“As my will, so mote it be!” – The Master
This was the story that scared our local preacher’s kid into thinking I was starting to follow devil worship when he saw me watching it! It’s actually a magnificently produced and written Doctor Who story, probably the best of the Pertwee era to this point. The story draws on its setting of black magic in a small English village incredibly well by actually filming on the greens of a real town with scenes of sinister May Day celebrations and talk of Beltane and the sabbat. With a coven of villagers involved in secret rituals and a priest literally raising the devil, it purposely evokes the same feelings as classics like Rosemary’s Baby or Village of the Damned. It’s made into a Doctor Who story with the angle of all the magic actually being alien at its root with sci-fi elements like the heat barrier forcefield that appears around the town or the miniaturized spaceship that keeps its mass.
There’s a nice build up to the reveal of Azal, especially the idea of having Benton and Yates see giant hoofprints from up in the helicopter (even if the scale is a bit off). Though the CSO camera effect of Azal’s growth is obvious today, they still did a great job for the time and the costume and make-up are spot on. It’s almost a surprise that the inspired idea of having a stone gargoyle come to life and scamper around as a threatening menace not only worked quite well as an idea but was executed fairly well as a costume as well. The story-telling is kept quite interesting—first through the lens of a TV special, then from perspective of a town under siege, the Doctor having to communicate across the barrier. There are many large-scale—almost cinematic—shots including the final overhead view of the true May Day festivities on the square. I love the costumes of the Morris dancers and particularly the paper coat worn by Bert.
All our regular characters get a ton of screen time and action, especially Yates and Benton who for some reason also get to run around in cool seventies clothes rather than their uniforms. The Doctor and the Brigadier trade a wealth of friendly jabs. By including the Master, the story does miss an opportunity for the shock of finding out the local priest is involved in devil worship (since we already know he’s a fake) but Delgado’s intense performance more than makes up for this. There are a couple of odd instances where the Doctor is mean and condescending to Jo for seemingly no reason. It’s a wonder she tries to sacrifice herself to save him in the end when you look at some of the things he said to her just a bit earlier.
In regards to her selflessness causing Azal to “blow a fuse”, I always thought it was a rather silly sentimental ending not befitting the rest of the story. However, this viewing I realized that the Master drew a lot of his power to manipulate Azal from psychokinetic energy generated by “violent emotions” . It makes sense therefore that Jo’s act was filled with the opposite kind of strong emotion, one strong enough to create a psionic power that fed back and destroyed Azal.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
The rise of Azal, particularly the close up of his bearded and horned devil face, is probably intended to be the best shock in the story. (Though for some reason I find the lead-up to Azal—particularly the eerie site of giant hoofprints across the field—to be more striking.) However, the best tense moment comes early when the blast of wind assails Miss Hawthorne and, as she calls upon the forces of nature to calm it, the affable local policeman that had just greeted her suddenly picks up a rock intending to bash her head from behind without her even knowing. It’s a relief when she succeeds in calming the storm (and thus his possession) and we begin to realize that something strange, even supernatural, really is going on and her importance as a character is raised.
- Alien that became an ancient god/legend
- Debate of magic versus science
- A good witch
Best “Doctorish” line:
Brigadier: Do you know what you’re doing?
Doctor: My dear chap, I can’t wait to find out!
A UNIT technical specialist named Osgood! Yes, we must assume this is the father of the resident UNIT genius scientist Osgood who comes in the new series. Like the Brigadier passed on knowledge to Kate, Osgood must have grown up with stories from her father of the Doctor and how he was both amazingly brilliant and yet incredibly difficult to work with as he would berate someone like Osgood who is no doubt the absolute top of his field and make him feel like a no-nothing child.
It’s a well-done story so most of my complaints are little quibbles like the sound of gargoyle’s roar being a bit off or the disappearance of Garvin being too much of a jump cut. It’s also hardly believable after the disastrous BBC 3 broadcast that news crews and such would not have descended upon the town. (However, we can imagine that people just assumed that it was a publicity stunt.)
Our main actors misstep a bit by turning what I can only assume was intended to be a bit of teasing from the Doctor towards Jo into a rather mean and cutting criticism that ruins his character. I also think the writer really missed an obvious trick by not having the Doctor, after a whole story of pushing the idea of science, respond to the Brigadier’s question of how he controlled the car by saying: “Simple—magic!”