but moments like these two are the reasons why those of us who grew up on the novelizations, love the character so much.

Jo Grant doesn’t fare quite so well, with The Daemons (the last story of the character’s first season) featuring the character 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.  Letts also includes a moment not realized on TV, where a half-conscious Jo is attacked by malevolent ivy, with an internal illustration to match.  Not exactly moments for Katy Manning’s highlight real.

With Jo being of only… limited utility to the story, shall we say, Letts elevates four UNIT characters to the forefront: the Brigadier, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton, and Sergeant Osgood.  Three of these characters are already old friends, known informally as “The UNIT family”.  The Brigadier describes a “familiar feeling of frustration… so often experienced when dealing with the Doctor”; he’s also said to have “very little faith in the wonders of modern technology”. Benton reacts with suspicion to Miss Hawthorne’s little crush on him, even though she “treated him with an exasperating mixture of exaggerated deference and the sort of bossy affection you would expect her to lavish on a pet poodle”. She warns Benton against taking sugar in his tea, even. The nerve!

Sergeant Osgood, however, appeared in this story only, although he’d still be familiar to fans of the New Series.  His plot 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. And his name is the same as a UNIT scientific adviser of much later vintage. But this Osgood has an inner life of his own, as well:

All very well for [The Doctor] to be superior. It was his idea, of course he understood it. He wouldn’t find it so flaming easy to understand Osgood’s scheme for breeding racing pigeons using cross-linked characteristics like the shape of the flight feathers and the bird’s speed. For a moment the Sergeant felt an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the warm sweet smell of his pigeon loft.

There’s more gentle character humor from Miss Hawthorne, whose “hair, recently disciplined, was asserting its freedom and shedding hairpins around her”.

Letts also uses the extra space to provide more characterization for the Master, who in subsequent novelizations won’t get quite so much internal motivation. The Master clearly pines for the days of his long-ago friendship with the Doctor, when they were young Time Lords together:

[H]is mind was full of memories of his sometime friend. The time they played truant together , “borrowed” the Senior Tutor’s skimmer and went on an unauthorized visit to the Paradise Islands; the time he fooled the High Council of the Time Lords into thinking it was the Doctor who had put glue on the President’s perigosto stick; the time the Doctor saved his life by… He shook his head fiercely. This was no time for weakness.

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The Master high-fives Bok, the animated stone gargoyle, after Bok vaporizes poor Squire Winstanley.

He even feels some odd affection toward Jo Grant, in a Snidely Whiplash kind of way: “Pity about Miss Grant. She could have been useful in many ways”. When the Master attempts to get the villagers to sacrifice Jo in Azal’s name at the end of the story, he expresses his regret in a very Master-ish way.

“You’re mad… insane,” she breathed.
“I suppose I am, from your point of view,”said the Master. “You can hardly be expected to view the matter objectively. But I do want you to understand that it would give me no pleasure to kill you.”
A gleam of hope came into Jo’s eyes. “You mean…?”
“Oh, don’t mistake me,” said the Master hastily, “if it is necessary to sacrifice you, then sacrificed you shall be. However …”

Even the largely anonymous henchmen get moments of character. When the UNIT captain is tied up during the final summoning-Azal coven ceremony, “Petty Officer Sidgwick R.N. (Ret.) made quite sure that when Mike Yates came to his senses, he would find himself quite helpless”. Another henchman was said to have “lived down by the bridge, growing potatoes and minding his own business”. Bert Walker, the doomed landlord of the Cloven Hoof, is given an added character beat; it doesn’t make him any less dead by story’s end, but it shows that Letts had time even for tertiary bad guys. Here, Bert suddenly realizes that he’s about to kill the Doctor, on the Vicar’s orders:

The smell of the warm earth took him back even further to soft Wiltshire nights, poaching on the Winstanley estate when he was a young ‘un. Many a pheasant he’d had off the old Squire, let alone rabbit and hare. Went down fine with a bit of red-currant jelly, hare did.
Jolted back to the present moment by the approaching sound of a motor-cycle, Bert stared at the rifle disbelievingly. Going to kill a man? Whatever had come over him that he should even think of such a thing?

****

Now, unlike the previous Malcolm Hulke novelizations, The Daemons remains largely faithful to its parent TV story.  The only major structural changes from the TV-to-book transition occur in the Episode Five material; Letts now arranges them discontinuously, in a way that would have made much less sense on TV.  Also, all the Great Wizard Quiquaequod business from the Episode Four material is shifted to Episode Five, to absolutely no detriment.

Letts does add two additional moments of suspense to Episode Five.  First, the Brigadier’s attempts to penetrate the Devil’s End heat barrier are prolonged; his jeep nearly smashes into the barrier when Osgood’s attempt to collapse the thing fail rather abruptly. Later, Miss Hawthorne is given a moment to attempt to use her own magical powers to repel the final attack of Bok the gargoyle, but, alas, Jo’s act of self-sacrifice causes Azal to destroy himself, taking Bok with him, and Miss Hawthorne never gets to find out just how powerful she was.

The biggest advantage to The Daemons running about 50 pages longer than the typical Target novelization is all of this added scope.  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 for her friends — an interesting counterpoint between the white witch and the black-clad super-villain.

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 was given by Barry Letts himself in The Time Monster, the following, making Azal’s throwaway line unnecessary by the time The Daemons finally got novelized. Instead, in this book we learn about the Daemons having “dispassionately destroyed” life on “the dead planets of Talkur and Yind” (very occult-sounding names, those planets have, too).

Also absent 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.

Instead, it’s Stan Wilkins who gets the last word:

Yet again, his uncle’s death meant that the garage would now be his own. He knew enough about cars to make a go of it – and Mam would have somewhere to live! Aye, it was a funny old world, right enough.

****

To date in this project, rereading all the novelizations in publication order, only Doctor Who and the Zarbi has been a disappointment.  Of the first eight books, The Daemons is possibly my favorite, although there’s a lot of competition.  Unfortunately, this is the first and last of the great Barry Letts books.  Starting with his adaptations of The Ghosts of N-Space and The Paradise of Death, Letts’ prose career would go off the rails. But The Daemons is one of a small handful of, say, 20 novelizations that transcend 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 we’ll still always have The Daemons.  Oh, and he narrated the audiobook, too, and that’s just as good.

Next Time: Malcolm Hulke returns to the fold, and this time, he, too, decides to spend most of his book describing the lives of insular villagers.

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About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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One Response to Stan Wilkins and the Daemons

  1. Pingback: Little Boats Like Men | Doctor Who Novels

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