Doctor Doctor Who Guide

After the badly plotted and ill thought out 'The King's Demons', 'The Awakening' (which is also essentially filler material) demonstrates how to make perfect use of the two-episode format. It is a well-paced, compact little story with enough of a plot to fit its duration without trying to be over ambitious. The idea of an ancient alien menace awakening within the church of a sleepy English village is of course recycled from 'The Dæmons' (as is the exploding church at the climax and the idea of a village sealed off from the outside), but 'The Awakening' uses the concept very effectively. The Malus is an alien war machine sent to clear the way for an invasion that never came; feeding on psychic energy, it is reawakened after being buried under the church of Little Hodcombe for centuries, whereupon it seizes control of local magistrate Sir George Hutchinson and uses him to set about generating the psychic energy it needs to revive fully and complete its programme. The war games are its means of doing this, and after the Doctor uses the TARDIS to stop it feeding on psychic energy from the village and Sir George is killed, it realises it has failed and self-destructs in last ditch attempt to clear the area. It is a very economical plot, but one that works extremely well; the Malus provides a memorable monster, Sir George provides a human villain, and there is plenty for the rest of the supporting cast to do. 

Part of the success of 'The Awakening' is that it is often very creepy. The ominous crack in the church wall builds suspense from the start, as smoke starts to pour from it and it gradually widens over the course of Episode One. The disfigured beggar, revealed to be a psychic projection from the past, is also rather sinister, as is the projection of a wizened old man that appears to Tegan. The increasingly dangerous war games further fuel the atmosphere, as it becomes clear that something is very wrong in Little Hodcombe, helped largely by Denis Lill's manic performance as the unhinged Sir George. Will's terrified account of seeing the Malus builds nicely towards the Episode One cliffhanger, and once the Malus itself appears it works very well. For one thing the large prop of the Malus' face is very impressive, and the fact that it seems irrefutably malevolent without actually speaking is to the credit of scriptwriter Eric Pringle. The smaller prop of the Malus projected into the TARDIS is equally sinister, and on a personal note I rather like getting the chance to see what the whole creature looks like, since it remains buried beneath the church except for its face. 

The acting throughout is exemplary, from Denis Lill's Sir George, to Glyn Houston's thoroughly likeable Colonel Wolsey, and Polly James very slightly eccentric Jane Hampden. Special mention must go to Keith Jayne as Will Chandler however; the character is very well scripted, and Jayne tackles the period dialogue very convincingly. Will's angst at killing Sir George is superb; so terrified is he by the Malus and the evil wreaked via Sir George that even he Doctor doesn't chide him for pushing Hutchinson into the Malus' jaws. The regulars too do very well out of such a short story; the presence of Tegan's grandfather results in predictably response when she discovers that he is missing, and leads to a rather charming final scene in which the Doctor is gently coerced into agreeing to stay in Little Hodcombe for a while. I always rather like any suggestion that the TARDIS crew has had time to relax and have fun, since it makes it easier to believe that the Doctor's companions are willing to endure so much stress with him. Davison is great in this scene, petulantly complaining that he's had a hard day, but suspiciously easily convinced to stay and relax for a bit… In fact the Fifth Doctor is magnificent here; after the futile bloodbath of 'Warriors of the Deep', here he quickly and efficiently identifies and neutralizes the threat of the Malus with relatively little bloodshed. Turlough also gets a surprising amount to do, and Pringle captures the character well; he takes action when it is essential to do so (such as when he and Verney knock out Willow and his associate from behind), but prioritizes his own safety over reckless heroism. 

The production is exemplary; the sets are astonishingly good, especially the ruined church which never looks like a mere studio set. The sets also complement the luscious location filming beautifully. Peter Howell's incidental music captures the pseudo-historical mood perfectly, and Michael Owen Morris directs the story with modest skill. 'The Awakening' is one of the finest examples of the two-part Doctor Who story and is an impressive addition to Season Twenty-One.

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