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29 January 2015 @ 05:50 pm
The Randomizer: The Daemons  
We actually watched this before Genesis of the Daleks, I just forgot about it. How could I forget The Daemons?. I blame Christmas.

The Daemons is often held up as the quintessential "Unit Family" story which feels a little odd to me. I've not watched a lot of Pertwee, so maybe I'll change my opinion, but it doesn't feel entirely typical of the era.

The most obvious problem with the "UNIT Family" idea is that the Brigadier spends most of the story stuck on the opposite side of a heat barrier to everyone else. While this gives Yates and Benton a chance to shine it doesn't feel like you could really describe a story as a great UNIT family story if the key family member isn't there most of the time.

The Daemons is also working very hard to both have its cake and eat it when it comes to depicting magic in Doctor Who. It mostly succeeds at this. It wheels out the idea of "sufficiently advanced technology" but backs it up with a number of examples, The Doctor's remote control of Bessie, the forcefield that appears to beat people up in the crypt where we understand how the illusion of magic is achieved either completely (the remote control) or partially (we understand the concept of a forcefield as a technological thing rather than a magical thing). I was discussing with parrot_knight in the comments on Time and the Rani how the Baker's "research" into the science completely failed to translate into anything interesting on screen. Here the idea of the equivalence between mass and energy is used very nicely to tie the Daemon's change in size with extremes of heat and cold, wrapping several apparently supernatural phenomena nicely together into a neat pseudo-scientific package. Where The Daemons succeeds less well is in the notion that chanting and ritual somehow genuinely generate physical effects through hand wave-sufficiently-advanced-science. Doctor Who has gone on to play with ideas of mathematics having genuine power (Logopolis) and words having genuine power (The Shakespeare Code) which one feels might have helped round out the idea of the Daemon's technology.

Jo's turn as potential sacrificial victim is also ill-explained and, in many ways, harks forward to Sarah's tendency to end up as a potential sacrifice rather than being something particularly essential to the Pertwee era. In fact The Daemons definitely has a touch of the gothic which is more Hinchcliffe than Letts, whose stories tended to be more interested in bureaucracies, both civil and military, and their interactions.

Much has also been made - or at least it was when I was a teenage fan, getting all my information via Doctor Who Monthly and the Celestial Toyroom - of the fact that Benton and Yates appear here in civvies. That is actually very odd because they are manifestly on duty, and in fact, know they will be on duty when they set out (in their uniforms) to commandeer a helicopter. Tame layman also had cause to remark that all these trained soldiers seemed to fare rather badly in hand-to-hand combat with any sufficiently determined villager.

Bok has not aged well as a special effect, which is a huge shame given the iconic place of "Chap with wings, five rounds rapid!" in Who fandom. I also personally find Miss Hawthorne (the local white witch) very irritating. I think she's supposed to be a forceful battle-axe, but the performance somehow makes me think of a flighty and slightly irritating busy-body.

I'm mostly nitpicking though. There is a great deal to like in The Daemons and it is almost a text-book case of how to invoke the idea that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic by showing the viewer how that works, rather than simply announcing something is technology and then having it behave just like magic.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/139628.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on January 29th, 2015 06:27 pm (UTC)
You might have missed an h out of the good sir knight.

/nitpicking myself
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 29th, 2015 06:55 pm (UTC)
I have indeed! Now fixed!
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 02:23 am (UTC)
I was a knigt for a short time, and did not notice...
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 29th, 2015 06:51 pm (UTC)
I like this a lot too and am slightly confused by the backlash against it recent years.

Benton and Yates appear here in civvies. That is actually very odd because they are manifestly on duty

I've thought this too. Bear in mind that discipline in UNIT is very lax, with non-regulation haircuts and people often getting away with backchatting to their superior officers.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 29th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Yes, but the second two are easily explained by writers who are ignorant of army norms and being unaware of the implications, while the someone must have actively decided that Benton and Yates should have been in civvies and that can't so easily be explained simply by ignorance.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 29th, 2015 07:01 pm (UTC)
The strange thing is a lot of people working on the programme at this time should have done national service. In The Sea Devils they get a lot of naval detail right and, lo, Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts and Jon Pertwee all served in the navy during World War II.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 29th, 2015 07:03 pm (UTC)
Hmm... I was actually wondering that as I wrote, because I recalled Letts had a naval background. Maybe it was a combination of being less prepared in the 70s to tell actors they needed to cut their hair for a TV part (I have no idea if this assertion is correct, but extras playing thugs in classic Who definitely haven't built muscles in the way a lot of actors expect to these days) and the dramatic need for discussion to explain things for the audience.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 29th, 2015 07:06 pm (UTC)
There is a definite tendency for haircuts to look less regulation-style as the seventies go on! Perhaps as UNIT appeared less frequently, it was less acceptable to ask the actors to keep their hair short?
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 02:27 am (UTC)
I think this is true, quite apart from long hair helping covering up the Brig's bald patch.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 02:26 am (UTC)
Terrance certainly did national service. Richard Franklin had actually been in the Royal Green Jackets for five years as a regular officer! Realism bows to giving the Doctor an ensemble off which to work.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 30th, 2015 12:50 pm (UTC)
None of which really explains having Benton and Yates in civvies - unless it was some desire to make them look cool. I vaguely recall some publicity shot of them with Jo and DWM trying to make Bonnie and Clyde comparisons to the look.
parrot_knight: Pertweeparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 01:28 pm (UTC)
I think there was an implication that Yates and Benton should be undercover so as not to arouse suspicion and resentment in Devil's End, though I don't think this is made explicit.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 29th, 2015 06:57 pm (UTC)
I didn't even know there had been a backlash. My finger is clearly not adequately on the pulse!!
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 02:44 am (UTC)
I think the backlash has swung back, actually - back in the early 90s The Daemons was a sacred cow to be slain, but now it's recognised as technically innovative in its extensive use of location work (a new electronic system was being tested to coordinate cameras, ISTR) and the bonhomie between the cast, once something to sneer at, is seen as underpinning a strong set of performances. The Master's undermining of the village's sense of moral purpose, where he shows the villagers that he knows all their hidden secrets and has Bok disintegrate the squire, remains compelling because Delgado judges everything perfectly and the camera looks where the Master wants us to look.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 30th, 2015 12:51 pm (UTC)
One of the things this rewatch is rather convincing me of is that the memory doesn't cheat nearly as much as JNT would have liked us to believe.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 01:29 pm (UTC)
I had always thought this was rubbish, and my first exposure to old episodes in volume (at DocSoc) confirmed it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 30th, 2015 02:28 pm (UTC)
I think it is true that revisiting childhood favourites can sometimes be disappointing, but there were plenty of older fans asserting how good a lot of Doctor Who had been that it should have been difficult to ignore them.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 04:42 pm (UTC)
There are all kinds of points of departure here - JNT's taste and its distance from that of the wider public, the visible decline in production values from 1977 onwards, arrested by JNT when he took over but then resumed, etc, etc - but I'm not sure I could add anything useful that hasn't already been rehearsed ad nauseam over the last twenty-five years and more...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 30th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC)
I'm never really sure what JNT's taste was, other than an apparent desire to return to companions who were generally more juvenile and more obviously under the Doctor's protection than his equal and a desire to attract celebrity turns for stories.

It's much easier to see a clear style for his script editors, and those are so very different it is difficult to tease out an underlying JNT style.
parrot_knight: JamieZoeparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
JNT apparently had lots of deep-rooted ideas about how entertainment should work, based in part on having been immersed in the history of the theatre in his teens, and remained a believer in conventions of television and film storytelling which had been mostly discarded by 1980 and which could lead to clashes with directors in the editing suite. This of course all relies on anecdotal evidence which is always questionable, especially when related by people who bore grudges against him.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 30th, 2015 02:35 am (UTC)
The Brig is a laid-back progressive sort, one rationalises; though Benton, who seems to act as the head of his admin staff as well as his link man with the rank and file, can perhaps be rationalised as having more latitude than most. Otherwise these perhaps have to be accepted as unsoldierish pretend soldiers inspiring the week's playground games; or more positively arguing that the need to show them talking to one another and providing the Doctor with a social environment was more important than military realism. No wonder Douglas Canfield stayed away from the series for four years after Inferno..
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 30th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
For all Benton is sometimes depicted as the "thick one", his willingness to simply trust the Doctor and his explanations often seems to place him ahead of the Brigadier in terms of getting to grips with the situation. One might be able to rationalise that into the leeway he gets as well.