Saturday, 19 January 2013

Story 54 - Inferno

In which UNIT is providing security at a drilling project which the personnel have nicknamed "Inferno". Professor Stahlman is hoping to penetrate the Earth's crust in order to reach a new gas which he has named after himself. It is hoped that this will provide all of Britain's energy needs. A viscous green liquid has started to seep up one of the pipes, and a technician named Slocum touches some - causing him to become a deranged killer. There is a physical transformation as well - as he becomes animal-like. The Doctor is present with Liz. He has the TARDIS control console in a shed on the site and has been experimenting using power from the project's nuclear reactor. Another technician and a UNIT soldier are also infected by the green fluid. Their bodies generate great heat. Stahlman is becoming increasingly obsessed with his project and is pushing the drilling beyond safety levels. The civil servant assigned to the project - Sir Keith Gold - calls in an oil expert named Greg Sutton to advise him. Stahlman resents this interference. He decides to ignore the computer which is issuing safety warnings - and later sabotages it. He also becomes infected but manages to keep the transformation in check - for now.

The Doctor's experiments go awry and he, the console, and "Bessie" are transported to a parallel version of the drilling project on an alternative Earth. In this world, Britain is a fascist dictatorship. UNIT is the RSF - Republican Security Force. The Doctor is captured and assumed to be a spy. He encounters alternative versions of his friends. The Brigadier is the cruel - but cowardly - Brigade-Leader; Liz is Section-Leader Shaw; and Benton is a sadistic Platoon Under-Leader. This project is run like a labour camp. Greg Sutton is here also - a political prisoner. Sir Keith has died in a mysterious car accident. The Doctor discovers that the drilling is far more advanced here and penetration of the crust is imminent. Stahlman is pushing things forward without heeding safety warnings. The Doctor tries to stop the project but fails. With the drilling complete, powerful volcanic forces are unleashed. Many of the personnel transform into savage hirsute Primords. The Doctor cannot save this world - but can in his own reality if he can get back and stop the drilling. Liz helps him - shooting the Brigade-Leader when he tries to flee with the Doctor.

Back in this reality, the Doctor sets about warning everyone of what he has seen in the parallel universe. Naturally, not everyone believes him. Sir Keith has only been injured in an accident, after Stahlman paid his driver to get them lost and stop him interfering. Stahlman turns into a Primord and has to be killed - shot by the Brigadier. The creatures are also susceptible to the freezing gasses in fire extinguishers. Greg helps the Doctor shut down the drilling with only moments to spare. Sir Keith has the project closed down. The Doctor tries to escape his exile using the TARDIS console, after bidding farewell to Liz and telling the Brigadier exactly what he thinks of him - but only gets as far as the site's rubbish tip. He has to mend fences with the Brigadier in order to get help in retrieving the console - much to Liz's amusement...

This seven part adventure was written by Don Houghton, and was broadcast between 9th May and 20th June, 1970. It marks the final story of Season 7, and is the last story to feature Caroline John in the regular role of Liz Shaw.
It was a troubled production, as director Douglas Camfield was taken ill during the studio recording. He had suffered a minor heart attack. Producer Barry Letts had to step in and complete the programme using Camfield's camera plans.
Caroline John gets the final shot of the show - but not a farewell scene. She was pregnant and was planning on stepping down anyway, though Letts - not knowing about the pregnancy - informed her he would not be renewing her contract as he had other ideas about the companion role. Liz was a brilliant Cambridge scientist, who sometimes knew exactly what the Doctor was on about - which did not make her an ideal audience identification figure. Letts wanted someone who would ask the questions that the audience might want answered.

Do I really need to talk about eye-patches? You might be new to the programme, so I will say briefly that Nicholas Courtney's favoured Convention story runs that he was sitting with his back to Pertwee, Levene et al, in his Brigade-Leader uniform and make-up - which included a black eye-patch over a duelling scar. When he swirled round in his chair, everyone was wearing an eye-patch -  and Courtney carried on unfazed.
Actors love roles where they get to play more than one part - especially if one of them is a villain. Hence, Courtney, Levene and John all cite this as a favourite story. They get to play nasty versions of their regular roles. Liz tends to be closer to her real world counterpart - saying that before joining the RSF she had contemplated being a scientist, and she soon accepts the Doctor's story and helps him escape, with no thought to saving her own neck. Benton is brutish and soon becomes a Primord. Of the regulars, it is Courtney who really gets to play with his alternative version. The Brigade-Leader is a bully - and like all bullies he is, just below the surface, a coward. When his thugs desert him, we see his true colours.

Considering that the programme's original remit was to have adventures set in the past, the future, and "sideways" (i.e. alternative takes on the present day) it is surprising that it took this long for Doctor Who to do a parallel universe story. It is equally surprising that we had to wait for 2006's Cybus Cybermen return story to see it again.
Guest artists worth mentioning include Olaf Pooley as Stahlman; Derek Newark as Greg Sutton; Christopher Benjamin as Sir Keith; and Sheila Dunn as Stahlman's dedicated assistant Dr. Petra Wiliams. The latter was the actress wife of director Camfield. Newark had appeared in the very first Doctor Who story, as Za. Christopher Benjamin would go on to play the popular Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (a role he is continuing on audio) and Sir Hugh Curbishley in The Unicorn and the Wasp.
Olaf was nicknamed Aloof by certain sections of the cast, and was not keen on the full Primord make-up.
The monsters were added just to have a monster for the sake of it, and to help with the odd cliff-hanger, but they could so easily have been left out altogether.

Episode endings for this story are:

  1. In the reactor room, the Doctor and the Brigadier are confronted by the savage Slocum.
  2. The Brigadier and Liz rush into the shed just in time to see the Doctor vanish, along with "Bessie" and the TARDIS console...
  3. In the parallel universe, the Doctor is attempting to fix the computer. He looks up as Benton threatens to shoot him...
  4. The Doctor tries in vain to stop the drilling reaching penetration - but is too late. Everyone hears a screeching sound and the Brigade-Leader points his pistol at the Doctor.
  5. Everyone is trapped in the Brigade-Leader's office as Primords try to smash their way in...
  6. Liz shoots the Brigade-Leader as the Doctor desperately tries to get the console to work - a wall of lava pouring towards them...
  7. Liz gets the last laugh as the Doctor apologises profusely for some nasty things he said about the Brigadier...

Overall, an excellent story. The move to the parallel universe and its warped versions of the UNIT crew help sustain the story over the seven episode length. It is interesting how we flit back and forth to see how events are mirroring (or otherwise) the events in each world. Great performances, nice model work and some fantastic stunts courtesy of the guys from HAVOC.
Things you might like to know:
  • On screen, the alternative Stahlman appears to be called Stahlmann - as seen on his heat protection suit badge. However, the credits have him as Stahlman throughout. A costume mistake, or a credit caption writer one - or an attempt to show a parallel variation? None of the other characters have alternative names, and we even have a Sir Keith, despite it being a republic. Who knighted him?
  • The location of the Inferno Project is a town called Eastchester, according to a deleted scene. This was cut as it featured characters listening to a radio broadcast. The voice was just too obviously Pertwee in full nasal mode - apparently based on Lord Haw-Haw.
  • Stuntman Roy Scammell's fall from the gasometer was the highest such stunt fall ever at the time. Pertwee helped him set his cardboard boxes (to land on). This might have been to expiate some guilt after inadvertently running over fellow HAVOC man Alan Chuntz in a chase sequence involving "Bessie". 
  • The story owes its origins to a real life drilling project. It was abandoned suddenly without explanation - and so led to quite a few conspiracy theories as to what might have happened...
  • The Primords are named as such in the end credits and in publicity material, but are never called this on screen.
  • The Big Brother-like dictator of the parallel Britain bears a striking resemblance to BBC Visual Effects maestro Jack Kine... (An in-joke as Kine had worked on the infamous 1954 BBC adaptation of Orwell's 1984).
  • Kate O'Mara was originally intended for the role of Petra Williams.
  • This is one of the Pertwee stories raided for references by Chris Chibnall for his Series 5 Silurian story - the drilling project at Cwmtaff.
  • This story sees the final appearance of the original 1963 TARDIS console prop.

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