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Doctor Who: Inferno

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1970
Studio: 
BBC Worldwide
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
B
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Douglas Camfield
Cast: 
Jon Pertwee
Caroline John
Nicholas Courtney
John Levene
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5

“Inferno”, at first glance, seems an odd and unnecessary choice of story to be given the special edition treatment. After all, the original DVD release only came out in 2006 and already consisted of a handsome 2-disc set, sporting the now standard ‘Making Of’ documentary which has become the de rigueur feature addition for all subsequent classic DOCTOR WHO special edition DVDs in the range since. However, technology has advanced considerably since even that relatively short distance in time, making the original, previously impressive colour picture recovery feats of the restoration team showcased by the 2006 DVD, look already capable of some considerable improvement. As was the case for nearly all Jon Pertwee era stories in the 1970s, the original 625-line PAL videotapes were wiped for re-use by the BBC, and the colour image for the first DVD edition had to be taken from a set of 525-line NTSC videotapes returned from Canada in 1985, using the then recently developed Reverse Standards Conversion (RSC) procedure to stabilise the picture. The results were good, but further developments in the technology have been applied for this release, and the new results are frankly astonishing, with there now being little to distinguish the quality of the video image from that of the original tapes. Colours are especially vivid and bright, and picture definition is extremely sharp with stability remaining rock steady at all times. The beige world of the 1970s, with its chromium control rooms full of reel-to-reel tape deck computer banks and offices furnished with metal drawer filing cabinets and shelves-full of ring binders, has never looked so fresh and immediate -- as though the 1970s ended just yesterday. Still, the cash-strapped and understandably cynical viewer, already in possession of the original release, might not feel like these clear improvements in picture quality are enough of a reason to double-dip, so BBC Worldwide have made the temptation even greater, by combining the already abundant extras with several new documentary features.

“Inferno” has always been something of a fan favourite, and viewing it again with the benefit of this improved transfer it’s even easier to see why. This seven-part story, which closed Jon Pertwee’s triumphant debut season, brought together an inspired combination of talents and took advantage of the meticulous attention to detail in the work of the experienced TV director Douglas Camfield, as well as the original ideas of versatile writer-for-hire Don Houghton, who was also working in collaboration with the mercurial mind of WHO script editor Terrence Dicks, here, resulting in something that comes much closer to capturing the adult orientated direction producer Barry Letts had been aiming for from the moment he and Dicks first took charge of the series and discovered that the show was now often more popular with older teenagers and students who had grown up with it in the sixties, than it was with younger children. Camfield’s ability to shoot fast-paced and free flowing action sequences (a clear plus now that the dashing car-mad Pertwee was coming into his own with his dandyish ‘James Bond’ portrayal of the third Doctor) and the director’s determination to film this relatively cheap and quickly made TV adventure as though it were an epic yet grim and pessimistic horror thriller, gives it a scope and a range found nowhere else before or since in the show’s history. This is dark, tense, sometimes extremely scary stuff, with a dystopian doomsday vibe to it which builds with an intensity that’s reminiscent of what you’d expect a disaster movie to look like if it had been shot by George A. Romero circa “The Crazies” and “Dawn of the Dead”, but on an even lower budget and on a combination of multi-camera shot videotape and 16mm film.  

The scenario starts with the standard, almost clichéd, Pertwee era ‘70s WHO story set-up: a top Government backed drilling project has been authorised in order to tap into a previously unheard of source of energy called ‘Stahlman’s Gas, which has been named after the scientist who first theorised its existence and who has since been put in charge of the extraction project. This energy supply offers the enticing prospect of a cheap and potentially inexhaustible new source of fuel, and so the Government has thrown its full support behind the project and brought UNIT in to oversee security at the refinery now at the centre of the operation. The advanced drill head is robot controlled and powered by a nuclear reactor, hooked up to a computer designed to gather and analyse information sent back to the high-tech central control room from which the progress of the drilling is being monitored by a fleet of white-coated technicians. The fact that the project involves drilling down through the Earth’s crust, going much deeper than anyone has ever attempted to drill before, inevitably leads to unknown forces being released which are only matched in their unpredictability and capacity for destruction by the sheer recalcitrance, belligerence and reckless arrogance of the project director, the imperious Professor Eric Stahlman (Olaf Pooley), who must rank as one of the most conceited, irascible, impatient and downright unlikable technocratic bureaucrats in the large pantheon of similarly petty-minded bullies  who tend to occupy positions of authority wherever one looks throughout the Pertwee era series. This is a classic third Doctor set-up: mainly based around one large control room set, and with the Doctor initially only interested in the project at all because he wants to siphon off a little power from the centre’s nuclear reactor to power his TARDIS console (this story features the last ever appearance of the original TARDIS console, used since 1963 but clearly looking worse for wear by this point), which he’s tinkering with in his own little hut on the premises, provided by UNIT, in an effort to get his TARDIS working again after the Time Lords exiling him to Earth leaving the ship permanently grounded. Naturally, the Doctor and Stahlman fail to hit it off, and it’s not long before the velvet-clad dandyish one is firing off insolent asides such as ‘you sir, are a nitwit!’ to a disgusted Stahlman’s face.

This story has much in common with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1928 Professor Challenger adventure “When the World Screamed”, in the sense that the infectious green slimy contaminant goo with mutagenic properties and which gets released in episode one after it bubbles up from twenty miles below ground and emerges through the faulty number two output pipe, seems to be almost like some kind of immune system, protecting a living organism from unwanted interference. The idea that the planet is somehow sentient, and that to tamper with its inner core is to venture beyond a natural realm of inquiry that’s not intended to be accessed by mankind, taps into the ecological thinking that was a recurring theme in the show during this era, most notably in “The Green Death”, where horrible green slime was yet again made the harbinger of disastrous horrors from below ground; while the story trope involving the search for a new energy source, and  technocrats being willing to court hidden ecological dangers in order to reap the potential benefits of the success of such a goal, was a theme that was always likely to crop up again and again during the Heath years, when worries about the Country’s diminishing energy supply were particularly rife in the news. It’s also a theme that seems to resonate today as controversy rages about the dangers or otherwise of ‘fracking’.

Like all the early Pertwee stories, “Inferno” also conjures the spectre of “Quatermass” -- and Camfield’s realisation of Houghton’s tale, with its bleak oil refinery setting and disturbing dystopian imagery, really plugs into the atmosphere of the BBC’s 1955 production of Nigel Kneale’s “Quatemass II”. Originally, this was the full extent of the scenario provided by Houghton’s first draft scripts, mainly because he had been specifically asked to avoid resorting to the usual lumbering monsters that were the show’s stock-in-trade throughout the Troughton years. Stahlman’s stupidity, born of his all-conquering arrogance, was the real enemy here -- and that is an aspect of the original draft which still survives into the final version. One of the recurrent themes of the show throughout Pertwee’s five year stint as the Doctor was the inherent inadequacy involved in relying on computers to do one’s thinking while ignoring human intuition and common sense. Here though, we have precisely the opposite problem, since Stahlman proves to be so convinced of the correctness of his initial calculations that he insists on pressing ahead with increasing the drill rate, even when his own computer monitoring system is sending out urgent warnings about impending disaster if the rate isn’t slowed down. The human drama in the story is generated by Stahlman continually butting heads with and overruling everyone else around him as the situation gets incrementally worse and worse, with potentially lethal disasters constantly having to be averted at the last second (‘It’s only a minor emergency,’ Stahlman dismissively says at one point -- with lights flashing and claxons blaring all around -- revealing apparently no feel for the meaning of the word oxymoron!).

It’s not only the Brigadier and the Doctor whose fears  Stahlman cavalierly dismisses: even when violent murders are occurring, and whistling maintenance workers and cheerful reactor technicians alike start turning green, bludgeoning people with spanners and going on the rampage all around the site, the project’s executive Director Sir Keith Gold (Christopher Benjamin), a mild-mannered and eminently reasonable sort of civil service bod who tries to get the entire project shut down when Stahlman’s megalomania finally tips over into reckless insanity, is ignored as well; not to mention tough-talking drilling consultant Greg Sutton (Derek Newark), a macho trouble-shooter type, flown in from a rig in Kuwait especially by Sir Keith to talk sense into Stahlman, but to no avail; and even Stahlman’s loyal assistant Petra Williams (Shelia Dunn)  eventually begins to cotton on to the fact that her boss has lost his marbles (admittedly, by then his hand has gone putrid green and started sprouting coarse hairs, so it’s a bit of a give-away!) in between gradually thawing to the rather patronising romantic intentions of Sutton, who must be one of the shoutiest guest actors in the show’s history – even his courting of Petra seems to be largely ill-tempered and conducted at ear-splitting decibels.

It soon became apparent to script editor Terrence Dicks that a doomsday scenario and a mad scientist’s folly did not immediately provide enough material to fill seven episodes, so several other additions to the plot found their way into the script before Douglas Camfield finally came to plan out and film the location material for “Inferno”: first of all, monsters were re-introduced in the form of the regressive Primords: any contact with the green slime spouting from the output pipe turns previously placid individuals into slobbering, green-skinned, heat-loving ghoulish killers, intent on murder and general destruction. Eventually they devolve into shaggy haired, humped-back werewolves with large fangs, who scuttle about the refinery in packs trying to convert the rest of the drill site’s inhabitants, purposefully infecting them with the green slime’s awful properties after groping them with their hairy paws. Camfield’s brilliant decision to strip away all incidental music from the serial -- except for the most abstract of electronic noodling from the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop (together with some equally atmospheric tones provided by Bernard Lodge and Delia Derbyshire working outside of their usual association with the famous BBC department) -- and replace it with a monotonous, near constant roar from the drill head, droning in the background of the audio track, results in an almost subliminal sense of nagging tension filling every episode. When the employees infected by the goo start going on the rampage the story effectively becomes a zombie film – and a zombie film full of fast moving ghouls, at that! -- with the wild-eyed, green-skinned killers slobbering at the mouth and bursting into rooms accompanied by a disturbing, electronically generated distorted low-pitched roar on the soundtrack, which injects a really palpable nightmarish quality into these scenes that surly must have been terrifying to really young children watching at the time. Admittedly, by the time the infected have fully transformed into werewolves with humps, the scare factor has somewhat diminished, but even so, the general tone is grim and extremely tense. It seems that the intention originally was to have the Primords turn into Neanderthal-like ape creatures, which probably would have injected a touch of “Planet of the Apes” into proceedings, but Camfield preferred the Werewolf look instead. However, the siege aspect of the story in the later episodes, so redolent of the zombie movie, is retained, and when coupled with the intense apocalyptic tone of some of the episodes -- as the Primords effectively take over the base and the world teeters on the edge of nuclear annihilation -- “Inferno” emerges as one of the darkest, most horrifying stories in the entire 50 year history of the series.

But it’s the other addition to the plotline, thought up by Terrence Dicks as a means of more easily getting seven full episodes out of a disaster movie scenario, which really tips this story into the all-time classic category. It’s a simple idea really -- dreamt up as a way of extracting maximum millage from the doomsday elements of Houghton’s story. DOCTOR WHO rarely got a proper chance to destroy the world for real, since the Doctor always had to be seen to save the day at the end; which naturally meant that nothing really bad could happen and the various threats thrown up by Stahlman’s idiocy in this adventure would always have to get corrected before too much damage was done. But after the idea of having the Doctor’s TARDIS console transports him to an alternative parallel universe where everything is the same but slightly different was introduced, suddenly Houghton could afford to experiment with ratcheting up the threat level to a point beyond that which could be easily escaped, pushing some of the regular characters to breaking point in the process. Naturally, a series that still aimed to service a family audience and which had lots of younger children watching ( that is, if they’d made it this far past the drooling zombies clobbering people with spanners and such) still can’t afford to have well-liked series regulars like the Brigadier, Liz Shaw and Sergeant Benton all dying horribly in pyroclastic lava flows or being transformed into hairy, mad-eyed wolf people -- even if they are alternative versions to the ones we know … that is, unless these other selves all turn out to be evil, jack booted Nazi types living in a parallel universe where some sort of fascist totalitarian Republican Government has taken control of the Country after executing the British Royal family, and set up an Orwellian state where the drilling programme is even further ahead of schedule, and Director Stahlman’s megalomania is indulged to an even greater extent than it is in the version of reality the Doctor already knows.

This is the nightmare world the Doctor finds himself forced to contend with during the middle episodes of the story: his friend and colleague the doughty Brigadier, becomes a bullying, eye-patch wearing fascist with a duelling scar in this alternative reality, and is known here as the Brigade Leader; the ever-faithful Liz Shaw meanwhile, is no longer a scientist but becomes transformed instead into a terse, dark-haired security section leader. Even the likable Sergeant Benton is completely different  -- the easy going soldier we’d known previously is now a violent, pushy, bad tempered subordinate only too willing to shoot ‘traitors’ on the spot when commanded to do so. All the regular cast members clearly have fun getting to play these extreme variations on their usual fictional personas but none more so than Nicholas Courtney, whose alternative world, clean-shaven Lethbridge-Stewart is probably the most radically changed out of everybody (Stahlman, Petra and Sutton meanwhile, are essentially no different in both worlds): he’s a coldly dictatorial braggart (modelled by Courtney on the character of Mussolini) who becomes a cowardly villain, too, when faced with death as the world slides inexorably towards annihilation.

The genius move made by Houghton’s screenplay, though, which adds so much more depth to this mix of Conan Doyle-style scientific romance, Romero-esque apocalypse and influences from works such as John Wyndham’s alternate reality short story “Random Quest”, is a subtle one that finds quiet, unobtrusive ways to suggest how the differences between the two sets of characters occupying these parallel worlds might well have been determined by the social circumstances they’ve each been born into, acting on certain predispositions to make them turn out the way they do despite their apparent free will and ability to make choices. In other words, under different circumstances, the Brig we know really could have become the nastier version of himself we see realised in the person of the Brigade Leader. The fact that some characters are more or less the same in both worlds, only adds to the unease inherent in this thought. For instance, there’s a nice little scene acted out in the original reality at one point, which takes place between Sergeant Benton and the Brigadier, in which the Brig upbraids the hapless Benton for failing to be tough enough in persuading a belligerent Stahlman to attend a requested meeting in the Brigadier’s office. It’s played mildly for laughs, with the Brigadier displaying for the benefit of the viewer (but unseen by Benton) a slight twinkle in the eye as he harshly dresses down the Sergeant and demands he get hold of Stahlman immediately, and not accept no for an answer this time. Benton’s evident determination to carry out his orders and Lethbridge-Stewart’s ability to be firmly dictatorial when it’s required, are both amply illustrated by the sequence in a way that hints to us that, in a different world -- like the one we see the Doctor failing to save because of its totalitarian intolerance and inflexible, rule-bound intransigence -- they each could have become horrifyingly different people from the noble, upright heroes we know and love. It’s a grim thought which adds extra gravitas to the thrilling, dramatic and often scary dystopian tone the story adopts and manages to maintain during the course of most of its seven episode run. This is undoubtedly one of the highlights of Barry Letts’ and Terrence Dicks’ five years at the production helm of the series, and to find it looking this good thanks to the renewed efforts of the restoration team, is an added boon which will probably help boost its reputation with fans still further.        

 Disc one of the new special edition of “Inferno” features all seven episodes of this newly restored adventure along with the original 2006 commentary track featuring Producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks with actor Nicholas Courtney, aka Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who had long been on record before his death in 2011, citing this story as being his very favourite from amongst all those he acted in during his long association with the show. This trio provide amiable, good-natured commentary for episodes 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 while John Levene, better known to DOCTOR WHO fans as Sergeant Benton, takes over with his solo commentary for episodes 3 and 5, also popping in and out of the other episodes whenever anything relating to his own performance comes up, or whenever he has another of his ‘little-known facts’ to relate. For the most part the Late Barry Letts, who had obviously done his research before recording started, again acts as a conduit for all the factual information on the production, while his former partner Terrence Dicks chips in with humorous asides. When Letts interrupts Dicks at one point to pull him up on a piece of inaccurate science, one feels one is catching a fleeting glimpse of what the duo’s working relationship must have been like all those years ago, a notion which Dicks partially backs up when he replies that this sort of nit-picking attention to detail used to make his life a misery back in the day! Dicks is on particularly good form here, in fact: when someone mentions that actor Olaf Pooley, who plays the irascible bureaucratic villain of the story -- project head Eric Stahlman -- was less than happy about having to be made-up as one of the werewolf-like Primords in the later episodes of the story, Dicks replies, ‘well it’s not really what you go to RADA for is it!’ Near the start of episode one Terrence also sagely observes, during a scene in which guest actor Walter Randall (who plays ill-fated maintenance man Harry Slocum) is show cycling into view in the grounds of the refinery, that anyone in Pertwee era DOCTOR WHO caught cycling along whistling to themselves is sure to wind up coming to a sticky end!

The script editor also reveals that the whole parallel dimension aspect of the plot was entirely his own invention, conceived as a means of stretching Don Houghton’s story out for seven episodes. The three seven episode stories of season 7, consisting of “Doctor Who and the Silurians”, “The Ambassadors of Death” and “Inferno”, were an unwanted legacy of the previous production team’s money saving attempts. The drawback was that it made the business of coming up with stories that were consistently exciting and didn’t tail off after four episodes extremely difficult, thus necessitating all sorts of inventive methods to keep the series interesting. Ironically, all three stories now stand up remarkably well, although it’s clear that the amount of effort involved in making the format work far outstripped its cost-saving usefulness in the end. Courtney talks about how much fun he had as a result of getting to act out an alternative, evil, bullying and ultimately cowardly version of Lethbridge-Stewart; and Levene, who is always good value on these commentary tracks, reveals that he modelled alternate Benton’s transformed Primord self on Richard III because of the humped back, which inspired him to drag his foot as well!

The disc includes SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on the feature, and detailed production note subtitles crammed with behind the scenes info such as location and studio recording dates and details about the content of early draft scripts; rehearsal schedules; guest actor biographical info and filmographies; and all sorts of heavily researched background material you probably hadn’t even thought to ask about before, such as the change in taxing scheme which was applied to the fake control panels used on the programme after they were reclassified to come under the heading of props rather than scenery items, therefore increasing their cost.

Disc two is where the rest of the material, both new and old, is collected. The Making Of documentary “Can You Hear the Earth Scream?” features producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks; regular cast members Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and a nattily dressed John Levene; and guest actors Ian Fairbain and HAVOC head stunt man-turned actor for this story Derek Ware -- who run through the main anecdotes relating to the making of this particular story. The 35 minute film begins by setting the production in context: it came at the end of season 7 -- Jon Pertwee’s first block of stories after taking over the title role. This was a make-or-break moment in the history of the series, for if it had failed the show would have been cancelled soon after. The viewing figures for Patrick Troughton’s final season had proved to be consistently poor and alternative tea time slot shows for Saturdays were already being considered. However, Pertwee’s casting and subsequent appearances in the first three of the four adventures making up this run of stories had by this point reinvigorated the show, which was now getting higher ratings than it had enjoyed previously for many years. But Letts and Dicks were still struggling to find adequate story ideas to fill the vacant slot for the final adventure of the season, after having endured similarly protracted script troubles with the previous seven-part adventure, David Whitaker’s “Ambassadors of Death”, which had had to be substantially re-worked by Malcolm Hulke before production started. Pages from script outlines for two of the proposed stories Letts and Dicks had been considering but which were later abandoned, are shown on screen during talk of this fraught period; but it was an old associate of Dicks’ from his time working as a writer on “Crossroads” (‘I found I had a ghastly talent for writing soap opera,’ admits Dicks) who came through in the end with a workable story. This was Don Houghton, who had once been the script editor of “Crossroads” but had since turned to freelance script writing and, in addition to his two Jon Pertwee DOCTOR WHO stories in the early ‘70s,  is primarily remembered for his association with Hammer productions, scripting “Dracula AD 1972”, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” and “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires”.

Dicks relates how Houghton’s story idea sprang from two real-life attempts to drill into the Earth’s crust which had been abandoned in apparently mysterious circumstances. The original story outline, however, didn’t really include enough material to fill up the required seven episodes, so Terrence Dicks added the ‘parallel world’ subplot because it would allow the production to find a way around the anticlimactic nature of the plot by letting them destroy the planet in an alternative reality before the Doctor took the lessons he’d learned from this disaster back to our dimension. The cast and crew discuss the talents of director Douglas Camfield, a regular returnee to the series ever since he first worked on it during the William Hartnell years. Camfield had built up a repertory company of actors he often returned to, including John Levene who first appeared on-screen as a Yeti. For this story he also cast his own wife Shelia Dunn in the role of Petra Williams, geologist and nascent love interest for tough drilling consultant Greg Sutton, although she was a second choice replacement for Kate O’Mara, who turned out to be unavailable due to a prior commitment, appearing in “The Horror of Frankenstein” for Hammer.

Camfield was renowned for his meticulous planning and organisational skills, and anecdotes about this aspect of his character are illustrated on screen using images from his film diary and notes sent to cast and crew requesting any problems or queries they might have before shooting started be referred to him well before their arrival at the refinery location which was the site of the outdoor filming; ‘once we start we must go like the clappers!’ he writes. The location shooting at the Berry Wiggins and Co Ltd oil refinery unit in Hoo in fact went fairly well, although Pertwee, Courtney and guest actor Ian Fairbairn suffered extreme vertigo from having to shoot numerous fight scenes high up on top of storage containers and gasometers, or from having to run along narrow gantries with little protection from the twenty foot or more drops they risked if they fell. The stunt team HAVOC were frequently involved with the series during this period, in which action in the form of fight scenes and car chases was ubiquitous. Derek Ware remembers the preparation and filming of some of the more spectacular falls the HAVOC team had to carry out, particularly Roy Scammell’s 50 foot fall from the top of one of the giant oil containers at the refinery location – which was a record distance for such a drop at the time. But one of the apparently more straight forward stunts was the cause of the most serious accident, which came during a car chase after the Republican Security Forces fire on the Doctor as he attempts to escape in a speeding Bessie. Stunt Man Alan Chuntz was clipped by the mudguard of Pertwee’s roadster when he mistimed the dive he was supposed to take as Pertwee drove at him -- and his leg was gashed open needing 18 stiches. Clips from a 1970 BBC documentary feature the HAVOC team at work include an interview with Chuntz talking philosophically about the accident (which left Pertwee shaken at the time) and its cause.

The most serious event to affect the production occurred after the location filming had been completed, when Douglas Camfield, who was suffering from a mild heart condition which he had been keeping secret in case it affected his employment opportunities, suffered a heart attack and was unable to complete more than two episodes of the seven part story. Producer Barry Letts actually shot the remainder of the adventure un-credited, having already worked as a director on DOCTOR WHO for the Patrick Troughton era story “The Enemy of the World”. Camfield was still credited as director on every episode of “Inferno” and the seriousness of his condition was, again, largely kept secret. Members of the cast also talk about the happy practical joke-filled atmosphere of the rehearsals for the studio recording sessions, and the late Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney mention how much they enjoyed getting to play evil versions of their regular characters. The whole production was a seat-of-the-pants affair, with the final episode only completed three weeks and three days before actual transmission; but “Inferno” is a faced-paced, exciting, scary and atmospheric dystopian adventure that still holds up well despite its many absurdities, and everyone who was involved with it who lived long enough to have the opportunity to talk about it, seems to have enjoyed the experience greatly.    

“The UNIT Family – Part One” runs through the early beginnings of the UNIT years, starting with Nicholas Courtney’s first ever Pre-UNIT appearance in the show during “The Dalek’ Master Plan”. Cast by director Douglas Camfield (the adventure also starred Shelia Dunn and Walter Randall, both of whom would crop up again in “Inferno”), Courtney played Brett Vyon, but got killed by Jean Marsh’s Sarah Kingdom -- Jon Pertwee’s first wife! Camfield was also at the helm for the 1968 Patrick Troughton Yeti adventure “The Web of Fear” and cast Courtney again as Col Lethbridge-Stewart, but only after the actor originally chosen to play the role passed on it when another booking came up. When Camfield was picked to direct “The Invasion”, the first story in which the newly promoted Brigadier appeared at the head of a new military task force charged with saving the Earth from alien invasion, UNIT was born -- and the second of its regulars, the untrained extra John Levene, was cast in a small extras role as a UNIT soldier, mainly confined to the back of shot at this early stage in his career. The big breakthrough came when outgoing producer Peter Bryant and script editor Derek Sherwin made the key decision to retool the show for its 1970 season, envisioning an entirely Earth-based science fiction action adventure show, along the lines of “Quatermass”. The new Doctor, played by comedy actor Jon Pertwee, would be confined to Earth for each of his first four stories, a situation reluctantly inherited by Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks. However, if the Doctor was to be stuck in a 1970s version of the near-future he would need a retinue of associates to provide a home for him, and UNIT furnished him with just such a ready-made family. This documentary runs through each of the four stories that make up season 7 in which UNIT featured heavily throughout. It covers the casting of Caroline John as the Doctor’s companion, employed by UNIT to assist its often grouchy scientific adviser in the investigation of all things extra-terrestrial, and the gradual expansion of John Levene’s role as Sergeant Benton, who gradually became a regular fixture in early stories such as “The Ambassadors of Death” and “Inferno”.   

The first of the two new documentaries included on the disc is “Hadoke versus HAVOC”. This is a brief history of the stunt agency, first started up in the early-seventies by Derek Ware after he’d already had a long association with DOCTOR WHO throughout the 1960s when he worked on early William Hartnell stories as a stunt co-ordinator. The UNIT era coincided with the founding of the new agency, christened HAVOC – a troupe of young stunt dare devils, handpicked by Ware to be able to execute every conceivable type of dangerous stunt going. This film is framed around the conceit of comedian and DOCTOR WHO commentary moderator extraordinaire Toby Hadoke trying to get the old team back together again one last time so that they can train him up to carry out one of the team’s specialities during their time working on the show during the UNIT era: the stunt fall from a great height. The rationale for this idea is founded on the fact that the agency had eventually been forced to split up by new equity rules that made it illegal for anyone with an equity card to simultaneously run an agency. Since Ware also frequently appeared as an actor (albeit in small roles that also required some degree of stunt work) he was no longer able to run the HAVOC team as well, and was thus forced to split the group up. By then, the team’s association with WHO had already come to an end, and the show began employing Jon Pertwee’s stunt double Terry Walsh as its dedicated stunt coordinator instead of the entire HAVOC team. The story of HAVOC’s work for the programme is related story by story, as Hadoke visits its surviving members -- some of them now in their 80s, but still active -- such as Roy Scammell, Stuart Fell and Derek Martin (now better known as a one-time “East Enders” regular after he later moved full time into acting) and reunites them with their old boss, Derek Ware. It concludes with Hadoke’s own attempt to forward dive off of a scaffold into a pile of cardboard boxes and mattresses. Does he make it intact or will future DOCTOR WHO DVD commentaries be missing his dulcet tones and encyclopaedic knowledge of the full filmographies of each and every actor to have ever been cast in the series across the show’s full 50 year history? You’ll have to buy the DVD to find out (or, alternatively, check if his twitter account is still active)!

The latest instalment of the on-going DVD documentary series “Doctor Forever”, which looks at the various ways and means by which the franchise was kept alive during the years between the end of the classic series in 1989 and its re-birth in 2005, reaches the penultimate chapter: “Lost in the Dark Dimension” examines all the failed attempts to bring the series back before and after the TV movie in 1996, as they were reported within the pages of Doctor Who Magazine’s Gallery Guardian column at the time. The fact that the magazine itself managed to survive during this fallow period was one of the major factors prominent in keeping the name of the series alive -- and current editor Tom Spilsbury and previous editors John Freeman and Gary Russell, as well as former BBC range editor Steve Cole, talk about the magazine’s involvement in various fan campaigns to get the show reinstated on the air, and the frustrating silence issuing from the BBC throughout these increasingly desperate efforts. Before the TV movie, various attempts by independent production companies had been made to bring back the show, each one eventually coming to nothing. One of the strangest tales revolves around actor David Burton, interviewed here in-depth for the first time on the subject, who continues to claim that he was cast and actually starred in several episodes of a new version of the show in the early-nineties. He goes into great detail here, but bear in mind, his account is hugely contested and many WHO researches believe the whole story is complete fantasy. The most intriguing project concerns a mooted film “The Dark Dimension”, which was to have been directed by Graham Harper and was originally intended for a DVD-only release until Alan Yentob invested in it and BBC Worldwide promptly expressed an interest in screening it on the BBC. This was to have starred Tom Baker and feature guest appearances by other Doctors and companions, but financing problems (partly as a result of a new budgetary system introduced at the BBC under its newly appointed Director-General John Birt) finished off the project five days into filming. The documentary takes us up to the failure of the U.S. TV movie to find an audience in America, after which most British fans had finally given up believing the series would ever see a return, just as a certain Russell T. Davies entered the fray and rumours began to circulate that something was afoot down at BBC Wales …

The rest of the extras reproduce the various bits and bobs that filled out the original release: 

First up is a rare “Deleted Scene”. It is very unusual to find surviving material that was cut from 1970s episodes of WHO, but included here is a brief scene that was removed from the UK transmission of episode 5 of “Inferno”, in which Jon Pertwee provided the voice of a radio announcer listened to on a portable radio by the Doctor, the Brigade Leader and Section Leader Shaw in the Brigade leader’s office, where he is heard reporting the disaster that’s been caused by the drilling project at the refinery to the rest of the country in the style of William Joyce, who was better known as Lord Haw-Haw, the Nazi wartime propagandist. Letts found Pertwee’s voice too recognisable though, so the scene was cut – only to turn up again on colour tapes returned from Canada in the 1980s, where it had been broadcast unedited as part of the original overseas transmission of the story. The sequence is included in full here as a deleted scene.

“Visual Effects Promo Film”: this six minute period piece comes from the early 1970s and is intended as a showreel put together by the BBC Visual Effects Department of the day in order to illustrate its expertise to clients using clips from a selection of its programmes, including “Doomwatch” and “Doctor Who”. We get glimpses of various miniature effects being designed and filmed, together with a selection of completed clips from various shows with a voice over from an American narrator and some sprightly ‘70s-style ‘action’ music.

“The Pertwee Years Introduction” is a short intro recorded by Jon Pertwee in 1992 for the VHS release “Doctor Who: The Pertwee Years”. The actor, dressed in full third Doctor velvety garb discusses some of the stories from his five years on the show outside the now defunct BBC Television Centre, and introduces the final episode of “Inferno”.

Photo Gallery: as well as the usual production stills, this selection of photographs also features rare behind-the-scenes shots and stills taken during rehearsals for “inferno”, in which Pertwee augments his third Doctor costume with a pair of hideous red jeans and tennis shoes. There are also some shots taken on location that feature Pertwee and various other members of the cast, including a green-skinned Primord Derek Ware, posing for fan photos with local schoolchildren.

Adobe PDF files: Perhaps the best extra features of all on this release belong to the PDF files section, which is accessible from a PC or a Mac. The Radio Times listings for all seven episodes of “Inferno” are joined by a 12 page behind-the-scenes Radio Times article from 1970 in which make-up artist Marion Richards, costume designer Christine Rawlines, special effects head Jack Kine and Silurian designer James Ward are interviewed about their work on the show in an article accompanied by some production office stills and an interview with Jon Pertwee conducted at his home in Barnes, which, incidentally, also features a rare photo of the actor in his back garden, dressed in a casual pullover and posing with his family: his 5 ½- year old son Sean, his 8 year-old daughter Dariel and his wife Ingeborg. If this wasn’t a heady enough blast of nostalgia then prepare to experience being ten years old again, as this disc also includes the complete 1971 Doctor Who annual in Adobe PDF format, complete with slightly ‘off’ stories in which the Brigadier refers to the Doctor as ‘Dr Who’ throughout, and a selection of puzzles, games, quizzes and educational articles on a variety of faintly show connected subjects. A real treat!

“Inferno” is without doubt one of the very best DOCTOR WHO adventures from the classic era and this release does it proud with plenty of great extras and a magnificent restoration job. A must buy!

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!

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