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Nostalgic but also current,
This review is from: Doctor Who - The Green Death [DVD]  (DVD)
My first review of The Green Death stems from 2007, two years after I bought the DVD and more than 30 years since I saw the story. Now, in 2013, I find reason to update it, mainly because this year marks 40 years since the story was originally screened on British television and that Dr Who as a series turns 50 this year.
In 1973 Dr Who's 10th season was highly anticipated and given high media attention via an eye-catching Radio Times front cover of the three Doctors together and a Radio Times Special devoted to the programme. Though the anniversary tale, The Three Doctors, did not live up to everyone's expectations, and the remaining stories were hit and miss, the season closed on a high note with The Green Death. Personally, no other story from the time I watched the Classic Series remained clear in my mind quite as much as this one: I came to forget Carnival of Monsters and Planet of the Daleks rather quickly, so The Green Death was also the first Dr Who story I bought on DVD, although I had not seen it since the edited compilation broadcast over Christmas 1973.
From Stevens Neville Chamberlain-style speech, through to the hatching of the maggot egg, to the final scene of the Doctor driving off in Bessie, silhoetted against the Welsh hillside at sunset, The Green Death is a great story in the Dr Who canon. Setting the story in Wales was quite inspiring, providing the series with probably its best location shoot since The Sea Devils just over 12 months before. Indeed following the recent "other world" based stories, The Green Death returned Dr Who to where the Pertwee era originally started: Earth and tackles themes as relevant today as they were then. Namely: umemployment, corruption in the boardrooms of big companies and environmental pollution. Not the sort of issues you would associate with the series, but that's also what makes it stand out. I could recall a few scenes before I even watched the disc, in particular Professor Jones telling Jo Grant to "shut the door!", the maggot crawling across the floor of the Nuthutch towards Jo as she reads by the glow of the firelight and the aforementioned final scene.
Episode 1 opens with an aerial view of Llanfairfach Colliery (in reality Ogilvie Colliery in Deri, Wales) before switching to a scene of veteran Dalek actor John Scott-Martin in the role of a miner making a monthly inspection of the redundant pit and becoming infected by something green. We then move to the laboratory at UNIT where news has reached them of the goings on in Wales. It is surprising how adamant the Doctor initially is about not getting involved with the affair, claiming he is not a policeman. By the end of the episode however he is starting to take control of the situation. His detour to Metebelis Three is a great scene (apparently filmed in Wales as well) with misty streams, giant reptiles and a large bird. Most significantly, blue crystals grow in abundance there and the Doctor manages to take one back as a souvenir.
Dr Who six-parters generally are criticised for "padding": I find this is kept to a minimum in The Green Death, the most coming in Episode 2 as Jo and Bert the miner attempt to escape from their being trapped. However, one of my favourite scenes is here as the Doctor edges his way around the chemical complex in search of the cutting equipment. Finally, he and Jo discover the effects of the green slime in the form of the maggots. Apart from some poor CSO effects at this point, it is here that the Doctor and Jo also find the vital link between the goings on in the mine and the chemical complex in the form of a shaft leading directly between the two. And they remove the maggot egg - the catalyst to the Episode 3 cliffhanger.
If viewers have watched Day of the Daleks, they will be aware of the discussions that arose as a result of the Doctor being shown enjoying a few glasses of wine. Well, here they are all at it as the UNIT team enjoy an evening meal at the Nuthutch. Personally I see no harm in it as none of the scenes show any negative effects of alcohol can have. With this mini celebration, it would appear all their troubles are over, but this is far from the truth: the gloom of the Nuthutch provides a suitable atmosphere for the Episode 3 cliffhanger.
Episode 4 brings UNIT to the scene in force and Jones the Milk's abusing of the UNIT troops with words about kicking the Prince of Wales up his wall bridges - very nice! The Doctor's powers of persuasions fail as he attempts to prevent the mine being blown up, although acts quite correctly in his capacity as the scientific advisor as he should do: "Mr Stevens, at the moment those maggots and their eggs are situated in a place where we can observe them."
I recall the flushed ooze on the observation hatch as being more disgusting in 1973 and this episode also provides some scientific explanation as to the cause of the events.
The Doctor disguised as a milkman and cleaning lady to get to the heart of the matter is surely included for Pertwee's own pleasure and brings some light comic relief to the procedings. The episode concludes with the Doctor finding out "who lives on the top floor" of Global Chemicals.
Episode 5 has the Professor infected with the slime and and a glaring casting error in the replacement of Elgin by Mr James (watch the production information text for the reasons for this).
Episode 6 features the much-cricised giant fly scene. Once again, it is heavily marred by obviously edited together location and studio footage. The fly itself is not too convincing (even with it's pea soup ejecting bicycle pump - again watch the prodution information subtitles for details) but how does Pertwee dispense with this menace? Forget the sonic screwdriver and even the blue crystal would be useless. Having made an emergency stop in Bessie, the Doctor removes his cloak and flings it over the creature, like a Spanish matador. Great stuff.
As to the cast, Jo Grant is quite determined here to literally put the world to rights , with or without help from the Doctor or UNIT. Her falling for the Profesor is understandable, though he also sees her as not much more than what the Doctor had seen her: an attractive but not very bright girl to hang around with.
The Brigadiers' script is a bit hit and miss: on the one hand selling the idea of the situation to the Doctor with the line "it's exactly your cup of tea. This fellow's glowing bright green apparently. And dead." On the other, he fails to convince Stevens or even the powers that be in Whitehall about the severity of the situation.
Professor Jones is an interesting character: a Nobel prize winning biologist on the one hand, yet still a flour-bag-flinging student on the other. Close behind him comes John Dearth for his portrayal (albeit in voice only) of The BOSS. This starts as a threatening boom in Stevens' office but sadly turns into a farcical speech at the end as he prepares for world domination. Dearth of course would take on a more significant role at the close of the following season as Lupton in Planet of the Spiders.
The prize for best supporting actor however goes to Jerome Willis as Stevens, following on in a long line of shadowy masterminds (Dr Lawrence in The Silurians, Dr Stahlmann in Inferno) here we have another power-hungry misguided individual.
At the top of the totem pole however, sits Jon Pertwee and through watching The Green Death, I am reminded of why he was my childhood hero. He is the very man to prevent world disasters: he positively radiates fatherly warmth and confidence as the horrific events unfold right under our feet. Here, dressed in suitably green velvet jacket, he is as charismatic as ever. As the action Doctor, he gets to prove his worth here: Venusian Akiado, driving a Hi-Mac truck from which he leaps(spot the join as stuntman Terry Walsh makes the actual jump!), stopping the cage as it plunges into the mine by jamming a metal bar into the mechanism, reversing the milk float through the barrier at Global Chemicals. He also uses his powers of persuasion as he delays the Brigadier's order to blow up the mine, as Stevens and BOSS attempt to brainwash him and breaking the hypnotic spell on Mike Yates using the blue crystal before he his about to shoot him. The only time his charm doesn't do the trick is in attempting to prevent the former.
On the subject of the mine blowing up, I have often wondered how events would have turned out if, as a result of this action, the maggots broke their way through to Global Chemicals so that Stevens would realise the true consequences of his actions.
All this is set against a background of Welsh laidbackness, rural countryside and a degree of technology that today could rather be improved by mobile phones and the internet, but nevertheless conveys the seriousness of the danger. The production made good use of the location, but it is a pity that it is intercut with studio shots pretending to be the latter. Lack of finances or time are poor excuses for such things.
As this was the first Dr Who story I purchased on DVD, I'd like to comment on the overall packaging. The cover pulls together important elements of the story - the maggots, the slag heap and the pit head. Like an ominous sunrise behind the pit head is an orange disc, superimposed with an oscilloscope pattern: this of course is The BOSS. And one gets the impression there's going to be trouble at t' mill. Looking over this scene are the Doctor and Jo with concerned looks on their faces. The opening titles to the disc are also impressive: the TARDIS zooming in and out before opening it's doors to the main menu which features a montage of notable scenes from the story. And one realises that Dr Who has really entered the digital age.
One thing that struck me in 2005 upon seeing the story again were the stunning opening titles: the diamond flames, glowing first red then green; the benign face of the series star swimming up before my eyes. They weren't as good as this before (possibly because of them being in black and white) and they were not as good afterwards. Significantly, The Green Death was the last time they were used.
The specials on the DVD range from interesting to not-so-serious. The interviews with writer Robert Sloman and actor Stewart Bevan are good as is model maker Colin Mapson's demonstration on how to make a maggot. The Global Conspiracy mockumentary rather shatters any serious questions raised by issues in the programme, personally I would have preferred a then and now feature of the locations used. The commentry by people involved with the production is good in that each provides their own thoughts about this era of Dr Who.
To conclude my review, I return to the story itself and the final scene of the Doctor driving Bessie along the skyline at sunset, having left the Nuthutch where the engagement party is in full swing. Watch how Pertwee produces the crystal from his pocket and cradles it in both hands as Jo says "it's beautiful". I thought on the initial broadcast that a maggot was going to crawl out of the gloom as the Doctor walked up the path! Most of the reviews here have rightly commented on the impact of this final scene: yes, it is rather touching and reminds me of the conclusion to a drama series rather than a Dr Who story. No review however has mentioned the second great loss to the series at this time. On Monday 18th June 1973, two days after the broadcast of Episode 5 of The Green Death, actor Roger Delgado was killed in a car crash whilst on his way to a location shoot in Turkey. Dr Who would never be the same again.
Through watching this DVD, I was reminded of a couple of other TV shows from the era in which The Green Death was originally broadcast. Firstly, The Brothers, a drama series shown between 1972 and 1976, concerning the trials and tribulations of a haulage company and featuring, coincidentally future Dr Who Colin Baker. Corruption at boardroom level was also a theme dealt with here. Secondly, Owen MD, which if I recall correctly was also filmed in Wales.
Generally a good one and well worth investing in. As I have written before, watch and enjoy.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Jul 2013 19:14:12 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 1 Oct 2015 15:46:08 BDT]
In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jul 2013 19:26:23 BDT
Neil Frost says:
Hi penmorfa. Many thanks for your comment
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