Roundly pilloried for its ambitious use of CGI, The Green Death is one of the finest adventures to feature in the U.N.I.T era of Doctor Who, and in many ways marks the beginning of the end of that era. As with many of the Doctor’s adventures of that time, the focus is on an earthbound activity that has potentially catastrophic implications for the planet. Interestingly, this story is very akin to Season 7 finale Inferno, in that there is no alien menace in this adventure, only the ‘enemy’ of human greed and ambition.
The story centres around a former coal mine in Llanfairfach in South Wales, where the fictional ‘Global Chemicals’ corporation are reputedly refining 25% more petrol and diesel fuel from crude oil with minimal waste – a charge contested by local environmentalist Professor Clifford Jones. The Doctor and U.N.I.T. are brought in when one of the miners is found dead with an unusual florescent green glow. It is discovered that the corporation are pumping the waste product into the old coal mines; not only is the product deadly to humans, it is producing a horrific by-product of enormous maggots. The Doctor soon discovers however that the small factory in Wales is only part of a bigger picture, and that the Boss behind Global Chemicals aspires to global dominance.
Yes, one has to look past the realisation of the giant maggots – a fact perhaps even recognised by the production team when they have the Brigadier dryly remark “I never thought it would come to me shooting giant maggots …” The CGI is also rather poor by modern standards, but by contemporary standards the story’s production values hold up incredibly well – it was groundbreaking for the time, and remarkable for Doctor Who’s shoestring budget. It also helps that the story is a genuine cracker – well paced, wonderful intrigue and tension, and a superb twist in the tail as the Doctor discovers the ultimate villain of the piece. With comments on the ruthlessness of immoral business, the need to look after our environment, and the dangers of pursuing complete efficiency, this story could have been written for today, and would stand up well in a modern series of Doctor Who.
I adore this story not just on its own merits, but also as a rite of passage for the U.N.I.T. era. Jo Grant joined the team in Terror of the Autons as a well-meaning but slightly awkward companion. Three seasons later she has grown in confidence and self-assertion, and it comes to a climax as she decides to marry Professor Jones and leave U.N.I.T. The last five minutes of the story are genuinely moving as Pertwee’s Doctor, having noticed throughout the story that he no longer held Jo’s attention and awe, drinks a quiet solitary toast to the couple, and leaves alone while U.N.I.T. celebrate with the happy couple. In hindsight, the Doctor driving into the sunset was a metaphor of where Pertwee was going for Season 11, and the moment his departure from the series became inevitable. While unbearably sad, it is also a beautiful moment, and arguably more moving than Pertwee’s actual regeneration story.
Next time: The Doctor and Jo arrive on a sailing ship. Or do they?