Doctor Who: The Green Death (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros this Special Edition of the classic giant maggot Pertwee story
Long before a rift located in Cardiff became the epicentre of all things alien, Wales was the focal point of an evil plot for world domination, only discovered when a humble coalmine was infested with giant larvae, feeding on industrial pollution. The ultimate plan was surprising. The brains behind it was incredible. The general description of it was: “the one with the maggots”. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one of the very best and beloved stories sees arrives in a special edition, where one the best and beloved companions makes her final appearance, as Jo Grant changes the national song and gets Laid in Wales. It’s The Green Death!
Dateline: Wales. Protesters are massing at the new Global Chemicals facility where the local miners are worried about losing their jobs and the local eco-warriors are concerned at the damaging pollution the factory is dumping onto the environment. UNIT is called in to oversee proceedings, whilst Jo Grant is tired of gallivanting around the universe, and sees hippie scientist Clifford Jones and his commune of freethinkers as a cause she can take up. Unable to let her go alone, The Doctor breaks off his holiday on Metabilis III to follow her there, just as a mysterious green liquid is causing deaths around the local Welsh coalmine, and a few unfortunate fatalities occur at management level, almost as though they are being brainwashed into it. Only our man from Gallifrey can have it out with the elusive BOSS of Global Chemicals and stop the wriggling little buggers from hatching and taking over. The mines will carry the last song from a cute little bird, and we don’t mean a canary.
The widely-remembered creatures to feature in this story are a brilliant concept, functioning on two entirely different levels, depending on the age of the viewer. Among adults, there is a universally morbid fascination with maggots, those wiggling little bastards which are the only certainty of what awaits after death, coming with a pungent smell and an appetite for all things flesh - no coffin can stop them, and they care not for the size of your fortune or all the good you have done in life - they’re gonna’ get you! Kids love ‘em because they are creepy-crawlies, and you can stick them down your sisters’ dress for tremendous entertainment. If you take maggots and make them giant-size, you have an ingenious enemy for the Doctor to battle against, and just remember kids - nothing says “let’s party” to maggots than a balsa-wood coffin!
Given the at the centre of all things in this story is the departure of Jo Grant, the title of “The Green Death” is an appropriate one. Her transition over the course of battling monsters and travelling trough the universe from dim-witted assistant: “Ugh, an octopus…” via chicken-hearted, fledgling companion: “I want to go back to Earth…” to the strong, smart, independent woman she became in her last few stories. The death of the green Josephine Grant is final when she decides to set sail for the Amazon with her new beau. She enters the story wearing an wearing an ensemble looking rather like that of Peter Davison, but it’s not just the clothes that make the woman, as right from her arrival, we see a more confident, cosmopolitan person who is able to stand up to both the Doctor and the Brigadier over what she believes in. Many mourned Manning’s decision to leave, as the chemistry between her and Pertwee was dynamite at this point.
Manning has said repeatedly over the years that in hindsight, she wished that Jo Grant hadn't gone off up the Amazon (we assume that wasn't a euphemism) with Professor Clifford Jones, but she should consider herself grateful that her departure from Doctor Who would be less gear-crunching than some of her fellow companions - there are similarities between Jo Grant's exit and that of Susan, which saw both of them inexplicably pair up with a good-looking guy and they depart with their new beau at the end of the story. Where The Doctor decided that Susan should leave and settle down, Jo actively decides to leave and embrace more Earth-bound pursuits and her departure is set-up near the start of the story, as her lack of interest in Metabelis III sews the seeds of the end of her journeys in time and space.
When Katy Manning joined Doctor Who, for many, she embodied the ideal companion - young, perky, enthusiastic and just dumb enough to allow her to ask "what is it, Doctor?" to keep the younger viewers in the loop when it came to various plot-points. The chemistry between Manning and Jon Pertwee was undeniable, audiences loved her, but all good things must come to an end. Still at least Jo Grant got to go out on one of the most memorable stories from the Third Doctor era! She really set the gold-standard for female assistants, and managed the tricky transition from old-school screamer to insightful companion, and still so refreshing that her departure was filled with emotion without taking the lazy route of killing her of to do so. Then bringing her back. Again and again. Yep, still pissed off about that one…
The Green Death is of superior writing, and having a premise which is far more than a mere invasion story, but it is the quality of the scripting which really sets it apart from stories immediately surrounding it. The themes are so pertinent and ecologically incisive you’d think it was written by Malcolm Hulke, but coming from the furrowed brow of Barry Letts and born of Robert Slomans‘ reliable typewriter, you know that quality is equally assured. Letts’ depressive concerns about the fate of the world through ecological disaster were widely felt by anyone not stoned out of their minds, and The Green Death can easily be used as a social barometer of the era, showing how hippy communes evolved from just being places to trip on acid and live for free, becoming a nurturing environment for liberated thinkers who want to put their ideas and intelligence to use rather than just ceaselessly talking about their ideals. The theme is one which is just as relevant today - Hello, as this is being written, Sky News (we watch it only for the paper reviews…) is reporting on the renewed push to implement fracking as a means to keep the country running, governments choosing to ignore the dangers associated with such methods. It’s unsettling to hear a number of the same things heard in the boardroom of Global Chemicals now being repeated by various MPs on the subject of dubious practices to keep the economy chugging along.
It’s with the above in mind that it comes with something rather rare for earlier Doctor Who stories: a logical flow to events, rather than solely relying on the ol’ “companion gets captured, companion escapes, gets captured again, baddie does something at the most convenient of times to stretch the material into six-parter” standby which was used far too often. What could have been a weakness in the writing becomes a strength: the high number of protagonists leads them to fall back on the old options when dealing with such things. Yep, one of them has to cop it in some fashion, but here it is the much preferable and genuinely dramatic device of a brush with death to put a “companion” out of the way for a while to allow progression of the story. Here is it is the valiant Cliff Jones, copping a dose of the Green Death when sheltering Ms Grant from a combination of deadly maggots and an overzealous bombing by UNIT, and with Jo being so attached to him, it really throws the cards up in the air as to if he will survive, and if she’ll stay with The Doctor should be not make it.
You have to admire the construction of the story from both the writing and production sides. For a good example if this, take a look at the way both sides of the argument in the Global Chemicals processes are perfectly juxtaposed by those looking to push their side of the argument in the first episode. The viewers have not been privy to any underhanded dealings at this time, but we are given enough through argument either way that Global Chemicals are not as high-minded as they seem to be, with even the right-leaning Brigadier putting his fascist values on hold when something smells a little off. It’s not just what is seen where the scripting triumphs, as there are metaphors and undercurrents at work here, too, perfectly reflected in a scene where Fell is compelled by BOSS to flush out the pipes and kill the Doctor and Jo crystallises the core of the story, where lives are routinely sacrificed in the name of big business, literally put in the same class as waste and flushed away. The very moment Fell exhibits some form of social conscience about what the company is asking him to do, the order comes from above to eliminate him, in what is the perfect encapsulation of corporate suicide, the loss of an unstable element by their own hand to protect the business.
Those disliking of the Brigadier’s right-wing leanings found his role in the maggot-infested proceedings a combination of annoying and gratifying, as he initially goes in with the intention of sorting out the lefties he thoroughly believes are causing all of the problems, only to eat an entire bucket-load of shit when he finds he’s been wrong all along Those in authority immediately brand eco-scientist/warrior Professor Jones as a “troublemaker”, an evaluation with which The Brig agrees, but once Global Chemicals’ role in the proceedings is revealed, the character of Lethbridge-Stewart undergoes a rare process of evolution, and finds Jones to be an upstanding chap. It is confident, skilled writing which allows the extra dimensions seen to the character, and we even get a rare instance of Our Man having rank pulled on him, where even his beloved Geneva not only can’t help him, but puts him right in the grip of Global Chemicals. The chance for Courtney to play such indignation must have been one he relished, and it’s a treat for us fans to see the pompous man in tweed officially knocked down for once.
There are so many singular scenes which are either wonderful or significant for one reason or another, but the dinner table sequence is probably the best of all, typifying everything mentioned above about the careful, evolutionary writing of The Brig. The whole gang of “goodies” are sitting down for a meal, with Lethbridge-Stewart dressed in a rather fine tuxedo, contrasting superbly against the hippie duds all about him, as ambitions of heading up the Amazon in the name of saving mankind are extolled. The atmosphere is convivial, everybody is relaxed and enjoying themselves, our man from Geneva is actually enjoying the experimental protein food he’s eating and the Doctor loves the Elderberry wine so much he insists on a bottle to take away! You can’t have everything happy for too long, and the perfect dramatic downer comes at the end when the Doctor brings bad news about one of the loveable miners. It’s possibly one of the very best scenes ever to grace the original run of Doctor Who, and seems perfectly fitting that it was in such a beloved story as The Green Death.
The characters all work together perfectly, be them old hands who have been on the show for years, right down to those who just turn up for a couple of episodes. The fact that it was a last hurrah for Katy Manning gave the regulars genuine emotional depth to their performances, be it through sadness that they were leaving or just that they didn’t want give her the lasting impression that they were all slumming it at the time of her departure. Pertwee is most affected by the inexorable event, and only a fool could deny that he exhibits a genuine sadness at losing her, and his arsing about with the ridiculous events of Metabilis III and donning pantomime outfits seeming like distractions by ‘ol Jon himself to try and put Manning's leaving out of his mind until he can no longer avoid it. Oh, and the chemistry between Katy and Stewart Bevan as lovers was similarly electric, but this was obviously because they were nobbing each other at the time…
Let's not forget the star of the show, though! As the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee brought a commanding presence to the role, full of suave Bond-like action and indignant blustering towards pen-pushing bureaucrats, but in this story, his paternal side is brought out, not only when he discovers that Jo is starting to feel differently about being with The Doctor, but also when he is faced with losing her as a travelling companion. Manning leaving really brings out the best in Pertwee, and we noticed fewer of his usual mannerisms in this story, probably because he had something to keep him distracted and prevented him from falling back on the ol' "hand on the back of the neck" thing, and the rest of his gesticulatory arsenal.
Praise must also be lavished upon the production design, and we are not talking about the unforgivably crap use of CSO for the mines, but the actual ideas used for the aesthetics in the story. The offices of Global Chemicals are all harsh and sterile, not only alluding to those who work in such buildings being of similar character, but being an environment which could only have been designed and run by a soulless computer. This juxtaposes wonderfully against the almost organic confines of the Nuthatch, which nurtures individual thought, creativity and a sense of community, and it plays to both younger viewers, enabling them to distinguish good from bad, and to older watchers who have probably experienced working in either one of the two places. Whilst it’s not a stroke of genius, everything is perfectly through out an executed.
There are some corking cliffhangers to be found in The Green Death, and whilst everyone raves about the finale of episode two, where Pertwee stumbles across loads of the wriggling little bastards, our vote has to go the conclusion of episode three. Sitting alone, reading - this in itself was a development in the character of Jo Grant, as she might have either tried to eat the pages of wipe her arse with them - the archetypal companion is blissfully unaware that a giant maggot is inching its way towards her, with no warning or anyone to save her. The set-up for it is just right, the effects are at their very best and the atmosphere is bang-on. It’s everything you could want from a cliffhanger on Doctor Who.
Is it just us, or are the mind-control headphones one of the greatest things ever on Doctor Who? If you had to encapsulate something which was “sci-fi” of that era, then chrome cans with piercing blue lights on the side are just that! They really missed a merchandising trick with that one at the time, but should they go into a licensing deal with Ministry of Sound or even Bose to produce them, they’ll be a day-one purchase for us! With cool cans firmly on, the showdown between Pertwee and The BOSS is one of the best seen during his era, with the self-righteousness kept to a minimum and a genuine repartee for all to enjoy. The Doctor listens to the computer with interest, even amusement, all whist taking a good look around and gathering information, and when he tries to throw the mighty computer with illogic, the vocal performance from John Dearth as the electronic enemy is just brilliant. OK, so it bears a striking resemblance to such things seen on Star Trek at the time, but they do a damned good job with it, in spite of lacking a robot called “Norman”.
It’s all very convenient to have the baddie be a computer, as they are a reliable villain to use for Doctor Who, where you just say that it had a bit of a malfunction or was reprogrammed specifically to take over the world by some alien influence, but The Green Death rises above such easy staples. Here, the megalomaniacal computer in question was linked to Stevens' own mind, taking his thirst for corporate success, lust for profit and global domination whilst amplifying them, writing such primary desires into BOSS’ programming. Maybe BOSS should have thought through his particular plan to best the human race, utilising the local Welsh resources and gone for 24-hour screenings of Noggin The Nog instead, causing the world to open their collective wrists through sheer depression within the space of a week. This idea is, of course, ridiculous - they didn’t have round-the-clock broadcasting back then..
The choices made in casting are just the best; Stewart Bevan is perfect to play Cliff Jones, combining left-wing politics, pompousness, intelligence and warmth in a very appealing way. OK, we’re not attribute his chemistry with Katy Manning as part of his acting abilities, as they were already exchanging fluids at this point. Jerome Willis is ice-cold as Stevens, and this is certainly intended as a compliment - these are qualities you would need to be a corporate raider intent on going global, all adding to the believability that BOSS is patterned after his thought-processes. Popping up again is Talfryn Thomas, known to Doctor Who fans everywhere as the toothy, Taffy bastard who squealed to the tabloids in Spearhead From Space, and it’s nice to see him play a complete contrast to weasely little shit we saw the last time around, generating a real sense of empathy as humble coalminer Dave, possibly one of the nicest characters seen during the entire original run of Doctor Who. In the modern age where uniformity of looks and the “naturalistic” approach are the norm within the walls of drama schools, the business really needs others to take over from the vacated post left by Thomas’ premature death, but sadly, looks are everything these days. Anyway, for aficionados of UK smut such as ourselves, he comes with the prefix of having played a toothy, Taffy bastard from David Sullivan’s infamous porno epic Come Play with Me…
It’s a damned shame that future Crossroads star Tony Adams had to leave the role of Elgin before the end of the show, as he really shines in his first screen appearance, but when your appendix says otherwise, you can’t continue no matter how much you would want to. Brought in to replace him was the dependable Dalek Supreme Roy Skelton, there to plug narrative holes as James, and whilst many see the needlework as “flawless”, it does seem a weird point in which to bring in a new character with the same function. Skelton is always good value, but when not behind a ring-modulator or with his fist up a pink hippo, he reminds us of the fallback option when you can’t get Ronald Lacey. Many see Adams’ exit as a blessing, as his swift departure means that it can be read (depending on how much you liked Eligin) that the character survived the whole experience - indeed, Elgin returned to our screens in the Green Death-based skit found in the set, so he had the last laugh after all.
The surprise return of Mike Yates to the scene after Richard Franklin had left to enter the field of directing was something of a mixed blessing, as he doesn’t enter the story until a good way through, and when he finally turns up, he’s suspiciously ineffectual, pulling comedic pratfalls when jumped by Pertwee and getting captured very easily when trying to escape the Global Chemicals building into which he had so carefully infiltrated. There are many who believe that his brainwashing by the BOSS to kill the Doctor which laid the seeds to his defection from and betrayal of UNIT during Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and some think that exposure to Professor Jones’ left-wing thinking that turned him, but we think that it was Jo Grant running off up the Amazon with the hippy-scientist that had him thinking “…if I can’t have her, no-one will!” and secured his decision. Still, he was always possessed of untrustworthy, lizard-like eyes, and those peepers left many with a reassuring sense that they knew he was going to do something deceitful somewhere down the line.
The wedding present of the blue crystal from Metebelis III is a nice touch, and would come to be used again in the most wonderful way, courtesy of the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Death of the Doctor, bringing together the two archetypal companions. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have had a little help from a UNIT scientific advisor and gotten Liz Shaw in on it, allowing all three of the Pertwee-era actresses to appear. OK, this enters the realms of fan-wank, but when the Daleks went up against the Cybermen, any sense of restraint for the sake of sensibility was firmly removed from the equation.
Only a few things threaten to spoil the status of one of the very best original stories, and we all know what they are. The hatched larvae are pretty crap, with more that just not being able to “fly” the insects from a helicopter being the main source of the problem: the design just isn’t that great - we had the same feeling about a certain element from The Ark in Space. It says a lot when the maggots are must more immediately identified with the story than their ultimate form. Also, there can be few out there who have sat through The Green Death without cringing at the sequence where Pertwee infiltrates Global Chemicals via the magic of pantomime-level disguises and appropriately broad caricatures to match? Pertwee was noted for bitching about having to do all this stuff for the story, but anyone who knows actors realise that this is the kind of stuff they live for. Stick them in some funny clothing and let them ham it right up in another persona and they are as happy as a Time Lord with an assistant in BBC studio after hours.
With such a damned good story and being so significant to the run, just how to things stack up in the audio/visual department? Will it be a trip down the Amazon or firmly up the Khyber…?
As the original 2-inch videotapes all survived the great purge, The Green Death looks very nice indeed, and everything you have come to expect from those which escaped the erasing holocaust. The previous transfer was just as good, but the real bonus is that additional work has been done on the lengthy film sequences. True, the 16mm elements are long gone, but those wizards at the Restoration Team have cleaned up the dirt and debris plaguing the footage, removed the inherent flicker caused by the HMI lamps used on location and stabilised the image in general. What of the results? Well, they look so damned good that we really weren’t sure if the film elements had been miraculously recovered or not! In fact, we had to consult Mr Steve Roberts to verify just how this stuff came to look so damned great! The bottom line is that this transfer greatly improves on what was originally seen as damn-near perfection, and now The Green Death is has a picture to fully befit its hallowed status.
What more an you want? It’s clean, clear and free of distortion, and as good as it could ever be presented. Excellent stuff - but did you honestly expect anything less?
Audio Commentary #1: This track appeared on the original release of The Green Death back in 2005 and features actress Katy Manning, producer Barry Letts and script-editor Terrance Dicks. This has a nice mixture of humour and information - mainly that the information is provided by Letts and often by Dicks, and the humour is served up by Manning and often by Dicks. Manning, as usual, indulges in that most irritating of things that many luvvies like to do - demonstrating a wide range of accents for no reason whatsoever, though breaking into a Welsh accent at times was somewhat appropriate given the setting of the story. It's difficult to listen to this now without feeling a little sad when you remember that Barry Letts has passed on, though you eventually forget this and just enjoy his amusing and informative anecdotes, including the unfortunate attempts at special effects for his later Hound of the Baskervilles dramatisation that involved a poor dog being wrapped in reflective Scotch-tape. The conversation flows quite freely and it's great to hear the trio reminiscing, but there ARE times when you appreciate the later commentary tracks that were moderated by people such as Toby Hadoke, who is able to prompt, prod and tactfully steer things back on track when one or more of the participants are going off-topic.
Audio Commentary #2: This secondary track is new to this special edition and has actors Richard Franklin (on episode four) and Mitzi McKenzie, along with effects man Colin Mapson and is moderated by the lovely Toby Hadoke on episodes three, four and five); with actress Katy Manning and writer Russell T Davies taking over for the final episode.
Hadoke's boundless enthusiasm and wryly dry delivery helps buoy things through episodes four and five of this commentary. Franklin's dry wit is a good match for Hadoke's delivery and McKenzie adds a welcome feminine touch to the thing, revealing that she is actually Welsh and her real name is Myfanwy (to which Hadoke cheekily asks if she has a sister named Ophelia). Maggot-man Mapson sheepishly admits although The Green Death[I] has an overt environmental message, he had to burn piles of tyres in order to achieve background smoke in some scenes - that falls squarely into the category of "oops". Franklin is asked why the initial idea of having Captain Yates as a love interest fizzled out (and it has NOTHING to do with that incident involving a [I]Doctor Who competition winner), he replies that Pertwee was to blame for torpedoing that one, as he felt it was a distraction.
The commentary for the last episode was obviously recorded in the same session for The Death of the Doctor, and their bouncy chemistry is still very much in evidence as they sit down and discuss Jo Grant's final episode. RTD is obviously a self-confessed fan and cites this story as his favourite and his comments are a mixture of unbridled fandom and scholar, whereas Manning basks in the warm glow of RTD's comments and also reflects upon the impact that Doctor Who has had not only on herself, but also on the viewers of the show; Manning explains that not only did she grow up as an actress during her time on Doctor Who, but she was lucky to be able to have Jo Grant do the same thing on-screen. Both Manning and RTD are proud of the show and are prepared to overlook some of the less convincing effects that are on display during the final episode and Manning mentions that her husband Barry (Crocker - actor and original singer of the Neighbours theme song) had never seen Doctor Who, to which says that she was too young to have seen Barry McKenzie - we hope that she was joking, as our Bullshit Detector is currently spiking like it's been drinking large amounts of espresso coffee.
Manning's final scenes are discussed, with the pair of them agreeing that Jon Pertwee was an underrated actor and it note-perfect during the end of the last episode. Things end with Manning getting a little emotional as she reflects upon her time on Doctor Who and where she is now as a person, but good old RTD is able to lift her spirits and the listener is left with a warm and fuzzy feeling as this short but wonderfully sweet commentary draws to a close. This is another one of those little things that has been released this year that feels like it is part of the Golden Anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who and we can't thank those responsible enough.
The One With The Maggots - Making The Green Death: This documentary takes a breezy-yet-in-depth look at how this classic Pertwee story came to be, with contributions from numerous people involved. This new documentary begins with the origin of the story, which was born out of Barry Letts' sense of alarm and pessimism about how the world was and the seemingly doomed state of Earth's ecosystem. After this initial setting-up, a veritable feast of information and anecdotes begin to erupt like twin volcanoes, including the fact that Katy Manning wanted to leave the show because she felt that three years was long enough (had she had a chance meeting with Patrick Troughton in the BBC car park?) and that she also thought that it was important to leave in order to allow the character of The Doctor to change and evolve by having a different type of companion.
It's nice to see Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan interviewed together, seeing the two of them still on good terms – you can see that there is chemistry between them and it's really rather sweet. Bevan's initial interview is recalled by director Michael Bryant and his description of his look (which was pretty-much exactly as described in the script) is pretty amusing, but secured him the job. Naturally enough, during the interview footage, Manning goes through several accents, much to Bevan's bemusement.
Maggot-wrangling is also addressed, with Colin Mapson and a member of the production cast both saying how problematic trying to not only get the fast-moving little bastards in the first place, but also trying to keep them in front of the camera without popping under the intense heat of the studio lights; the sad demise of the maggots after shooting wrapped, which involved them being scooped up into plastic bags and – to misquote Pertwee in The Daemons – chucked them in the bin.
Location filming in Wales also comes under the spotlight, with the sooty location of the coal-mine playing havoc with the clothes being worn by both the cast and crew being repeatedly under attack and resulted in many of the crew just ditching their ruined clothes, rather than trying to wash the blackness out of it. Director Michael Bryant also dispels the rumour that the background maggots used on location were made out of condoms, insisting they were balloons; whatever your say, Mike - you can't get deep-seated rumour to die merely by shining the light of truth on it...
Manning and Bevan have a chuckle at the expense of the giant fly that rears it's ugly, multi-eyed head during the final story and director Bryant sheepishly admits that he had his doubts during the filming and kept convincing himself that it could all be sorted out in the editing room (such an optimistic mantra is usually the sign that something is in trouble). Behind-the scenes footage of the fly is briefly seen, and such things are always welcome.
The departure of Katy Manning is discussed, and Bryant had been warned that it could be problematic, and he recalls how emotional the rehearsals were and there there was an atmosphere of tension on the set whilst the final scenes were shooting. Manning looks genuinely misty-eyed as she recounts her final scene on Doctor Who and the emotion that was felt during rehearsals magnified itself in the studio, with Bryant recalling that even Terrance Dicks was sniffling ( “...and it wasn't because he had a cold like normal”, he jokes). Manning recalls that life was imitating art after her final scene wrapped, with her then-boyfriend Bevan taking her home after shooting was finished instead of Pertwee doing so – the fledgling had indeed flown the coup.
This fun examination of the filming of what is considered by many to be one of the crowning achievements of Doctor Who concludes with some of the interviewees being asked how they feel about the show now – probably the best recommendation comes from director Bryant, who said that he recently watched it “and didn't get bored”, which if you consider just how closely a director works with the material he has shot and can easily get sick of it is quite an accolade.
Dr Forever! The Unquiet Dead: This final instalment of this series that covers the gaping chasm between the original run Doctor Who and the beginning of New-Who. Things begin with reinforcing the general perception that Doctor Who was as dead as disco after the failure of the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV Movie and Russell T Davies explaining that an early meeting he attended didn't go well, as the man at the Beeb who brought him in turned up drunk because he had just been fired – RTD also pointed out that there might be an issue with the rights due to the TVM (he was assured that there wasn't, but he was later told in a somewhat sheepish manner that there was indeed an issue).
You have to admire RTD's raw passion when he talks about Doctor Who and he speaks of his pitch for the show and what elements he wanted to feature in the show, several of which later materialised in the show. Jane Trantor had a passion for the televisual adventures of everyone's favourite Time Lord that came very close to matching to matching that of RTD. She speaks fondly of her initial involvement with the original run of Doctor Who, where she made her way into the production and gleefully marked out the set of the TARDIS on the floor of the Acton Hilton (the nickname for one of the BBC rehearsal rooms), albeit upside-down. Such passion stayed with her and she explains that she used her influence with Lorraine Heggessey about what to do about revamping the Saturday evening schedules...
Trantor rattles off an amusing anecdote about meeting with Davies during a press launch for Linda Green whilst she was heavily pregnant with twins whilst wearing a large pair of wedges and that she almost gave birth on the spot when she was told that Doctor Who was about to be brought up in conversation. The inter-cutting between Trantor and RTD in a kind of “he-said-she-said” manner as they both give their own perceptions of the event really makes you appreciate the mutual passion that the two of them have for the show. Trantor also relays the depressing obstacles that she faced from people about the general perception of the show that existed, including wobbly sets and “aliens made from egg-boxes”, which obviously didn't help matters, and duff marketing research from BBC Worldwide caused the corporation to be distinctly sceptical about funding the show. Michael Grade sticking his oar in is also mentioned and Mark Thompson trying to persuade the producers not to do it and the possible problem with getting the estate of Terry Nation to let them use the Daleks (they had prepared an alternate version of Rob Shearman's Jubilee script with the Toclafane as the adversary as a back-up in case negotiations went tits-up) – those who had been holding the rights to the Daleks were wary of how they were going to be seen after BBC Worldwide allowed them to be used in ways that they ultimately weren't happy with (ahem, Victor Lewis-Smith, anyone...?)
This is the final part of the Dr Forever! series and they have all been fascinating, informative and highly entertaining, highlighting various aspects of the show that kept fandom nourished and kept the show alive during the barren times. The research and love that has been poured into these documentaries is very much in evidence and we want to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to everyone involved – great work!
The Death of the Doctor: This episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures has been included because it catches up with Jo Grant and fills the viewer in on just what she had spent the last four decades doing after parting company with The Doctor.
UNIT informs Sarah Jane than an intergalactic communication from the vulture-like Shansheeth informs of the passing of The Doctor; whilst attending the funeral, it turns out that Sarah Jane is not the only former companion to be invited, almost literally bumping into her predecessor, Josephine Jones (nee Grant) and between them they soon realise that everything is not quite as it seems...
Written by Russell T Davies, this is most certainly a shameless exercise in nostalgia for long-time Doctor Who fans and frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. The decision to have Katy Manning return as Jo was a wonderful one, as she contrasts nicely with Sarah Jane and Davies even gets to reference some of Manning’s real-life characteristics, such as her being a blind as a bat and knocking over things in the process.
The sheer love that Davies pours into his script is undeniable, it almost feels like an anniversary story; when Sarah Jane and Jo sit down and share their memories of their mutual acquaintance, it’s pure and unbridled fan wish-fulfilment (as opposed to fan-wank), with so many little references to the past and the chemistry between them is simply wonderful, even if in reality, Sladen and Manning had differing opinions of the actor who played the Third Doctor. The contrast between what Sarah Jane had done with her life since she and The Doctor parted company and what Jo had gotten up to couldn't be more different, with Sarah Jane staying single and staying put contrasting sharply with Jo getting married, starting a family and travelling the world; Davies' script shows that though there are many difference between them, they are still united by their shared experience and both are happy with their lives as they approach their senior years. Some of Davies’ own personal writing traits (such as having someone exclaim “you are beautiful" to yet another extraterrestrial version of a terrestrial creature) are present and correct, but with so much love oozing from this story, RTD-haters can overlook such a minor caveat.
If School Reunion (the New-Who episode that relaunched Elisabeth Sladen’s televisual career) highlighted the awkward situation of meeting someone you adored and they defied the laws of ageing and were now considerably younger than you, then what is seen in The Death of The Doctor is truly bizarre with Matt Smith being about a decade younger than his predecessor, then an almost gerontophillic atmosphere hangs over the proceedings, with Smith seeming like the prize hen at a fox convention. Smith delivers the goods as The Eleventh Doctor in this story and he seems at home with Sladen and Manning, allowing the audience to believe that the three characters are interconnected. There is a pleasing little reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart not being able to make the funeral - fans will probably guess as to The Brig's geographical location.
Death of the Doctor Audio Commentary: As if throwing in the aforementioned episode of Lis Sladen's much-missed show wasn't enough, a special commentary track with writer Russell T Davies and guest star Katy Manning has been included. Things get off to a flying start when RTD admits that they had "gotten the filth out of the way" before the commentary had started and he goes on to reveal that if the series hadn't have come to a sad and premature end, Tommy Knight would have returned with gay boyfriend in tow. CBBC wanted gay character. What the pair explicitly make clear from outset is that they didn't want to make this commentary track "into a 50 minute eulogy for Lis Sladen" - Katy Manning rattles off an amusing story about the ridiculous level of secrecy that surrounded her possible return to the role of Jo, which included cryptic telephone calls, clueless dogs and equally clueless agents. RTD and KM have a great rapport and their delivery makes a Bren-gun seem like a potato-gun in comparison. RTD's bouncy enthusiasm, coupled with Manning's wry reminiscences make for a wonderfully entertaining track that brings together two people from the two different generations of Doctor Who.
Production Subtitles: This is a newly-minted set of information subtitles for your edification. Written by Medway Townie Richard Bignell it covers all of the usual areas that are usually encompassed by this particular special feature, including original script ideas, notes as to where and when scenes were filmed, and revisions and deletions.
Thrill to the fate that awaited the full(ish)-sized giant fly-thing that terrorises The Doctor, Benton and Bessie during the final episode is mentioned - it was found dumped in a bin, restored to health by visual effects man Mike Tucker and now resides in a private collector's hands. Well, you often find flies around a dustbin, so it was somewhat appropriate, really. It's cool that the production subtitles point out that the song playing during the party at the end of episode six was actually recorded by influential rock group The Pretty Things under a pseudonym they used when recording library music - that certainly comes under the heading of "well, we never knew that!"
Even some of the flaws are pointed out in a manner that is affectionate and not mocking, such as the glass that seems to bend rather like plastic when someone's face is pressed against it and the pre-cut cracks that are plainly visible in the about-to-explode miniatures. Even the origins of an the incorrect pronunciation of the word "chitinous", which stems from Pertwee being given duff information by producer (and co-writer) Barry Letts and the nice Mr Bignell goes on to give us the first part of a poem on the subject of the mispronunciation - now THAT's research, but would you honestly expect anything less from those dedicated backroom boffins who compile these fascinating supplements? Richard Bignell, we doff our collective cap to you!
Visual Effects: Colin Mapson is the subject for this examination of the special effects used in this story. Mapson almost sheepishly admits that they were thinking about going down the same route for the heads of the giant maggots that they did for the heads of the Drashigs in Carnival of Monsters (using the very real skulls of terriers), but decided against it because of the scale, rather than personal ethical dilemma. Mapson also explains how the standard explosions and the big "money-shot" blasts were achieved, including the various materials and methods used to get a sense of scale and realism into the shots, which were often used at the climax of many Doctor Who stories that involved the lair of the adversaries being destroyed in a big bang; the one on The Green Death, where the super-computer's domain is destroyed is particularly good - you could even call it a BOSSanova - please yourselves! Mapson also expressed his frustration at the use of Colour Separation Overlay (CSO - blue/green-screen), of producer Barry Letts was a staunch advocate; there are a number of sequences that use CSO in The Green Death and Mapson speaks of the "fringing" effect that is seen around anything in the foreground - this was an unfortunate side-effect of this process and occasionally shattered suspension of disbelief.
The genial Mr Mapson spends the second half of this featurette making a giant maggot using mostly the same methods that he employed decades earlier - the main difference is that this time, he is rather ghoulishly using the skull of a terrier. It's really cool to see the maggot coming into existence, but it's interesting to note that at certain points during its construction, it looks very much like a Drashig, but that's obviously due to the usage of the aforementioned canine skull. The finished maggot is wonderful to look at and makes you wish that Character Options could get them in the shops for Christmas. This is a lovely little look at how Doctor Who's effects were achieved and the manufacturing of a maggot from scratch is the icing on the cake.
Stewart Bevan Interview: The man who stole Katy Manning from the British viewing public (both on and off-screen) speaks about his involvement with Doctor Who and The Green Death. It was the very fact that he was in a relationship with Manning at the time that he was interviewed for the part of Professor Clifford Jones. Bevan speaks warmly of his association with the show and also praises the efforts of writer Robert Sloman in his prescient work, notably in how numerous aspects that were firmly entrenched in science-fiction at the time have become fact. Bevan has aged well, but is virtually unrecognisable (the short, dark hair as opposed to the long, fair hair he had in the show is a big contributing factor), but there is a twinkle in his eye, especially when he talks about the sense of pride he had in doing his own stunt-work in Doctor Who that makes this short interview most engaging.
What Katy Did Next: This five minute look at what the actress who embodied one of the quintessential Doctor Who companions opens with a brief piece from Nationwide, showing Frank Bough - sporting an impressive comb-over - before cutting to footage from the serendipitously-titled Serendipity, where her initial piece to camera is just so patronising that you'd have thought that it was part of children's television programming, but she loosens up in some of the other footage ( "what is it... that actually turned you on to tie-dyeing?"). Katy then talks to a lapidary (someone who works with stone) - there are some who would argue that after spending three years working with Jon Pertwee, Katy would have been fairly knowledgeable on the subject. Whilst in the company of this man who gets a stonner over stones, Manning's acting abilities are pushed to their very limits when she speaks of "how exciting and easy pebble collecting was going to be". Well, that's the secret of acting, kids - being able to come out with the most unbelievable horseshit with a degree of conviction. At one point, Katy's well-known myopia is addressed when she puts on a huge pair of bins that would have made Mr Magoo's specs look like a pair of contact lenses. Sporting more rings on her digits than Mr T after a fisting contest, Manning looks awkward in some of the footage and seems a little OTT in others, which is clearly the sign of a bored actor (think Tom Baker in his penultimate season) and it's a little hard to watch this stuff; the material seen here has obviously been carefully selected and edited with something of a sly wink, such as the moans of pleasure that she gives whilst pebble collecting on a Norfolk beach have certainly been included for amusement value. This is an interesting - if toe-curling - look at what the fledgling did immediately after flying the coup.
Robert Sloman Interview: The writer of The Green Death speaks about writing the show and it's origins. The idea was suggested by script-editor Barry Letts and Sloman jumped on this and really cooked up a script that had much to say about the environment, commercialisation and various other concerns that are still relevant today. Sloman is obviously passionate about the subject and talks of the decimation of the coal and steel industries in Britain (this interview was on the original DVD release in 2005 and intervening years have seen both industries crushed by developing superpowers like China and India) and speaks of the tricky balance between progress and corporate, profit-driven greed. Our scribe also mentions the deliberate usage of having The Green Death's super-computer humming Wagner in a way of linking it's megalomaniacal tendencies with that of Hitler - an amusing touch which probably needed explaining to those who aren't aficionados of classical music. It's always a pleasure to hear from a Doctor Who writer and Solman comes across as a very eloquent man who is proud of the work he did in this story - even if he admits that some of the messianic zeal with which the messages are imparted make him "faintly ashamed".
Global Conspiracy?: Spoof Doctor Who featurettes really can go either way - you either get something wonderfully amusing like Oh Mummy! (on Pyramids of Mars), or you can get something that is staggeringly unfunny like Eye On Blatchford (on City of Death), or Holiday for the Doctor (on The Gunfighters). This particular spoof has the added advantage of being written by Doctor Who writer (and occasional actor) Mark Gatiss - not only this, but it also features several original cast members from The Green Death reprising their roles.
Fortunately, Global Conspiracy? works, and it's both amusing and crammed with subtle (and not-so-subtle) sight gags for fans. Gatiss brings his customary deadpan-but-with-a-knowing-wink to his performance as a Roger Cook style reporter who is on the trail of a potential conspiracy relating to the original events in Llanfairfach and interviews people affected currently, including those who are a part of the conspiracy, most notably a certain Professor Clifford Jones.
This is simultaneously amusing and nostalgic stuff that was an obvious labour of love for those behind it and it's amusing to see so many of the actors coming back to reprise their roles with Tony Adams being especially good as Elgin - his years on Crossroads was prefect training for keeping a straight face under the most extreme of circumstances - and it also manages to explain the character's mysterious absence during the final episode. This is definitely more Oh Mummy! than Holiday for the Doctor.
Wales Today: This comprises of two short-but-sweet new items relating to The Green Death, the first of which sees behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of the story, and the latter sees Jon Pertwee making a return to the location in 1994 to open a new country park on the site where the colliery seen in the show once stood. The earlier material is VERY short (only about 30 seconds), but it has some nice shots of the cast, with a cute bit with Pertwee sitting in Bessie in full regalia and interacting with a little girl, and also seeing Katy Manning in a pair of trendy shades is also amusing. The latter item is a standard regional BBC report about the history of the former coal-mine and how it has been transformed, along with footage of the visitor centre's opening ceremony. The report goes out of it's way to mention that Pertwee arrived 90 minutes late and didn't recognise the place. There are clips of The Green Death, along with a brief interview with Pertwee himself and footage of him interacting with kids at the opening ceremony. These are nice pieces to include, as they help give a 'now-and-then' type look at the place used for the location of this much-loved Doctor Who story.
Photo Gallery: There are nearly ten minutes of images from The Green Death; starting with set photographs, there are a nice mixture of colour and monochrome pictures, not to mention occasional use of illustrations from the Radio Times listings, including a few really cute pictures of Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan (who were an item at the time) getting cosy together as they braved the (presumably, because it's Wales) perishingly cold weather. The maggots get their own segment, too with plenty of pictures of the impressive models created for the story, along with the appropriate sound effects provided by the brave boys at the Radiophonic Workshop. This interesting collection of stills comes to a close with several shots of Manning and Bevan - both sporting distinctly non- Who clothing - being menaced by maggots in a baroque location.
Continuity Announcements: What you saw and heard before and after the episodes of The Green Death are presented hear to give a warm pang of nostalgia to those over a certain age and sharp sense of disbelief to those under a certain age. Not only do you get the original continuity announcements from the original transmission in the seventies, but you also get ones for the repeat airing in the nineties. It's interesting to compare and contrast the styles of the continuity announcements, as they were two decades apart and show how differently the show was marketed; Doctor Who was as dead as a doornail when the 1994 repeats were shown and some wag felt the need to give the trailers a "modern" look to the, with contemporary music and editing - watch and feel more than a little queasy.
PDF Materials: When you slip this disc into your PC or laptop, you will be given access not only to the complete set of Radio Times listings for this story, but you also get a virtual reproduction of an article about The Green Death from the Radio Times, along with a letter from a disgruntled Doctor Who fan and a response to the aforementioned disgruntled fan from producer Barry Letts; the reply from Letts is only marginally more sincere as something you'd hear on Points of View or Newswatch, but it's nice that he took the time to respond to a fan.
The Green Death is greatly loved by the Doctor Who community, and even the public remember it for being the one with the giant maggots. The performances are excellent, the writing superb, the effects (largely) brilliant and it reminds us once again of just how talented Michael Briant was as a director. The presentation here is excellent, and the selection of extras are both engrossing and thoroughly entertaining. If there is a gold standard in Doctor Who, combining the story itself, AV quality and supplementary features, then this is probably it. Your credit-card should be out of the wallet by this point! It’s almost hard to eject the disc from the drive, but tinged with sadness, we’ll echo the sentiment which ran through Jon Pertwee’s mind as he watched Katy Manning walk away in her final shot:
“There goes the best piece of arse I was ever rumoured to have had…”
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 5th August 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Production Subtitles, What Katy Did Next, The One With The Maggots - Making The Green Death, Visual Effects, Robert Sloman Interview, Stewart Bevan Interview, Global Conspiracy?, Dr Forever! The Unquiet Dead, Wales Today, Photo Gallery, Continutiy Announcements, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael E Briant
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Length: 150 minutes
Follow our updates
OTHER INTERESTING STUFF
Warner Archive Triple Feature US - BD RA One I Love, The US - BD RA Into the Storm US - BD RA Miyazaki Double Feature US - BD Wind Rises, The US - BD
SXSW Film 2013 - Part 1 US - DVD | HD | BD Will streaming kill physical media? DVD | HD | BD Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up DVD | BD Netflix Reviewed UK - DVD | HD | BD Guest Column: Dark Shadows on DVD US - DVD R1
Kino Lorber Studio Classics December US - DVD R1 | BD RA The Beyond US - BD RA The Boxtrolls US - DVD R1 | BD RA Longmire: Season 3 US - DVD R1 The Zero Theorem US - DVD R1 | BD RA