Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Story 69 - The Green Death

In which people descending into the disused mines of the village of Llanfairfach turn up dead - and glowing bright green. The Brigadier is frustrated when the Doctor decides to travel to Metebelis III, and Jo elects to take her leave at the Wholeweal Community in the Welsh village - run by the young Nobel Prize winning ecologist Clifford Jones. Jones is opposed to the Global Chemicals plant which has been set up in Llanfairfach. He thinks pollution from the plant is responsible for the bizarre deaths - something denied by Global's MD Dr. Stevens. Jo's first meeting with Jones proves inauspicious as she ruins one of his experiments - harvesting fungi for food. She decides to investigate the mines with an ex-miner named Bert. The Doctor has a dreadful time on Metebelis, attacked by hostile plant and animal life, but he does manage to obtain one of its famous blue crystals before heading back to Earth - and joining the Brigadier at Llanfairfach. The mine's lift is sabotaged by Stevens' chauffeur (and henchman) Hinks - leaving Jo and Bert trapped. Stevens proves uncooperative with the rescue efforts. Bert touches some glowing green slime pouring into the mine and becomes infected. The Doctor finds Jo - and they discover that the mine is infested with gigantic mutated maggots.

The Doctor obtains a maggot egg, and they escape up a pipeline into the Global Chemicals plant, assisted by an executive named Elgin. The Brigadier's efforts to investigate the plant are continually thwarted by Stevens, who has powerful friends in government. His promise of cheap, clean fuel is a lie, waste products being dumped illegally in the mine. This is what has mutated the maggots. The egg hatches and Jo is almost bitten. Hinks, who had come to the community to steal it, is killed instead. The Brigadier puts Mike Yates into Global Chemicals undercover. He is then ordered to blow up the mines. Maggots then start to emerge from the ground all over the spoil heaps surrounding the village. The Doctor discovers that Stevens is not the real head of Global Chemicals. He is in the power of its sentient super-computer, known as BOSS - Biomorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor. Stevens' mind is linked directly to the machine, and others are brainwashed by it. It plans to take over all Global employees across the planet, before taking over the world to run on rational lines.

Clifford Jones is bitten by a maggot whilst rescuing Jo from the spoil heaps. The creature which had hatched at the community is found dead. It had eaten some of Jones' fungus food. This substance can kill the maggots and cure the "green death". As he and Benton spread fungus to destroy the maggots, they are attacked by a giant fly, which the Doctor is forced to kill. Yates is brainwashed by BOSS into going to the community to kill the Doctor and Brigadier. The Doctor uses the blue Metebelis crystal to break the conditioning. He then goes alone to Global Chemicals to stop the machine. He uses the crystal on Stevens. He elects to sacrifice himself to destroy BOSS - blowing up the plant. Jones announces that he is going on an Amazonian expedition to locate a new protein-rich fungus - and he asks Jo to marry him and join his travels. She has fallen in love with him and agrees. As everyone celebrates the engagement, the Doctor slips quietly away and drives back to UNIT HQ in "Bessie".

This six part adventure was written by Robert Sloman (and an uncredited Barry Letts), and was broadcast between 19th May and 23rd June, 1973. It marks the departure of popular companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and is the final story of Season 10.
Letts was a keen environmentalist, and often used to bemoan the damage being done to the planet by polluting industries, as reported in The Ecologist, New Scientist and other periodicals. Wishing he could do more about such issues, Terrance Dicks pointed out that a Doctor Who story could be devised around his ecological concerns. Previous stories such as Colony in Space had dealt with similar topics. Letts and his sometime writing partner then went off and came up with this tale. Manning shared Letts views, so it made an ideal departure story for her character.
Clifford Jones (Manning's real life boyfriend at the time, Stewart Bevan) is set up as a Doctor substitute. At one point Jo actually describes him to the Doctor as "a sort of younger you". Their first meeting even mirrors her introduction to the Doctor in Terror of the Autons - she ruining one of his experiments.
As well as writing out Jo, this story also begins a short Mike Yates arc, which eventually sees his character leave the programme as well. Likewise, the Doctor's arrival at Metebelis III, after a couple of failed attempts, sets the scene for Pertwee's departure.

Principal guest artist is Jerome Willis as Stevens. He makes for a superb, purely human, villain - eventually redeemed when he breaks BOSS' mental conditioning. The computer is voiced by John Dearth, who will be seen in the programme as Lupton in Planet of the Spiders.
The story has come in for some criticism for its portrayal of the Welsh characters, who cross the border into stereotypes.
Despite this, it is one of the most popular Doctor Who stories of the 1970's - "the one with the maggots".
The creatures are realised with rod puppets (built around terrier skulls), real maggots in model landscapes, and even by the use of inflated prophylactics. The giant fly is a fine model, but the flying sequences are less successful. There is some rather poor CSO as the Doctor and Jo travel through the mine and the lift scenes.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Jo and Bert are in the mine's lift-shaft when the machinery goes out of control - threatening to plunge them to their deaths...
  2. As the Doctor and Jo look for a way out of the mine, there is a  rockfall and they see maggots advance towards them...
  3. Jo is reading alone at the Wholeweal Community, unaware that the egg has hatched and the maggot is crawling towards her...
  4. The Doctor makes his way to the top floor of  Global Chemicals and meets the real BOSS - the computer...
  5. Yates has tried to get an executive named James to help him. The man suddenly drops dead, and Yates is confronted by Stevens...
  6. Having slipped away from the impromptu engagement party - observed only by Jo - the Doctor drives off alone into the sunset.

An excellent story with very few faults - Letts and Sloman redeeming themselves after the rather poor Time Monster which closed the previous season. Jo's departure is well sign-posted and her decision to go quite natural and unforced. The Doctor knows something's cooking, and even tries to keep her and Cliff apart. The final scenes are quite heartbreaking.
Things you might like to know:

  • Elgin (played by Crossroads stalwart Tony Adams) vanishes half way through the story. Adams fell ill and had to step down, but his scenes couldn't be redone. A new character called James (played by Roy Skelton) takes over what would have been the rest of his role.
  • The Brigadier speaks to the Prime Minister on the 'phone - someone called Jeremy. It was assumed that UNIT stories were set slightly in the future, when Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe might be PM.
  • In one of the early mine scenes, as Dai Evans is about to use the telephone, you can clearly see a disembodied arm giving him his cue.
  • Pertwee gets to indulge his love of dressing up and silly voices by disguising himself as a cleaning lady and an old milkman. Both allow for a bit of funny business - the sticky moustache and the Lady Bracknell thing with the bucket.

  • There is a very funny mockumentary called "Global Conspiracy" on the DVD release, which has some of the cast reprising their roles to talk about events in Llanfairfach in the 1970's. Clifford Jones has a veggie food empire, Elgin says he fell ill and missed a lot of the action, and Dr Stevens is MD of the BBC. Roy Evans (Bert) plays his ballet-dancing twin brother.
  • In the SJA story Death of the Doctor, Katy Manning reprises her role as Jo and we get to learn of her life after this story. She is still married to Cliff and has a brood of children and grandchildren (one of which, Santiago, joins her in this). She still fights the good fight against political corruption and ecological concerns. Quite right too. It's a wonderful story, written by RTD, and will feature as an extra on the Special Edition DVD release of this story later in 2013.

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