There’s still a whole series to go, but in many ways this is the end of ‘The Pertwee Era’ as we know it.
The Master is gone and now Jo Grant is leaving the ‘UNIT Family’ in the last story of Season 10 of the show – The Green Death
Doctor Who – The Green Death Review: What’s This One About?
Giant Maggots, Evil Capitalists, WOTAN’s eccentric younger brother BOSS and making fun of the Welsh
Thoughts – It’s Apparently ok to be Racist…it’s Only The Welsh
When you watch The Green Death, the first thing that will strike you is how unbelievably racist it all is, and I don’t use the word ‘unbelievably’ lightly. Even in an era that saw shows like Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language – shows,
incidentally, that have been cleansed from history – the production team’s portrayal of the Welsh miners as wacky caricatures from a simpler time is astonishing. In truth it’s actually quite funny but we’re conditioned these days to tut under our breath at stuff like that.
You’ve got the Welsh coming out with all the perceived vernacular stereotypes like calling people ‘Boyo’ and finishing sentences unnecessarily with ‘Isn’t It’, ‘Doesn’t It’ and ‘Can You’, and you’ve also got the English characters treating most of them with a whithering contempt.
“They’re at the Nut Hutch” says Stevens’ driver with disdain (the Welsh characters pronounced Nut Hutch as ‘Nuttuch’), while Jo talks about how she can’t believe she’s so shaken by the death of a ‘Funny Little Welshman’.
Take that last line and imagine her talking about a ‘Funny Little Indian’ or ‘Funny Little Pakistani’ and imagine the race storm that it would cause these days.
But it seems to be ok to be as racist as that because it’s only the Welsh.
It’s like how in 2012 it’s still acceptable to discriminate against people with ginger hair.
Despite that though, Talfyn Thomas especially puts in a memorable performance. As hypocritical as I am for saying it, his portrayal of a thick-accented Welshman is always brilliant, and though he’s not as good in this as he was in shows like Dad’s Army and Survivors, he still lights up the screen whenever he’s on it.
A Clash of Two Stories In One
Now I should point out before I go any further that I do like this story. It’s classic Pertwee faire and is one of the best remembered of his era, with all the regulars (minus Delgado of course) putting in strong performances.
But the problem I have with it – if you can call it a problem – is that it seems to be two separate stories rolled into one.
On the face of it, the Green Death will be seen by most to be about the giant killer maggots that have come into being as a result of Global Chemicals secretly pumping toxic waste into the Welsh mines while presenting themselves as an environmentally sound oil fuel company.
But what it really seems to be about is a mad computer wanting to take over the world in a storyline remarkably similar to The War Machines.
When I got to Episode 6, I thought that the maggot storyline had been pretty much brushed off to the side with the B-Movie-esque ‘something every day and normal turns out to be the cure’ plot twist, and frankly it doesn’t seem feasible that the Doctor and Benton managed to get round every single maggot to feed them all the fungus before they could each turn into the Giant Fly of Doom. But hey-ho.
Of course, you couldn’t have the maggot storyline without the brainwashing computer I suppose, because if Stevens and the rest of the Global Chemicals staff weren’t brainwashed, they would have immediately shut down production until UNIT solved the maggot problem. Or am I being too kind to the ‘Evil Capitalists’ here?
And as for the BOSS storyline; it was all sorted by the Blue Sapphire from Metabilis 3. Now I don’t like that type of finish because it’s a cheat. The story is set in 1970s Wales and the solution is an alien sapphire the Doctor just so happens to have on him. I think that’s quite a cheap way to wrap things up.
From Sickly Comedy to Genuine Emotion
The plot though is not the reason I have a soft spot for this story, it’s the ending.
In the first instance you’ve got Stevens and how he redeems himself. Now, it’s true to say that the way Stevens dies is the sort of thing that is included in my ‘Things That Annoy Me in TV and Films’articles – i.e. the idea of someone needlessly
throwing their life away when they could quite easily save the day and escape – but there’s still something that pulls on the heartstrings about a man knowing he’s about to die and crying a single tear. I liked that; it was a real ‘adult drama’ moment in a series made more for the family.
And then you’ve got the exit of Jo. And ok, it may well have been telegraphed from the very start, and yes, it’s a bit odd that she and Cliff decide to get married before they’ve even had their first kiss, but we can ignore that. What makes it is the Doctor’s reaction. He slips away from a ‘UNIT Family’ party quietly, sad at the loss of his companion. It’s a departure from the usual hurried companion exit, and it’s made better by both the performances of the actors – Pertwee especially – and the direction. Although you do wonder how he’s so upset when he was happy to let her go off to live on Skaro at the end of the last story.
Anyway, the ending is all the more pleasant considering how badly the story started. The scene where the Doctor and Jo are talking to each other about different things and then both say ‘You never listen to a word I say’ to each other at the same time is absolutely cringe-making. And the ‘hilarious’ scenes with the Doctor struggling on Metabilis 3 are just as bad.
Mike Yates – The World’s Least Likely Army Captain
One character who stands out in the Green Death is Mike Yates.
Now it’s fair to say that Richard Franklin is perhaps not Macho Army Captain Material. One could even say he was miscast in the first place. He’s quite a softly spoken and effete guy (and yes, I’m aware I’m venturing into dangerous waters here, but bear with me…) and has never really been believable in the role.
However, in this story he’s out of the Captain uniform and going undercover as the vaguely titled ‘Man from the Ministry’. And in truth he’s a lot better.
Franklin has a natural campness about him and he seems to revel in the chance to camp it up like he previously couldn’t in his UNIT uniform, complete with comedy pratfalls and Carry On-esque hand rubbing.
By no means does he steal the show, but you do get the feeling he’s having more fun playing the part he’s got in this one than he usually does.
- The rapid ageing of Katy Manning is complete here. You’ve just got to look at a picture of her from the Terror of the Autons compared to here to be taken aback by how much older she looks. There’s only two and a half years between stories as well. Must be that old 1970s lifestyle, eh?
- CSO is a major part of this story, with the various actors standing in front of green screen while a dodgy looking background is mounted behind them. Some of it I can understand, like some of the stuff down the mines, but there’s a scene in episode 5 with the Brigadier and Benton standing in a quarry that seems to flip between location filming and CSO with no rhyme nor reason. Perhaps the film got damaged?
- If Jo Grant was as interested in the career of Professor Jones as she makes out, would she not have known what he looked like before meeting him for the first time?
- Can you spot the character who had to be hastily replaced because he fell ill half way through the story?
- If Global Chemicals is meant to be such a hi-tec security conscious establishment, is it not a little far-fetched that any old person can come in pretending to be the milkman or the cleaner?
- Although that Fly that the maggot turned into did look spectacularly crap, I do think that they could have done a little bit more with it. There’s something more creepy about flying insects than maggots in my opinion.
- People tend to go on about how good the actor voicing BOSS is, but I’ve never really shared that view. I think it’s because the same actor did such a spectacular job of annoying me in Planet of the Spiders and so I have a dislike for him
no matter what (but that’s a story for another time)
- There’s this belief that the Third Doctor is ‘The Action Doctor’, but up until this point he hasn’t done that much Action stuff. In the Green Death and indeed in the next couple of stories that changes, as he seems to alter his stance to ensure violence is a first resort rather than a last one.
- An aspect of this story I particularly like is the incidental music. More than usual it just seems to work.
- There’s an amusing little moment where Mike Yates is supposed to look disappointed when Jo announces her engagement. This goes back to the original plan for the two of them to become romantically involved. But as I say, Yates was miscast for that sort of thing and any romance was never even remotely believable.
- And as for Jo, when I reviewed the Terror of the Autons I described her as ‘one of the best companions’ and ‘a better actress working alongside Pertwee than Sladen was’. Now having reviewed all her stories and looked at her performances more closely, I may have to reassess that. Manning – on form – is a good actress, but too often she resorted to very shonky ‘kiddy’ acting, with a few stories like the Curse of Peladon and the Green Death standing out. Still, she’s a better character than many of her successors, there’s no doubt about that.
Doctor Who – The Green Death Review: Final Thoughts
So as I say, it’s the end of an era.
It’s farewell to Jo, and also to Bessie (f0r now) and the Doctor Who opening credits and logo.
It’s not a bad story at all, but there are many aspects of the plot that are a little to convenient for me. It’s also deeply racist, and whether that makes it worse is up to your own interpretation.
On the other hand, the conclusion to the story is excellent, and a rare example of emotion in a show where characters leave or are killed off without so much as a moment’s reflection.
Certainly one worth seeing, even if just for that.