2 out of 5
Directed by: Christopher Barry
This attempt at mixing some Wicker Man folk-demonology into the Whoniverse is a good idea, but is rather boringly and unevenly applied. The distinction between magic and science can be fun to explore, and so twisting that to be black magic – some small town lore warns of an archeological dig unearthing a demon – allows the episode to start far away from the “alien visits the planet” or “the master is up to some weird business” templates we’ve been sticking with, even if we eventually get right back around to both of those things. This setup is really hindered by actress Damaris Hayman, who plays the towny witch, nay-saying the dig, as her every moment on screen is beset by confusion as to where her eyeline is – she’s never addressing anyone directly, and seems to be looking for a camera somewhere in the distance; a lot of this centers around her causing a kerfluffle and then the Doctor – seeing a news report on the matter – surprisingly agreeing with her warnings, and while the premise is fun, her presence prevents the ball from effectively rolling.
As does… the Master. Not because Roger Delgado isn’t great – he is; he’s awesome – but because we can’t get away from the damn guy, and his inclusion here somewhat sucks out any sense of mystery around what’s going on – it automatically becomes just another Master plot. The eventual explanation that the soon-to-be-unearthed demon is actually an ancient alien and yadda yadda – it doesn’t matter, because the goal now just becomes to defeat the Master. I appreciate that he’s used as a vehicle for convincing the townies to worship the demon (stirring up more power for the Master to abuse), but he wasn’t needed in that role – it could’ve been any persuasive figure, and might’ve been more effective if that was the case, as it would add further tension to trying to save the townspeople while also combatting the forthcoming threat.
The black magic hoodoo, inbetween the first, explanatory episode, and the final, let-“science”-resolve-things episode, ultimately becomes a lot of filler nonsense, with Delgado chanting things in a basement while wearing ceremonial robes; this doens’t really align with the “this is actually just an alien” gist. And the baddie that the Master employs to do some biddings – an animated gargoyle – rates pretty low on the cheap Who villains: surely there was some better costume for something made of stone than a dude in a grey sweatsuit. But props to the actor, who does funny walks and animates the character well, and I liked his hand-zappy powers; good use of flash powder.
One final kick in the pants is Pertwee’s harsh treatment of Jo. DW hasn’t been good to its female companions in general up to this point, with Liz Shaw – actually intelligent, and capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Doc – essentially getting booted for being too smart – and apparently, dialogue consisting of 100% negging was cute. So nearly the whole thing is the soldiers smiling at Jo because she’s a silly ol’ girl, and the Doctor telling her she’s an idiot.