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Doctor Who - The Green Death

episode 69

UK 1973
produced by
Barry Letts for BBC
directed by Michael E. Briant
starring Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Jerome Willis, Stewart Bevan, Tony Adams, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, Ben Howard, Mostyn Evans, Talfryn Thomas, Richard Franklin
written by Robert Sloman, script editor: Terrance Dicks, music by Dudley Simpson

Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee), Doctor Who (classic series), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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When a men is found dead in a mineshaft & his corpse turned green, UNIT - United Nations Intelligence Task Force, the section of the UN dealing with the unexplicable & unexplained - is called in to investigate. So, UNIT's leader, the Brigadeer (Nicholas Courtney) & his scientific advisor, Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee), in reality a time travelling alien from planet Gallifrey, start their investigations at Global Chemicals, the corporation responsible for the mine - where it dumps its waste from its new & highly polluting oil refining process. Fellow UNIT agent & the Doctor's assistant Jo Grant (Katy Manning) meanwhile hooks up with professor Jones (Stewart Bevan - then Katy Manning's real-life boyfriend), an ecologist & researcher in alternative energy & food sources.

However, at her end of the investigations, Jo soon ends up caught in the very same mineshaft the miner died with another miner, who, after touching some green slime, shows the very same symptoms as the dead men (including, in the long run, being dead). & as the head of Global Chemicals Stevens (Jerome Willis) shows remarkably little interest in saving Jo, & even mobilizes his friends in high positions like the minister of commerce & the prime minister to obstruct UNIT's work, the Doctor goes down the shaft himself, where he & Jo encounter a colony of 2 feet large green maggots, obviously a result of the pollution caused by Global Chemicals.

However, Global Chemicals still does everything to supress the evidence the Doctor has garnered, even if that means killing the Doctor & Jo by dropping oil onto them, & only thanks to GC-employee Elgin (Tony Adams) the 2 of them are saved in the nick of time - & it soon turns out that most of GC's management staff has been brainwashed by some evil power.

Soon though, GC & UNIT agree to blow up the maggot-infested mineshaft to blow the maggots to Kingdom Come, & only the Doctor & professor Jones oppose that plan - as it turns out heir reservations were justified, for the deadly maggots, deprived of their original habitat, soon start crawling to the surface, further spreading terror & death, & proving to be surprisingly resistant to conventional weapons.

The preventive measures our heroes undertake are soon threefold: professor Jones confines himself to his laboratory to find a chemical to kill the maggots, while Jo goes out to catch a maggot for research purposes, & the Doctor - aided by captain Yates (Richard Franklin), UNIT's undercover man at GC - tries to find out more about the inner workings at GC.

But while Jo on her mission soon gets into an Air Force bombing area - meant to eliminate the maggots - & the Doctor does find the true brains of GC - a megalomaniac computer bent on efficiency & slowly taking complete possession of Stevens' brain - but ends up a prisoner of the corporation, only Jones, with the help of Jo's clumsiness, finds a means against the maggots, a fungus he had developed that is lethal to them - but it soon is doubtful if he would live to tell his tale as he, in an attempt to save Jo, gets infected by the maggots' virus himself & soon proves to be too weak to give an account of his discovery other than a faint hint.

With Captain Yates' helop however, the Doctor can escape GC, decipher Jones' hint, find the weapon against the maggots, kill them - including one that has already evolved to insectg form - find a cure for Jones, & finally face GC's evil computer - fittingly called BOSS - once more when it's trying to commence phase 2 of its plan - taking over the world, of course - with the help of Stevens as its human body. However, the Doctor manages to break the spell Stevens is under & in return, Stevens initiates the computer's self destruct sequence (doesn't every computer have one), ultimately sacrificing his on life.

The Doctor has saved the world again, but the ending might prove a bitter one since Jo has decided to leave him, her father-figure, for Jones, the man she has fallen in love with.


Generally speaking, during Barry Letts' reign as Doctor Who's producer (1970 to 1974, almost all episodes with Jon Pertwee in the lead) the series consisted of solid sci-fi stories mostly of the earth-invasion variety, with the Doctor being a professor Quatermass-type character, which would occasionally hit a socio-critical note not normally found in a kids' sci-fi-TV series (which was what Doctor Who originally was conceived as), but dealign with it in an entertaining way.

The Green Death is not only no exception, but a perfect example for this: It does raise issues of ecology, globalization & of how the 2 are linked together decades before these topics became staple of the news-mags, but it does so by telling a sci-fi-horror-earth-invasion-tale about giant maggots that would work equally fine without any of that subtext as well.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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