Thursday, November 08, 2012

Doctor Who #352: The Green Death Part 1

"But, Doctor, it's exactly your cup of tea. This fellah's bright green apparently - and dead."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired May 19 1973.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor flies off to Metebelis 3, but Jo chooses Wales instead where she meets a crusader against pollution.

REVIEW: This is the most "themselves" that the Doctor, Jo and the Brigadier have ever been inside one one episode. What we're dealing with here is three points of view, and instead of collaborating, they each go off on their own adventure, keeping to their own agenda. All the Doctor wants to do is go to other planets, treating UNIT as lab space and TARDIS garage. Jo, having been awakened by her work with the Doctor, switches to political mode and wants to save her planet, not everyone else's, for once. She's shown signs of growing up before, and this will be her last story as they continue to grow apart - cosmically - but while we get a farewell scene later in which the Doctor never says goodbye, he does so here. This is where she goes off on her own, and Parts 2 through 6 are essentially the Doctor going back to see her one last time, but as a guest-star in HER life. I love her "Oh dear", when he initially fails to believe she's not coming with him, but even in conflict, they find a way to laugh and forgive each other. And the Brigadier? He's the good old practical establishment, who can't see anything wrong with cheaper petrol, just like your dad. In the Doctor's absence, the Brig also becomes more assertive and intelligent, which is a relief after the lunkhead characterization of The Three Doctors. He still knows better than to try to control the Doctor and Jo, and clearly loses the war of the slogans with the latter, "duty is duty" trumped by "a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do".

Of course, it's a mistake for the Doctor to abandon his friends just as a mystery presents itself, and his side-adventure to what seems like the worst place in the galaxy, filled with more danger than a Terry Nation serial, is strictly played for laughs. Seconds after walking out of the TARDIS, he's attacked by a really cool tentacle and is soon running from snowstorms, goofy giant birds, nature show stock footage, and spear-throwing natives (see Theories for what might be really going on). The effects are variable, but the real humor comes from the editing, intercutting this trip with the phone ringing in the UNIT lab, off the hook until the Doctor finally stumbles back into our lives and will "speak to anyone". While the Brig follows up on all the right things - surprisingly? - Jo gets dropped off at the Nuthutch, a cross between a bio-lab and a hippie commune, where she meets boy genius and activist Professor Jones, whom she's admired from afar. Her claim that he reminds her of a young Doctor is made real when their meeting pretty much follows the same line as her first meeting with the Doctor in Terror of the Autons, some harsh words and begrudging acceptance after she clumsily ruins an experiment. It's also difficult to look at Jones and not see a prototype for McGann's handsome 8th Doctor (don't they look alike?) and the "romantic" Doctors who would come later. These scenes are more than a little preachy (pollution - bad!), but they're mostly amusing.

The Global Chemicals set-up feels a little like The Invasion's International Electromatics, though with far less personality. Stevens is a Tobias Vaughn analog, communing with a machine on behalf of big business, and Hinks is a quietly brutal version of Packer. As in The Invasion, the real threat is kept hidden in Part 1, but regardless of its nature, there's clearly some toxic waste giving people a glowing green skin condition being dumped into a mine shaft (cue some cool industrial location work and some extremely bad CSO too). What? Nothing about Welsh stereotypes, Siskoid? Well, how would I know anything about that?

THEORIES: For fans of the theory that the TARDIS essentially drives itself, you'll note that she FINALLY lets the Doctor get to Metebelis 3, but at particularly hellish spot/time, almost as an object lesson to get him back to UNIT HQ so he can save Jo (with which the TARDIS might have bonded) from the Green Death. In a darker vein, is she manipulating events to get a Metebelis crystal to Earth so Planet of the Spiders can later happen? Is a new Doctor just what the TARDIS ordered? Oh man, imagine if the TARDIS is always getting the Doctor to trouble spots because it's trying to kill off the regenerations of the man who stole it from the Time Lords!

VERSIONS: Probably because this was one of the early DVDs, the subtitles are somewhat loosely based on the spoken dialog.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Manages to set up a 6-part UNIT story, tell a complete matinée adventure filled with monsters, provide many charming character moments, AND be very funny. I'm a big fan.

2 comments:

Mitchell Craig said...

Relevant New Who Quote:
Doctor: You never took me where I wanted to go.
Idris/TARDIS: No, but I took you where you needed to be.

The Metebelis 3 story seems to be an early attempt to set up a thread through several stories, because I think Metebelis 3 was mentioned in other post-Three Doctors stories.

Siskoid said...

Yes, and would feature again in Planet of the Spiders.

An early attempt, though not necessarily the first, depending on your thoughts on the Master as recurring foe, the whole Exile arc, or indeed, the way Ian and Barbara integrate into the original team over several stories.