Andy Markham revisits the one with the maggots...
It's no exaggeration to say that The Green Death is a Doctor Who story unlike any other. First broadcast in 1973, this landmark six-parter landed as an instant classic, and is to this day one of the most fondly remembered and widely praised stories of the Pertwee era. So let's take a look at exactly why The Green Death is such a roaring success.
The plot, even by the Pertwee standards, is rather politically charged. Deep in the heartland of Wales (and hoo boy, we'll get to that bit later), a new corporate giant has emerged to miraculously drop in and solve the energy and fuel crises. There are, however, three big problems: 1) the plant is incredibly environmentally unfriendly, angering eco-warriors everywhere; 2) it's robbing the local community of the work they depended on from mining; and 3) the corporation is headed up by a sinister agent of a megalomaniac computer known only as BOSS, who is using the whole thing to take over the world. It's up to the Doctor, Jo Grant and UNIT to defeat BOSS and save the community!
It's a rather on-the-nose attempt at capturing real-world issues of the day such as globalisation and the rise of corporations; the horrendous pollution inflicted on Mother Nature, and disillusionment from the working class. But it's worth considering that these issues never really went away after 1973 - Thatcherite Britain and Osborne's austerity saw to that - and so The Green Death reads as a startlingly up-to-date and universal story that is equally as relatable now as it was 42 years ago.
Although it handles these discussions rather well, though, the same can't be said for the portrayal of the Welsh setting which, frankly, is offensive. Whether it's the constant "boyo", the accents thicker than a week-old custard, the rather patronising attitude towards their intelligence and skills, or the fact that they all appear to live in the middle of endless hills, there's always something going on that must surely be alarming for any Welsh citizens watching the story. Of course, since 2005, the Whoniverse has been arguably the biggest champion of Wales on British television, and it's a good job too, after this awkwardness!
Possibly the most memorable aspect of the story is the "monsters", although they're not really monsters at all. They're giant maggots. Yes, all that pollution and poisoning of the water supplies has its downsides, and the local maggots have mutated into giant (and rather unsettling) predators, who memorably corner Jo in an excellent cliff-hanger. The Green Death has often had the subtitle "the one with the maggots", and it's little wonder really. Amongst the rather talky, convoluted plotting, there's proof here that simple, vivid imagery always towers above it.
The cast is rather marvellous really. The full UNIT family are out in force, with the Brigadier being rather more useful and important than usual as he undertakes a personal mission to take down BOSS. Jerome Willis makes a fantastic, quintessential Pertwee villain as corporate head honcho Stevens, and Stewart Bevan (Katy Manning's real boyfriend at the time) is rather likeable (and again, very Welsh) as Jo's new love interest Clifford Jones.
And of course, there's Jon and Katy, who really elevate this story from a cracking good tale to something else entirely. After three years on the show, Katy Manning decided to bid farewell to Who with this story, and after such a long reign as the Doctor's companion, it's fitting that Jo gets probably the most heartfelt and meaningful exit in Who history up to this point. After falling in love and getting engaged to Professor Cliff, Jo says her farewells to the Doctor, in a remarkably simple scene. Jo's exit is all about what isn't said - expressions speak louder than a thousand words. Katy Manning goes out in wonderful style, but that's not the best of it.
Yes, even with everything going on in this story - and there is indeed a lot to think about as Part Six ends - Pertwee effortlessly steals the show, turning in one of his finest ever performances in the final scenes. After saying a warm, cheery farewell to Jo, he mournfully drinks his wine, and drives into the sunset - and with a brief glimpse of Pertwee's face, we witness the deepest sadness the Doctor has ever felt up to this point.
And it's hard not to get swept up in the emotion - this is, after all, the last hurrah for the full "UNIT family", and as such is the end of an era. It's gratifying then that it's such a proud, enjoyable goodbye to this golden era of the show, and one that will surely always remain a firm favourite.
Andy is a writer, musician, graduate, and super-geek. Ginger
glasses-wearer. Star Wars obsessive and Doctor Who enthusiast.
Specialises in film music and currently writing his first book on the