Inferno (1970)

On the day that I write this review, Wednesday 23rd February 2011, the news has broken that Nicholas Courtney has passed away. This is one of many superb performances from Mr. Courtney.

Inferno is the fourth story of the 1970 series and marks the final appearance of Liz Shaw. I think that the 1970 season is the best season of Doctor Who ever! That might be a controversial statement but Inferno is the final story of a consistently high quality series. The story takes place at a top secret drilling operation. The story sees the closing stages of Professor Stahlman’s drilling to the centre of the earth. Written by Don Houghton the story does (like most Pertwee stories) have a message at the heart of the story. This one is about being cautious about the desire to find alternative and cheap forms of energy. Especially without knowing more about it. The story is relatively a simple one where the Doctor is trying to get back to his own world whilst fighting against the Brigade Leader and the drilling.

Due to power being withdrawn from the Doctor’s experiment at the crucial moment the story moves into a parallel world where the drilling is at a more advance stage than in ‘our’ timeline. That’s not the only difference, we find the Doctor in a Fascist world where all our familiar characters are slightly different. Brigaider Lethbridge Stewart is now the Brigade Leader with a wonderful eye patch, Liz Shaw is now Section Leader with an amusing black wig. There is also Stahlman who’s hand is more infected than in our world and there is Greg Sutton who doesn’t seem that different from the other Greg (except he’s in a suite). Apart from Episode One and the latter part of Episode 6, the action takes place in the paraell world where the Doctor has to try and persuade the Brigade Leader that he is who he says he is. It fantastic to see the regular character (bar the Doctor) in a different way than normal, it must have been a relief to play the characters differently.

As the story progresses, the countdown to penetration gets closer and the tension is wracked up. Especially in the parallel world where for the latter half of the time everything goes crazy and the camera effects help create an impression that its hot and getting very stuffy. There is also some superb ‘having trouble breathing’ acting from the cast to help the effect. Jon Pertwee puts in a great performance as does Caroline John. In her final outing she is given something that most companions don’t get to do and that is to have some strong stuff to do. It’s just a shame that she doesn’t get a send off because the next time we see her its 1983 and she’s a vision to the Doctor. Derek Newark (Greg Sutton) and Sheila Dunn (Petra Williams) are very good supporting characters who’s romance is subtle at the beginning of the story and carries on in the parallel world. Christopher Benjamin (Sir Keith Gold) is a nice character. He’s a civil servant who is the voice of reason at the complex and is one of the thorns in Stahlman’s side. His potential death did come as a shock but then thankfully it’s a ploy by the writer and he turns up safe and well (apart from a broken arm). Olaf Pooley is great as Professor Stahlman who starts of a brilliant scientist who wont listen to anyone telling him what to do on his project before turning into the Primoid. Nicholas Courtney’s performance is one of his best and its because he gets to be a bit more than the Brigadier that we all know and love. As the Brigade Leader he seems to thrive in the role and that eye patch helps him a great deal.

Inferno is a fantastic story that over seven episodes keeps the drama at a high with some superb acting (most notably from Courtney) and great writing. Keeping a story interesting for anything longer than four episodes is always a tough thing but Don Houghton manages it and it’s a fitting end to the 1970 series and a story that should be a must in any Doctor Who fans collection.


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