Although The Awakening, like the other Davison two-parters, feels a little disposable, it’s still an decent enough story, helped no end by a larger-than-life performance from Denis Lil (Sir George Hutchinson).
Sir George has somehow (and like a lot of the story we’re somewhat vague on specifics) found himself under the thrall of the Malus, a malevolent alien entity who has lain dormant since the 17th century. The Malus feeds on violent emotions and therefore has had little to feast on since the English Civil War came to this part of the world in 1643.
So, Sir George decides that a Civil War re-enactment would be just the thing to restore the Malus to full strength. The concept of a whole village under the thrall of an alien being is a good concept, but it’s not really followed through in the story as he seems to be the only one who is actually under the Malus’ control.
True, Willow (Jack Galloway) is happy to carry out Sir George’s bidding, but that may be because he’s a bit of a bully anyway and there’s nothing to support the claim from Jane that the final battle will be fought for real. The problem with this lack of development could be due to the two part format, which doesn’t allow too much time to develop the various story threads.
If Sir George (and maybe Willow) are on the side of chaos, then the voices of reason are provided by Jane Hampton (Polly James) and Ben Wosley (Glyn Houston). Following the somewhat wooden turns of Warriors of the Deep, their more naturalistic performances are very welcome.
The TARDIS has landed in Little Hodcombe so that Tegan can visit her grandfather, Andrew Verney. This is another part of the plot that doesn’t really go anywhere since Verney is totally redundant to the plot. There’s no reason why the TARDIS couldn’t have simply turned up at random, with the Doctor being naturally drawn into the mystery of the closed village and the strange happenings in the church.
With the concept of two periods connected in time and psychic projections from the past appearing in the present, there’s something of a Sapphire and Steel vibe about this story, which is no bad thing. A refugee from the past, Will Chandler (Keith Jayne) teams up with Davison for part of the story and it’s possible to understand why he was briefly considered as companion material.
The Malus, who has been resident in the local church for three hundred years or so looks very impressive, but it’s somewhat limited, action wise. Once you’ve heard it go “rooooooooaaaaaaarrrrrrrr” a few times then it’s not got much more to offer, with the genuine scares coming from the various projections it can conjure up – particularly the ghostly Roundheads who behead an unfortunate extra.
The location of the Malus does lead one to suppose that the church was built around it, which is an interesting thought. If so, then presumably it was felt that the sanctity of the church would nullify the Malus’ baleful influence. Or maybe they didn’t notice its big head? Who can say?
One other notable point about The Awakening is that it was Barry Newbery’s final Doctor Who story as a designer and also his last work for the BBC (he took early retirement almost immediately afterwards). His most active period on the programme was during the Hartnell era, where to begin with he alternated with Raymond Cusick on each serial. Both Cusick and Newbery performed miracles with the non-existent budgets of the early 1960’s and whilst the success of Doctor Who is due to many people, both of them must take some of the credit as without good visuals, the stories would have foundered. And The Awakening was a decent story to bow out on as it featured some impressive sets – particularly the ruined church.
Although somewhat rushed and with the odd loose end, this is an enjoyable story boasting decent location filming, some good performances and a few scares along the way.