Structurally, the same issues that have plagued the rest of the story crop up again here. The Doctor spends half the episode chatting to the Brigadier on a walkie talkie, the Brigadier again spends a load of time out of the action building a McGuffin, and even the grand finale consists of everyone standing around having a chat. I’m not sure if Terrance Dicks was reticent about script editing his boss, but this could very much have done with another pass by him.
That’s not to say it’s an unenjoyable episode, only that the good bits are the details rather than the whole. The Brigadier chewing out the over-cautious Osgood, and finally declaring, ‘Damn it man’ and pulling the booster switch himself is one of the great Nick Courtney moments. The Master’s apology to Jo (and look of genuine chagrin) when he tells her she’s to be sacrificed is entirely in keeping with his oddly respectful attitude towards the Doctor. The Doctor’s appeal to Azal is a “get the hell out of our galaxy” moment it took Babylon 5 three years to build up to. As in Colony in Space, the Doctor rejects an offer of ultimate power, which ties into the season’s idea that those who seek power are the least fit to hold it.
Katy Manning’s performance of Jo’s self-sacrifice, stepping in front of the Azal’s lightning bolt, eyes screwed up and head tilted defiantly, goes a very long way to selling the climax of the story. While a bit ridiculous, it’s appropriate that Azal, whom the Doctor has repeatedly said is not a magical creature but a rational, scientific being, is defeated by belief. The final scene, on the village green, is a sweet end to the season with a genuinely very funny exchange between the Brigadier and Yates as Miss Hawthorn drags the hapless Benton away for her fertility dance. After two serials in a row that have bemoaned humankind’s ability for self destruction and planetary pollution, Hawthorn’s declaration that ‘The Earth is born anew’ strikes exactly the right positive note.
But, for me, The Dæmons is less than the sum of its parts. It’s as rickety a piece of work as The Time Monster, its defects less obvious because it’s shorter, and it draws on appealing horror tropes. It’s easy to see why it might be fondly remembered, less easy to enjoy the actual experience of watching it.
As such, it’s a pretty fitting capstone to Season Eight, a series that is a lot less consistently good than its predecessor, but a lot more adventurous. This year has pushed the boundaries of what Doctor Who can do – not only within the new format, but more generally. There are some clear ongoing themes about power, justice and environmentalism. There’s a regular villain, and the start of an occasional, semi-coherent future history for the show. The Time Lords have gone from being a noises off to active participants, using the Doctor as their agent, and starting to hypocritically interfere in exactly the way they sentenced him for doing – a train of thought that’s ultimately going to lead to The Deadly Assassin and the abiding concept of Gallifrey. This season fits together in a way that suggests more behind-the-scenes thinking than has been apparent since Verity Lambert left. It doesn’t always work, but you have to admire the effort.
Next episode: Day of the Daleks