In the lead-up to Doctor Who’s Fiftieth Anniversary, Grey Wolf’s Blog will be hosting the event “Monday Favourite Dr Who Story“ (except last week when the Royal Mail kidnapped my DVD and I couldn’t watch it in time!)
Inferno is a seven episode story from 1970, starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor and Caroline John as Liz Shaw, as well as Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart.
Although it lasts for over two and a half hours, it is a fast-paced and exciting adventure, with Pertwee at his masterful best. In essence the story is of a scheme to drill below the world’s crust to discover infinite energy, but a scheme that runs into a primeval evil, so to speak.
The characters at the drill head play an excellent dual role, as the Doctor accidentally travels to a parallel world, where a fascist Britain has similar characters in authoritarian positions. It is fantastic fun to see Courtney play a Brigade Leader whose simplistic militarism is forced into a sensible realism by the disaster inflicted upon his world.
It might in many ways be Caroline John’s best performance as Liz Shaw, a scientist in the real world, and a security leader in the fascist parallel one. The supporting cast, as Benton, Sutton, Petra and Stahlman also play an excellent dual role, and though some of the basic underlying science with regard to the primeval creatures is suspect, and the make-up and so on a bit suspect, it in no way detracts from the story.
The alternate reality has gone further and worse than the real world, but in it we see real heroism, sometimes against the nature of the character who is forced into compliance, and in many cases sees the true essence of the characters shine through when heroism despite despair is the natural reaction.
In every way this story is done as best as one could expect for 1970. It is far better than many shows contemporary to that time. The action is dramatic, the dialogue good, and the split between the two realities is portrayed in an excellent fashion.
Courtney’s alternate Brigade Leader’s breakdown is done really well, in the face of adversity and disaster he loses all control when up to then he has been holding it together just barely.
I always wonder why people in extremis never take their ties off, just loosen them dramatically and this story offers no answer. Sutton would be better off without the ridiculous appendage around his neck, but he never removes it.
For a seven-part story, Inferno really captures the imagination and you care about what happens. In the time that it was made, I don’t think it could have been done any better.