Well to try and make up for the abysmal Black Orchid from last week, we here at Itty Bitty Writer Publications decided to take on one of the most vaulted of the third Doctors stories. This 1970 seven part story was written by Don Houghton and directed by both Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts (uncredited). It also went to show that not all alternate universes were occupied with Goatee wearing evil counterparts ala Mirror, Mirror; but they do all have at least one person with an eye patch. Still trying to figure it out? Well stop now because we’ll tell you. It’s Inferno.
Staring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor and Caroline John as Liz Shaw (in her last regular appearance) Inferno is often marked as one of the best stories to introduce Doctor Who to new viewers with. We are not really certain why, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The British government in yet another strange experiment is attempting to drill to the center of the Earth in an attempt to tap into the vast resources of Stahlman’s gas trapped there. Stahlman’s Gas is apparently a limitless natural resource that could supply unlimited power to the world. As part of this experiment Unit is providing security and the Doctor is bilking off the experiments private nuclear reactor. (Its like Great Britain of the early 1970s would build a nuclear reactor for every Tom, Dick and Harry. )
Things go awry and people start mutating and trying to end the drilling to the center of the Earth. The Doctor runs afoul of Professor Stahlman, a plot point that will be repeated throughout the third Doctors run. In an attempt to speed up drilling Stalhman cuts off the Doctor at a critical point in his experiments and shunts him off to an alternate world.
In the Alternate Universe the Brig wears and eye patch and doesn’t have a mustache, Liz Shaw wears knee high boots and a formal military uniform (can we just explain that this offers up a lifetime of dominatrix fantasies for us), and Benton is a right proper bastard and bad ass.
The Doctor is taken prisoner and does his best to impress upon this regime the dangers of the plan to penetrate the Earth’s core. Unfortunately for the non mustachioed Brigadier they reach the point of no return and their Earth is doomed to destruction. Teaming up with this world the Doctor manages to return to the “proper” Universe and attempts to stop the experiment. More mutants are battled and the drill is stopped just in the nick of time to save the planet.
At the very end of the story the doctor attempts to make an escape of his exile, sans Tardis but with the control console, but manages to only get so far as the nearest rubbish yard. Everyone laughs and the end credits role.
What to like
- As stated Caroline John in a military uniform is enough to warrant liking this story. The only problem is her hair, it is truly horrific in the alternate universe and we would have preferred if she had worn a goatee instead. We have also come to learn that John was pregers at the time, showing now both our age and the fact we don’t mind that sort of thing.
- We get to see more of the Third Doctor’s tattoos, proving once and for all that the Doctor is a hard assed bastard that’s tough as nails and dashing to boot. He is the pimp daddy.
- This story has a pretty deep tie to science fiction at the time, i.e. the whole experiments gone wrong, parallel universes, hairy green monsters in lab suits. It really is a strict tribute to what 1970’s science fiction looks and feels like.
- This story really does cement the roll of the third Doctor as the James Bond wanna be minus of course the prolific procreation.
- The acting is actually top notched and there are many pleasant surprises in the range that is shown in this story through the plot contrivance of the parallel universe. Who knew that John Levene could be a right proper bastard.
- We get to see Roy Scammell shot himself at long distance as Roy was not only used as the RSF guard extra who shoots the Primord Wyatt, but also as the Primord Wyatt stand in who falls off the tour from being shot.
- This is the last appearance of the original console, which as it neared its tenth birthday it was showing is pale green age. Clearly it had not been designed or built with color in mind, just as the most recent destruction of the TARDIS interior was necessary for the move to HD.
What not to like
- This story doesn’t age well with its science or its technologies. We know that science fiction isn’t supposed to be factually correct, but we do need some of the science to actually work out for us. It just seems like every Pertwee story dealt with some private nuclear reactor and something going wrong.
- The Primords (Mutated Humans) portrayal seems to be have been all over the board and they do not make a believable baddie. We know that believable baddies in classic era Who are rare, but the story does suffer at the lack of believable baddie.
- The funky ass opening credits where the title and episode are shown over a lava flow. It’s not as bad as stinger in Ambassadors of Death, but it is still a rather jarring and unwelcome change. We are Republicans and fear things that are out of the “normal.”
- Apparently side stories and non-cannon stories have this parallel Earth’s “Dictator” is actually an alternate world Doctor – an option offered by the Time Lords after The War Games. This theory proves once and for all that Fandom likes the crack. Not only is this idea only slightly more offensive then a Hitler memorial, but also is of such an odd twist to established facts that we can no longer entertain it.
We will give Inferno 4 out of 5 pregnant Caroline Johns. Sure she is hot, but there is some serious baggage that goes along with that package, hairy armpits just being one of them.