Doctor Who #357: The Green Death Part 6

"Kitty, kitty, kitty! Come on, come and get your lovely din-dins! Come on, kitty, kit--" "Sergeant Benton!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.23 1973.

IN THIS ONE... Fungus kills the maggots and cures the Green Death, the BOSS is destroyed before it can become the Internet, and Jo leaves the Doctor to get married.

REVIEW: I can track the exact moment my family bonded over Doctor Who in the late 80s to the appearance of that giant fly on screen. Yes, it charmed even the girls because it was, by the day's standards, so silly. By the end of the episode, my sister had also fallen in love with sad Pertwee (and never forgave him for turning into Tom Baker), and that was that. Truth be told, the giant fly is pretty cool, at least when it's not flying through the magic of CSO or dying from getting hit by a coat (was fungus rubbed into it, or what?). The Doctor calls it beautiful - a aesthetic sentiment we'll see again and again to contrast his wider point of view with those of his companions - and he's not wrong. The rest of the maggot-fighting sequence is better at integrating location shooting and CSO than the previous episode was, but there's still a terrible model Bessie shot. It's made all the more diverting by Benton's "kitty, kitty" calls. The Doctor should lighten up.

Structurally, I'm a little disappointed by how they found the solution to the maggot problem. The maggot from Part 3's cliffhanger returns, eats some of the fungus, and dies. This completely invalidates Jo's serendipitous accident and feels like the characters needed prodding from a deus ex machina to solve the problem. Or almost. Later, it's that accident that triggers the Doctor's "of course!" about how to cure Cliff Jones' green death, but even he has to admit that he should have realized it sooner. OBVIOUSLY, if the fungus is a poison to the maggots, it can probably counter their toxin (in TV SF logic, of course). So this makes it difficult for Jo to redeem herself and makes the Doctor look a little stupid.

But wait, there's about 15 minutes left to the episode! Oh that's right, the BOSS is the real threat here, and he plans to connect to computers around the world and Forbin Project the lot of us (or something). The previous episode's CCTV reminded me of HAL 9000, but the comparison is now made complete. The BOSS hums and sings (classical music, not "Daisy") and as it dies, pleads for its life, calling Stevens its "friend". They actually manage some pathos for the thing. We also get a glimpse into who Stevens was before becoming slaved to his computer - and before the Doctor intervenes, he's very much been "slaved", mouthing the BOSS' words and everything - a man who probably wanted to help the world and fix the energy crisis. His instinct once freed by the Metebelis crystal (so they did a very poor job of searching Yates) is to sacrifice himself by blowing up his baby/master. It's a well-executed sequence, with the BOSS' oscilloscope superimposed on the image, and a quiet moment to watch a single tear trickle down Stevens' face before the whole place explodes, as places must at the end of UNIT stories.

I've saved a whole paragraph for Jo's departure from the series because, damn it, it got me again, and I know I'm going to swell up just typing it up. Yep, there I go. Definitely one of the best set-up companion farewells, Jo and Cliff have been getting closer since the story began, and when he awakens from his coma and starts kissing her hands, it's probably the most passionate romantic gesture the series has ever shown. Katy Manning is wonderful when required to tell the Doctor she's leaving because she's feeling the same way about leaving her mentor Jon Pertwee, and the production lets the acting do the work and doesn't overburden the scenes with dialog. It's all the sadder for the Doctor when the situation turns to celebration. Cliff absent-mindedly proposes to Jo - so Doctorish! - and she accepts. The whole thing turns into a party, just when the Doctor is at his lowest. Yates too, probably, but since that romantic entanglement never went anywhere, Richard Franklin isn't really playing it as more than "awkward" (so the usual, then). As Benton dances drunkenly with Nancy (shades of The Daemons) and the Brig makes toasts and grand pronouncements, the Doctor slinks off into the night without saying goodbye. Jo notices, but doesn't go after him, allowing him his dignity and knowing she's hurt him. It's more than losing a loved one, because that's happened before. It's the realization that he doesn't belong in this world of love and weddings and FAMILY. It's a feeling he normally avoids by moving on with the TARDIS, but here his exile has made him vulnerable to human attachments in a way he never was before. Note how he'll still be working with UNIT next season. He doesn't immediately run off.

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, Global Chemicals is called Panorama Chemicals (to avoid problems with a real company called Global). There are other minor name changes, such as Fell becoming Bell, and bigger ones like Jo and Jones kissing just before the serendipitous spill and her saying she should get topless to attract his attention(!). The Nazi parallels are more overt, the Great Strike of 1926 still haunts the Welsh community, and there's a chapter told from the point of view of a maggot.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Some fun set pieces with giant bugs and mad computers, but it's the touching finale and Jo's departure that really makes this one special.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - What I just said about the episode could stand as review for the entire story. The Green Death is a celebration of the UNIT years and one of the family's best stories. Manning and Pertwee and particularly good, and not surprisingly, clearly emotional.


Mitchell Craig said...

Along with Nyssa's departure at the end of "Terminus", this is one of my favorite Doctor/Companion exits.

Siskoid said...

It came in 5th when I wrote a post on my Top 10 Companion Farewells.


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