(& BARRY LETTS, UNCREDITED)
'THE GREEN DEATH' SPECIAL EDITION DVD (BBCDVD3778) RELEASED IN AUGUST 2013.
UNIT is called in after a miner from the Welsh village of Llanfairfach is found dead, his skin glowing bright green. Jo joins forces with a local environmental group, led by Professor Clifford Jones, while the Doctor investigates the nearby plant of a company called Global Chemicals.
They discover that the mine workings are full of giant maggots and green slime - both lethal to touch - that have been produced by chemical waste pumped from the Global plant.
The Green Death
19TH MAY 1973 - 23RD JUNE 1973
Ah, The Green Death - or as it’s better known to the masses, “the one with the maggots”. To most Doctor Who fans though, it’s the one where Jo Grant finally grows up - and Doctor Who along with her.
When it was originally released on DVD in 2004, The Green Death became the first six-parter to be confined to a single disc. There were few complaints at the time, as it was brilliant just to have the story available in the medium, and moreover the condensed special features managed to offer both comedy and insight despite their required brevity. However, as the DVD range has grown, it has become increasingly clear that a serial of The Green Death’s lofty repute warrants at least a half-hour ‘making of’ posterity piece. What this 2013 special edition delivers, however, is substantially more than that. The 2004 featurettes are supplemented by not only a duly-detailed and reverent half-hour documentary, aptly-titled The One with the Maggots; but also an additional commentary track that illustrates what a profound effect Episode 6 had on its young viewers back in 1973 (a ten year-old Russell T Davies the most impressionable of them...); and a concluding instalment of the popular Dr Forever! series that ably shows the legacy of those effects.
Above: Former series producer, the late Barry Letts, recalls the fears that begat The Green Death
The One with the Maggots has a lot crammed into its runtime. Initially the programme explores the origin of The Green Death, which is traced back to an article that convinced the series’ incumbent producer, Barry Letts, that the world would choke to death in the smog of human pollution before even his “day after tomorrow” UNIT near-future could come to pass. With no documentary opportunities presenting themselves to Letts, he enlisted the help of his regular Who co-writer, Robert Sloman, to craft the series’ first conscious conscience piece. As their story grew, its core theme of promoting conservation began to bleed into a crippling indictment of globalisation, which would ultimately become much more pointed than the serial’s original “renewable energy and Quorn” manifesto, particularly given the industrial strife that was beginning to take hold of the nation.
As the programme progresses though, it turns increasingly to actress Katy Manning and her then-on and off-screen beau, Stewart Bevan - “The Posh and Becks of 1972” -, to discuss the developments that led to Katy leaving the series; Bevan’s casting; and the tense tears on set as Jo’s last scenes were shot last. It’s said that even the Brig had a sole military, manly tear.
The final instalment of Dr Forever! is a little shorter in length, but will be even more attractive for most viewers. It tells a story that I’ve never heard told before; not with such a personal and passionate, pregnant-with-twins / shit-they-sold-the-rights delivery, anyway. It’s the story of Doctor Who’s rebirth on television, as told by two of the three key players in the game: Jane Tranter and Russell T Davies.
Above: Jane Tranter and Russell T Davies recall how they struggled to bring back the Dr Forever!
Tranter is every bit as eloquent as the Welsh wordsmith as she discusses her fifteen-year journey from mapping out the TARDIS’s console room on the “impossibly glamorous” John Nathan-Turner’s rehearsal room floors to trying to sell “the antithesis of cool” (not just Doctor Who, but Doctor Who made in Wales, of all places) to a sceptical BBC. Davies, for his part, is typically animated and enthused as he rolls his eyes recalling the embarrassment that he had to endure when pitching the idea to various bigwigs time and time again; straightens his specs recalling Julie Gardner’s legal wrangling with the Nation Estate that left him resigned to a Dalek-free first season; and grins like a loon as he shares his ill-founded fears of inhabiting a graveyard slot on BBC3 only to gradually haemorrhage what few viewers the show would initially get over its first half-season. It’s as if he still can’t quite believe the show’s superlative success; still can’t believe that, somehow, he’s turned the killer combination of Doctor Who and Wales from the “antithesis of cool” into a veritable dictionary definition of it (duly illustrated, naturally, with an image of a bow tie).
With a subtitle like “The Unquiet Dead”, I’d been expecting Mark Gatiss to have a hand in the final Dr Forever!, which unfortunately he doesn’t, but any disappointment on this front is swiftly assuaged by the first of The Green Death’s 2004 special features preserved in this special edition. The League of Gentlemen member’s eleven-minute comedy, Global Conspiracy?, lampoons not just The Green Death, but also scaremongering series of both the 1970s and today. The wry production enlists an impressive array of Green Death alumni, including Tony Adams, whose character is an appendix lighter here, not to mention significantly higher up the Global Chemicals ladder; Stewart Bevan, whose once-starry-eyed hippie is now the proud chairman of Nuthutch Foods (a little-known rival of Quorn and Linda McCartney); and Jerome Willis’s Stevens, who, it turns out, survived The Green Death only to suffer an even worse fate.
Above: Mark Gatiss stars as Terry Scanlon in his playful Global Conspiracy? parody
Global Conspiracy? is complemented in this special edition by a forty-second out-take featuring a bemused Mark Ayres, as well as a few other ephemeral offerings that are sure to enliven the completists. What Katy Did Next is almost as funny as Global Conspiracy?, and not because of its ITV2 piss-take of title. From what I could glean from its few minutes of Serendipity clips, Katy Manning’s first TV project post-Who involved scouring the country for “serendipitous materials” from which she’d craft various objects. The three minutes’ worth of Wales Today highlights continue the mirthful thread, as the deadpan reporter delivers devilish lines attacking the caravan site-opening Jon Pertwee’s punctuality, such as the brilliant, “Today his TARDIS has been replaced by a Ford Granada, and there was bad traffic in Abergavenny”.
The 2004 interviews with Sloman, Bevan and visual effects designer Colin Mapson are also present and correct, the practical upshot of which is that Mapson’s more recent comments in the main documentary now serve as an amusing contrast to Bevan’s in 2004. In his nine-year-old interview, Jo and Katy’s erstwhile other half speaks of how he and his do-gooding former lover tried to look out for the welfare of the maggots used in the production; here, Mapson confesses to condemning legions of them to a fiery end as he wielded his blowtorch in a bid to rid BBC Television Centre of the escapees. Yes, many maggots were harmed in the making of this production.
“What can a fly do? Poo on them?” - Terrance Dicks
In what is fast becoming a trend, though, the most enjoyable bonus of all is a simple commentary. As if the repeated 2004 Letts / Dicks / Manning commentary wasn’t charming and compelling enough, later episodes also carry a Toby Hadoke-moderated track featuring the likes of Colin Mapson and Richard Franklin (who played Mike Yates), and the final episode is blessed with an absolute lovesong of a voiceover from RTD and Manning. A lovely synthesis of clearly-heartfelt reverence and utterly irreverent abuse (at one point, Davies presents Manning with a tattered old tome to sign for him, explaining that its broken spine and curled edges reminded him of her!), this beautiful track demonstrates exactly why the final Dr Forever! sits so very well on this disc, and I can tell ye, it isn’t just ’cos The Green Death was set in Wales, boyo.
Davies and Manning reunite once more for the special edition’s final substantive offering: the two-part Sarah Jane Adventures serial, The Death of the Doctor, downscaled to SD for the DVD format. This will come as a real treat, and again an opportune one, if you don’t have the fourth season of SJA on Blu-ray, as I’d wager most punters don’t. As I do, I’d rather have had the ninety-minute Boxing Day omnibus edition of The Green Death included here instead (which I suspect is largely responsible for this story’s ineradicable impression in the public consciousness), though I’ve nothing but praise for Jo’s CBBC reunion with the Doctor, as you can see from my contemporary review of it here.
The serial itself has never looked as good as it does on DVD, though I can’t see that the six episodes have been remastered again since their 2004 appearance. Letts and Sloman’s script does a terrific job of turning what is, ostensibly, quite an ill-defined threat to humanity and transforming into not only something concrete, but something that cleverly plays upon commonly-held revulsions, such as maggots and ivory tower money-makers. The latter is especially well done, as director Michael Briant fuses John Dearth’s stellar voice talent with a striking circle-mounted oscilloscope to create BOSS – a fat cat that is, quite literally, faceless. That much said, using Stevens as its human agent works very well too as it gives Jon Pertwee an actor to play off, which makes for a much for riveting third Doctor than one pitted against an abstract antagonist. It’s little surprise that the alien intelligence with a human agent would form the backbone of the impending Hinchcliffe / Holmes era after this story’s success.
The most arresting thing about The Green Death though isn’t its villains but its heroes. The affable miners whose livelihood is at threat serve as a wonderful and endearing contrast to the ruthless Global Chemicals, and their patent Welsh pedigree makes them even more memorable than they would have been had they just been cut from the same cloth as the series’ overused Home Counties contingent. The real star though is Bevan’s character, Jo’s professorial paramour, who is cleverly pegged as a young and human version of the Doctor, with all the passion and the genius thereto. This allows the writers to bring the Doctor and Jo’s firmly platonic relationship to an emotionally satisfying end as it recognises the impact that the Time Lord has made on this young woman’s life, even if his self-imposed emotional exile won’t allow him to appreciate it. That final scene, now so iconic, remains one of the most powerful in the canon. Looking back over Davies’ five years fuelling the TARDIS, it’s easy to see the throughline from the haunting Bessie silhouette that closes this adventure to the many cruel parting of ways that the Welshmen would inflict on his modern Doctor Who audience decades later.
“I heard Terrance Dicks sniffle! And it wasn’t because he had a cold like usual.” - Katy Manning
The moral is “keep nagging”. Enough microcosms make a macrocosm. Freedom from freedom is no freedom at all. If you can look past the fact the Doctor Who production team blew up plastic sheaths filled with petrol and murdered maggots to try and make us respect our planet and its many myriad creatures, then The Green Death is a precious and prescient thing that’s absolutely saturated with wisdom. It set the standard for a new model of Doctor Who, both in terms of its see-through moralising and its sophisticated emotional subtext, and it’s a model that’s still setting the world alight today as The Day of the Doctor beckons. It may have been the beginning of the end of an era, but it was also the launch pad for a brand new, and arguably even better, one.
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