Friday, September 27, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Jon Pertwee: The Green Death

by Russel D McLean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejducies about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question.

The one with the slugs.

Yes, the Jon Pertwee era is on us. Doctor Who is in full colour and somehow, things look a little cheaper than they did in the days of black and white, This is mostly because the producers have become obsessed with green screen effects that never match up studio and exterior writing properly. I’m not a masive fan of the Pertwee era. There are some great early moments (anything with Liz Shaw) and some brief snatches of brilliance, but on the whole, I find Pertwee’s Doctor just a little patronising and a little reliant on over-long stories.

The Doctor himself has changed again. He’s an immaculate dresser with his own sense of style. He’s tall, with a shock of white hair and a very patronising manner, particularly where women are concerned. Its a huge problem for me in this era of Who. The Doctor is definitely an authority/father figure and the sheer number of “my dears” thrown around in an exasperated fashion are too numerous to mention. For the first part of his run, Pertwee found himself stuck on earth, which lumbered him with the UNIT cast that he first met in his second incarnation (see The Invasion, last week). The UNIT family are fine in small doses, but there’s only so often Lethbridge Stewart can be pompous and disbelieving, or Benton can be loyal or Mike Yates can be a blank slate of nothingness. Its fine for a while but soon you yearn for other things, and thankfully by the time The Green Death rolls around, the Doctor has got off planet a few times. In fact, as this story opens, the Doctor is shirking his UNIT duties for a jolly to Metebelis III. This is in character with the Doctor’s third incarnation who often seems supremely self-obsessed, perhaps because he’s never quite got over his temporary exile by the Time Lords.

It could also have something to do with Jo. If there was ever a character designed to frustrate and annoy, its Jo Grant. Katy Manning does what she can with the material, but Jo is written far too often as a child-like incompetent in constant need of rescuing by the Doctor. More than any other companion, she seems in constant need of assistance. Jo does get some redemption in this story, but her final choice to leave with the man she’s fallen in love with over the course of a few days sees her swapping a father figure for a gentler brother figure. Its not exactly something feminists would be going wild over. That said, there’s a great connection between Jo and the third doctor. He may treat her like a child, and she may willingly go alogn with it, but its clear that the way they’re written, they’re perfect for each other, and Pertwee plays the final scene where the doctor skulks into the night (because he can’t handle Jo being happy with someone else) perfectly. Its just that in a larger context, the whole relationship is a little suspect.

Anyway, to the story itself: The Green Death finds a bunch of Welsh stereotypes working down the mines and suddenly discovering that some of their number are dying with an odd green glow emanating from their corpses. The Doctor would be useful in this situation but he’s gone off to Metebelis III for a sulk/to find the deus ex machina that is the Meteblis Crystal (he doesn’t know it will come in handy, he just wants one). On his return, he finds that the cause of the deaths are a bunch of odd looking maggots that have grown to unnatural size and are oozing around in green gunk. The cause of this green gunk seems to be nearby Global chemicals who are being run by an intelligent supercomputer called BOSS that has a weird plan for world domination. Or something. I’m not sure. Basically, its Skynet (from the Terminator movies) several decades too early. And in Wales. And with maggots instead of Schwarzenegger.

As a whole The Green Death is very representative of the Pertwee era. The earth setting. The all powerful computer. The Doctor acting like a secret agent (gadgets, disguises etc). The ambition outdoing the budget (the awful CSO work in the mine that even at the time must have looked dodgy) and the very cool clothes for the doctor. Pertwee excudes authority, and is in fact the most authoritarian of all doctors (no fish fingers and custard for this doctor; he’s very very serious). And the UNIT family. There’s some brainwashing too (seemed to happen to Mike Yates every other story - - only a few more stories until he’s duped again in the Dinosaur Invasion) and the Metebelis Crystals show up for little other reason than the writers needed them to. Mind you, the trip to Metebelis III is worth it for a great example of the Pertwee Gurn as he’s attacked by the indigenous life-forms. Its actually all very entertaining, and the maggots themselves are icky-scary. Pertwee himself is on fine form, and Jo gets a few chances to be an adult, although these are destroyed rather quickly by her terrible attempts to go down the mine and of course the moments she upsets Cliff’s science experiments. There’s escape, capture, death and the sight of Pertwee in drag. Not quite the all-conquering classic some would have you believe, but a good slice of Pertwee era action. With maggots.

Moments in Time:

- Those maggots are not, contrary to belief, made from condoms. They’re party balloons. Honestly, some people just see sex wherever they look.

- We’ve mentioned Pertwee’s disguises. But the moment where he’s dressed as the charlady is incredibly Madame Doubtfire. And let’s not mention his milkman moment.

- The Doctor would obviously change his mind with regard to letting married couples aboard the TARDIS but I do find it odd that Jo’s romance with Cliff would mean the end of their knowing each other. Then again, the Doctor tends to get a little possessive about those he travels with (it would be the same with Mickey, Rose and Doctor 9)

- Everybody knows that to touch the miner’s corpses means death. Yet folk move the bodies around and touch them to make sure they’re dead without so much as a momentary niggle of fear when the script demands it.

- I know they’re meant to be horrifying, but I do find the maggots rather cute in the way they wiggle around.

- The Metebelis crystal would return in the new series under Matt Smith’s tenure. But Smith’s pronunciation of it would be rather bizarre, maybe in reference to Tom Baker's strange inability to pronounce certain ordinary words.

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