“Listen to that! It's the sound of the planet screaming out its rage!”
For a science fiction series with such a long and diverse history as Doctor Who it is somewhat surprising that ‘Inferno’ is the only time in its original 26-year run that everyone’s favourite Time Lord ever ventured into a “parallel space-time continuum”. Can’t understand why they never did it again because ‘Inferno’ is very good indeed.
I’ll admit that it isn’t perfect, often suffering from many of the same problems that blight most of season 7 (being too long, too serious and too grim). Also, it features some of the most embarrassing monsters this show has ever produced. But these are all minor faults that I feel ‘Inferno’ easily overcomes.
In keeping with the more gritty tone of this season ‘Inferno’ is a very dark and often brutal story. At one point the Doctor is practically being tortured as he is viciously interrogated by the Brigade Leader. And the ending of Episode 6 is a moment of utter hopelessness. Not only does the Doctor fails to save the other universe he is then forced to abandon it completely and everyone there in order to get back to his own in time to save it. I mean, this is the Doctor we’re talking about, the type of a man who values life so much he’d gladly sacrifice his own to save his enemies as well as his friends. So seeing him willingly leave behind people who have risked their own lives to get him home is something of a shock.
The parallel world the Doctor finds himself in is an Orwellian nightmare where even the most trusted friend is a deadly enemy. In this world our beloved Brigadier is the ruthless, one-eyed and shockingly ‘tache-less Brigade Leader with loveable Sgt. Benton as his obedient thug and Liz Shaw as…well, she’s still Liz Shaw, only sterner and sporting a horrendous wig. Bizarrely, the remaining supporting characters aren’t that much different from their dimensional opposites. Petra and Sutton are vitally identical (albeit, better dressed) and Stahlman is just as much an arse over there as he is over here.
‘Inferno’ is a great story for the Third Doctor and marks his gradual shift towards being more of an unconventional action hero. We finally get to see Worzel show off his fighting skills as the Doctor whips out the Venusian karate for the first time. You’ve gotta love that Jon Pertwee of all people, with his silver bouffant, frilly shirts and velvet jackets, is the one we consider to be the action Doctor. In days gone by all that action stuff, the running about and thumbing bad guys, was typically handled by the male companion. The Doctor just stood on the sidelines cheering them on, which isn’t really much of surprise when someone like William Hartnell is your Doctor. Can’t say I’ve ever imagined him karate chopping a bad guy across the head.
Typically of classic Doctor Who it’s the monsters that let the whole side down. 'Inferno' is one story that certainly didn’t really need any monsters. So I have no idea why the producers thought it would be a good idea to shove in a pack of lime flavoured wolfmen Ed Wood would dismiss as being too rubbish looking. I try not to judge the series too harshly for its charity shop production values. Despite being one of the BBC’s most popular shows it was made on a tiny budget. And in all fairness, the Primords are quite effective in the early stages, when they’re more like ravenous zombies. Too bad they don’t stay that way.
Notes and Quotes
--Final regular appearance of Caroline John as Liz Shaw. She was abruptly sacked between series as Barry Letts didn’t feel Liz Shaw was working out as a companion.
--In the 1984-inspired world Great Britain has become a brutal totalitarian Republic. There’s no monarchy with the entire Royal family having been executed as traitors (that’s one way to cut down on all the embarrassing scandals).
--There’s some classic Pertwee gurning action going on in Episode 1.
--Director Douglas Camfield was forced to pull out mid-filming after suffering a minor heart attack. Barry Letts quickly stepped in and directed the remainder of the story uncredited out of respect for Camfield, who had already done all the prep work needed with Letts just following his notes.
--It seems rather absurd that someone like Stahlman, an arrogant isolationist who values no one’s opinion but his own, would have such unquestionable control over a major government project.
--The Doctor was at Krakatoa in 1883.
--In a nice reversal of convention regular Stahlman has a goatee while his counterpart is clean shaven.
The Doctor: Look, without the Tardis, I feel rather lost. A stranger in a foreign land. A shipwrecked mariner.
Stahlman: I would’ve come to the same conclusion.
Sir Keith: He came to his answers in 10 minutes. You had a team of mathematicians working on it for months.
Stahlman: That’s hardly the point, Sir Keith.
The Doctor: What’s going to happen to me?
Brigade Leader: You’ll be shot, eventually.
The Doctor: Without a trial?
Brigade Leader: This is your trial.
The Doctor: Proper little bureaucrat, aren’t you? Can’t shoot me unless you’ve filled in all the forms, is that it?
The Doctor: I keep telling you, Brigade Leader, I don't exist here!
Brigade Leader: Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you.
The Doctor: Well, I'll tell you something that should be of vital interest to you. That you, Sir, are a NITWIT!
Greg Sutton: Marvellous, isn't it? The world's going up in flames and they're still playing at toy soldiers.
The Brigadier: “Pompous, self-opinionated idiot," I think you said, Doctor.
--This could be the continuation of a beautiful friendship.