The Friday Docback Meets 'The Green Death'!! DOCTOR WHO Story #69, HornOrSilk Reviews 'Persuasion' From Big Finish, Doctor Potato Head, And More!!
...with a quick look at The Green Death, a six part Pertwee-era DOCTOR WHO adventure originally transmitted May/June 1973. This one is famous for its omni-present mutant maggots, and a touching finale exiting companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) which resonates to this day.
More on The Green Death shortly, but first....
THIS DOCTOR WHO MR. POTATO HEAD SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
Order it HERE.
THE TARDIS IS ON GOGLE MAPS...REALLY!
CHECK OUT THIS DOCTOR WHO INTERACTIVE TIMELINE - AS A TUBEMAP!!
A larger and fully functional version is HERE - be sure to do the mouse hovering and all that. It’s detailed, and it’s cool!
KEN PLUME TALKED TO STEVEN MOFFAT AT THIS YEAR’S SAN DIEGO COMIC CON
It’s a short but interesting conversation. Of particular interest is Moffat discussing the vetting / conditioning of Matt Smith (making clear his obligations to the role and brand outside of the studio). You can find it HERE.
HORNORSILK REVIEWS PERSUASION FROM BIG FINISH AUDIO
Big Finish 175 – Persuasion
By Jonathan Barnes
The Doctor, sensing is seventh incarnation is nearing its end (how? I do not know), believes he has been placed in a very desperate situation. He fears that his next incarnation will not have the fortitude to deal with the grave threats which exist in the universe. So he has taken the burden upon himself to do as much as he can before he regenerates, making him even more dangerous than before. It’s not that he is more dangerous towards his foes, he is also more dangerous with himself: he is becoming more and more foolhardy, more willing to rush into the fray with less and less “control” over the situation. With this kind of progression, one of the problems I had with McCoy’s actions in the McGann movie can be answered. By this time, the Doctor no longer is the cosmic manipulator who is in full control, and he knows it. The weight of the universe is on his shoulders and he needs the right people with him. By himself, he has become sloppy. He rushes in without the control he once had. He is, in a Doctorish-way, experiencing old age.
This characterization is used to explain what is going on here, and why Doctor chose the non-Nazi UNIT advisor version of Elizabeth Klein to be his “companion,” taking with Klein her own bumbling assistant, Will Arrowsmith. The Doctor says she has qualities he believes he needs to deal with the darkness in the universe. There is probably a secondary reason we will see in this “McCoy” season. We get hints of it here.
Now, I have yet to listen to UNIT:Dominion. I do not know how, if at all, the Doctor dealt with the issue of Klein and her two variations, but, listening to this story, it is clear the Doctor fears something is up with her and he does not entirely take her into his confidence. This is shown when he takes Will Arrowsmith with him at one point and tells him specifically not to tell Klein everything which happened. He says at that point she is connected with the events of the story and he is not exactly sure how or why. While I do not know for sure, I’m expecting somehow Nazi-Klein will emerge from UNIT-Klein, possibly at the worst time possible – in front of Davros (the cover for that up-coming audio seems to suggest this). Clearly something is up, and there is more to Klein than meets the eye.
Yet, for this story, Klein, a successor to the Doctor as UNIT’s Scientific Advisor, is manipulated by the Doctor to enter the TARDIS and join him with his current adventure. Will Arrowsmith enters the TARDIS while the Doctor and Klein are deep inside the TARDIS. The TARDIS takes off with him by himself, the Doctor talking to Klein. Now is this a part of the Doctor’s manipulative streak? I think so. I believe the Doctor knew Will would follow and wanted Will along, even though Will isn’t as experienced at dealing with grave universal threats. I expect Will’s role will be one to help bring out the good in Klein later in the series. I could be wrong. Nonetheless, here he works at times as a light form of comic relief. Although there are differences, there is an early-Hex like feel going on here. I’m not sure what to make of it yet.
The plot of the story is somewhat interesting and it is certainly fitting for the Seventh Doctor. Two godlike entities from an alternative dimension flee their universe before its destruction, coming into our own. They find their new home is quite different. They think ours is much more chaotic and ugly. They want to change it, and make it like their own. They want their ideas of law and order to establish an ordered beauty so that our universe becomes like their old one. But they are also weak. They must feed, even if they are seemingly embarrassed by that fact, apologizing for what they have to do before they do it.
These dimensional-aliens have a plan. They want to institute total control in the universe by persuading everyone to think like them, to agree with them. They put into the head of one former Nazi Scientist, Kurt Schalk, a way to make a machine which can do this: a machine which can persuade anyone to believe anything. Others know about it (human and alien) and want to get a hold of him so as to get the machine for themselves. He is in hiding, but of course, the Doctor knows a way to find him.
Interestingly enough, Klein is recognized, but mistaken for the Nazi-Klein. She doesn’t seem to know about the Nazi-Klein (did she find out in UNIT:Dominion? I don’t know). She is told she is a much weaker person than Nazi-Klein. I don’t know if that is true. I think the ruthlessness of Klein has to be in there; there seems to be an element of that threat throughout the story. She might have had a better upbringing in a world where the Nazis lost, but the essential Klein remains buried deep within. Something or someone is bound to bring it out (Davros in the future?).
While there are interesting elements to the story, and nothing exceptionally bad, it still feels like it is 2/3 of something greater. It’s good, but not exceptional. There are interesting things going on. There are more questions than answers brought out here. Things are directed competently and the acting is all as good as to be expected. Yes, there was one place where I wondered “can the TARDIS really do that,” but it is a minor quibble. Well, not entirely minor. The Doctor should know better than to do _that_ after the Key to Time (I won’t say what it is, but with the Key to Time reference, hopefully after listening to it, one can know what I mean here). There is some humor and surprise visits of other kinds of aliens which also help add to the “humor.” There is the feel that some great threat remains. Indeed, while a part of the story seems fulfilled by the end, what happens to Kurt Schalk makes this part one of a longer story. I’m not sure what is going to happen next. All in all, I give this a 7/10, not because there is anything bad, but because there really is nothing in it which stands out to make it “great” or “reach towards greatness.” I enjoyed it but I felt like it needed a better ending than what we got.
THE GREEN DEATH
“I never thought I’d fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar, but...” - Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, The Green Death Episode 4
The Green Death quickly establishes its topical nature, efficiently zinging hot button subjects like mankind’s shift from coal reliance to oil dependency, the environmental contamination resulting from said shift, and the corporate recklessness and greed allegedly driving such migrations, within its first four minutes.
Laying so many contemporary issues on the table so overtly and so speedily is a sure sign that this particular DOCTOR WHO tale will be functioning on a very different level than many other less centered entries in the show, and for much of TGD’s running time this does indeed hold true. The Green Death is a often thinkier (I’m pretty sure that’s not a real word), more emotionally and conceptually truthful adventure than I’ve encountered in my journey through the show thus far - and it rarely soft-shoes the issues it advances, be they political, environmental, or emotional. This is an story about several different kinds of loss: real(ish) threats facing mankind here on Earth, the Doctor’s loss of companion Jo, and a certain loss of abandon and innocence in both instances. Interestingly, little..if any...of this hinges on DW’s more traditional use of allegory. In The Green Death, what you see is pretty much what you get.
UNIT bombs Mega Maggots in The Green Death
TGD spends more time focusing on Jo than many standard DW episodes combined - this is very much a Jo-centric tale and The Powers That Be are clearly making every effort to give her a memorable, substantive sendoff. So much so that, for a while, Pertwee’s role is confined to a series of awkward and ineffective intercuts illustrating his rather low-rent imperilment on some unrelated adventure.
Director Michael E. Briant (The Robots of Death - T. Baker, Story #90) works to integrate these cutaways artistically and cleverly, but it’s hard to escape the obvious awkwardness of the whole affair. Also distracting is the depth with which Manning tackles her role here - she’s good, sometimes quite versatile, in this story. It’s difficult not to ask one’s self ‘Why didn’t they give Jo MORE time all along?’ - which paradoxically renders her departing appearance a tad more crass and ‘after the fact’ than it had to be, while managing to illustrate the inadequacy of much of Manning’s usage to date.
A generous portion of lacking visual effects work runs throughout, but there are also a few slick FX moves which are noteworthy even by today’s standards. The glowing green ick which ails several characters, for example, is nicely handled and appropriately unnerving.
The more dodgy effects mentioned above are generally confined to TGD’s use of CSO - Color Seperation Overlay - which is essentially a glorified version of the chroma key effects one might find on a modern news cast (weather maps or graphics behind the news team).
The vision behind these effects is impressive and ambitious and well-considered, likely due in no small part to the efforts of producer Barry Letts. He was a pioneer in this process, and while CSO never worked stellarly on the show, its considerable slipstream is still being felt today. Brilliant vision in this case, but sorely lacking in deft execution.
A few funny cuts...
BRIGADIER LETHBRIDGE-STEWART: (though binoculars, seeing an assload of mutant maggots): They’re all over the place...
Smash cut to Doctor hanging up the phone:
DOCTOR: They’re all over the place...
...bring a pleasant sense of humor to the proceedings. A wink-and-a-nudge quality later manifested by, well, putting the Doctor in women’s clothes. Dopey and desperate? Perhaps. Funny. It kinda is, actually.
On the whole, however, the game’s uncharacteristically mature this time around. Jo wrestling with the ramifications of the death of a character she could have helped but instead left behind brings real world gravitas to her actions, and the final moments of the Episode Six drive home the Doctor’s place in the scheme of things with profound pathos.
The exhaustive and rich detail with which Jo’s new boyfriend Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan) is introduced...and the fullness with which the world he inhabits is realized...often suggest that some sort of spin-off is being launched, although I’m not aware that a Cliff & Jo Eco-show was ever actually considered.
Like many episodes of this era, The Green Death could probably have been trimmed a bit (this is a six parter, and there’s likely about four parts of material if one’s being wholly honest), but...unlike other saggy titles of this time...TGD does a very, very nice job at filling its dilly-dallying with material which is compelling. In this case, much ‘downtime’ is devoted to moving longtime companion Jo off the playing filed and introducing her to her new life...concurrent with the Doctor’s gathering and bittersweet realization that she is slowly slipping away from him. These movements are touching and well played by both Pertwee and Manning, and mark exceptionally high character notes for both performers to be remembered by.
The first half of Episode Six (Green Death’s final installment) wavers a bit and descends into territory which feels more hurried and numbskulled than the story wrapped around it thus far, but...as indicated above...this segment ultimately rallies to a strong and possibly unforgettable conclusion.
Tony Adams appears as Elgin in 1973's The Green Death (l), looking unnervingly like Peter Fonda in 1976's FUTUREWORLD (r).
Photography by Bill Matthews and Ken Lowe lends a nice sense of scale and detail throughout, while Alastair Mackay’s editing pushes matters along at an agreeable clip on the whole. Even when TGD sometimes lags, it never feels tortured, and never feels like its overstaying its welcome. With the possible exception of that aforementioned wobble at the top of Episode Six, The Green Death remains very much alive and vibrant throughout.
A lovely ‘good bye’ to a vibrant companion, and above-average WHO all around, The Green Death was recently restored somewhat spectacularly and is now available on DVD HERE in the US and HERE in the UK.
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