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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
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
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.