A review by Nalini Haynes
At the end of a particularly trying day the minion went to the post office to discover a package from Roadshow that included a review copy of Doctor Who and ‘The Green Death.’ The minion and I squeed simultaneously. The day suddenly looked brighter.
‘The Green Death’ was filmed in 1973, starring Jon Pertwee as the foppish Doctor with Katy Manning in her final appearance as Jo Grant, the Doctor’s companion, alongside Nicholas Courtenay as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, John Levene as Seargent Benton and Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates. This is one of the lesser-known episodes of Doctor Who because, when I was growing up, the ABC repeated certain episodes endlessly – sometimes annually – while other episodes languished from neglect. I remember the first time I saw this episode in early high school, I squeed because it was a ‘new’ episode.
Back in the day, Doctor Who wasn’t a soapy about the Doctor, it was a series of stories where the Doctor and his companion arrived accidentally in the midst of a mystery or crisis, sometimes saving the day or at other times merely meddling on the sidelines while others saved the day. This episode of Doctor Who is set in Wales during a conflict between a global company, miners in fear of losing their jobs and a bunch of greenies passionately arguing for alternative energy sources rather than polluting the Earth. Sound familiar? Even now, forty years later, ‘The Green Death’ is relevant; the same arguments endlessly repeating and, at times, becoming violent.
After the action begins, the Doctor and Jo are talking over Jo’s breakfast – a green apple – discussing their plans and the appropriateness (or otherwise) of an apple for breakfast. The Doctor’s comment that breakfast should include protein foreshadows the greenies’ focus on finding ecologically safe high-protein sources of food.
The Brigadier approaches the Doctor and Jo about going to Wales to investigate the ruckus caused by the greenies because Global Energy has governmental approval due to a reputation as a green source of petrol. The Doctor refuses to go because he’s off to Metebelius 3, a running joke in the show. Jo, however, preempts the Brigadier, informing him she can’t go wherever he wishes because she’s off to Wales to see the Professor who is fighting to protect the Earth. This is both humorous and foreshadows Katy’s departure from the series as she’s becoming independent; having been half in love with the Doctor, now she’s looking for a younger, more accessible replacement.
The Brigadier is obviously amused with Jo’s response and offers Jo a lift to Wales. The scene is set: UNIT is on Global Chemical’s side while Jo Grant is on the greenies’ side, staying at the colloquially-known ‘Nut Hutch.’
The Doctor goes to Metebelius 3,which is far from the relatively pleasant Planet of the Spiders; in fact it seems the entire animal population in the area where the TARDIS lands is conspiring to kill the Doctor without provocation.
Very soon miners are glowing green, Jo Grant is stuck down the mine, the Brigadier finally gets hold of the Doctor who comes to Wales and matters escalate. And escalate.
‘The Green Death’ is a six part story with ample discussion of the issues concerned without preaching; the creators’ desire to produce a story that engaged with ecological destruction due to greed is balanced with the genuine position of the miners although the global international company remains the villain throughout (with a logo strikingly similar to the Goodies’ ‘G’).
The script was intelligently written. In addition to the environment versus profit plot, the Boss (a computer) made references to Nietzsche, calling his primary minion ‘my little superman.’ Wagner’s music featured – sung by the Boss – to liken the Boss’s ruthlessness to Hitler, as Wagner and Hitler were of similar mindset and Hitler admired Wagner’s music.
The acting was good; Doctor Who has a habit of sourcing excellent television and theatre actors and this episode was no exception.
Many of the same people who worked on Doctor Who in this era also worked on shows like Blakes’ 7, which was also before its time. Although the ‘Green Death’ predates Blakes’ 7 by some years, it is easy to see the resonance between the two series, the foreshadowing of the special effects (both shows were on BBC shoe string budgets but did very well regardless), some similar tropes, creepy Big Brother-esque cameras tracking characters’ moves and much more.
Having recently read Danny Oz’s excellent essay on Doctor Who that included discussion of the musical score with particular reference to the efforts of Dudley Simpson, I was delighted to realise that Dudley was responsible for music for the ‘Green Death.’ At times I tried to remain conscious of the music score and followed it with interest, but with this first re-watch after so many years, I found myself sucked into the story instead.
In 2010 at Monash University’s ‘Utopias, Dystopias and Catastrophe’ conference, a number of theses were presented that discussed Doctor Who from various angles. These were, one and all, very engaging. There was one in particular that discussed the varying philosophical stances of Doctor Who, from green to anti-green, as a reflection of the era in which the stories were made. This is particularly interesting as Doctor Who is a record-breaking long-running series with many people working on it during the course of its 50 year history.
‘The Green Death’ is a must-watch for fans of Doctor Who and for those interested in deeper exploration of popular attitudes to ecology, big business, mining and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this episode again and highly recommend the ‘Green Death.’
Well. The extras are AWESOME. And I say that as a person who usually has a short attention span when it comes to extras, especially for television shows.
‘The one with the maggotts’
This included several recent interviews with surviving cast and crew, snippets of conversation with everyone from Katy Manning to the wardrobe mistress to the producer pasted together to create the semblance of a planned lecture with a flowing conversation. They talked about everything from the source of inspiration for the show to the special effects (what was good, what they were disappointed with and why), to Jo Grant’s planned departure and how that impacted upon the story and crew.
This was a short dramatic presentation exploring the current ‘aftermath’ of the ‘Green Death’ including the conspiracy of silence. Many of the surviving cast were featured, including Katy Manning as Jo Grant, Tony Adams as Elgin, Stewart Bevan as Clifford Jones and so on. The comedic and nostalgic balance of this segment was laudable.
Most of the discussion of visual effects was already covered in the first extra but an actual special effects maggot was created, step by step, in this portion. This maggott was even better than the original maggots, with a bigger, more menacing upper and lower jaw with more threatening teeth.
Extras abounded including segments from news broadcasts – Brits love their Doctor Who! – covering a range of events including Jon Pertwee opening a tourist centre in the town featured in the ‘Green Death’ twenty years after the story aired.
Finally, as an extra-special feature, the Sarah Jane Adventures story the ‘Death of the Doctor’ is on page two of the extras.
Five stars for the extras, too.