Saturday 27 August 2011

278 Inferno: Episode Seven

EPISODE: Inferno: Episode Seven
TRANSMITTED: 20 June 1970
WRITER: Don Houghton
DIRECTOR: Douglas Camfield (and Barry Letts - Uncredited)
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Inferno
Episode Format: 525 video RSC

The Doctor is found lying in a coma on the floor of his hut. As Liz treats him members of staff at the site are becoming increasingly concerned to the safety of the drilling. The Doctor wakes and attempts to explain to Liz & The Brigadier what has happened. Sir Keith Gold, his arm in a sling arrives, and together they try unsuccessfully to convince Stahlman to stop drilling. The Doctor tries to damage the drilling apparatus but Stahlman has the Brigadier arrest him. The Doctor escapes and after confronting the Primord Bromley he returns to the control room where Stahlman has sealed himself in the drillhead. The Doctor tries to convince everyone to shut the drilling down but nobody will take responsibility for doing so. When the Primord Stahlman emerges the Doctor & Sutton restrain him with fire extinguishers as Petra begins the shut down procedure. Realising that the drill will keep going for a while yet the Doctor overrides the safety procedures and shuts it down with seconds to spare before penetration. The shaft is ordered to be filled. Later Sir Keith comes to bid farewell to the Doctor. Petra Williams and Greg Sutton have already left - together. The Doctor then bids farewell to Liz and dismisses the Brigadier with a few curt remarks as he dematerialises the now working Tardis console. However it rematerialises just a few yards away on the rubbish dump and the Doctor is forced to contritely ask the Brigadier for help retrieving it as Liz watches them leave together.

This episode is driven by you knowing what will happen if the Doctor fails: you've seen it during the last few episodes and were reminded in the reprise as the lava approaches the door. But for the start of the episode he's unconscious: Will the Doctor recover in time? And when he does will people heed his warnings? Disaster is of course averted with moments to spare. In many ways this episode is just a coda to the Alternate Universe episodes: having gained knowledge there the Doctor must use it here. It needs the previous episodes to back it up which is why it didn't really work when it was released in The Pertwee years VHS along with The Daemons part 5 and Frontier in Space 6 in March 1992. It was chosen because I suspect they knew they had a good story and went for the final episode to give it closure. (in many ways Frontier 6 is also an odd choice: That's there because Pertwee thought the Draconians were his favourite monster. They're hardly in 6, 5 would have been a much better choice showing the Emperor's court). I very much suspect though that any other episode of the story seen in complete isolation would have suffered (but if pushed I might have gone for episode 3) Inferno is really a whole tale spread over the seven episodes. It's the longest Doctor Who story I'm happy sitting down to watch completely and can, given the time, watch all seven episodes on the bounce. At this point in my writing of the blog I needed to reduce the lead my writing has over publication so I can watch a certain story due out in a short while on DVD. I intended to spread Inferno out over a good few days. I ended up watching it in a day and a half, I just wanted to keep coming back for more.

I said at the top of the story it was one of my favourites and I stand by that view now. Even despite some monsters that, while adequate, aren't quite from the top drawer and some not wonderfully inspiring cliff hangers it is brilliant stuff unlike any other Doctor Who story. Buy a copy on DVD NOW!

This episode marks the departure of Caroline John from the series, without a proper leaving scene! She just disappears between series. Some have argued it makes more sense if you watch Inferno before Ambassadors of Death because at the end of that story she stays behind to help at the space research centre. Her departure was instigated by Barry Letts, who felt the character didn't work, but has been very keen to stress that he liked Caroline John as an actress and indeed later cast her in the classic serial production of Sherlock Holmes' Hound of the Baskervilles opposite Tom Baker. As it happens Caroline John was looking to leave the series anywhere: she was pregnant with her first child and wouldn't be able to be available for the filming dates. She returned to work after giving birth appearing in many television programs. I spotted her in a Midsomer Murder repeat recently and she's got a prominent on screen role as Liam Neeson's Mother in Law in Love Actually. She makes one Doctor Who reappearance in the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors. The end of this serial also sees Douglas Camfield take another absence from the program. His imdb entry seems to indicate he did little work for the rest of 1970 but was working again in early 1971 and pretty constantly after that. We've already seen that he didn't get on with Pertwee and wouldn't return to the program till after he left but there's also stories of his wife, Sheila Dunn (who makes her last Doctor Who appearance in this episode) forbidding him to do any more due to the stress it caused him.

This is also the last seven part Doctor Who story. Seven parts was the longest format the show attempted regularly: The Daleks & Marco Polo in it's first season, Evil of the Daleks in it's Fourth then Silurians, Ambassadors of Death & Inferno in it's Seventh. From here on in it's mainly four and six parters with a few notable exceptions. This season used three seven parters partly to fill an odd number of episodes but also as a budgetary matter: The same sets stretched over a seven parter cost less money. This story uses the same five sets in nearly every episode: Control room, drill head, Brigadier's office, Reactor Room and Doctor's Warehouse. However the success of this season, reaping higher viewing figures in the winter months before tailing off slightly in the summer, insured the show's survival and gave the production team a budget increase that allowed them to do more stories in the next season which had the same number of episodes.

Having reached the end of Season Seven there an interesting observation: This is the first season since the first not to feature a returning Monster. We've seen no Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti or Ice Warriors. In fact we've not seen the inside of the Tardis either or even the exterior since the first story. The only elements used in this series from previous stories are The Doctor, Brigadier, Sergeant Benton & Unit. Recurring elements become more common, and indeed we'll get one of this season's monsters returning in the first story next year. It's not until Season 13 that we get another whole season with no recurring monsters (though Unit appear) a trick repeated several time subsequently. For Tom Baker's fame as the Doctor he only faces a familiar alien foe on five occasions and three of those are in his first season!

In addition to the final episode of Inferno showing up on the Pertwee years, the whole story was released on video in 1994 including an extended cut of episode 5 with a scene not present on the UK broadcast copy. The story was released on DVD in 2006.

When I started buying the Doctor Who books four Pertwee stories remained unnovelised: Ambassadors of Death, Mind of Evil, Time Monster & this one. Inferno was the first of them to print getting published in 1984 four years after the previous Pertwee tale, Monster of Peladon, had appeared.

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