‘The Black Archive #26: The Daemons’

❉ Matt Barber’s essay on a fan favourite will change the way you next watch it, writes Nick Mellish.

It’s funny how some stories come to be seen as everything an era was trying to do.  The Aztecs is the go-to William Hartnell historical (despite not being as good as Marco Polo); The Tomb of the Cybermen is the base-under-siege tale from Patrick Troughton’s tenure, and then we have The Dæmons, regularly cited as the ultimate in Jon Pertwee stories.

The trouble with that statement though is that it isn’t.  A few years ago when I reviewed the story’s novelisation for an article I was writing at the time called Target Trawl, I was struck by how much it felt alien to much of the Pertwee era.  Rather than being very representative of it, it had an ambience all of its own: Enid Blyton whimsy struck through witchcraft.  To this day, it still bewilders me that the story is held up as the idiosyncratic Pertwee yarn.  It was therefore comforting to see Matt Barber tackle this subject right off the bat in his essay on The Dæmons, the latest release from Obverse Books in their Black Archive range.

Barber’s contention that the story’s reputation is a mixture of things is a convincing one: cast/crew adoration and subsequent anecdotalism at conventions, the plot’s firm grounding in 1970s concerns, and the integral use of Aldbourne and the way that village has become a site of fan pilgrimage since all add up to make for something worth paying attention to.

In his quest to look at reasons for the story’s high acclaim, Barber invites us to learn about contemporary views on witchcraft; compares The Dæmons directly with influential examples of Folk Horror; analyses the importance of building and location within the story’s script; dissects the Third Doctor (is he really a Tory?); and discusses the Faustian qualities of Roger Delgado’s Master (an especially interesting portion of the essay that resonated).

The best Black Archive releases are the ones which present their arguments without having to stretch at all to convince you of points of symbolism or artistic intent, and that is certainly the case here.  Barber writes with such clarity and authority, such is the weight of his research and the accuracy of his arguments, that I spent the 100-odd pages of the essay hungry to grab my DVD of The Dæmons and watch it all over again with a far better appreciation the story.  There was no aspect that made me think, “I’m not sure how convinced I am by this argument.”  There was only nodding along.

The Black Archive essays on The Curse of Fenric and Heaven Sent invited me to dive into those stories again with a new appreciation; the same goes for The Ultimate Foe, which made me better appreciate how good a job Pip and Jane Baker did with it all, and how good a job Eric Saward did in salvaging something borderline unworkable.  Barber’s essay on The Dæmons easily sits up with these examples: simply put, it is transformative. There is the way you watch the story before reading this, and the way you watch it afterwards.

Perhaps it was arrogance to think I ‘got’ The Dæmons before, or perhaps this is just an exceptional release in an exceptionally consistent and strong range? Whatever the case, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

❉ ‘The Black Archive #26: The Daemons’ by Matt Barber was published in December by Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £7.99. CLICK HERE to visit the Black Archive shop

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