Monday, 29 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Green Death

Part One

“This fellow’s bright green, apparently. And dead.”

We get an immediate sense that this story is going to have significantly better dialogue than the last from Stevens’ Chamberlain spiel at the start. Slightly less impressive is the bizarre use of CSO for descending down a mine shaft, but this is good, and it’s also good to see UNIT again, especially the Brig. I would mention Jo dressing as Peter Davison, but I’m sure everyone else has by now so I won’t.

Interesting that the Doctor feels the need to establish his detachment from UNIT by briefly gallivanting off to Metebelis 3 for a bit of slapstick. Now his exile is over he clearly feels less attached to his old UNIT surroundings. Still, he says he’ll follow in a bit.

There’s an interesting parallel here with Jo, of course, who’s also feeling less attached to her circumstances than she was, as we’ve seen in recent stories. It was implied as early as Frontier in Space that she wouldn’t be travelling in the TARDIS again so it comes as no surprise to see her spurn a trip to the now-fabled Metebelis 3 for a more Earthly, and more serious, concern. The Doctor, freed from his exile, is more carefree than he’s been for ages while Jo, who’s clearly been following the environmental catastrophe in South Wales for some time, is moving in the opposite direction.

It’s a nice piece of foreshadowing that the Doctor and Jo don’t even listen to each other, and Jo also demonstrates her ties to UNIT are loosening. All this is clear to the Doctor: “So- the fledgling flies the coop”. There’s also an irony here; the Doctor, giddy with his new-found freedom, is neglecting his responsibilities for a pleasure journey, even if he does propose to follow on later. And while the Doctor engages in some slapstick on Metebelis 3, it’s actually Jo who’s the more Doctorish in her attitude.

There’s another symbolic parallel, of course, as she disrupts Professor Jones’ experiment, just as she did the Doctor’s back in Terror of the Autons. This pretty much tells us how she’s ultimately going to end up, right in the first episode.

Part Two

“I’m quite spry for my age, actually.”

Some interesting developments- Stevens has a “Boss”; Yates is mentioned so he’s definitely recovered from that explosion in The Time Monster- but although the plots moving along nicely there’s also some witty dialogue (“unauthorised footsteps”!) and of course we get to see the giant maggots. And this is the first time we hear the Doctor speak of Venusian Aikido, not Venusian Karate.

Part Three

“In the whole history of the world, there’s never been anybody just like Bert. And there’ll never be another…"

It’s a great relief to see that the Brig is back to his best after the unfortunate events of The Three Doctors. His confrontation with Stevens is a delight: “Are you threatening me, Mr Stevens?” “Yes, I think perhaps I am.” But Stevens has friends in high places, extending right to the prime minister, although I notice this is quietly dropped in later episodes. And the PM’s a Jeremy. Thorpe, presumably? Lock up your dogs...

There’s a bit of a Mad Men moment, reminding us just how long ago 1973 was, where the Brig and Stevens both drink whisky in the middle of the day as though it were tea or coffee. And a rather shocking Life on Mars moment, where the Boss causes Fell to commit suicide by jumping off a roof. You wouldn’t see that in a family programme these days.

The dinner party scene is fascinating. Jo is clearly getting closer to the Prof and distancing herself from the Doctor. It’s Jones who comforts her when she finds out Bert’s dead. And they’re clearly about to sleep together when the Doctor quite deliberately whisks the Prof away to the laboratory. That’s excellent writing. Can this really be the same people who wrote The Dæmons and The Time Monster?

Part Four

“Well, I’m not such a dunderhead as you all seem to think!”

We see Benton for the first time in ages, and then Stevens’ man from the ministry turns out to be none other than… Mike Yates. I’d forgotten all about that- it came as a genuine shock. The Brigadier is no fool in this story.

I love BOSS’s dialogue, especially as it could easily have been a generic baddie. But it has a real personality and wit, and a knowledge of philosophy and music. And what makes the Nietzschean allusions so great is that they so clearly go right over “little Superman” Stevens’ head. The final reveal that it is in fact a computer (of charmingly antique design and filling a whole room) makes this even more impressive- we could have got another WOTAN but instead we get this great character.

Oh yes, and we get a Pertwee comedy turn as a milkman and a tea lady. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any better.

Part Five

“Today Llanfairfach, tomorrow the world, eh?”

I love the fact that BOSS doesn’t want to personally take over the world, just maximise the profits of Global Chemicals by any means possible. Come to think of it, the character of BOSS is almost certainly intended as a statement on Big Corporations on the part of the writers.

The Doctor’s reaction to interrogation, by now something of a Pertwee era standard, is great, as per usual. Some great lines from the Doctor: “Freedom from freedom?”

More good stuff here, and I love it that Jo gets to repair the communicator in another indication of how far she’s come. On the other hand we get more gratuitous use of CSO (this story’s most glaring fault) as the Doctor drives through the slag heap.

Oh, and naturally, the delirious Cliff chooses to murmur “serendipity” rather than “it’s the fungus” or something.

Part Six

“Don’t worry Doctor, I’ll look after her.”

I’m really enjoying this story, so just this once I’m willing to overlook the fly. It’s pretty poor though. Fortunately, everything else rocks. I love the way BOSS quotes Oscar Wilde and discusses Wagner and Tchaikovsky. He has a real personality and wit yet is also strangely childlike. It’s quite effective to see him suffer pain while dying.
Jo’s extended leaving scene is great and entirely fitting, from Cliff’s clumsy proposal to the Doctor, too upset to stay, walking out of the party and driving off, if not literally into the sunset.

Fantastic, 5/5. Great story, great dialogue, great performances and particularly great treatment of the regulars in a story where it’s essential. For some reason Letts and Sloman, usually disappointing so far, really pull it out of the bag with this one.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed Season 10 really rather a lot. In fact, with an average of 4/5 it’s in joint first place with Seasons 5 and 7.

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