Wow. Now this I loved... The first part was probably my favourite single episode to date in this odyssey - a cracking, expensive-looking thunderstorm to begin with, with added intrigue to get the plot rolling, the Doctor being a know-it-all and setting up the remote-control plot element that won't come into play until much later, the wonderfully atmospheric setting of Devil's End, the barrow, the TV presenter, the marvellous Professor Horner who is equally dismissive of the 'white witch' Miss Hawthorne and of the television crew, science and sorcery starting to clash and mingle, and the Master being far more darkly, satanically evil than he has ever been...
What's great is that after this top-notch start, the quality rarely slips. While it is a shame the Professor is so short-lived, Miss Hawthorne's character is given room to grow through the rest of the five parts (a strangely effective length for this story), and her interactions with Benton are amusing - even the normally amiable Sergeant gets irritated with her at one point. It's nice to see Benton and Yates in civvies, too, and neat that they get so involved in the rugby game they forget to switch over for the broadcast from the barrow and belatedly do so in time to witness Jo with the frozen Doctor, and switch the plot up a gear as a result. It's also nice to see the Brigadier getting a social life briefly, as well, which delays his arrival to the effect that he spends most of the serial on the outside looking in as it were, which gives a different arena for some of the story to unfold at. The 'heat barrier' that keeps Lethbridge Stewart and his team outside the village is very well realised, and there is some great action - notably the exciting helicopter chase where one of the Master's henchmen pursues Bessie from the air, and the production team borrow, with stupendous audacity, a piece of actual James Bond footage to show the chopper blowing up!!
The Doctor, recently offered a glimpse of freedom but now confined to Earth again, is understandably even more intolerant than usual of inferior intellects, which perhaps allows us a glimpse of a different Doctor from the usual of late - enigmatic and knowing. The Master has his best outing yet, with some tremendous, powerful cavern scenes conducting his black mass 'dressed for the occasion' (I was reminded of his outfit in the Eighth Doctor movie) and circled by black-robed acolytes; having given up on persuading the Doctor to collaborate in his schemes, he seems just to want to destroy him here and even attempts to sacrifice Jo to the Daemon (singular) of the title. I thought this was supposed to be the year that returned Who to a family-friendly style after the grittier Season 7...? Blimey... The Bok gargoyle creature is effective enough, and the production team do a great job of keeping Azal off the screen for as long as possible to prevent the mystique being ruined by too much bluescreening - and in the event those CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) shots are pretty well done, too. We also get the hapless Sergeant Osgood, who in a fine slapstick moment gets a faceful of soot when his complex device goes bang in a welter of technobabble, Jon Pertwee's Doctor whizzing around on a motorcycle and warring with Miss Hawthorne over the relative merits of science and magic, the world's most sinister Morris dancers, some crack sharpshooting from Benton, the stupid notion of Jo and Yates successfully 'hiding' behind what is essentially a small ornamental railing, the former having a charming sacrificial robe procured for her, a throwaway second explanation for the sinking of Atlantis that I nearly missed, and a vein of richly comic moments and in-jokes like the Doctor's "wig" incident and the scene where Jo dismisses the Brigadier's plans to blast his way through the heat barrier, only to be chastised by the Doctor so hypocritically it's hilarious. The denouement, while superficially ludicrously emotive and short on substance, is better viewed in the sense that while Jo's offer to die in the Doctor's stead did not directly destroy Azal, the 'irrational' nature of her sudden interjection confused and distracted the Daemon long enough for him to lose control of the power he was channeling and so be torn apart by it. And the exploding church is such a contentious idea it's fantastic...
I gather post-viewing that this is a serial that was lionised prior to its 1993 video release and then widely vilified in the subsequent reevaluation. Personally, I found it's one of those stories that just pushes my buttons, and I loved it! Oh yes - and it also contains the Brigadier's most preposterous yet famous order: the immortal "Chap with wings... five rounds rapid!"
Episodes watched: 195
Episodes still to watch: 527