Doctor Who: The Green Death Review

For me, The Green Death is a bit of a mixed bag. While it has some of the most striking moments of the entire Pertwee era including some horrific carnivorous maggots that burst from the ground and the heart-wrenching farewell to his companion Jo Grant which never fails to bring some tears to my eyes whenever I watch it. But it is frustratingly uneven, slightly sloppily constructed and is full of a wealth of really well intentioned environmentalist and anti-corporate themes that are just left underdeveloped and abandoned because the writer didn't know what to do with them. And we get to see Jon Pertwee engage in a little bit of comedy when he dresses up as a female cleaner which will either be really funny or really stupid depending on your point of view.

One of the well remembered things about many of the Pertwee adventures is that often the writers would try to go beyond the 'monster-of-the-week' format and actually create a story that stemmed from events and topics that happened at the time, in this case, 1973. This factor was especially important to the producer at the time, Barry Letts, which is why it is little wonder that the story focuses around anti-pollution. Had Letts not co-written the story with Robert Sloman, I doubt those elements would have been so prominent. But when watching this story it is evident that the writers found the subject a little too difficult to incorporate into a Who adventure.

The first episode begins very promisingly as it sets up several continual conflicting elements in the little South Wales Mining Town of Llanfairfach. All the residents are suddenly under threat from a mysterious gloopy green substance which quickly begins to seep out of the earth. There is the corrupt corporation, Global Chemicals which is led by the insidious man, Stevens who only cares about profits, not those who have to suffer. But we will later discover that Stevens has a very guilty conscience and he has a real tough time trying to do the right thing.

Completely opposing Chemicals is Professor Clifford Jones and his little community who live in a house termed 'the nut hutch'. They believe that the world needs the special fungus they have created which could be cultivated as a food source to wipe out famine. This factor only becomes important in the story later on as during the opening episodes they continuously fight Stevens and his ideas as they believe he will spill poisons on the earth.

And then, caught between the two warring factions are the miners themselves. As they are local and working-class, they believe in profits to keep their families afloat. The mines have been closed down and each one of them are out of work. Because of this they listen to Steven's lies and don't like Jones and his arguments that they are being exploited. The town people believe Jones to be a rich brat who doesn't know what he is talking about because of his age. But the workers have genuine concerns, one says, "It's all right for you. You can afford to live the way you want to." It is a shame that those concerns aren't really explored more so that the show can address the environmental concerns more clearly. Instead it comes across quite superficial and the story abandons the miners by the third episode, resolving the concerns by never bringing them up again.

The mysterious deaths cause Chemicals to call in UNIT. But the environmental divisions are affecting them too. The Brigadier believes that the world needs more oil and petrol, while Jo believes that we don't, that we should look to alternative sources for our electricity, heating and food. She even flatly refuses to help the Brigadier in his investigations with Chemicals. But the Brigadier is more fair minded than the Doctor ever gave him credit for and offers her a lift to 'The Nut Hutch', since they are both going to the same part of Wales.

But the Doctor finds himself on the outs with the pair of them. More interesting in finally going to Metablis Three, the famous blue planet of the Actean Galaxy, he rejects the Brigadiers plans stating that he isn't a policeman despite what his TARDIS might read. But he is simply shocked when Jo refuses to go with him, he is especially surprised at the way she seems to talk about a man she hasn't even met yet. What was so special about the Doctor/Jo dynamic was that when she introduced to show, she was little more than a late teenager. Gradually she becomes like a daughter to the Doctor and we see he cares for her very deeply. This story is heart breaking because we see her finally grow up.

But there is a problem with Jo and it stems from the writing. Her characterisation often comes across as patronising and sexist. The best way to portray Jo is that she is still a child or the Doctor's unworldly but brave teenager, despite the fact that actress Katy Manning was in her mid-to late twenties when she played the character. When she is written well, Jo is amongst my favourite companions that the show has ever created. Jo may have been introduced in Terror of the Autons with Emma Peel in mind but she gradually evolved into a well rounded character who had a lot to do in many stories. She carried almost the entirety of The Curse of Peladon by herself by approaching things with an attitude that was wiser than her years. But the writers sometimes ran the risk of writing her as a bimbo. At the best of times she ran the risk of being considered that and instead of avoiding it, this story plays her into that bimbo stereotype. While it wasn't a bad idea for it to be Jo to discover that Jones's fungus is the answer to everything that is going on. But the way that the scene is played, with Jo going all butterfingers makes it look like she is nothing more than a clumsy dolt. And then there is her plan to run off and get Jones a maggot all by herself. While it is a good plan, it is pretty dumb in the end as she never gets one and ends up putting herself and Jones in mortal peril when they are stuck out in the open in the middle of an air raid by the army who are trying to kill the maggots by dropping explosives on them.

But the scene where Jo leaves and her and the Doctor's reaction to it is extremely well handled. The final scene with the Doctor slipping away from Jo's engagement party and driving back in Bessie on his own is heart breaking. In many ways it is exactly the sort of departure that Susan should have had as both her and Jo leave the Doctor to start a new life with a new man. There is a difference between the two departures as Susan's is due to the First Doctor's cold-heartedness where he locks her out of the TARDIS. The Third Doctor is clearly heartbroken by Jo's decisions even though he knows that she is leaving him for the best of reasons, to be with her new husband who is a man worthy of her.

The most infamous elements of The Green Death are the maggots. And they are creepy and memorable and really disgusting! But for the story, they represent the idea of toxicity and pollution better than anything else could have done. But the real baddie of the story is BOSS - a megalomaniac computer who is out to eliminate all human will. But I'm not entirely sure he belongs to the story because if he is the one running things, it takes away from the message that Letts and Sloman were trying to tell, that it's human hands which cause pollution. But BOSS adds a quirky charm to the story from the way he uses oversized headphones to get control of people to the way he mocks Stevens by calling him his little 'Superman'.

There is one disgusting scene where the Doctor asks Jones to show him the pile of fungus in the outhouse which killed the maggots. I wish they hadn't included that as the image isn't pretty!

The Green Death is one of those stories which begins with good intentions and tries to set itself in the middle of the 1970s and their discoveries about pollution and what causes it. The trouble is, there is too much disturbing imagery from the maggots and mention of fungus. The one bit that really turns my stomach is when the gang are sat around enjoying a meal and Jones tells them that what they have just eaten is processed fungus. Had I been there I would have probably thrown it all back up. I'll give the hippies points, they may have found a cure for world hunger but I don't think I'll be sharing a meal with them anytime soon!