Dancing the Code
Speed of Flight
The Green Death
|Dates||May 19, 1973 -
Jun. 23, 1973
With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning,
Nicolas Courtney, Richard Franklin, John Levene.
Written by Robert Sloman (with Barry Letts).
Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Michael Bryant. Produced by Barry Letts.
|Synopsis: An oil refinery creates a toxic green waste which causes widespread disease and mutation, while the refinery staff seem to be under outside control.|
Strong social/economic/political undertones by Troy Irvin 21/11/97
Addressing issues that are as relevant today as they were in 1973, The Green Death is a story that examines the inevitable clash between the profit-seeking resource company (Global Chemicals) and the ever-growing environmental movement (the 'Nuthutch'). Also examined is the dehumanisation of management (with the leader of Global - BOSS - actually a juggernaut of a computer) as the quest for ever-increasing profits takes priority over the welfare of the people. I rate the Green Death a healthy 9/10 not only for the strong social/economic/political undertones but also for the appearance of the striking blue crystal from Metabelis 3, the disgusting concept of giant maggots that simply must grow into giant insects and, as I work as a mining engineer, I have to give it an extra mark for the mine sequences. The only unfortunate result was the loss of Katy Manning.
A Review by Keith Bennett 2/5/98
One of those Doctor Who stories which has many fine qualities, but suffers from the special effects. The characters of The Green Death are rich, from the regulars like Jo and the Brigadier, to the terrific Dr. Clifford Jones. Their interaction through the story gives it thrust and believability. Dr Jones' relationship with Jo is one of the better romances of the series (although... um... there aren't a lot to chose from), and Jo hits it right on the head when she tells the Doctor that Dr Jones reminds her of "a younger you." He does indeed have a lot of similarities with the Doctor, and one can fully believe Jo falling for this man, rather than previous drips she has met, like King Peladon and Planet Of The Dalek's Latep. Even the way she meets him, clumsily messing things up like she did when she first met the Doctor, has its poignancy.
The story itself is enjoyable. The maggots are good, but, I'm afraid, are badly let down by the CSO, and it's impossible not to think about how obvious the studio scenes are compared with the location shootings. Having said that, this isn't enough to diminish the effective scene of the maggot crawling up behind Josephine while she's quietly reading. Quite "horrific" by Doctor Who standards.
BOSS is a refreshingly different computer -- mad yes, but at least with personality and a sense of humour. It brightens up every scene it's in with its oddball style.
And the final scene of Jo announcing her marriage to Dr. Jones and the Doctor's sadness at her departure is one of the more moving goodbyes in Doctor Who's history. One can look back and see how they started on the wrong foot, but how he grew more and more fond of her. The Doctor and Jo's relationship remains one of the best Doctor-companion relationships of all, helped a lot by the performances of Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning.
Overall, despite some technical difficulties, The Green Death is good enough to make one curl up contentedly at its best moments and say, "I love this show".
Not as good as you've been lead to believe by Michael Hickerson 9/5/98
Whenever fandom compiles a list of the great Pertwee era stories, it's inevitable that The Green Death is at or near the top of the list. And every time I see a list like this come out, I pull out my copy, power up the VCR on the hope that I might finally figure out why it is everyone loves this story so much.
I still haven't found it.
Don't get me wrong--I love the Pertwee era. And The Green Death is a good story. But it's just not the classic that everyone's made it out to be. Yes, it's got some interesting themes such as preserving the enviroment, taking responsbility for what we do, and not allowing our humanity to be superceded by technology, but is it really worth the ride?
I always enjoy the story, but it never provides me with the feeling that I've watched a classic story that I get when I see The Sea Devils or The Daemons. I think part of it is that these stories take the conventions and rise above them. And The Green Death is just contest to stay within the estbalished Who conventions--you've got UNIT, some rather lackluster effects, a threat to humanity, and the Doctor at the center of it all. About the only Pertwee cliche it's missing is the Delgado Master.
I think part of problem is that UNIT has become such a comedic foil for the rest of the cast at this point. I love the Brigadier of Silurians and The Daemons. But here, he seems rather like a ham-fisted buffon, leading a bunch of guys who are playing at being soldiers. Gone is the stark realism that made UNIT so effective in the early Pertwee years. And it's sorely missed. Not that UNIT comes off as badly as they do in The Time Monster (well, except for Benton calling to the maggots... that's just embarassing!), but they don't make a good showing here.
What does work, however, is the theme of serendipity. The story is about lucky changes and how they affect our lives--from the Doctor finally making to the fabled Metablis III to Jo meeting the love of her life, Clifford Jonest, to the discover of how to defeat the maggots. That is a nice touch of symmetry in the script.
So, I'll keep watching The Green Death. Because someday, I hope it's all going to come together and I'll finally see why it's held in such esteem by my fellow fans. Until then, I'll just enjoy as a pretty good Pertwee adventure.
"The One With The Maggots" by Christopher Fare 22/1/99
Sadly, the title of my review of The Green Death is probably how the story will always be remembered by the general public. This is unfortunate, as the story, whilst not the greatest Pertwee ever made, is full of memorable and thought-provoking moments. It also features, however, some excruciatingly bad parts as well. The best point to make about this story is that it is truly a mixed bag.
There is a rather straightforward and somewhat tedious main plot concerning the plan by BOSS to take over the world. I did not find this plan to be believable for one minute. Take the case of The War Machines: there, WOTAN's worldwide hook-up was believable because it was supported by the government and the computer was housed in an important building, the Post Office Tower. Here, BOSS is housed on the top floor of a medium-sized petrochemical plant and has only about four people supporting it. The other inadequate point is that BOSS looks like a "standard BBC computer", with spinning tape spools and oscilloscope voice. The good thing is that John Dearth creates a memorable and urbanely sinister voice for the computer.
However, The Green Death also has a charming sub-plot about Jo's departure and marriage to Cliff Jones. The progression of this plot and its seamless integration into the story is a real high point, as are the poignant final sequences where "the fledgling flies the coop". No other romantic element concerning a companion feels as right as this.
The performances are a mixed bag, too. The regulars and UNIT are as sterling as always; the brainwashing of Mike Yates worthy of special praise. Stewart Bevan and Mitzi McKenzie bring a nice mixture of intelligence and "alternative" ideas to Cliff and Nancy, and Jerome Willis' somewhat wooden portrayal of Stevens improves when he rebels at the end. Talfryn Thomas and the other Welsh characters do their best with some dreadful dialogue, but probably the best performance is that of Tony Adams as Elgin; sometimes an actor comes along with the right idea of how to play for Doctor Who -- predominantly serious for children, but easygoing enough for adults to appreciate too.
And so to the special effects. Generally, they're very good for the period when the story was made. The front-axial-projection effect of "the green death" itself; the green sludge which is pumped down the mineshaft; the maggots, in all their various forms; and the giant fly, whose first appearance is a real "jump out of your seat" moment.
However, all this good work is totally ruined by one thing: CSO. No other story has worse CSO than this, except perhaps Terror of the Autons. No matter whether it's the mine lift or punting through the sludge, the CSO here is truly terrible. Worst of all are the sequences meant to be filmed on location, but due to time reasons mounted in studio instead. These are not convincing for one second, especially when the Doctor and Benton are "driving" around distributing the antidote. Normally I overlook bad special effects, but here they are too much of a hurdle to jump over. This is what finally drags The Green Death down to a passable rating rather than an excellent one.
Still, this story features the best writing out of a companion ever, memorable monsters and a timely ecological theme. Well worth watching, especially if you're in the mood for some Pertwee nostalgia.
The Fledgling Flies the Coop by Will Jones 4/7/99
For every era of the programme, a story comes along that transcends whatever the limitations of that particular era may be to become a definitive classic. The Green Death is one such story.
The limitations of this particular era, the late Pertwee, are well-known: an over-reliance on Earth locations, stories where 'themes' threaten to engulf the plot, a huge amount of dodgy CSO. To a greater or lesser extent, all three of these problems raise their ugly heads in The Green Death. Yet none of them really ruin or even disturb the enjoyment of one of the series' greatest tales.
For me, the most important thing about the story isn't the maggot/BOSS/Global Chemicals plot. It's the tale of Jo Grant's departure, and in general the almost poetic feeling of sadness which infuses this story. Most people cite the final sequence as being fairly heartbreaking, and indeed it is, but for me the most moving of scenes has to be the one early in Episode One where the Doctor attempts to persuade Jo to come with him to Metebelis Three, but instead she chooses to go to South Wales on an ideological crusade. The Doctor realises what this means for their relationship; really, we don't need Cliff Jones to pop into Jo's life later on - she is already on the verge of leaving the Doctor behind.
Further evidence for this emotional undertone can be found in the magnificent scene in which Stevens, finally rebelling against his tyrannical BOSS, destroys the computer as it fruitlessly pleads for mercy. Despite being, essentially, a direct rip-off of Stanley Kubricks' 2001: A Space Odyssey, I actually find the Doctor Who version more moving (well, I would, wouldn't I), particularly due to the tear visible on Stevens' cheek just before he?s blown to pieces.
It's a story that's been criticised by some, sometimes for good reasons (I too cringe at the laughable Welsh stereotypes) but sometimes for abominable ones. Just because no better special effects were available in 1973, does not invalidate the whole story. Yes, it might have been more 'convincing' if they were better, but they're not. Oh for God's sake, just watch it in black and white if it upsets you that much - you can hardly see the blue lines.
My only personal criticism of this fab story is its use of characters. The characterisation is generally weak, and not just the Welsh residents - the people in the Nuthutch are fairly bland and those working at Global Chemicals all seem to have undergone a personality transplant, except for Stevens (and to a lesser extent Elgin, although that's down more to Tony Adams than anything else). But who am I to criticise?
More needlessly and boringly criticised than any of the classics, The Green Death is magnificent, an intelligent spinning together of characters, plots, themes and ideas into one of those stories that really deserves all six episodes. 8/10.
A farewell in the hillsides by Andrew Wixon 29/11/01
There are some stories that take you completely by surprise when you come back to them after a long gap. The Green Death is one of those for me. I wasn't enormously impressed on first sight of the story in early 1994 on its terrestrial rerun, but I saw it again in late 2000 and once more now and each time I'm more impressed by it.
There are lots of good things going on here: the maggots are unusual and viscerally repellent monsters, and suit the 'close to reality' feel of the story - they're well realised, too, even today I caught myself thinking 'how did they do that?' during some of the CSO sequences. There's some strong characterisation and performances, too - Jerome Willis is rather good, as are the character actors playing the miners (you can tell I can't be bothered to look their names up, can't you). The script is clever and literate and manages to dodge the six-parter dog-leg with some style. Best of all, the Doctor gets to be funny (his turn as the milkman in episode four) for a change, and the Brigadier gets to be serious.
Well, not quite best of all, the icing on the cake here is the way that Jo is written out. It's done with such care and attention to detail and character that it seems absolutely natural for her to stay with Clifford Jones - it's arguably the best of all the companions' departures, in that it would've seemed quite unusual for her not to leave. Stewart Bevan plays the Prof with such warmth and integrity that you really feel happy for them (all the fanfic about him turning out to be a cad and Jo winding up with Yates just strikes me as sour grapes). As it is it's a tremendously poignant closing scene. I would bang on about the ultimate loneliness of the Doctor but we can all do without that sort of thing.
Well, it's compulsory to point out a few flaws, so here goes: the maggot storyline clearly wouldn't have made for a very dramatic climax ('Here kitty kitty' etc) and so the story instead concludes with a close reprise of bits of The War Machines. The script and John Dearth work wonders in making the BOSS an interesting and memorable foe but it's obviously contrived, having little to do with the ecological thrust of the story, just being there as an exciting ending. Still, you can't have everything. I'm also curious to know where the Doctor's crane comes from in episode two (and how, if we're supposed to believe that's Maggie on the phone in Terror of the Zygons, the PM's name is Jeremy here...).
But this is the worst kind of nitpicking. A very fine story indeed, which manages to combine serious concerns with a entertaining and rather moving adventure story. And, its own way, the end of an era.
Time wasting and poorly executed by Tim Roll-Pickering 30/4/02
And so Season 10 comes to a close with its most original story. The Green Death sees the Doctor finally reach Metebelis 3 by himself but the visit is a poor anticlimax given the hopes built up in earlier stories and serves as little more than a light hearted time-filler with a few giant monsters thrown in for fun. In many ways it sums up the story as a whole.
Fundamentally it fails because in no way are the main elements - the polluting of a coal mine Global Chemicals, Jo's relationship with Cliff Jones and BOSS' plans for world domination - are extremely loosely linked and the result is a story that is little more than a series of set pieces. Consequently as a whole the tale fails and thus comes across as one of the weakest of all the Pertwee stories. This is an especial pity given that it sees the departure of Jo, one of the longest and most likeable companions seen so far in the series.
Of the three story strands, the BOSS element is by far the weakest. The idea of a contemporary computer becoming sentient and seeking to take over the world by linking up with other computers is not only dull in itself but is also extremely unoriginal, having already been done in The War Machines. BOSS is written for laughs and this gives no gravitas to the story at all. The degree of light-hearted humour is worryingly out of proportion and detracts from the serious elements in the story, as well as continuing the process of sending up UNIT and in particular the Brigadier. The romance between Jo and Cliff is handled sensitively and makes Jo's decision to marry Cliff at the end seem far more realistic than many relationships in the series.
It is the pollution element for which this story is best remembered. The giant insects are a good idea on paper but they are let down terribly by some extremely poor CSO and props that don't always match up. There is very little terror generated by the insects consequently and so they serve little purpose other than as a set piece. Of far more interest is the 'Green Death' itself, given the exposures it gives on corporations and the environment.
Whilst some elements of the story have aged terribly (such as the idea of the PM being Jeremy [Thorpe]), the fear of the corporation has if anything grown since the story was originally made. This gives the story a strong environmental message about the dangers of corporations and over reliance on limited resources such as coal, but it is watered down by everything else in the tale that drags it out to an inordinate length. Ultimately The Green Death is a sign of tiredness in the series, producing a weak story with some nice elements in it. The ending is wonderful though, as the Doctor slowly accepts that he has lost Jo and quietly disappears into the night and is thus a wonderful end to the season. 4/10
"Honestly Doctor, you never listen to a word I say!" by Joe Ford 7/10/02
CSO, isn't it just marvellous? When used properly we can plant our actors into a breathtaking lanscapes and imagine terrifying monsters roaming around London. But when it's used excessively and unproductively you get The Green Death. I cannot think of a worst effect in Doctor Who than the Doctor and Jo swimming through the maggots in episode three, the fringe line around them is so obvious (and wobbly) it is difficult to wonder why it was kept in and a line wasn't just inserted to say they escaped the maggots (okay it would have been a cop out but not half as embarassing!).
I can still remember one glorious evening when I was fifteen and I had a girls night in with my friend Hazel. We wrapped ourselves in duvets, made the cocoa and settled down in front of The Green Death. Her laughter still haunts me today. Oh she didn't hate it, quite the opposite but two dire FX moments will stay with her forever (and she reminds me about them all the time!), the Doctor pretending to wobble on his way down in the CSO lift and the CSO-ed giant fly that attacks Bessie! Oh did she laugh.
But to judge The Green Death on it's special effects alone would be unfair. As a character based drama it's excellent. As a SF chiller it hits all the right chords. As a last stab of nostalgia for the UNIT team it is utterly perfect. On the whole I love The Green Death with a passion bodering on insanity and would stand up and cheer it out in any convention hall when Pertwee is bashed.
Stereotypical to the Welsh? Who cares? Do people think it's stereotypical when Austin Powers represents England with a red bus and a few post boxes? Or when Goodness Gracious Me (an indian comedy show) pokes holes (and quite hysterically so) in the more exotic aspects of Indian life? I'm sorry but if you can't laugh at yourself than you're not worth knowing. The Welsh do say "Boyo" and have a few daft moments but christ there are more than enough characters to tip the balance. Bert, Nancy, Professor Jones and all the mining staff come across as honest, hard working professionals with a very caring nature. If this is a dumbed down portrayal of the Welsh then I would hate to see what they're really like! Doctor Who works with stereotypes, British, American (the ambassador in Mind of Evil is hysterically bad), Chinese (Shou Young in Battlefield), African (oh my god it's... Toberman!!!). It paints its international characters with very broad strokes. And anyway, the actors didn't mind reading the script, did they? Okay, rant over.
The central issue of The Green Death is, of course, to see off Jo. It is this plot thread that keeps you watching and tugs at the heart strings throughout. From their very first scene together Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning seem desperately aware of their upcoming split and inject a strong sense of loss into their performances. Pertwee's lost, lonely look when Jo defies his wishes and leaves for Wales is about as revealing of his character as we're ever likely to get. This youth, this dippy, clumsy blond who blundered into his life accidentally actually turned out to be the best friend he could ever have. She was fiercely loyal and resourceful too. She asked all the right questions and handed out compliments at all the right moments. He had grown to care for her very deeply, to a point where he couldn't imagine his life without her. And now this Time Lord, the man who can travel to any time, any place and meet any person is alone because he has lost her. It's truly compelling to watch but hard to sit through without a lump in your throat.
The biggest problem is you like Professor Jones immediately. He is patronisng and rude and has a wicked sense of humour (sound like anyone else?). We want to hate this boyish looking man who is tearing up the Doctor's heart but we can't. His tender scenes comforting Jo after Bert's death show how kind the man is. When he finally gets around to asking Jo to marry him (albeit, forgetting somewhat and just blurting it all out!) you're behind him all the way even though the Doctor is nearby, heartbroken. From their very first scene together real life lovers Stewert Bevan and Katy Manning light up the screen with their chemistry. It is great to finally see a companion have a snog too. As Pertwee walks through the farm and drives off in Bessie in that glorious sunset shot you know that the story could not have ended any other way but you're still left speechless by the Doctor's grief. Hazel and I went through several packets of Kleenex before the end and I had to show her The Time Warrior to prove that he would be happy again.
It is unusual to have this amount of emotion hanging in the air of a Doctor Who story but that is part of what makes this story so unique.
What of UNIT? Well the Brig's on form. He has several bitter conversations with Stevens which highlight him at his best (the excellent cut to the Prime Minister) and his interaction with the crew of the Nuthouse is smashing ("It's beef! IT IS BEEF!"). He looks devillishly handsome in a suit and his first line is one of his best ever ("But Doctor it's right up your street. This fellow's bright green apparantly and dead"). Yates gets more to do than usual which is great but I'm sorry I just can't take such an effeminate guy seriously. His rather camp hand rubbing after losing the gaurd at Global Chemicals surely can't be the work of a big butch trooper?
The story is a good'un but it does play second fiddle to the private dramas happening elsewhere. Stevens and the BOSS make quite a threatening pair (despite those awful seventies controlling earmuffs he has to put on!) and Pertwee seems to relish his scenes with both of them. The Doctor's "If I were to tell you that the last thing I said was..." scene where he is supposed to be under Boss' control is one of the best of the year. The Maggots, despite my earlier CSO concerns actually become quite a menace, I especially love the shot of the one knashing his teeth at the end of episode two! The cliffhanger to episode three is a corker too, as Jo sits alone the maggot creeps up behind her ready to pounce... don'tcha just love the way it pops it's head up as it sees her? So they were made from condoms were they? Classic Who, using whatever came in handy! No seriously though, Maggots have long since become a staple of Who memory along with Daleks and Cybermen and in their one story you understand why!
The classic Pertwee era ethics of keeping the world clean are demonstrated better here than anywhere else. I don't like the show to preach to it's audience (Pertwee's wrap up in Invasion of the Dinosaurs is surprisingly clunky) but they have incorporated the 'Say no to pollution' elements into the story perfectly. In particular the cross cutting of scenes between Jones and Stevens in episode one ("No waste, no pollution...") work extremely well. The Green Death has a point to make and it makes it well.
Any complaints? Feeding the maggots that fungus is hardly a dramatic ending to their plot but I can forgive them wrapping things up a bit quickly since they have to save the world from destruction by a mad computer and have Jo break the Doctor's heart in the final episode.
At the end of the day, it has some of the most natural character scenes Doctor Who has to offer. It bursts with energy and loads of brilliant one liners ("I think you'll find this is the worst day's work the world has done for many, many years"). The plot rattles along at a fair old pace and the ending leaves you devasted. It's quite an achivement so close to the end of Pertwee's reign but this is easily as thoughtful, gripping and poignant as anything made in season seven.
And that includes the dodgy CSO.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 18/12/02
Before I get into the meat of the review, I have to mention that the CSO in this one is nearly as bad as the CSO in Carnival of Monsters.
Now that we got that out of the way, let's get to the fun stuff. The Green Death is a good-bye story. Jo goes hasta la vista. Everything is set up in the first couple of episodes, the conversation between the Doctor and Jo and the initial meeting between Clifford Jones and Jo. In fact the first time Jo and Cliff meet is a dead ringer for the first meeting between the Doc and Jo in Terror of the Autons. Professor Jones is set up as a Doctor-clone purposely, making it blatantly obvious that Jo loved the Doctor and vice versa. By the end of The Green Death, Jo has been proposed to twice, and accepts Cliff's over the Doctor's promise to show her the Universe. We see the Doctor slip out the back and ride off into the sunset, heartbroken. It's a touching moment and the second best leaving scene, ever. (The best was Sarah's departure in The Hand of Fear.)
Jo's departure is one of three stories. The second story is the environmental angle, with the hippies taking on Big Money and pollution. Fandom in general may state that political agendas in DW might have started with the 7th Doc's era, but the reality is that it started with Pertwee (The Tory Doctor?!?). The maggots are a variation of the nuclear-energy mutated critters from Fifties B movies, and represent the obligatory Who monster requirement. The ideas of alternative energy and vegetarianism as delivered with the subtlety of a foot up the ass. Not that this is a bad thing, especially if you're aiming your message for kids and teens.
Story number three is the BOSS/Stevens story line. The saving grace of this story line -- as Stevens is bland for a villain -- is BOSS itself, a goofy computer with a sense of personality. It's obviously a rip-off of HAL 9000, but who cares. BOSS saves the story by having a personality that's not the cliche. If you can't laugh while BOSS tries to figure out the Doctor's logic problem, then you have no sense of humor and should watch crappy abominations like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The Green Death is good DW. It plucks your heartstrings with Jo's story line and entertains with a loopy computer and some gross maggots. What else do you need?
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/9/03
The Green Death signals the beginning of a time of change in the Pertwee era, not least because of the departure of Jo, but also in that it is the last truly great UNIT story. There are aspects that don`t work such as the Welsh stereotypes (everyone is called boyo), the idea behind BOSS (previously and more effectively used in The War Machines) and some of the CSO. But despite these shortcomings, The Green Death is a solid story, with a strong central theme still relevant today. It is also good to see Mike Yates get some character development as he goes undercover and Jo`s leaving scene is possibly the strongest the series has ever presented. In short,its great and the best story of season ten.
A Review by Rob Matthews 18/5/05
Well, colour me a greenish shade of impressed. I liked this one a lot!
The Green Death is, of course, a story recognised by fandom for three things - being the one with the giant maggots, sending Jo Grant up the Amazon with a groovy shaggy-haired scientist, and wearing its ecological, anti-big business message very prominently on its sleeve. I'm not going to suggest there's a good deal more to it than that, actually, but I've been very impressed by how ahead of its time this story is, even while being very overtly of its its time.
Terrence Keenan notes of this story that it was here in the Pertwee years, rather than the more frequently cited Cartmel/McCoy era where political agendas starting being threaded into Who serials. Quite right too - the only other Doctor Who story that comes straight to mind as so boldly taking our sympathy with its left-leaning agenda as a given is Andrew Cartmel's Cat's Cradle: Warhead. Plainly, if you're looking for ambiguity or moral grey areas you're not going to get them here. But, dammit, I don't think there are that many grey areas in the assertion that big business is poisoning the planet for profit, that corporate selfishness comes ahead of concern for others or for future generations. My feeling is that this isn't something to be even-handed about, because there's nothing reasonable or even-handed about greedy thugs nicking off with the free world.
It's either a very wonderful or a rather dispiriting thing to realise that Doctor Who, even in its onscreen heyday in the seventies, was treated with total indifference by the suits upstairs. On the one hand this means it was able to get away with carrying anti-authoritarian messages on a regular basis, but on the other hand it makes you wonder how much those messages matter in a show that's not taken taken seriously even by the corporation who disinterestedly shove it into their schedules and broadcast it. Interestingly this is something Doctor Who has in common with one of the other truly great TV shows, The Simpsons - both get away with their deeply embedded anti-authoritarianism only because no-one outside of their audiences take them seriously enough to believe they're anything other than silly children's shows. Of course you could take the more pessimistic view that the matter of what these shows actually say is simply irrelevant because a mere television programme is never going to change society or bring greedy capitalism to a grinding halt, but I think I'd still incline to a more optimistic stance; there's still a reason you'd rather show a child a series of Doctor Who than a series of Celebrity Donkey Wanking or whatever it is this week; for all that it seems we might as well give the world up as a bad job, it's still better to care and be disappointed than to not care and be content with ... what was that phrase? Something about work, sleep and going home to your baked beans?
The Green Death is, unless I'm just in the mood for a bit of hyperbole this week, somewhat of a masterpiece of kids' television; it teaches the little blighters to rage against the dying of the light long before they even know it's dying. That being an anoraked freak bashing at a big drum in paganistic-looking protests outside a big horrible factory is far, far better than being the buttoned down jobsworth who runs that factory, or being one of the unfortunate members of the workforce who end up bright green and dead. The serial probably qualifies as top-notch propaganda, come to think of it, being less successful as a linear plot than it is as kind of a sociographic tableau - yes, I'm making up words now -; something like a televisual version of Tom Sharpe's satirical landscapes, except, you know for kids. And with a dash of magical realism chucked in in the shape of monstrous maggots - which work a bit like the Primords in Inferno, in that we don't question exactly how these creatures were created by the events of the story until long after we've finished watching it. We just accept them on an intuitive level, and only get a bit tetchy when we try to rationalise them afterward. But what you take away from the story is not its plot - I couldn't remember how BOSS had been defeated ten minutes after watching it -, but the image, the idea, of big business pumping out demonic green slime and creating horrible monsters; doing this not because big business is intent on spreading evil, or is dedicated to it like the bogeyman figure of the Master, but because it simply doesn't care one way or the other about the side effects of its search for more money. What you remember is the idea of the free spirits of the 'nuthutch' versus the buttoned-down crap-moustached Global Chemicals employees in their depressing faddish-looking sterile offices, slaved to the machine in the most literal way.
The 'grey area' I mentioned is noticeable by its dearth; if the story really wanted to look at all sides in this argument, it would give some screen time and scripting attention to the ordinary miners and their families, the people who need Global Chemicals to exist not because they agree with or care about its aims but because it lets them pay the mortgage and put food on the table. But these people are given a voice only once, in the opening scene, when an, I think, unnamed chap yells at Cliff that it's alright for him to have his ideals because he can afford to live how he wants. Which is a salient point, but in the context of the story as a whole, mere lip service. This isn't about the people in the middle. As is perhaps the case with all propaganda, it's about good people versus bad, and so it focuses on the extremes. The good guys, the ones who side with Jo and the Doctor, are passionate, imaginative, ingenious, attractive, have long hair, funky flares, senses of humour, have a laugh, drink wine and kiss with tongues. The bad guys are a bunch of polyester-clad dorks in thrall to a BOSS who doesn't let the fact that he's an evil supercomputer stand in the way of more important bosslike attributes, like being a pompous self-satisfied bore.
BOSS is brilliant, even if the method of his defeat is utterly mundane. It's by no means an original idea, the sentient computer, but it's handled in an original and comic way that would - surprisingly - have fitted seamlessly into a Graham Williams-era Tom Baker story; only in Doctor Who could you have a villain who's a fusion of HAL from 2001 and Reginald Perrin's boss. His absent-minded Wagnerian humming in the latter episode is very funny. Funny but, like a lot of the references in The Green Death, clever too - BOSS's hankering for a bit of Wagner to accompany his moment of triumph is obviously there to link him with fascism, but it's not something that's spelled out. If Sloman had wanted, he could have put this line into a scene with the Doctor present, so that Pertwee could hiss something along the lines of 'Yes. That bounder Hitler liked Wagner too!' Instead it's just slipped in there for the benefit of those who'll get the reference. And having Stevens, in his speech to the locals in the opening scene, inadvertently mimick Neville Chamberlain's 'Peace in our time' with 'Wealth in our time' is a wickedly funny way of suggesting his complacent shortsightedness, but also a rather scary demonstration of how easy to fool people and fob them off with empty promises of imminent prosperity. His later paraphrase of the famous 'What's good for General Motors is good for America' is another smart bit of allusive scripting, not a reference the kids would get, but something that might chime with the parents who are also watching. Jumbling anti-capitalist references up with anti-fascist ones, in effect treating them as being of equal menace, would probably seem de rigeur if Russell T Davies and his gang did it now, but it was surely pretty radical for a kids TV show in 1974. 'Freedom from freedom!' - minus the sarcasm, sounds like a slogan George Bush's eventual successor could run on, and win. The aforementioned indifference of the suits upstairs to Doctor Who could easily have led to a similiar indifference on the part of its creative team, churning out any old slop to fill the weekly slot. Instead they've taken advantage of it to say things they think are important to an audience who haven't yet been ground down by the weight of the world. Never occurred to me I'd say this, but thank you, Barry Letts.
Additionally, the environmentalist sympathies of the story are reinforced by its being not just another week-in, week-out what's-the-Doctor-up-to-this-time affair; instead it's a landmark story, the kind that will stick in a child's mind and become part of his 'native mythology' - it's a story where a companion leaves. That she leaves our hero not just so she can go and get married to that nice bloke, but overridingly because she's passionate about going off and fighting for what she believes in, is noteworthy and commendably handled.
Indeed, when you consider the offhand way Liz Shaw's departure had been handled three years before, the care given to Jo's is amazing. The scene where she first meets Clifford Jones is designed, like, on purpose, to resemble the scene where she first met the Doctor in Terror of the Autons. The repetition of a motif - yes, repetition of a motif, like what people do when they create stories they've actually given some thought to - suggests the progression she's made in taking her first steps towards independence (and it is independence really - she's not being 'married off' to Clifford, instead his proposal feels like an optional extra on top of a decision already made), and, by association, it emphasises the semi-romantic nature of her relationship with the Doctor. There wouldn't be as overt a hint of this between-the-lines lovin' in the show again until McGann's Doc suddenly decided to give Grace a big snog, or more pertinently, and in a similiar, so-implicit-it's-explicit vein - til EccleDoc hooked up with Rose.
(Mike Yates' more explicit look of disappointment at the news of her engagement is a bit unconvincing, mind. I'm sure I won't be the first to point out that it's easier to believe he had his eye on Cliff than that he was carrying the torch for Jo)
And that scene where they first meet is quality. Cliff is really convincing in his role as a younger version of the Doctor: brilliant, distracted, and not apparently all that interested in Jo at first. This was long before there were any youthful incarnations of the Doctor with which to compare him, but looking back you can even see points of comparison with Davison and McGann. The sense of instant chemistry probably aided by the fact that the performers were in a relationship at the time (ah, can't you just see them strutting down Carnaby Street in big blue fluffy coats and mile-wide flares on a sunny seventies day?) - there's none of that boring will-they-won't-they shite, just an irritable and rather hilarious 'You'll contaminate my spores!' followed by a few laughs and - we'd assume - a lot of slap and tickle. It's not every girl who'd track down a giant maggot as a romantic gesture.
The ending scene, with the Doctor and Jo finally bidding farewell, overplays its hand a little in my view. I almost expected Jo to say 'Oh, not that bloody crystal again!' Her regretful backward glance after the Doctor nips out into the night seems to last for too long, and the fact that the director cuts way before she turns back to Cliff gives a - presumably unintentional - impression that she still cares more about the Doctor than her new fiance. But, well, I guess it's all about as subtle as you could expect from a production team more accustomed to showing fish-men in string vests attacking oil rigs or horned god-aliens turning up in village churches to shout at the Earth.
I'm not one to complain about poor effects in Who, but there was one thing here that really disappointed me: having heard quite often about this final scene where the Doctor leaves Jo and Cliff and rides off 'into the sunset', it was a bit of a letdown to discover that he actually drives off in what is clearly the middle of the day with a blue filter over the lens ('sunsets' usually being characterised by the sun setting, not shining high in the sky above). Fandom seems to have nostalgically remembered it as a genuine sunset anyway, but... oh, I don't know, it just seemed one cheap shortcut too many, when a genuine sunset would have made for a glorious 'special effect', and an entirely free one at that. It probably just irks me because fandom has given this scene a certain stature which it doesn't really live up to.
Watch it with the commentary on, though, and Katy Manning will soon have you blubbing along with her... I only hope Dicks and Letts gave her a big cuddle once they took the headphones off!
The Green Death is a lot of fun, quietly - and occasionally not so quietly - ahead of its time. It's easy to watch, easy to enjoy, and easy to respect.
And the giant fly is... erm, incredible!
A Haiku by Finn Clark Updated 3/5/20
Working class miners,
Great baddies... and Jo!
Death in one shade of green by Nathan Mullins 30/1/10
I like this episode! Why? Because its set almost entirely on location and because the episode itself is such a triumph. Let's first start of by saying that I had this episode on video but then bought another copy on DVD. I first saw this episode, however, on UK Gold and sat through it all thinking this is so exciting, and I was only about four. You see, this episode is what first got me into Doctor Who. This and Planet of the Spiders, but that came sometime after and was only broadcast on UK Gold about a couple of years later.
I love the 3rd Doctor's era. I liked all the companions who gave their time to travel with him. Elizabeth Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith. Here, in this episode, Jo Grant is at the mercy of the Doctor when she tells him she's leaving to marry Professor Jones, and to go to the Amazon with him. When the Doctor says "The fledgling flies the coop", the relationship the Doctor thought he and she had bears a comparison to the Tenth Doctor and Rose's relationship. It also explores the Doctors selfishness when, at the beginning, he tells the Brigadier he intends on visiting Metebelis 3 rather than drive down to South Wales.
Both Manning and Pertwee really prove to us that both the Doctor and Jo have a great friendship and companionship, that has somewhat torn between them both at the very start of the 1st episode. The Doctor's instinct tells us that Jo has begun to take an interest in something other than travelling with him to another world. She is concerned about what's going on on her planet and she knows how she can help.
Jon Pertwee was known for portraying the Doctor as himself. The action, super-hero type and a bit of a daredevil when it came to him performing his own stunts. When he comes up against the 'baddies' at Global chemicals, after an attempt to search for cutting equipment, his run in with them really excites you as you watch the Doctor deal with a load of blokes 600 years younger than he is. Jo gets a lot to do, as always, wanting to help Professor Jones in putting a stop to pollution, whilst the Brigadier pops in for a chat at Global Chemicals.
The main villain is a great villain, that I hope makes a return. The BOSS is one of the best 'baddies' to come up against the 3rd Doctor. The voice is rather clever, speaking as though it were a human and not a machine, however dependent on logic it is and comes across as. The maggots are another triumph of the production team. They look real and look like the disgusting creatures they are in real life. But what I like about this episode is the atmosphere. How it all builds up, in terms of the Doctor and Jo bickering at the beginning, then when the two depart from one another at the very end. You know how every story has a beginning, a middle and an end? Well... the middle in this is Jo and the Professor getting to know one another and Jo drifting away from the Doctor.
At the very end, when the Doctor drives of in Bessie, and the scene is darkly set as the Doctor drives of into the sunset, you almost sense how sad the Doctor is over losing a great friend. Unlike the Tenth Doctor almost weeping over the loss of Rose, this Doctor takes it on the chin. That last scene is my all-time favorite and really highlights The Green Death. For me, it comes under one of the very best ever!
Close but not quite a classic by Michael Hickerson 19/10/10
Outside of The Daemons, The Green Death is one of the most iconic and best remembered stories from Jon Pertwee's era as the Doctor.
It's got just about all the elements of a typical third Doctor adventure: set on Earth, the UNIT cast and a story that deals with a threat of humanity's own creation rather than just an alien invasion. One of the consistent themes from the Pertwee era is that while we do face horrific threats from outer space, it's often times humanity's own short-sightedness that presents the biggest threat. That's especially true of The Green Death, one of the few stories in the history of the classic run that sprang forth from an agenda rather than the agenda springing forth from the story.
Concerned by stories about the destruction of the environment, producer Barry Letts decided to use Doctor Who as a platform to make a statement about conservation and the need for alternative fuels. To the end, he contacted his writing partner for The Daemons, Robert Sloman and the two hatched this plotline involving the Doctor and UNIT doing battle against an evil corporate body that used a new process to get more energy from oil but was hiding the toxic by-product from the government and the world by sending the green goo down the local mineshaft. The goo is deadly, transforming and destroying cells of the humans who come into contact with it and mutating a bunch of maggots into giant, deadly maggots who can spread the disease by contact.
The story takes places in Wales (ironic that the new Who is filmed there now) and features a lot of stereotypical Welsh characters. Also on site is the new conversation group, led by Professor Clifford Jones. His group wants to revolutionize the world, finding new sources of food and energy that don't involve animals or oil. Jo is inspired by news coverage of Jones to head up to Wales and join the fight while the Brigadier is called in to look into the mysterious deaths taking place and to protect the interests of Global Chemicals.
Both encourage the Doctor to join them, but he's got to pop off to Metabilis III first, something he's been trying to do all season. He hardwires the coordinates into the TARDIS and finally arrives, picking up a blue crystal from the planet and barely escaping a variety of hostile flora and animal life. (It's interesting that the Doctor is so obsessed with visiting the planet during the season since his two trips there lead us to believe this is not exactly a tourist spot; the planet must have some great marketing people.) The crystal is important because it will be used as a plot device later.
Once he gets back to Earth, the Doctor heads up to Wales and things start to pick up a bit. Global Chemicals and its head man Stephens consistently stand in the way of UNIT and the Doctor's investigations and attempts to delve into the truth. The company is run by the BOSS, which for the first couple of episodes only appears as a mysterious voice on a monitor screen. At times, the voice sounds enough like Roger Delgado as the Master that if we didn't know he had tragically passed away earlier, you could see the Master being behind the plot. Instead, BOSS is a giant computer, bent on world domination. One thing in the story's favor is that the script at least gives us an explanation for the computer's megalomania: it was programmed by linking to Stephen's mind and has enhanced his own aspirations for profit and domination in the corporate world into something more. The computer can also brainwash people by use of headphones, thus ensuring that most of the Global Chemicals people all become good little minions.
Of course, the way to counteract the brainwashing is the blue crystal. Looking into its center reboots the brain and gets rid of BOSS's influence.
But all of that isn't what this one is remembered most for. That would be the giant, green maggots, which are pretty well realized on the budget of the time. One of the DVD extras delves into how the maggots were made and it's fairly interesting to see how it doesn't quite add up with the popular myth that the maggots were made using inflated prophylactics.
The story is also the final one for Jo Grant, who falls in love with Cliff and decides to marry him at story's end. The story spends a lot of time setting up Cliff as a younger version of the Doctor and seeing Jo slowly fall in love with him. At least the story spends a few days in Wales so it's not quite as abrupt as Leela's departure in The Invasion of Time. It also shows that a romantic attraction between the Doctor and a companion wasn't just a new idea of Russell T Davies, since the story and era strongly implies that the Doctor is half in love with Jo and she half in love with him. The story also highlights the "aloneness" the Doctor feels and the final scene of the Doctor leaving Jo's engagement party and driving off into the sunset is an effective one.
The Green Death is a nice coda for Jo and it actually allows for some character development and an arc for her. She's moved beyond the girl whose uncle pulled strings for her to get a job as a spy with UNIT in Terror of the Autons and grown up during her three years onscreen. There's a reason certain companion farewells are held up as the most effective and the least "out of left field" of the original run. Jo's feels like that and it feels like the production team actually planned for it and then executed that plan to near perfection.
Alas, I can't say The Green Death is one of my favorite stories from the original run or even the Pertwee era a whole. It comes from the second half of the Pertwee years, where the stories were beginning to lose their edge and we were getting more duds than winners. The Green Death isn't a dud, per se, but, memorable visuals aside, the story itself if a bit lacking. It feels like a collection of greatest hits moments at times and there are instances when it feels a bit padded (most Pertwee six-parters do). It's also about as subtle as a two by four in its agenda. It too clearly makes Cliff and his crew the good guys and Global Chemicals the bad guys. It may be a necessity for the script, but it also makes the story work too hard to make Global Chemicals and Stephens appear melodramatically evil. The late addition of BOSS's desire to take over computers around the world feels like it's thrown in just to show how evil the computer really is and to lend some tension to episode six.
It's not necessarily a bad story. It's just not quite equal to the sum of its parts.
Jo's Choice and the Conceptual Unity of The Green Death by Yeaton Clifton 22/8/12
I won't defend the padding in The Green Death (it could be a four episode story) or the bad special effects. I will, however, explain how various elements of the story develop into a coherent plot, and defend the story's central message. The character Jo Grant had three ways that she could live her life: Jo could live with Doctor exploring strange worlds, and have a life free of responsibility; Jo could take advantage of her uncle's ability to pull strings and have a stellar career in UNIT; or she could give up the "rat race" and live in a commune called the nut-hutch while fighting to save the planet from pollution. Barry Letts wanted us see why she made the choice that she did, and the action-adventure aspects of the story exist to give Jo a reason to make her decision.
That Jo had chosen not spend more her life wandering with the Doctor can be seen from the end of Planet of the Daleks, where the Doctor tells her she can visit any number of planets. She says she wants to go back to Earth ("home"). At the beginning of The Green Death, she refuses to travel with the Doctor to Metebilis III and decides to involve herself in an environmental crusade. Dr. Jones, whom she marries, is not just a younger version of the Doctor. He represents a person with a more responsible attitude towards saving the planet.
A more subtle contrast than the choice between life on earth and life with the Doctor, is the choice between UNIT and the nut-hutch. Professor Jones created a community devoted to sustainable and ecologically safe living. The nut-hutch is presented as a community not driven by corporate greed. The evil computer BOSS, who controls Global Chemicals, is motivated by greed is so preoccupied with advancing his own power that he does not see that his oil-mining operation poses a threat to the earth's very safety. BOSS also believes that taking over the planet to advance Global Chemical's profits must be good for everyone. This implies that corporate greed is a bad basis for our society because pollution can destroy the planet. By leaving UNIT, Jo is making a firm commitment to preventing the destruction of the planet by corporate greed. Of course, working for the United Nations to help the entire world (which is a plausible path for Jo) is not the same working for a corporation to advance its own greed, but Jo leaves UNIT to make a positive statement in favor of change. Jo believes that, in order to make this statement, she will have to give up UNIT. Before her time with the Doctor, a career was her central concern. Because of what she learned with the Doctor, she decided to give that up, ending her role as the Doctor's assistant and breaking his heart.
The belief that small communal groups should replace corporations is called syndical-anarchy (world with many syndicates but no governments or corporations). According to the June 2012 issue of Doctor Who Magazine, the idea had been defended as a way to avoid environmental disaster in an issue of the Ecologist called "A Blueprint for Survival" (a document which impressed Mr. Letts). The idea that environmental catastrophe can be created by our current economic system is more plausible now than in 1973, because global warming is a real threat that corporations are actively resisting. The reason that the story did not violate the rule against party politics was because it was advancing ideas that were too unusual to be represent by any of Britain's major political parties, but you cannot defend the story just because it did not violate BBC policy. Preaching can often ruin a story. I am defending the peachiness of the story on the grounds that:
I qualify the defense: It isn't one of the two greatest classics of the Barry Letts era (The Time Warrior and Inferno). It is, however, the best window we have into the vision and passions of Barry Letts. Mr. Letts had enough talent to save the show from sagging ratings, and I believe his ideas are profound.
I suggest it is worth your time to watch the The Green Death and learn what Barry Letts was all about. I noticed many of the other reviews did not think that various plot elements connect to each other, and I have debunked this idea. The plot is complex, worth viewing over and thinking about. Every aspect of the plot (Metebilis III, the giant maggots, the evil computer) is connected to Jo Grant's choice. Her choice is to become explicitly political (in The Death of the Doctor, the 11th Doctor said that she had handcuffed herself to Robert Mugabe), and more heroic than the Doctor.
A minor classic: 8.5/10.