The One with the Maggots

“Green, the colour of monsters (in Doctor Who) is always green.”

-“Uncle” Terrance Dicks. Script Editor on Doctor Who 1968-74, Writer and novelist.

 It is a fair enough observation upon the original run, there were a lot of Green Coloured monsters: Silurians, Sea Devils, Wirrn, The Myrka, Sil, the list just goes on and on. If not green aliens, green still makes itself a present colour, green slime is a common sight but the the most obvious example is the story The Green Death. This was the final story of the 10th season (1972-1973) and it many ways starts the end of Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, long standing companion Jo Grant played by Katy Manning is written out and the setting in a Welsh coalmining town is a far cry from the cosy Home Counties setting of most of the previous UNIT stories. The UNIT element doesn’t come into the story until the half way point and even then the cosy feeling is absent, Doctor Who is all of a sudden very much in the real world. The Welsh characters may suffer a little from 70s stereotyping: plenty of characters say Boyo all the time, we have a character called Dai Evans and some appalling stereotypical dialogue “old Jones the milk says they’re going to blow up the mine”, but somehow the setting feels a bit more real. We have miners struggling for work because of the Mine being closed, a large coporate mega giant promising to bring jobs to the area and we have what would now be deemed a hippie community or a Green Party established site promoting alternative energy sources and fungus based meat substitutes.

The big corporation called “Global Chemicals” (rechristened Panorama Chemicals in Mac Hulke’s novelisation as a company in the meantime had been set up called Global Chemicals) is promoting a new waste free Oil refining process and setting in the town with the promise of jobs, we are introduced to this set my the CEO, Stevens, hosting an open air meeting and wonderfully harken back Neville Chamberlain, “I have in my had a piece of paper… Wealth in our time.” This small also sets up Professor Jones and his alternative life style community which is snubbed by the town folk as “the Nuthutch”, again this reflects a very real sense of a town. Professor Jones rightfully bismerks the use of fossil fuels and is a little pioneering in his work, but we later learn that he only got “the Nuthutch” going thanks to some award money. As Dai Evas and Bert point out, he can afford to live the life style he does but they cannot and need the money jobs at Global Chemicals will provide, once again we are in the real world.

The real world verses fantasy can easily be seen early in part one when Jo Grant opts to join the protest against Global Chemicals rather than fly off to an alien world with the Doctor, as the Doctor muses sadly to himself “the fledgling flees the coop.” Having said that once the Doctor gets involved in the story properly we spend most of the time in the alternative community… wisely perhaps as the velvet encrusted, silver haired Third Doctor would look totally out of place in a little B and B or Welsh Inn.

The freewheeling Nuthutch is countered by the very ordered Global Chemicals, where corporate brain washing literally takes place, while the backstory of Stevens is not even hinted at, we do get the impression that this is a man of intelligence and integrity. His waste free Oil refinery of course turns out to be anything but and is the cause of the titular threat. Yes, for those of you of a certain age, this is the one with the  giant maggots which kill you just by touch. Visually they are pretty repulsive but as a plot point it soon becomes obvious that they sort of are padding, I think far too much time is spent on the maggots and the threat of them pupating is not mentioned until the final episode…. thankfully perhaps considering the giant fly. Quite why only one maggot pupates is anyone’s guess and the Maggot problem is solved by a Deus Ex Macinia solution which is a very tenuous attempt at explaining serendipity.

Also for all the real world atmosphere early on, the story rapidly turns into a Mad Computer story which is saved by the infectiously fun characterisation of BOSS, which is a great contrast to the plan to turn the human race into mindless drones. Again there is some of a story flaw here as it isn’t clear how the two plot lines relate, perhaps they should of had a subplot involving BOSS developing a maggot cure and using it to hold the country to blackmail?

The highlight of the story has to Jo’s departure in which she gets engaged to professor Jones, marking the breakdown of the ‘UNIT family’ and the beginning of the end for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. The end scene where the Doctor congratulates the happy couple and quietly slips away from the celebrations is sad and powerful,  very influential as it virtually recreated shot for shot at the end of an episode of Sherlock.

 

The Green Death is very much the last hurrah for Pertwee, his last season shows signs of tiredness in both storyterms and performances, Pertwee grows weary clearly affected by the departure of Katy Manning and the untimely death of Roger Delgado who played the Master. Green Death manages to address some interesting issues but just highlights that the world of Doctor Who is well removed from the real world.

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