The Green Death

Yesterday at PicoCon, Jon Courtenay Grimwood was saying that he reckoned all good British sf was now being written by people from the left side of the political spectrum, and someone, either he or Brian Stableford, went on to argue that this was all a reaction to Thatcherism, which was admittedly a deeply traumatic and formative political experience, even on those of us from parts of the archipelago less affected by her economic and social policies (ie both parts of Ireland).

Yet here we have a Dr Who series arguing that Big Business is bad, the destruction of the mining industry will have horrible consequences and (in slight contradiction to that last) protecting the environment is of the utmost importance – made in 1973, when Thatcher was still a lesser light in the Heath government, and even four months before the 1973 oil crisis. I find it difficult to remember a Dr Who series with such an overt and relevant political message (but bear in mind this is perhaps the first time in over five years that I’ve sat down and watched one from beginning to end).

The acting is good, and the plot fairly tight; can’t quite say the same for all the special effects – the maggots are OK, the colour separation overlay painful to look at, the giant fly rather unimpressive; but the eerie glows – the green flesh of the maggots’ victims, and the saturated lighting in the climactic scenes with Stevens and his evil computer master (reminiscent of the death of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) – are particularly good, and Stevens has another brilliant moment earlier in the last episode when his master speaks using his mouth. Indeed the computer, BOSS, is an engagingly horrible villain, which helps us forget the fact that its evil plan for world domination is utterly implausible.

Jon Pertwee really does command the show. The development of Jo’s relationship with Professor Jones seems a bit abrupt over the two and a half hours of the DVD, but I take the point that it would have felt a lot more natural over the six weeks in which viewers would have originally seen the show. And the final shots of the Doctor driving away alone from her engagement party, a single bright star in the sky, fading out to the loneliness of the theme tune, do bring a lump to the throat. (Or at least did to mine). It would have been particularly poignant for the cast watching at the time, as Roger Delgado, who played the Master, had been killed in a car accident only a few days before the last episode of the Green Death was shown.

The extras on the DVD are also excellent; interviews with writer Roger Sloman and with the actor who played Professor Jones (and was at the time Katy Manning’s boyfriend), and a marvellous spoof documentary set in the present day, at the end of which it is revealed that Stevens survived his final encounter with BOSS and is now doing a very interesting job indeed… There’s also a bit on the special effects of creating the maggots but I haven’t watched that yet. All in all I felt this was a good purchase.

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