Disco Werewolves, Venusian Karate and yet another Drill-to-The-Centre-of-the-Earth spiel.
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Okay, so these chaps are drilling to the centre of the Earth to reveal a potent, energy-producing gas. Alas, in drilling down, the scientists inadvertently release an inexplicably devolving ooze that turns ordinary people into murderous cuddle monsters.
In his attempts to prevent ‘Krakatoa squared’, the Doctor accidentally sends himself to a parallel universe, where things are the same, but not.
Now Doc needs to find a way home and prevent the end of his world before it’s too late.
Needless to say, this is a lot to take in. With two-to-Three separate stories interwoven with drama unfolding in two mirror universes, we loved, and were perplexed by, this Classic Doctor Who serial. Listen to our review of it now!
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In order to help save money, Barry Letts’ DOCTOR WHO production team inherited a trio of seven-episode serials and an Earthbound Doctor. Consequently, Jon Pertwee’s character worked with UNIT and often found himself at odds with bureaucrats. In “Inferno”, the new team’s third story and the actor’s fourth, Professor Stahlman, a self confident, driven mad scientist, constantly claimed he would have reached the same conclusions as the government backed brain trust helping him drill down to the center of the Earth. The Doctor; UNIT; a bureaucrat, Sir Keith Gold; and Greg Sutton, a consultant snatched from an Arabian oil rig, vainly advocated caution as the Professor pushed the project’s pace. Tension built as hot, green goo capable of transforming the men who touched it into hairy, heat-loving monsters spewed from a damaged pipe and a computer Stahlman subsequently sabotaged predicted disaster. UNIT, meanwhile, investigated murders committed with a red hot wrench as the Doctor and leggy Liz Shaw worked to repair the TARDIS console.
Power surges hampered their experiments and Stahlman ultimately cut them off, but the Doctor surreptitiously restored power. This conflict enabled Writer Don Houghton’s story to explore the concept of free will. Slipping the Doctor; the TARDIS console; and the Doctor’s car, Bessie, into a parallel world, though, was a cheat because the Time Lords had banished the Doctor to Earth. The parallel world was similar to ours in that Stahlman’s project led to bureaucratic maneuvering, but it was also different. Britain was a fascist republic drilling for Stahlman with forced labor overseen by Brigade Leader Lethbridge Stewart, who wore an eye patch; Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw; and Platoon Under Leader Benton. Because the actors played their characters in different ways, they especially liked this serial.
In the parallel world, the Doctor repaired the damaged computer and recognized the scream of the enraged Earth, which he had heard in 1883 as Krakatoa erupted. Drilling was about to reach the center of the Earth and unleash unimaginably destructive forces. Neither the Doctor nor the TARDIS existed in the parallel world, and only the Time Lord’s escape could prevent the same disaster back home. He needed to route power from the failing nuclear reactor to the TARDIS console. Monsters, which had once been Stahlman and technicians, menaced him and a small party of helpers, increasing the pressure to finish the job before the end of the doomed, parallel world.
The Doctor’s escape took place between episodes and was another cheat. Yet, the facts he solved a problem with the drilling that suddenly occurred, which he had solved in the other world contrasted with Sir Keith Gold’s injury in our world versus death in the parallel reality provided the nuggets of information which told the Doctor free will exists. This revelation enabled him to stop both Stahlman, after he became a monster, and the drilling, saving our world when he couldn’t save the other, despite having spent more episodes of this long but engaging story there.
Hello, I’m a long time listener of the podcast who has also been slowly working their way through classic Who from the beginning, and now that i’ve finally caught up to all of you I figured that I would take the opportunity to offer my own mini review.
I must admit that I had been a bit lukewarm on Pertwee’s run up until this point. Spearhead from Space did a great job introducing the new Doctor and Liz, but had a plot that completely failed to grab my attention, “Doctor Who and the Silurians” had some interesting ideas and some good scenes, but was padded out way longer than it should have been, and “The Ambassadors of Death” was just kind of a mess. All I knew going in about “Inferno” was that it had the reputation of being a bit of a classic, and boy did it live up to that reputation.
I thought that trapping The Doctor in an alternate universe, with both the Doctor and UNIT trying to figure out exactly what is going on simultaneously in different dimensions was a brilliant premise (even if they ended up not doing nearly as much as they could have with it). The episode then follows that twist up with what is perhaps my favorite action scene in Doctor Who up to this point, with the Alt-Brig’s men chasing after the doctor. Hopefully we can get more action scenes of this caliber in the future.
From that point on the episode grabbed hold of me and simply didn’t let go. Don Houghton does a great job of keeping the tension up for the story’s entire 7 episode length,and ends it on a scene that made me laugh out loud, with the doctor having to come back and ask the Brigadier for help immediately after insulting him. This definitely makes my list of favorite stories so far 4.8/5.
Inferno is, from what I’ve read, considered a classic among Classic Who. That said, I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.
The parallel universe stuff was cool, and for better or worse serves to introduce the concept to Doctor Who for later use. Yet it also felt a lot like padding when either “the Doctor visits a parallel universe” or “furry heat zombies” could have been solid enough stories all on their own.
Then there’s Stahlman. I didn’t need more than a few seconds to realize he was going to be our “stubbornly insists on completing the work regardless to risk to human life and planet Earth” guy. I did not expect him to be the full blown antagonist he was in the end, however. Still, he got so maniacal with his project he honestly reminded me of Professor Zaroff from Fury of the Deep, so obsessed with succeeding he didn’t care about anything else. This wouldn’t be so bad except everyone clearly knew he was going out of his mind yet nobody but Sir Keith seemed interested in doing much to stop him until episode 7.
My final rating for Inferno is 2.9. It was interesting and had some high points like seeing parallel versions of the cast, but the serial feels like the writers took two ideas that could’ve been great on their own and mixed them together to the detriment of both plots.
Inferno draws from a strong (albeit predictable) script, interesting sets and locations, and a massive ensemble cast all of whom put in an amazing performance. From solder to background technician, everyone is taking the story seriously.
Stahlman is undoubtedly the hardest role here. For the most part he succeeds, though not without a few flaky moments. Carolyn John has several scenes of acting brilliance and Liz becomes an ever increasing breath of fresh air as a strong-willed level-headed woman. The relationship between Sutton and Petra was brilliantly written, and the Brigade Leader is a version I’m glad we’re not stuck with in our universe.
The CSO of the lava was quite intimidating, but not everything worked as well. The alternate universe was a crutch (although forgivable). Even the pipe leaking a compound that mutates people wouldn’t have bothered me, had they cut the line about it causing “de-evolution”. It’s just this stuff that exists deep in the Earth, leave it at that. The less it’s examined, the better. The makeup was weak as well. We needed less wolfman and more mutant in the cell. Finally, we could all have done with 90 less repetitions of “NO! I’m not going to stop drilling, I’m accelerating it!”.
Ultimately though it’s the bright light interrogation that earns the retro-reshoot award. It was staged poorly, stiffly acted, and weakly shot.
Flaws aside, the multi-layered writing means it actually improves with multiple re-watches. Thus inferno earns a “green goo in the number 2 pipe” 4.2
Due to the sheer number of trivia I’ve got, I’m forgoing my review and just dumping some trivia I think you’ll love.
So, I’m sure you’ve realised by now, this is Liz’s final adventure. The decision was made to write Liz out of the series because they felt the character to be too much of an intellectual equal to the Doctor and didn’t easily fit the Doctor/companion dynamic of asking questions to explain the plot. This will be referenced in the next serial, so keep an eye out for some sparkling dialogue from BAGELS over what sort of person the Doctor requires as an assistant.
Douglas Camfield is credited as director, although he only directed the location work. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised. The majority of the story was directed by Barry Letts, who remained uncredited for the work. Sheila Dunn, who played Petra Williams, was married to Camfield – so MASSIVE props to her giving such a great performance despite her husband being incredibly ill.
The most famous anecdote for this story comes from Nicholas Courtney. On the first take of the scene where the Brigade Leader swivels around to reveal his eye patch, Courtney revolved around in his chair to find that the entire cast and crew were all wearing eyepatches as well as a practical joke. To his credit, he completely ignored them and continued on with the scene.
When the Primord is shot by a UNIT soldier and falls from the tower, they are being played by the same stuntman, Roy Scammell.
This is also the last time that we will see the original TARDIS console. Having been in continuous use since 1963, the prop was falling about and being held together only by duct tape and sheer force of will. Subsequently, the prop was broken up for scrap and a new, redesigned console was introduced the next year.
Happy Times and Places,
The doctor and his companions are witnessing a crazed supervisor who can’t see reason as he forces his company to continue drilling deeper and deeper despite the numerous problems. Even when people die the harsh boss doesn’t care and makes people work harder. The drilling eventually leads to something that is changing the behaviors of people on the drill team.
That was an interesting story when Troughton did it in Fury From The Deep, but this was made slightly better by the interesting parallel world story. However I would have preferred it if they would have just done the parallel world stuff as its own serial. I gave Fury From The Deep a 1.7. And this does it slightly better in my opinion I’ll give an even keeled 2.0 for plot and an extra 1.0 for the parallel world stuff. With a .1 deduction for the doc being an ass and trying to abandon everyone while things were going to shit. 2.9
Hello once more, Podcast Land! I am back to take a look at the final serial of Season Seven, “Inferno”. Now, this is possibly my favorite serial from the Pertwee era. You’ll see why in a moment. For now, on to the review!
If I had to describe “Inferno” in one word, I’d call it ‘intense’. The story was gripping and dark at times, and it had me all the way through. It’s maybe the only serial from Season Seven I watched more than five times (to date).
Jon Pertwee shines as the Doctor, cementing himself in the role for the next four seasons. He never falters, and the way he makes his authority known is so good!
The “Sideways Earth” concept was brilliant, and the parallel Brigadier… excuse me, the Brigade Leader, Liz and Benton were portrayed wonderfully. Nick Courtney was maybe the best as his parallel self.
One major problem I have with this serial was the Primords. Not to say I didn’t like them, but at times they felt like they weren’t part of the original concept (I checked, they weren’t). But at the same time, this serial needed a monster, and these harry fellas fit the bill. If not for them, this serial could maybe only be four episodes long.
The main thrust of the plot, however, is good, scary, cautionary stuff, and the Doctor’s salvaging of the situation (with the countdown clock stopped on 00:35, you’ll notice – not the more clichéd 00:01) doesn’t quite make up for the fact that we’ve seen the Earth die screaming.
One thing I wish we still had for Season Eight was Caroline John as Liz. She ended up leaving after this serial, and it’s so unfortunate because I really do like her. She is such a key in this serial, in both universes.
Also, here’s your fun fact of the day: this serial was the last to feature the original 1963 console prop. After this serial, it was sent to the great junk heap in the sky, and the TARDIS was redesigned in future serials, most notably for “The Three Doctors”.
Once more, I must commend the Restoration Team for the color restoration. It looks so much like the story still had all it’s color tapes. And it was done for all seven episodes.
So overall, what do I give this serial? Well, as I mentioned, this serial is my favorite serial from Pertwee’s era, and I would not give it anything less than a 3.0. So, my final rating is 4.10/5. I found this serial to be a fitting end for Season Seven and the first season of Pertwee’s era.
So, here’s a recap of the scores for Season Seven:
Spearhead from Space: 4.0/5
Doctor Who and the Silurians: 4.0/5
The Ambassadors of Death: 3.8/5
Looking back on this season, I would consider this the most perfect season of Classic Who if not the whole series in general. Every season of the show has a bad story, but somehow or another they didn’t have a single terrible trudge. This season was fantastic from start to finish. There may be great stories from bad seasons, but there is only one perfect season.
A quick announcement from me: I’ve decided to take a break from doing listener minis for awhile. I haven’t been able to keep up with these as of late, so I will be taking a break. I may drop a mini here and there, but I may not go back to doing more minis until you guys have finished Season Eight of Classic Who. I will, however, be doing more New Who minis so expect a mini from me for Waters of Mars and The End of Time. Until then, see you soon!
I always start this serial feeling like I’m just watching The Silurians again, but I love what a much weirder direction it then veers off into. It’s definitely longer than it needs to be, as so many early serials are, but it’s a fun romp through an alternative universe where scars and eyepatches are Doctor Who’s answer to Evil Spock’s goatee. I imagine it was just as much fun for the actors. That said, there are some HUGE holes in this story. Like, what exactly is Stahlman’s motivation for rushing the project so much? I don’t think we’re ever told. And what the hell are those monsters? Why does earth goo turn you into a raving, heat-resistant beast? If I’m not mistaken, they don’t even bother to give a hand-wavy explanation for that. Whatever. It’s an entertaining story, and BAGLS is a fine-looking dude with or without a moustache, so the more screen-time, the better. I give it a simmering 3.5/5.
– What kind of industrial maintenance guy just sticks his bare fingers into mystery ooze? He kind of deserved his fate.
– Jon Pertwee does some pretty amazing gurning in this story.
– Fuck you, Sutton, for being such a sexist douche, and for apparently inducing Stockholm Syndrome in this otherwise competent scientist.
– Alternative-Stahlman has the most laughably huge name tag on his safety suit. Were the costume people afraid we’d get confused?
– So is Liz a physician, or a scientist? Why do those two things often seem to be interchangeable on this show? I don’t think the writers know how doctorates work.
– I love that Liz and BAGLS just casually tell Sir Keith at the end that The Doctor has been in a coma… like that’s just a thing that happens, and you respond by letting the person sleep it off in a garage somewhere.
I noticed that in our universe there were Scientist of Color (People of Color scientists) while in the fascist universe there were no POC.
It looked to me like Squad Under Leader Benton is wearing USMC Staff Sergeant rank insignia.
An interesting observation, Inner Prop — Thanks for sharing!
Sorry, btw, I had to remove the link to the rank insignia image from your comment, as our site security measures thought it looked suspicious for some reason. Podcastland, in case you’re curious about the insignia, just give it a google. ;-)