"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

They couldn't be hoof marks: Doctor Who and the Daemons by Barry Letts (1975).

....'You beg so prettily, my dear. But you see, I am so near to attaining one of my greatest ambitions: power to control, to rule, an entire planet—this planet, Earth. Nothing and nobody can be allowed to stand in my way.'

'You're mad.. ' she breathed....

A barrow called the Devil's Hump  is being excavated in the picturesque village of Devil's End (which has a local pub called The Cloven Hoof.) The excavation will climax on live TV on May 1, as village Morris dancers and all the trimmings are rolled out for the holiday.

The local vicar, Mr. Magister, thinks concerns about supernatural and malevolent forces are absurd. Miss Hawthorne, local wise woman, suspects differently.

The Doctor Who TV episode "The Demons" was first aired in 1971. Co-scripter Barry Letts' novelization appeared in 1975.

To viewers and readers of my generation, this was the golden age of Doctor Who.  (No Moffat-Gatiss mind-screws back then.)

"The Demons," like the Fang Rock, Weng-Chiang, and Martian pyramid episodes,  checks many boxes in the weird "matter of Britain." "The Demons" includes: ancient barrows, 'white' witches, altered or unusual maypole traditions, Beltane, Quatermassian boffins, and archeological digs that reveal "we are all Martians." Well, not Martians per se, but the product of fiddling by alien Prometheans.

Notes of Nigel Kneale, Grant Allen, and Eleanor Scott are struck, as well as Dennis Wheatley.

The Doctor lays it all out here:

…..Sitting round the rickety old oak table in the little back room of 'The Cloven Hoof' Jo, Mike and Sergeant Benton were tucking into a traditional 'Ploughman's Lunch'—
large slabs of cheese, crusty new bread with farm butter and crunchy pickled onions; all washed down with pints of draught cider or strong ale. Miss Hawthorne had graciously accepted one small apple, stating it as her considered opinion that too much eating in the middle of the day led to sluggish vibrations in the afternoon.

'Do come and eat something, Doctor,' called Jo.

But the Doctor was too far away to think of food.

Surrounded by piles of books of every shape, size and age, he was hunting here and there through them, making notes and leaving slips of paper as book marks.

'Well, well, well! The Grimoire of Pope Honorius!' The Doctor had seized an ancient leatherbound volume with great excitement. 'A copy I never knew existed...'

'You have the pick of the finest collection of occult material in the country there, Doctor,' said Miss Hawthorne proudly, 'though why you wanted me to bring it, I can't think.'

'I hope that will become clear. Apart from anything else, I'm being pestered for an explanation. These books will help me to provide it.'

Miss Hawthorne looked puzzled. 'But Doctor, there is only one possible explanation: this is the supernatural at work.'

The Doctor looked up from his notes. 'Nonsense!' he said.

Benton thoughtfully chomped on a pickled onion.

'What about that thing that got me? That was real enough.'

The Doctor had returned to his books. 'There's nothing more real than a force-field, Sergeant,' he said, marking a large coloured picture of a goat, 'even a psionic force-field.'

Miss Hawthorne bristled. To have her cherished beliefs challenged! It was unthinkable. 'You're being deliberately obtuse, Doctor. We are dealing with the supernatural, I tell you. The Occult! Magic!'

The Doctor shook his head. 'Science,' he said.


' Science, Miss Hawthorne.'

Mike Yates finished off his beer. 'Really,' he said, 'what does it matter? There's no point in getting all hot under the collar about words. The important thing is to find a way to stop it, whatever it is.'

'How can you stop it without knowing what it is?' said Jo indignantly, leaping to the Doctor's defence as usual.

'Well done, Jo,' said the Doctor, getting up, 'you're being logical at last.'

'Oh, am I? Thanks,' said Jo, doubtfully.

'We'll turn you into a scientist yet. Now then. If you've all finished perhaps we could clear a space.'

One end of the table was quickly cleared of the remains of the meal and the Doctor was able to spread out a number of books. 'Right,' he said, 'here we go,' and he opened the first book. 'Who's that?'

'It's an Egyptian god, isn't it?' said Jo.

'Top of the class. The God Khnum—one of their gods with horns.' He opened the next book. 'A Hindu Demon—with horns.' Another. And another. 'The Ancient Greek god Pan—with horns. A bust of Jupiter—with horns. A statue of Moses—yes, even he's got horns. The Minotaur—the bull-headed monster of Crete. Our old friend the Horned Beast—the Devil with the head of a goat...'

The Doctor went on opening book after book, until the table was filled with pictures of horned beings.

Miss Hawthorne was not impressed. 'You could go on all day and all night showing us pretty pictures,' she said tartly. 'It proves nothing. Horns have been a symbol of power ever since... Oh, ever since...'

'Even since man began,' agreed the Doctor. 'Look.' He showed them yet another picture—a photograph of a prehistoric cave-painting which seemed to show a group of witch doctors dancing, all with horns upon their brows.

'But has it ever struck you to ask yourself why?' the Doctor continued. 'Creatures like that have been seen over and again throughout the history of man, and man has over turned them into myths—into gods or devils.' He gestured towards the pictures. 'But they're neither. They are creatures from another world...'

Even Miss Hawthorne was silenced.

'You mean,' said Benton slowly, 'like the Axons, and the Nestenes—and the Cybermen?'

'Precisely,' said the Doctor, 'but far, far older and immeasurably more dangerous.'

'Charming,' murmured Mike Yates.

'Are you suggesting that these creatures came to Earth in spaceships?' said Miss Hawthorne, regaining her composure.

'I am,' he replied. 'They're Dæmons* from the planet Damos; and that's a long long way from Earth.'

'Sixty thousand light years,' put in Jo, wisely.

'That's right. The other side of the Milky Way; and they first came to Earth nearly one hundred thousand years ago...'

'But why? I mean, why should they want to?' asked Benton.

So the Doctor went on to tell them something of the history of these alien beings, the Dæmons, or Demons. He told of their evolution and the development of their culture over long aeons even before life began on Earth. When the first land creatures were crawling out of our oceans, the Dæmons already had a fully developed civilisation with a sophisticated science and technology. By the time man

* pronounced deemons.

appeared, the Dæmons had been space travellers for many centuries and had established a tradition of scientific exploration and experiment through-out the Galaxy. They arrived on Earth just in time to help homo sapiens kick out Neanderthal Man and they have been appearing on and off over since, merely observing most of the time but occasionally giving history a push in the right direction...

'There you are,' said Miss Hawthorne, triumphantly,

'that proves you're talking nonsense. This.. thing that Professor Horner loosed on the world is evil. You said so yourself. And now you tell us that they have been helping mankind for a thousand centuries!'

'Yes,' said Jo, 'and you say they're from another planet.

Then what's all this jazz about witchcraft and covens and all?'

'A very good point, Miss Grant,' put in Miss Hawthorne.

'But don't you see,' explained the Doctor, 'all the magical traditions are just the remnants of the Dæmons'

advanced science. And that's what the Master is using!'

'Mm...' Miss Hawthorne was unconvinced. 'And how do you know all this anyway?'

'Yes, Doctor,' said Mike, 'you didn't seem to know what was going on at first.'

'I learned it at school,' said the Doctor grumpily,

'chapter thirteen of the Galactic History. Unfortunately, I forgot it all.' He stood up and started to clear away the books.

'You must have gone to a very odd school—and you must have very peculiar memory,' said Miss Hawthorne.

'That, madam, is my misfortune; said the Doctor acidly, for she had touched on a sore point. 'In any case, it's all in these books of yours, if you know how to read them properly.'

'Then these creatures are linked with the Black Arts,'

she said. 'They are evil.'

'Amoral would be a better word, perhaps,' the Doctor replied 'They help Earth, but on their own terms. It's a scientific experiment to them. We're just a cageful of laboratory rats.'

'Then what's the Master up to?' asked Mike.

'He's established a link with the Dæmon from the barrow. What frightens me is the choice—domination by the Master or total destruction.'

Jo, who had been stacking the books in a neat pile, looked up aghast. 'You mean this Dæmon could destroy the Earth?'

'What does any scientist do with an experiment that fails? He throws it in the rubbish bin. And you must admit that mankind doesn't look a very successful species at the moment.'

'But Doctor... you're talking about the end of the world!'

The Doctor looked at her very seriously. 'Yes, Jo,' he said, 'I am.'

14 May 2019

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