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Doctor Who: The Green Death

cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Jerome Willis, and Stewart Bevan

director: Michael Briant

154 minutes (PG) 1973
BBC DVD Regions 2 + 4 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Twenty years ago, a punk, slightly older than me, told me that the two most frightening film and television viewing experiences for him had been the bulging door in The Haunting and a Doctor Who adventure, "the one with the maggots." Today, The Green Death is still referred to as 'the one with the maggots,' even in its own publicity on the DVD release. Well, I'm not one who remembers it. In truth though I have always described Jon Pertwee as the quintessential Dr Who, when it came down to it I may well only have watched the last season of the Pertwee reign, it is just that when you are that young 24 weeks of Sea Devils, spiders and UNIT adventures can feel like a long time and retrospectively a golden age.
   Watching Doctor Who: The Green Death now, it's unfamiliar. Watching it was disappointing. The Llanfairfach Colliery is being threatened by closure and the nearby Global Chemicals Research Centre is promoting a new process for polymerisation of crude oil that is supposed to reduce pollution but instead produces excess waste that is being channelled into the ground, seeping into the mines. Then a few of the miners become infected and sport a fluorescent green dermatitis. Jo Grant (Katy Manning) is already decidedly on her way, having read in the national press articles on Global Chemicals' work and the local opposition fronted by Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan) a Nobel Prize winner in whom she is in thrall of. The Doctor has repaired the Tardis and wants to gallivant the universe, his work on Earth declared done for the time being and for the Time Lord. UNIT are called in to protect Global Chemicals, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) travelling down with Jo, the Doctor to catch up with them later. On arrival at 'the Nut Hutch' the locals name for Jones' biotech research unit where he is developing a high protein fungus as a substitute for meat, she is delighted to learn that the Professor is a bright young man with a mane of hair that complements her afghan coat. Yes, Jo is falling for him like a spinning jenny.
   Over at Global Chemicals the managing director is the no-nonsense Stevens (Jerome Willis) taking instructions from a screen with a voice pattern. The employees vary from the wary and the 'Jobsworth' to those hypnotised and carrying out fatal instructions. More interesting is what is befalling every time the pit whistle blows. Jo joins a rescue mission down the mine and becomes trapped 500 feet below with Bert (Roy Evans) and tunnels teeming with oversized maggots that have snapping teeth. A continuity slip later and the Doctor has arrived, then again perhaps he arrived back at UNIT significantly sooner than the time he left so he could get there sooner, and he makes his own journey down the mine. Locating Jo they punt in a coal truck through the squirming larvae. They resurface in Global Chemicals and escape another deluge of waste, finding an ally within the Global Chemicals' operation, Elgin (Tony Adams), who does his best to assist them in getting to the truth.
   That isn't even half the story, it is spread over six episodes after all, but the adventure never really offers a single note of originality. Any claims in the supporting commentaries or interviews that bold ecological statements and inroads were being made falls a bit flat coming in the timeline as it does after two erstwhile series of Doomwatch. The budding relationship between Jo Grant and Professor Jones is pure pantomime, all the more embarrassing because his casting was prompted by the actor's real life coupling with Katy Manning. Unlike the Holmes era, this really does come out as kid's matinee fodder only once the youngster is enticed in by the exuberant players, bright sets and Radiophonic Workshop bleeps and boings, it then chucks at him the unpleasant crawling and snapping turd-like monster maggots.
   The lording-it villain is a computer with ideas outside of its circuitry and the Doctor foils it at one point by stealing that old trick from Star Trek episode Mudd's Women, one of the few inspired moments obviously having to come from elsewhere. But the Doctor was in desperate straits it has to be argued he was up against a hoity-toity machine that had just described human brains in terms of "It makes illogical guesses that turn out to be more logical than logic itself." You too would plagiarise to bring this Ed Wood style of verbal bosh to an end.
   The dialogue is wishy-washy, the story written to a cracking pace and met in pace by the director. It is a quick knockout job at the keyboard by producer Barry Letts and script-editor Terrance Dicks with little real character. Jon Pertwee plays the Doctor as an emotionally real person, more genuine than any of the comic-book humans in the adventure. His tendencies towards his assistant Jo, half in love with her and she half in love with him, are the only emotional edge to the adventure, from the moment Who foresees her departure, "So, the fledgling flies the coop," through to the final silent thoughts as he takes the wheel of his car Bessy and stares off-camera wracked by the loss. It is touching and an incredible moment amidst all the nonsense, not even Manning's exaggerated performance can kill it. Pertwee's ability to do this is remarkable given scriptwriter Robert Sloman's attempt to belittle Who with a couple of appalling comic disguises and lines about 'Venusian aikido'. Nicholas Courtney is dealt worse lines. "I never thought I'd fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar" (nobody said the Brigadier was an etymologist) and "They're dying like... maggots. We've got 'em licked," are to cringe to. The actors should have demanded new dialogue... throughout.
   The supporting material is again extensive with two short interviews taken with Stuart Bevan and Robert Sloman, while the more important commentaries feature Manning and Sloman. You might like to drive yourself insane by playing the commentaries at the same time as the subtitled information, in itself considerably more interesting than the Who adventure, recalling facts and figures and juicy anecdotes. A picture gallery of rare shots is included. Then there is Global Conspiracy: Llanfairfach, A Special Report, a fake documentary presented by former Man Alive reporter Terry Scanlon (played by Mark Gatiss, who also produces). It collars several of the stars of the original story, returning Jerome Willis, Clifford Jones, Tony Adams and Talfryn Thomas, as the original characters 30 years on, while allowing Roy Evans to return as his brother. It is not particularly funny, largely due to the opportunistic nature by which it is felt older stars came to be involved, shoehorning the available actors into the report. The 'special report' is just another sod-it, to a never-mind adventure on a so-so package that apart from stirring up horrible memories for those who were there and young enough first time around cannot possibly have too much to offer to new finders.
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