Monday, March 23, 2009

the green death

“The Green Death”
The Doctor: You wrote a very good paper for your age.
Professor Clifford Jones: A promising youngster, eh?
The Doctor: No, I mean for the age you live in.

It might be precipitous of me to say this, but “The Green Death” may be my favorite Pertwee story (at least of those I’ve seen). As usual, it was a bit on the long side, but not the point where I was bored with it. The last few episodes could have gone through a rewrite to make them as brisk and interesting as the first few, but the other elements of the story far outweigh that. It’s Jo’s best story by far (that I’ve seen); she actually has a character, an element of humanity, instead of being a caricature in a mini-skirt. Unlike Leela’s swanning off with Andred, the way she falls in love with Dr. Clifford Jones is believable and even sweet. The Brigadier has some good lines and though he has his UNIT moments of shooting at things, he seems more vital than in many of these stories from the Pertwee era. Unlike the tacked-on feeling of the monsters in “Inferno”—which share some elements with this story—the general gist of this is well-crafted and plotted. The ecological message is distinct, vivid, and treated with respect and humanity. It’s a real shame we didn’t have more stories like this one; even the mad computer was entertaining. And I have to admit I found the Doctor’s farewell to Jo at least or more affecting than when he says goodbye to Sarah Jane a few years later.

We start off well with an aerial view that’s not stock footage; what a concept. It’s Llanfairfach Colliery, which is closed. I know it’s a little early in the decade to start thinking about mining closures, but it’s still a sign of the times. It’s always amusing when the setting of the story is actually a quarry or similar. We switch from studio to location, but like many of the more effective Pertwee stories, a lot of location filming is used. What I really like about this story is that it starts out in such a way that—aside from a few scenes of miners struck down by the plague of green phosphorescence—you wouldn’t know it was Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn’t even show up for quite awhile. It begins at the closed down mine, where Stevens emerges from behind the barrier. “They want to know what’s going to happen. We all do.” Stevens gives the out-of-work Welsh miners promises of “wealth in our time” while a hapless miner going down the shaft tries to compete with the best efforts of the special effects. They tried. Quick to challenge Stevens’ assertions is a group of intellectuals standing off to the side. “Coal is a dying industry—petrol is the future.” “More muck, more devastation!” The leader is identified as “Professor Jones, he’s a troublemaker.” Jones is worried about progress “at the expense of your land.” “You can afford to live the way you want to,” reply the angry miners. I do love the fact that Robert Sloman is giving both sides of the argument. I can’t remember hearing such worldly-wise, intelligent conversation on relevant issues in a Pertwee story.

I keep waiting for the TARDIS to materialize, but when we switch back to UNIT HQ, I remember that it’s Pertwee and we’re stuck on Earth (though not for much longer). We switch to Jo, in unusually modest clothes, eating an apple. (Great fodder for my “Food in Doctor Who” article idea, as is most of the serial.) The Doctor is tinkering as he can now use the TARDIS, “now that the Time Lords have forgiven you.” What I thought was a wonderfully offhand comment turns out to be of importance later, but I didn’t feel like it was forced into the dialogue: “There’s precious little protein in an apple, Jo.” While the Doctor is absorbed (no doubt) in thoughts of getting hither and thither in the TARDIS, Jo is incensed about the Global Chemicals take over—“don’t they realize the devastation this will cause?” I don’t know if Jo has been established in earlier episodes as an environmental activist, but I totally believe it—Katy Manning gets a chance to act and goes with it! Besides, she has heard of Dr. Jones before—possibly there’s an element of hero worship in it, though by events later in the story it’s clear she’s not seen his picture before. :-)

The Doctor wants Jo to go with him to Metebelis III. “I’m not going to Metebelis III.” Jo’s passion is admirable, but my heart just sinks at the sad way Pertwee says, “Why?” The Brigadier then has an assignment for Jo and the Doctor. “This is your cup of tea, Doctor: this fellow’s bright green and dead.” The Brig expects both Jo and the Doctor to “do your duty.” Not realizing that the assignment and her passionate wish coincide, Jo pleads the cause of helping Dr. Jones in Llanfairfach (of all the English characters, she’s the only one who pronounces it right). The Brig is more old-fashioned: “sounds like cheap petrol and lots of it—what the world needs.” Jo pleads—the Brig calls it “a very pretty metaphor.”

The Doctor doesn’t want to go on assignment either—there’s a surprising element of this Pertwee in Nine later on, the petulance and selfishness. “I’m going to Metebelis III.” “I could order you to go.” “I wouldn’t advise you to try.” “ . . . Yes.” I love the next exchange. It’s up there with the one from “Ghost Light” between Ace and Seven, and so exciting because it’s so unexpected (for me): “Metebelis III, Jo? Or where else would you like to go? You choose for yourself.” “But I've only got ten minutes.” “Jo, you've got all the time in the world... and all the space. I'm offering them to you.” “But Doctor, don't you understand? I've got to go. This Professor Jones, he's fighting for everything that’s important. Well, everything that you've fought for. In a funny way, he reminds me of a sort of... younger you.” “I don’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted. It’s all right, Jo. I understand.” I love that Jo is given the chance to shine, both as an equal to the Doctor and given a genuine interest in bettering her world, also that the Doctor feels affection and respect for her. But it’s also quite sad. The way the Doctor makes seductive his offer is copied, to an extent, at the end of “World War III.” This is fabulous stuff. It’s ruined by the patronizing, “The fledgling flies the coop,” but oh well.

There’s green, green everywhere in Barbara Kidd’s costume palette (fortunately the Doctor exchanges his ‘70s nightmare green frilly suit for a slightly more subdued (?) one with red trim). To my untrained ear, most of the Welsh characters in the story speak like Welsh people. Aside from the constant (and unrealistic) insertion of “boyo” all the time. No one has ever said that the entire time I’ve been in Wales. It could be an old-fashioned thing, but still . . . A Welsh milkman is happy to provide the Brig and Jo with directions to “the nut-hutch,” while the Doctor is jaunting off on his grouchy onesies to Metebelis III. The Brig drops Jo off at this hippie commune (funnily enough, at the hotel this week I had to give directions to guests on how to find the eco-village Lammas outside of Swansea) with the dubious, “Not sure about this, Miss Grant” (and Sarah said he was an old swinger!).

The interior of the nut-hutch reminds me of a youth hostel in Santa Fe, but that’s neither here nor there. Jo is suitably impressed by the “Room for Living” (we always called it a living room in my house, but here they seem to call it the lounge?). Without realizing it, Jo meets Professor Jones, played with hippie charm by Stewart Bevan. She’s clumsy around the scientist—“of all the silly young goats!”—which is believable. “You’ll contaminate my spores!” he says in all earnestness (double entendre?). “Stand still, my lover,” he advises her (very Welsh, that). He patronizes her further by saying, “You’re only a kid. Do you know anything about entomology?” Jones not only scares her but then admits, “I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.” Hang on, WHAT show are we watching? A genuine romance blooming without forced writing or bad acting? The kids may be bored but I’m seriously pleased. Jones announces to Jo his project of cultivating mushrooms (something returned to in The Art of Destruction): “the world’s gonna need something to eat instead of meat.”

The Brig and Stevens at Global aren’t getting on nearly as well. The Brig is convinced that the strange death of the miner “an event like that is the very reason UNIT was created.” Nicholas Courtney indulges in some eyebrow acting as Stevens explains that the better method of petrol use is almost clean, “if that isn’t conservation I don’t know what is.” Other than some unwieldy zooms the direction by Michael E Briant hasn’t distinguished itself til now, with some brilliant cuts between Jo and Jones’ conversation and the Brig and Stevens. “Tides, wind, rivers—alternative technology,” Jones tells Jo (funny how these are still things we struggle to implement into our lives more than 30 years later). “The Stevens process is clean,” Stevens insists. “Thousands of gallons of waste,” Jones insists. “Let’s go and have a look,” is Jo’s response, which is so companion. When Jones dismisses her, she huffs, “you’re being patronizing.” The Brig argues his way into interception, though no one can seem to get a hold of the Doctor (a mysterious voice reminds Stevens that “I think it imperative nobody goes into this mine”).

The Doctor has been running around on Metebelis III in the requisite ‘70s psychedelic sequence. I don’t know exactly what the purpose of him being attacked by all kinds of menaces is—I thought Metebelis III was supposed to be peaceful; I thought in “Planet of the Spiders” it was, other than the spiders of course. He escapes and gets to Llanfairfach as soon as possible, in Bessie of course. Jo goes on her own to the mine to investigate; the miners there tell her she can’t go in, “not without authority you can’t.” Dai Evans has gone down and is missing; Jo points out she’s trained in First Aid. A miner named Bert agrees to accompany her. The first cliffhanger is a bit of a bizarre one: Bert and Jo stuck in the cage lift as “the brake won’t work!” Bert takes opportunity of the situation to grope Jo; I mean, who wouldn’t? Trapped down in the mine shaft while the Brig and the Doctor race to get them out safely, Jo begins to show bravery not consistent with the screaming companion shown in earlier stories. Still, she’s only human: “Bert, do you mind going down first?” “All right, love.” The Doctor and the Brig rush off to find equipment for cutting the cable so they can get down to help. The Brig finds it very hard to believe that Global has none of the equipment; he’s right to be suspicious as Stevens, through the Boss, has been told to lie and frustrate the attempts to “investigate the mine.” Elgin, a Global employee, finds this duplicity a bit concerning: “hang about, old man.” “Disloyalty cannot be tolerated.”

The Doctor has figured out that this “was deliberate sabotage” when he gets to meet Professor Jones. They take to each other. The Brig goes to find some cutting equipment in Newport. The Doctor trespasses at Global and kicks butt with Venusian aikido. “I’m quite spry for my age.” The Doctor suits up to go down and help Jo and Bert (presaging Ten getting into spacesuits in “The Impossible Planet” and “42”). “They need my help now!”, but Dave the miner wants to help—“it’s my responsibility, isn’t it?” Jo is doing admirably, by the way. “Bert, how can light get down here?” While they conclude it can’t and connect the eerie green light with the smell of putrefaction, I’m reminded of a sage question Elijah Wood asked the lighting director in Lord of the Rings. He, too, wanted to know how light could get into a tower in Mordor and was told it was coming from the same place the music was coming from. Stupidly Bert touches some green slime. The Doctor and Dave get down the shaft and find Jo’s note. “The idiots—why wouldn’t they wait?” (Human nature.) Jo is the one to lead as Bert leans on her for support. Certain he is done for, he convinces Jo to go on alone for help. “But I can’t!” She discovers some giant maggots and goes ewww.

The Doctor finds her, and they get trapped with the maggots. Jo goes ewww some more. The signs at this point aren’t bilingual, as we find out when an ambulance takes Bert away. “It’s obvious who’s responsible,” says Professor Jones. “Global Chemicals.” He is concerned about Jo being trapped in the mine shaft, but the Brig assures him, “She and the Doctor are able to take care of themselves. My concern is as deep as yours, probably more.” The Doctor and Jo escape through the oil pipeline without getting attacked by the somewhat sluggish maggots, picking up what they think are maggot eggs on the way (ewww). They smell “crude oil waste” and are nearly sent to their deaths by the brainwashed Stevens stooge James. Elgin again voices concern: “you’ll kill them!” For not killing them, James is set to “self-destruction” by Stevens and the mysterious voice.

Sadly the Doctor, Jo, and the Brig’s party with Jones and co at the nut-hutch is a bit dated, really embodying hippies in a way I would have said was exaggerated had the story not actually been filmed in 1972. The Brig is rather ridiculously appareled in a tux, Jo looks grown-up in a blue empire-waisted gown, and the Doctor wants “a bottle to take home” of elderflower wine. All the commune people are multi-talented and brilliant and want to change the world. Jones shares his passion for black pudding (not really, for visiting the Amazon to revolutionize world food stores). I’m shocked to see the Brig smoking, as Stevens is a little later! The mood is dampened when the news comes that Bert has died. Jones comforts Jo, quite physically as it happens (with a cuddle). “You shouldn’t feel ashamed of your grief. There’s never been anyone just like Bert.” “Thanks,” a sniffing Jo says. They are just about to kiss when they’re interrupted by the Brig and the Doctor. It’s so sweet! I’m sorry, maybe it’s cheesy, but it’s certainly a step up from the “romance” in “Inferno.” I really like Jo and Jones together! “I shouldn’t be too late if I were you,” the Doctor says, with a hint of caution (don’t know if he really thinks Jo should sleep with Jones having just met him!). “I got to Metebelis III,” the Doctor says proudly, displaying the sapphire crystal. “Great,” says Jo, clearly infatuated. “Good night, Jo, sleep well,” says Jones, heading off to bed himself. Damn, thinks Jo.

She then gets attacked by a jumping giant maggot—or nearly so, before an interfering crony from Global gets attacked in her stead. “At least we can analyze this slime,” says the Doctor, after the offending maggot gets away. The Brig has orders to blow up access to the mine; the Doctor wants to try a different approach. He can’t argue his way into Stevens seeing eye-to-eye. “Do you realize what my process can do for the economy of this company?” Mike Yates, undercover, arrives. The Doctor is infuriated that everyone is “under orders”—“is nobody capable of acting on their own?” Apparently not, as the mine access goes BOOM. “The point has become academic,” Steven snidely comments. “This is the worst day’s work the world has seen for many years,” the Doctor gravely, and angrily, notes. The voice interacting with Stevens has a sense of humor: “Don’t apologize, my little Superman.”

The Doctor huffs off; the cleaning lady sees something “horrible, it is!” “That is just shoving the problem underground,” the Doctor complains to the Brig. “The mine has been sealed,” therefore everyone should feel safe, thinks the Brig. As the maggots come to the surface, the Brig does what he does best. “I never thought I’d fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar . . .” Obviously weapons are useless; these ugly buggers are “armor plated.” It’s a “biological counterstrike.” Sadly, the maggots are obviously being pulled around on strings and though made to look a bit more terrifying by the addition of drashig-like fangs, are not the scariest monsters Doctor Who has ever come up with.

Warned out of Global, the Doctor infiltrates by disguising himself as a Milkman, and, oh, what a performance. “I’m his Da, I’ve been doing this milk round 53 years . . .” As Jones plays with his microscopes and test tubes, Jo is relegated to the role she’s so often filled—“keep me company . . . make some coffee.” In a move more outrageous than Patrick Troughton disguised as a gypsy in “The Underwater Menace,” Pertwee disguises himself as the cleaning lady. “I like your handbag,” comments Mike Yates. Oh dear. As in Satellite 5/The Gamestation, the Doctor seeks “whatever lives on the top floor.” Jo, eager to please, has gone off in search of a maggot sample for Jones; unfortunately for her, the RAF are about to strike the area. On the top floor of the Global building, the Doctor finally meets the BOSS: “I should have thought you would have guessed . . . I am the computer.”

We’re a few years away yet from Xoannon and even “Robot,” but the computer is certainly nuts. “Why should I want to talk to a machine?”—The Doctor, scornful. “The difficult thing is to stop you talking,” ripostes BOSS. He finds his designation “suitable.” Unlike just any other computer, he has been working with Stevens to program an “illogical” computer. The human “makes illogical guesses that turn out to be more logical than logic itself.” I really like all the aspects of this script coming together; I didn’t really see this computer thing coming. The Brig and the RAF blow up the maggots, or try to; Jo and Jones, who’s gone after her, barely escape with their lives, though Jones is struck down and phosphorescent-green-isized. As in “Remembrance of the Daleks” several years later, the Doctor confuses the machine: “I SHALL answer it!” BOSS screams of the riddle the Doctor has presented it with.

Stevens and BOSS attempt to condition the Doctor the way they’ve conditioned other Global employees. “I’m doing sums to keep from getting bored,” says the Doctor cheerfully. “I will not be angered!” snaps BOSS, quite irrationally. “I’m having a whale of a time,” replies the Doctor. Steven tries to sell the Doctor on the ideal rationale for BOSS; “freedom from freedom!” the Doctor derides. He’s thrown into a room with chains (how S&M, especially later when Mike Yates is chained up there). Jo next fixes a walkie-talkie (!) and tells the Brig, “I’m up on the slag heap with the Professor.” “Cliff, please wake up,” she pleads (somewhat irrationally, but hey, she’s had a tough day). The Doctor tries his own persuasion: “Imagine thousands of giant insects spreading their infection throughout the world.” The Brig is succinct: “I’d rather not.” The Doctor uses his blue Metebelis crystal to hypnotize and escape from a possessed Mike Yates, though in the process he hypnotizes the Brigadier. “Oh, good grief!”

Mike Yates goes back to Global pretending to still be possessed. “The Doctor . . . is dead.” Stevens has his suspicions; Jo is worried about Jones (naturally). “He means a lot to you? Then trust me, Jo.” The Doctor is working on a cure, and the Brigadier is hungry. “It seems a long time since breakfast.” He wants beef, dammit, but when kooky Nancy offers him (as Evan said) a precursor to Quorn, he can’t tell the difference. Sergeant Benton has found an opened chrysalis, confirming the Doctor’s worst fears: “it’s horribly possible.” Jones, before falling into a coma (and making odd, rather orgasmic-like heavy breathing noises), made the conclusion that serendipitously, the fungus on which he was experimenting kills the maggots (at least I think that was the explanation for serendipity). The Doctor and Benton race out in Bessie to kill the maggots off, which seems to work except a giant fly makes rather ineffectual attacks on them.

Nancy, assuring the Doctor she’s got a brain on her shoulders, finishes synthesizing the cure for Jones as the Doctor rushes off to prevent world take over by BOSS at, of all times, four o’clock. BOSS has gone delightfully insane. “Not even a little fanfare? You’re unkind, Stevens.” Jones responds to treatment and enjoys the sight of Jo at his bedside: “oh Jo . . . oh Jo.” The Doctor is able to wrest away BOSS’ control of Stevens. He has just enough time to evacuate the building (somehow) before Stevens, in one last act of heroism, causes BOSS to cross-circuit and explode.

To celebrate the eradication of the maggots, the destruction of Global Chemicals, and Jones’ recovery, there’s a little party. Jo is wearing something really strange, as is her wont. Jones announces his intention to marry the girl. “You will [say yes], of course?” That’s just on the edge of a rather unfair marriage proposal, but Jo seems so genuinely in love, it’s hard to begrudge this couple. (I’m sure someone must have written something about them further down the line. Did they stay married? More to the point, did they ever get married in the first place? Did they make it Cardiff, much less South America?) The Doctor rather embarrassedly gets out of the way. “Well, that’s marvelous,” says Mike Yates, with a mechanicalness that I suppose refers to the fact many people thought Jo and Yates were going to get together? To crown the achievement (not exactly a day of everybody lives, but still), the UN is giving the nut-hutch “unlimited financial help.” With something approaching world-weariness, the Brig takes Yates aside, “C’mon, Mike, let’s have a drink.”

In a quiet moment, the Doctor asks Jo if she asked her uncle in Geneva for a special favor. “It’s only the second time I’ve ever asked him for anything.” “Look where the first time got you,” says the Doctor, referring to her assignment with him in “Terror of the Autons.” This scene is so sweet, and yet rather full of amertume. “You don’t mind, do you?” “Save me a piece of wedding cake,” the Doctor says. In a moment much more affecting than the Tenth Doctor slipping off in the various adventures where he leaves his companions behind, the Doctor climbs into Bessie and rides off into the sunset. It’s sooooo sad.

I realize this review was in some places more a plot summary, but historically if that’s the case it means it’s a tightly crafted story and I was so invested in the action I found little to comment on, little to take me out of the constructed world. There were many elements of this I really liked, and few that I didn’t. Bravo.

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