Doctor Who and the Daemons
|ISBN||0 426 10444 7|
|First Edition Cover||Chris Achilleos|
|Back cover blurb: DOCTOR WHO is strangely concerned about Professor Horner's plan to cut open an ancient barrow near the peaceful English village of Devil's End; equally worried is Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, who foretells a terrible disaster if he goes ahead; determined that the Professor should is Mr. Magister, the new vicar (in truth the MASTER) whose secret ceremonies are designed to conjure up from out of the barrow a horribly powerful being from a far-off planet... The Brigadier and Jo Grant assist DOCTOR WHO in this exciting confrontation with the forces of black magic!|
Target aquires a new noveliser... by Tim Roll-Pickering 5/12/03
Doctor Who and the Daemons is a minor landmark in the Target novelisations, being the first of the originated books to be written by someone other than Terrance Dicks or Malcolm Hulke. Until 1993 Barry Letts never managed to achieve an on-air credit as a Doctor Who writer due to various concerns but here he gets the chance to stretch his literary legs in retelling the first story he co-wrote with Robert Sloman.
It's often possible to read a Target novelisation and see which of the 1960s novelisations it most closely resembles in terms of its treatment of the original story. Here Letts seems to be following the example set down by Doctor Who and the Crusaders by rearranging the order of scenes so that instead of lots and lots of short moments we get substantial material before shifting the setting. This can work but unfortunately here everything in close proximity and so it's difficult to pull this off without having moments where a character appears to be in two places at once - for example Bok emerges from the church in passages before the ones detailing his departure from the cavern. This is however perhaps the book's only real weakness.
On television The Daemons is a strong story which attempts to do something different from the norm by exploring the occult and black magic. The explanations given on television were sufficient in that medium but here more exposition may be required. Letts more circumvents this problem than tackles it by having characters thinking to themselves how difficult it is to understand the Doctor's explanations of how something is not black magic. The other notable weak point on television was the Doctor's sudden wealth of knowledge about the Daemons without doing much to discover it through the course of events. Here more explanation is given that he learnt about this in school but then forgot and only fully realises events through his researches in Miss Hawthorne's library. It isn't the most perfect explanation but short of a significant restructuring of the plot this works a lot better than on television.
Otherwise this book contains many enhancements upon the televised story. Letts often takes the opportunity to delve into the thoughts of individual charecters, so we get to understand how many of them react to the strange events unfolding around them, as well as learning more about the relationship between the Doctor and the Master before they both decided to opt out of Time Lord society. We also get fringe characters beefed up, such as the coven member in the televised story who objects to Jo being sacrificed has now been fleshed out as Stan Wilkins who is shown to have serious doubts about what he has been drawn into. The pub landlord Bert is enhanced as well, coming across as highly sympathetic as Letts shows how he and others have been convinced by the Master that what they are doing is the right thing.
This novelisation contains perhaps the first notable continuity error in the Target books as they were originally published, when Jo's initial encounter with the Master and how he hypnotised her is briefly recalled. Although it doesn't go into details, it is clearly not referring to the previously published Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon which had claimed to be Jo's first adventure. Whilst this means the book is closer to the television continuity, it is nevertheless the first step by which the novels gradually lost coherency between one another when one diverged from the television series but another did not. But this is not sufficient to damage what is an exceptionally good book. 9/10
Targeting Daemons by Matthew Kresal 16/2/17
The Daemons is perhaps the quintessential Third Doctor story. It has everything you'd expect from that era: Jon Pertwee's Doctor, Roger Delgado's Master, UNIT and an alien threat in the English countryside. It's no surprise then that the man who produced that era and co-authored the story, Barry Letts, was the one who novelized the story as part of the Target range of novelizations. What is perhaps surprising, especially after reading his lackluster novelizations of his later two BBC Radio stories for this Doctor, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space, is that it reads quite well.
The best of the Target books are those that found ways to expand upon the original TV tales, such as the novelizations written by Malcolm Hulke from his original scripts. While Letts most certainly isn't in the same caliber as Hulke in either script nor prose, his literary take on The Daemons is not without items of interest. For one thing, he goes some way to flesh out the details. If you ever felt that the idea of a coven in the village of Devil's End was a bit much, your concerns will likely be set aside by the time you finish the book, as the history of the village gets explored in some additional detail so that we can see just how and why this might be the case. There are also additional sequences including a rather neat one involving Bok (the gargoyle who comes to life so memorably in the TV story) and Miss Hawthorne that is all to easy to see why it wasn't filmed but works splendidly on the page.
It's the characters that are the real highlights of this novelization. Letts goes some way into fleshing out the villagers and many of the supporting characters. Characters who might seem like little more than caricatures in the TV version, such as the Squire or Groom the local constable, are neatly fleshed out. There's a character in the TV version who has put one line of dialogue who not only gets a name (Stan Wilkins) but is also present slightly off-screen for a number of events, allowing us to see the build-up to the character's only major moment in the TV version. Even established TV characters get some neat moments of fleshing out, such as finding out where Sergeant Benton would rather be and what he gets up to in his spare time or Miss Hawthorne, whose past we learn a little bit more of. While none of them perhaps ever count as being three-dimensional, they are certainly interesting in light of the TV tale.
Which is not to say that is perfect, however. Letts' prose style is punchy, and the 172 pages of the edition I read flew by very quickly indeed but at some cost. Moments do get lost occasionally in the name of pace or have less impact, such as the first encounter between the Master and Miss Hawthorne. Then again, there is a strong melodramatic sense to the prose as well, which is never very far away. It's especially the case in the descriptions Letts uses, especially when a character is getting their comeuppance, like Bert the landlord. Or, indeed, when the Master appears, as descriptions immediately reach for telling us this man is evil without conveying any of Delgado's charm that made that character so successful. It is perhaps this sense of rushing and melodrama that keeps this from ranking up there with some of the best and most influential novelizations.
Yet, for those faults, Doctor Who And The Daemons is definitely your above-average Target book. Look past the melodramatic and rushed prose, and there is plenty to like, from additional sequences to fleshed out characters. For fans of the story and the era it came from, it's definitely worth a read for a rainy afternoon. If not, then enjoy what might very well have been Barry Letts' best Doctor Who prose writing.