Shiny Shelf


Doctor Who: The Green Death DVD

By Jim Smith on 26 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘The Green Death’ is one of those ‘Doctor Who’ serials that all pub bores and stand up comedians of a certain age will recall at a moment’s notice. It is, in ‘Friends’ parlance, ‘The One With The Giant Maggots’.

Those giant maggots are – as it happens – genuinely memorable things. Unlike a lot of ‘classic’ Doctor Who monsters you can, when you look at them now, see why they’ve stuck in the memories of a generation for a so long. They’re creepy little things, constructed (as the DVD mini documentary ‘How To Make A Giant Maggot’ shows) out of a fiendish combination of piping, latex and weasel skulls. Yes, weasel skulls. Think on that for a bit.

‘The Green Death’ is also a story with a message; one of the few examples of the series deliberately and overtly soapboxing. More than thirty years on the scripts’ combination of ecological worrying, post-industrial fretting and alternative-fuel promoting seem, simultaneously, ahead of their time and faintly naive.

Set in a Welsh coal mining town on the brink of economic and ecological collapse, the story has a terrific earnestness; a not-at-all-cod solemnity that carries it through its occasional absurdities in a way that a more arch approach wouldn’t.

That’s thanks, chiefly, to the actors. (The production values range from efficient to lousy with a combination of nice film work and appalling inlay effects.) There are many lovely performances in here, largely from the the contingent of Welsh actors in minor roles (Talfryn Thomas, Mostyn Evans, Roy Evans). Stewart Bevan is terrific as Clifford Jones, the Welsh ecologist who succeeds where a half a dozen previous guest characters have failed, and prises Jo away from the Doctor’s not entirely avuncular side. (It’s refreshing, incidentally, to hear producer Barry Letts say on the commentary track that he always worked on the assumption that Jo and the Doctor were half in love with one another and that the nature of their relationship was ambiguous).

Pertwee himself is terrific – there were times on ‘Doctor Who’ when he seemed bored with the material or, more simply, complacent. That very much isn’t the case here. He knows this is a big story and he absolutely gives his best throughout, showcasing the wit, arrogance, charm and charisma that made him such a good choice for the role in the first place. Also worthy of note are John Dearth as the voice of ‘Boss’, the villainous computer at the centre of the story and Jerome Willis as sinister business tycoon Jocelyn Stevens.

Interestingly ‘The Green Death’ is on one DVD – whereas previous six episode stories have been across two. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to have impacted on the special features – which are many. First up is the aforementioned commentary featuring Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Barry Letts (Producer and co-writer) and Terrance Dicks (Script Editor). On this Manning has an infuriating tendency to slip into accents and ‘little girl’ voices throughout, in what seems like a shameless series of attempts to gain attention. This is particuarly irritating as when she actually stops faux-lisping and wracks her brains for insight and memories she’s genuinely interesting, particularly when talking about Jon Pertwee. Fortunately Letts and Dicks have always talked a good game when it comes to ‘Doctor Who’ and between them they manage to cover all the technical and storytelling aspects of early Seventies ‘Who’ in an enlightening and entertaining way. Letts in particular has tremendous dignity and discipline and is self-critical as well as self-congratulatory, a rarity on commentary tracks.

Two other chief participants in the story, co-screenwriter Robert Sloman and the aforementioned Stewart Bevan, get mini-featurette interviews to themselves. Bevan’s enthusiasm is infectious, but Sloman comes across as a little pompous and overproud.

Perhaps the most impressive extra is ‘Global Conspiracy?’ a ten-minute sketch in ‘The Day Today’ stylee written and presented by ‘The League of Gentlemen’ writer/star Mark Gatiss. This is very funny and just about straddles the divide between ‘Doctor Who’ in-jokes and mass-market appeal. It has about two thirds of the cast of the original serial in too. Mostyn Evans’ turn as his own ballet dancing Quentin Crisp-a-like brother has to be seen to be believed.

The disc is rounded out with all the usual whistles and bells, including better-than-you-thought-it-could-be sound and picture and optional onscreen production notes. Oh, and one of those picture galleries that no one who isn’t me ever sits through.

This is a very good disc from a consistently very good range, but the best thing about it is obviously the revelation concerning the weasels skulls.

Get some weasel skull action from our chums at the newly renamed Sendit.com.


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