The Green Death *****

The one with the giant maggots emerging from a Welsh coal mine. Plus Katy Manning's tearjerking departure

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Green Death *****

Season 10 – Story 69

"Oil waste from Global Chemicals must have contaminated some of the maggots, causing an atavistic mutation" - Professor Jones

Storyline
After an aborted excursion to Metebelis III, the Doctor joins Jo and the Brigadier in the Welsh village of Llanfairfach, where a miner has died from a mysterious glowing infection. His death and the mutation of maggots into venomous monsters are linked to waste fluid pumped into the mines by nearby Global Chemicals, which is being controlled by a computer called Boss. Unit and a band of ecologists led by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Professor Clifford Jones fight the company, which is ultimately destroyed by its Boss-brainwashed director, Stevens. Jo informs the Doctor she is leaving Unit to marry Jones.

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 19 May 1973
Episode 2 - Saturday 26 May 1973
Episode 3 - Saturday 2 June 1973
Episode 4 - Saturday 9 June 1973
Episode 5 - Saturday 16 June 1973
Episode 6 - Saturday 23 June 1973

Production
Location filming: March 1973 at Deri, near Bargoed, Glamorgan; and RCA International, Brynmawr, Powys
Studio recording: April 1973 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
Sergeant Benton - John Levene
Stevens - Jerome Willis
Clifford Jones - Stewart Bevan
Elgin - Tony Adams
Hinks - Ben Howard
Dai Evans - Mostyn Evans
Hughes - John Scott Martin
Dave - Talfryn Thomas
Bert - Roy Evans
Fell - John Rolfe
Nancy - Mitzi McKenzie
Milkman - Ray Handy
Boss's voice - John Dearth
James - Roy Skelton
Security guard - Terry Walsh
Minister of Ecology - Richard Beale
Cleaner - Jean Burgess
Yates's guard - Brian Justice

Crew
Writers - Robert Sloman (& Barry Letts, uncredited on screen)
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - John Burrowes
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Michael Briant

RT Review by Mark Braxton
This strident clarion call by the environmental lobby is remembered not only as the one with the giant maggots, but also the one where much-loved companion Jo says goodbye. For both reasons it is wonderful and memorable, but there are many others.

One of the densest-ever opening episodes contains a brief visit to another planet, a vehement political debate, a companion striking out on her own, and a horrible yet telegenic disease.

Though it's clear where Letts and Sloman's sympathies lie, the green-welly brigade doesn't get all its own way. In the stand-off between Nut Hutch demonstrators, disenfranchised miners and Global Chemicals' brave new world, we hear persuasive opinions from all sides: "More muck, more devastation"; "You can afford to live the way you want to - we need the jobs"; "There are always those who resist progress". None of these viewpoints is wrong. But The Green Death is unequivocal in highlighting the terrible cost of advancement.

Talk of resource depletion, ecological projection and wind farms makes The Green Death staggeringly, impressively ahead-of-its time (this is 1973, remember). Other factors date it mercilessly - miners' strikes, smoking/drinking on the job, computers with giant whirly wheels - but as all Doctor Who fans know, time waits for no one.

The dark suits of Global Chemicals and cheerful colours of the Nut Hutch might make for rather unambiguous combatants, but what's wrong with the writers having an agenda? You don't have to agree with it - though it's hard not to.

As it is, Stevens, with his drug-like addiction to Boss FM, draws some sympathy via Jerome Willis's excellent, nuanced performance. And in his blind dedication to corporate expansion, Stevens is very much an everyman for our time, not just the 1970s. Global Chemicals represents greed and thereby the path to catastrophe. Look at the Archbishop of Canterbury's speeches of 2009 and you'll see the same message.

Enough of the politics; back to the maggots. Regular ones are repellant enough, but dog-sized ones that rear and hiss? That's evil! With rats' skulls and prophylactics, the effects team did wonders. Less successful are wide shots of maggoty landscapes where the creatures are clearly real ones "magnified". We'll pass discreetly over the giant fruit fly, but the CSO in the latter stages is head-shakingly woeful. It was then; it is now.

I can remember feeling strange after watching The Green Death in 1973. I loved it as Doctor Who at its classic, body-horror best: disgusting, petrifying. But I was also unsettled at the thought that the programme might never be the same again without Katy Manning.

Such is Jo's importance to the show that she's granted not one but two farewell scenes. Episode one depicts Jo's head being turned by a younger scientist. The Doctor offers her "all the time in the world" but he knows he's losing her. If this dress rehearsal doesn't alert us, Jo's klutzy introduction to Professor Jones does the job.

It bookends Jo's time on the show by reminding us of her inauspicious start in 1971: it's that same eagerness to please leading to a ruined experiment that we saw in Terror of the Autons. Only instead of the Doctor's cry of "You ham-fisted bun-vendor" we have Jones shouting, "Of all the silly young goats"!

Her actual bowing out in episode six is pure, concentrated, Classic Who greatness: it's tender, underplayed and heartbreaking. When Jo spies the Doctor sneaking out the back door, she looks momentarily forlorn at the life of adventure that she's giving up. And the Doctor's hesitation in Bessie before he drives off drips with melancholy. Watch this on DVD with Katy Manning's commentary on and you'll be in tears.

With its humour (panto-broad right through to coal-black), its bloated larvae, its farewell to a dear friend and its ecological prescience, The Green Death is entertaining, frightening, poignant and important. How often does Doctor Who get it that right?

- - -

What Katy did next…
“You do need to change the girl. After three years the audience begins to know what her reaction is going to be. So you bring in someone new and keep it fresh. I don’t want to see the same one year after year after year.”  

On Jo’s development: “When she arrived she was straight out of school. Or perhaps with the shortest training in the world. Maybe six months with Unit, tops. By the time she left, she was beginning to find out who she was, saying, ‘This is wrong, shouldn’t be happening...’ And the Doctor could see she’d grown up. I think this is very important about Jo: she’s one of the few characters you’d watched grow up in front of your eyes. From a shy, withdrawn creature, game and feisty, she grew up in people’s living rooms. That culminated at the end of The Green Death.” 
(Talking to RT, April 2012) 

Read Patrick Mulkern's interview with Katy Manning 

Radio Times archive material
Katy Manning's departure was among subjects discussed by Barry Letts on the Radio Times letters pages in 1973. 

RT billings      The complete adventure special (December 1973) 

[Available on BBC DVD]

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