Review: Doctor Who – The Green Death (Special Edition) / Cert:PG / Director: Michael Briant / Screenplay: Robert Sloman / Starring: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Jerome Willis, Richard Franklin, John Levene, Stewart Bevan / Release Date: August 5th
This six-part 1973 serial – the one with the maggots – is the latest from the classic Doctor Who range to receive the ‘special edition’ treatment following its original DVD release in 2004. The Green Death really needs little or no introduction to even the most casual Doctor Who viewer as, like Jon Pertwee’s debut serial Spearhead From Space (itself recently issued in a new Blu-ray edition), it’s one of those stories which seems to have embedded itself deep into the nation’s Doctor Who psyche.
Pertwee’s increasingly avuncular Third Doctor, still acting as UNIT’s scientific adviser (despite having his freedom to travel in Space and Time restored earlier in this tenth season), travels to South Wales to investigate a mysterious death in an abandoned coal mine. The victim’s skin has an unearthly green glow and it doesn’t take the Doctor – or a bunch of long-haired hippies living in a muddy commune experimenting with ‘alternative energy’ and revolutionary new food sources for the human race – to make the connection with the nearby Global Chemicals factory which is pumping thousands of gallons of highly toxic waste into the mineshafts. The waste doesn’t just turn human flesh green, it’s created a breed of voracious, deadly, poisonous maggots which are on their way to the surface.
The Green Death is classic Pertwee Doctor Who, marrying the era’s occasional ecological tub-thumping with its recurring motif of military muscle (UNIT’s five-man army led by the redoubtable Brigadier) and the Doctor’s dogged ingenuity combining to triumph over an insane sentient super-computer and some surprisingly effective creepy-crawlies (with one or two shonky special effects sequences just to remind us we're in the 1970s). Sloman’s script is slick, spry and packed with incident and the serial offers one of vintage Who's rare examples of a new series-style character moment as the Doctor’s assistant Jo (Manning) leaves his side to marry the wiry, energised Professor Jones (Manning’s then real-life boyfriend Bevan) who’s been cleverly developed across the serial as a younger version of the Doctor himself. The final sequence between Pertwee and Manning, recorded in one take, is stunningly played and the shot of Pertwee driving away in silhouette against a setting sun, is still one of the show’s most heartbreaking images.
If the serial’s crisper picture and sound quality aren’t enough of an inducement to entice fans tired of buying the same serial two or three times over to part with their cash yet again, the wealth of new bonus material included really should seal the deal. There’s now a proper ‘making of’ documentary called, appropriately enough, The One with the Maggots, and whilst it’s the usual talking heads affair it’s nice to see Manning and Bevan, long since gone their separate ways, reunited on screen and clearly on good terms. The latest of the Doctor Forever strand seems at best tenuously linked to The Green Death as it sees Russell T. Davies and former BBC Drama Controller Jane Tranter detailing Doctor Who’s rocky road back to the screen in 2005; Davies’ exuberance and enthusiasm is as infectious as ever. What Katy Did Next presents edited clips from the Serendipity children’s magazine show the actress hosted after leaving Doctor Who and also included is the 2010 Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter Death of the Doctor which sees Manning joining both Elisabeth Sladen and Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith in a joyous fanboy romp of a story which boasts a gloriously raucous and listenable commentary by Davies and Manning (who also provide a new commentary for episode six of The Green Death); and, in addition to the previously available commentary, there’s a new track moderated by Toby Hadoke and featuring Richard Franklin (Mike Yates) and guest actress Mitzi Mackenzie.
Along with the features ported over from the original release, this is about as definitive as any Doctor Who DVD release is ever likely to get. The Green Death is massively enjoyable stuff in its own right and this 2-disc set finally does it proper justice. Essential.
Extras: Commentaries / Making of documentary / Global Conspiracy spoof / Writer interview / Stewart Bevan interview / FX designer interview / Wales Today news clips / Doctor Forever / What Katy Did Next / Sarah Jane Adventures – Death of the Doctor / Photo gallery / Easter eggs