20th Century Earth. An unhinged scientist, Professor Stahlman,
is attempting the first penetration of the Earth`s crust in
a top secret drilling project called Inferno. He hopes to
tap into a new energy source at the core. When the Doctor
is called in with his companion Liz Shaw to oversee the project,
he soon develops grave misgivings. Things begin to go very
wrong when a mysterious green substance leaks from the drillhead.
A substance which turns all who come into contact with it
into alien primeval creatures called Primords...
the Tenth Doctor and Rose battle Cybermen on a parallel Earth
in the brand new 2006 season of Doctor Who, it's wonderfully
appropriate that the latest classic series release is Jon
Pertwee's Inferno - the show's original stab at a parallel
world storyline from 1970.
rounded off Pertwee's first season as the Doctor, quite
possibly the oddest and certainly the most unique season in
Doctor Who's history. At this time, the show was undergoing
the biggest radical revamp ever to be seen in the show's initial
26-year run on the BBC. The days of an eccentric scientist
travelling through time and space in a tatty police box and
battling giant ants from outer space were to be abruptly and
dramatically replaced with a more mature and realistic approach,
as the third Doctor faced home-grown terrors on Earth. This
interesting new adult model of Doctor Who would regrettably
be watered down in subsequent years, but Inferno will
always be remembered as a fitting climax to this short-lived
vision of a more grown-up show.
It could almost be described as two separate tales bolted
together. The story kicks off with mysterious happenings,
brutal deaths and political wranglings at Professor Stahlman's
drilling project. Midway through the episodes, the story is
swiftly turned upside down as the Doctor finds himself transported
to a darker parallel Earth, where his former friends and colleagues
are now trying to kill him and Stahlman's project is at a
more advanced stage with potentially devastating consequences.
These two strands are very nicely interwoven though, and we
barely see the join as this epic tale gathers pace.
and gloom pervade every scene in the story. Despite the fact
that we never clap eyes on the drill that is supposedly penetrating
the Earth's crust, the continual eerie effects in the background
and the cast often having to shout their dialogue over the
noise, quite cleverly convinces us that we have, and that
there is a palpable sense of danger here. It's a quite beautiful
example, if one were needed, of Doctor Who seriously
raising the tension and horror stakes without much of a budget.
The stylish and subtle direction is consistent throughout
all seven episodes, and much of the credit for this goes not
to the legendary Douglas Camfield as the closing titles suggest,
but to Producer Barry Letts who took over when Camfield fell
ill but was not allowed by the BBC to take recognition for
parallel world storyline offers up a delicious chance to see
the Doctor Who regulars playing the baddies for a change.
Nicholas Courtney clearly relishes his role as the alternative
'Brigade Leader' complete with sinister eye patch and scar,
and it's a truly classic moment when he spins round in his
chair to confront a surprised Doctor for the first time. The
real scene-stealer though is Caroline John who delivers a
subtle and convincing performance as the Parallel Earth's
'Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw'. Initially as cold and ruthless
as her Parallel Earth colleagues, we eventually begin to see
shades of her alter-ego seeping through, and you end up becoming
quite attached to the character - which makes the resolution
of the parallel world storyline all the more shocking and
brutal. Doctor Who doesn't come much bleaker than Inferno
- even the unique opening credits are unusually disturbing,
as the story title and writer's credit are superimposed over
grim images of bubbling lava which seems to represent the
end of the world - and that's pretty close to what we end
up seeing by the story's climax.
It's a genuine shame that Doctor Who wasn't able to
continue in this rich vein throughout the Pertwee era. In
the seasons that followed, UNIT would slowly degenerate from
a credible military organisation into a nice cuddly family.
The Brigadier, seen here as a sharp and efficient leader of
men, would eventually become a Colonel Blimp buffoon, whilst
the Doctor's refreshingly intelligent assistant would be replaced
by a 'loveable' blonde who was just there to ask the right
questions. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty more entertaining
third Doctor stories to follow, but it would never be quite
like this ever again. Just watching this story is itself rather
like taking a trip to a parallel Earth, a world in which Doctor
Who was an intelligent adult show, shown long after the
kiddies were tucked up in bed. For this reason alone, Inferno
will always remain an unusually flavoured and very, very special
slice of Doctor Who.
As usual, the discs are supplied with a wealth of superb features.
Insightful commentary is supplied by Nicholas Courtney, Barry
Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks whilst John Levene
(Sergeant Benton) delivers a warm and enthusiastic solo commentary
on episodes 2 and 5, during which his sheer love for Doctor
Who gleefully shines through. Sadly, Caroline John was
unavailable to participate in the commentaries (especially
disappointing considering this is one of the very few stories
she appeared in) but fortunately, she does contribute to both
of the brand new documentaries featured in this package.
You Hear The Earth Scream? takes a detailed look at the
troubled making of Inferno, whilst The UNIT Family
(Part One) focuses on the early years of the development
of UNIT. Both documentaries are somewhat shorter than we have
been used to in recent Who releases, but still manage
to cram an impressive amount into their short running times.
John Levene is again hugely passionate, honest and often downright
funny throughout his contributions, whilst the likes of Letts,
Dicks and former producer Derrick Sherwin dish up fresh insight
into the origins of UNIT, the crisis during the Inferno
filming as Douglas Camfield was taken ill, and the abrupt
departure of Caroline John.
included on the disc is a now infamous deleted scene in which
a radio announcer, voiced by Pertwee himself, warns the general
public that the end of the world is nigh. This was quite rightly
cut before transmission as it was so recognisably Pertwee
putting on a very silly voice, but was accidentally retained
on overseas prints of the show and even surprisingly showed
up within the 1994 VHS release and recent UKTV Gold repeats.
Here, it's finally put in it's rightful place as a quirky
extra feature. Other special features include a cheesy but
fun Visual Effects Promo Film, Pertwee's cringeworthy opening
links to 1991's The Pertwee Years video, and a very special
and financially viable chance to view the incredibly rare
1971 Doctor Who Annual as a PDF file, (currently going for
small fortunes on eBay!)
final special mention must go to the dedicated work that has
clearly gone into restoring the quality of these prints. Compare
and contrast the DVD with 1994's VHS release and you'll see
what I mean. Over 35 years on, the end of the world has never
looked so good.