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10x5. The Green Death
Writer: Robert Sloman
Director: Michael Briant
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: A series of suspicious deaths in Llanfairfach, Wales seems to have links to Global Chemicals, whose new refinery project has drawn suspicion from environmental activists but promises new jobs for unemployed coal workers. UNIT is called in, and the Doctor and Jo discover dangerous mutating maggots in the old coal mine, created by the waste from Global Chemicals. Compounding the situation is Global Chemicals' central computer, BOSS, which is controlling the minds of the company's employees.

Review: The tenth season of Doctor Who proved to be one very much aware of its own place in history, what with the series' first multi-Doctor serial and a linked storyline of two six-parters featuring the Master and the Daleks. But self-conscious ambition can often lead writers and producers to overlook the basics, and thus it is not entirely surprising that the two best serials of the tenth season -- "Carnival of Monsters" and now "The Green Death" -- are the ones that just focus on telling a story rather than trying to create a Doctor Who "event."

"The Green Death" is the first serial since "The Daemons" to follow the UNIT formula of the early Pertwee era. The Doctor makes a brief trip to Metebelis 3 where he obtains a crystal that can de-hypnotize people, but otherwise this is a story concerned with, and driven by, events and characters in 20th-century Britain. The serial is not exactly subtle about its political intent, in that the very first scene is a three-way argument between oil company representatives, laid-off workers, and environmentalists. On the other hand, this scene nicely illustrates how big business can sometimes drive a wedge between environmentalists and their natural allies by suggesting that environmental protection means fewer jobs. The alternative to this strict dichotomy, the script seems to posit, is a more community-oriented existence like that of the nearby hippie commune. Some might find this a bit naive, but I think "The Green Death" does a nice job in making Prof. Cliff Jones and the other characters living at the "Nuthutch" believable. The stereotype of a hippie, especially in fiction, is someone spacey and impractical -- exactly the kind of person that you can't imagine as a successful member of a self-sufficient community -- but these people are all very accessible and down to earth. And while the idea of splitting off into small agricultural communes to solve environmental problems may seem a bit antiquated, the notions of alternative energy and organic dieting (both of which are practiced by the commune members) are not.

After some rather embarrassing moments for UNIT in "The Time Monster" and "The Three Doctors," they're treated much better in this installment. Lethbridge-Stewart is playing it cautious given that Global Chemicals have political connections and he's been ordered to cooperate with them, but he's rightly suspicious, planting Yates inside Global Chemicals and at one point threatening to take the matter to Geneva until the Prime Minister himself orders him to back off. But there's no pointless barking at the Doctor or any other dumb closed-mindedness this time; he's back in form as a smart military professional, and he gets along with the commune members surprisingly well. Yates, whose laid-back, smart-alecky persona was starting to seem out of place and who doesn't always get to do much, is also served well by the script, as he's able to help the Doctor's own undercover investigation of Global Chemicals. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of rule that at least one UNIT character has to act like an idiot at some point in every serial, and so we're subjected to Benton teasing the maggots with, "Here kitties, come get your din-din!" (On the other hand, the Doctor's reaction -- "*Really*, Sergeant Benton!" -- is right on the mark.)

"The Green Death" also marks Jo's departure, and for the most part it's handled well. She was assigned to be the Doctor's assistant, but interplanetary travel was never part of the job description, and in Episode 1 we see that she's more interested in this planet as she decides to go protest Global Chemicals rather than accompany the Doctor to Metebelis 3. Her time with the Doctor has helped her to become more confident and able to handle tough situations, a development that now reaches its logical conclusion as she starts to carve her own path in life. Of course, she isn't setting out completely on her own, and in fact Cliff Jones is another scientist with a penchant for exploration and a tendency to get engrossed in his work, but the gap of experience and knowledge isn't as great, and their growing attraction and emotional bond introduces an element lacking in her relationship with the Doctor. This also gives Pertwee a rare opportunity to show some vulnerability. The Doctor has been a mentor to Jo, but he has also become her friend, and while he respects that it's time for her to move on, he's also clearly sad to see her go. The final shot of him driving away alone is an appropriately quiet coda, and though I don't think we ever hear of Jo again, I can easily imagine the two of them still occasionally checking up on each other as they promised at the end.

The one area where "The Green Death" falls a bit short is the writing of the Global Chemicals employees. The only one who has much of a personality is Elgin, who occupies the unenviable position of the whistleblower who knows that his company is involved in something horrible but has limited power to stop it. The rest of them have all been brainwashed by BOSS, and the sense of human tragedy that marked many earlier UNIT serials is somewhat lacking because we never learn much about how this situation developed in the first place. BOSS itself has a rather lively and whimsical personality, which is a nice change of pace from the cliché of the Monotone Autocratic Computer, but its plan to take over the world by hijacking other computer systems (or something) is the sort of boilerplate material that doesn't take much creativity and doesn't really mean much of anything in human terms. I can certainly extract "messages" from "The Green Death" -- new technology can pollute the environment, corporations should be more accountable, too much reliance on computers can be dangerous, etc. -- but again, the sympathetic examination of human flaws we saw in serials like "The Silurians" or "Inferno" just isn't there, and "The Green Death" comes off as more of a procedural than a well-rounded character piece. That said, it's a first-rate procedural that never once tested my patience, and the characterization of the protagonists is enjoyable even if their counterparts don't quite match up.

Television is a strange medium, and with so many demands from so many directions, it's hard to produce classic stories on a regular basis. In retrospect, Season 7 was probably one of those rare creative bolts of lightning, where a new cast, a mandate to change the show's formula, and first-rate writing came together to produce something truly special -- and to make the Pertwee era a victim of its own success. The show is generally at a higher caliber than it was during the Hartnell and Troughton years, and there have been some excellent serials since then, and yet I can't help but hope for another "Silurians" or another "Inferno." But if "The Green Death" doesn't quite meet those standards, it still does its job nicely, and it's one that I gladly recommend.

Other notes:

- I'm told that some of the Welsh characters are portrayed in a very stereotypical manner; since I'm not British and don't really understand Welsh stereotypes in the first place, I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment. I wouldsay that the script doesn't seem to view any of them as especially obnoxious or unintelligent -- the complaints seem to be more about their speech patterns, which is at least less offensive than the racial attitudes of "Tomb of the Cybermen."

- I don't normally think of Pertwee as one of the Doctor's more humorous incarnations, but he certainly gets to play up the comedy when he disguises himself as a milkman and later a cleaning lady in order to infiltrate Global Chemicals.

- I'm not inclined to hold it against anyone, but the bouncing back and forth between actual location footage and obvious superimposition/CSO is a bit jarring. (Apparently they simply ran out of time to film on location.)

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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