Continuing my Doctor Who stories I haven’t seen in ages thingy, it’s The Green Death! It’s classic Pertwee, six parts, UNIT personnel all over the place, people in bell-bottom trousers worrying about pollution… well, maybe that’s more early 70s than just Pertwee era Who…
A death at an abandoned coal pit brings UNIT and the Third Doctor to the South Wales town of Llanfairfach when the body is found glowing bright green. Are pollutants from Global Chemicals responsible? Where are the giant maggots coming from? And who is the mysterious BOSS?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
“I’ll miss you too, Jo. I doubt I’ll ever replace you… *ahem*…”
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) – Somewhat arrogant and definitely more violent incarnation of the Doctor, but you can’t shake the feeling of niceness when you see him…
Jo Grant (Katy Manning) – The Doctor’s faithful companion… unless something is potentially damaging the planet! … All of a sudden. Normally she’d be all over a trip in the TARDIS… must be a phase. I’m sure nothing will come of it…
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – Head of UNIT and not really up for fun and games, especially if it gets in the way of work… which given his work is saving the Earth, is a good thing!
Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) – Captain in UNIT, and a bit of a dull clean cut type… He certainly doesn’t seem interested in all this eco gubbins… *ahem*
Sgt. Benton (John Levene) – Large and a little bit dim, he’s nonetheless a good soldier and friendly guy to be around.
Cliff Jones (Steward Bevan) – A brilliant Welsh biologist who lives in an eco friendly community called Wholeweal and studies fungi… a bit of a hippy really… and a bit of knob.
Stevens (Jerome Willis) – Head of the Global Chemicals oil refinery in Llanfairfach and under the influence of rogue A.I. “B.O.S.S.” Instead of being a bit of a knob, he’s a complete knob, but it’s not all his fault…
Plus many more!
I doubt this would look any better with modern technology. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not, mind you…
The story does a good job of slowly building tension, starting out with the mysterious green plague that miners are starting to come down with, then moving to the giant maggots, then revealing that the old chestnut of a rouge A.I. as the final threat. That kind of pacing helps stretch the plot for six parts.
Although the lead villain was the aforementioned A.I. named B.O.S.S., the head of Global Chemicals Jocelyn Stevens makes for a really entertaining bad guy for the first three or four episodes, so hats off to Jerome Willis for that.
Jon Pertwee gets to do some more fun and silly things in this story. Despite his background, his Doctor was often played far more seriously than most before and certainly after him, yet here we see him disguise himself as a old milkman and later a Welsh female cleaner while undercover. It comes close to being “out of character” for the Third Doctor, but you don’t care. It’s nice to see a fun side for a change. Although I have some reservations about Jo’s exit storyline that I’ll get to down below, The Doctor’s reaction to her leaving is another side to this incarnation of the Doctor, as he sorrowfully looks on at everyone celebrating Jo and Cliff’s sudden marriage announcement, then walks away, a quick look back at the building with a lonely look on his face, then drives away, the sun setting in the background in what is a beautifully shot scene. Top marks there.
I also have to mention the absurdity of seeing a UNIT soldier throw (as in pick up with his hands and manually throw) bombs out of the side of a helicopter onto large maggots that have only achieved the feet of squirming around a bit. I’d love to have seen the director’s face when he read that scene. I also love the scenes in Episode 1 when Jo goes to Wales so The Doctor goes off in a huff to Metebelis III on his own, a planet he’s been going on about how beautiful it is, and ends up having an awful time. Just brief little cuts of weird noises and a panicked looking Pertwee running around on a blue planet cut into the episode.
“What?! Someone stepped on a flower outside? I’ll never forgive them…”
I get the feeling that writer Robert Sloman was either unaware this would be Jo’s last story until very suddenly, or just didn’t care about the character as he had a specific ending in mind. Either way, Jo’s sudden outburst of support for eco-warrior Cliff in the newspaper, to the point where she was willing to shrug off her job in order to support the fight against the evil energy company, was far too out of the blue. Then by the end of the episode she was off to the amazon with her new fiancée? Talk about sudden turn around!
On that note, I understand the message they were going for here, but they didn’t need to be so … on the nose about it. An “evil” energy corporation is dumping waste that’s killing people and polluting the environment so much that it’s created mutated giant maggots. Meanwhile, the living-off-the-land hippies are coming up with new ways to create clean energy and food for everyone. Great stuff. I don’t mind the message, but it could have been a bit more subtle.
Although I liked the interactions between The Doctor and The B.O.S.S., the evil leader being a rouge A.I. that’s gained sentience is a bit of a dull reveal, and unnecessary, really. They could have just stick with evil businessmen and the monsters they created without going down this route.
“My word, it’s like the room of tomorrow… today!”
Jo Grant wouldn’t appear again on the show after her farewell in this story, though she has had a few companion chronicles set post Green Death and appeared in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures titled “The Death of the Doctor” (which is included on the Special Edition of the this story!) where it is revealed that her and Cliff have had many children and grandchildren.
In Part 1 The Doctor finally goes to Metebelis III after mentioning it for a few stories now. The crystal he took would have serious repercussions in the Third Doctor’s final story “Planet of the Spiders”, and a similar crystal from the planet appears in the Eleventh Doctor story “Hide”.
I’ll admit, I find most of the Third Doctor’s era really fun. Sometimes you just can’t beat sticking on a six or seven part Pertwee and sitting in front of the TV for a couple of hours. The Earth-based UNIT ones especially, so this was great fun, as they always are. I will say that it does come off a bit preachy, and if you’re a fan of Jo Grant you may get a little annoyed with how her exit was handled. Still, lots to enjoy, including some more silly scenes for the Third Doctor, which is a rare treat.