Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Companions: Liz Shaw (Caroline John), Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
Crazy Professor Stahlman has this nutty dream to drill down to the core of the Earth to mine pockets of gas he suspects there to create a new energy source. He also has government funding, a bevy of experts he ignores, a UNIT presence he resents, and an abrasive personality and tendency to ignore all reason in the pursuit of his dreams. Lovely.
Still, the Doctor is onboard as one of those ignored advisers in order to get him access to the base’s nuclear generator, which he is using to experiment with re-activating the TARDIS console which he has removed from the ship. Liz is there to assist him. The Brigadier is there in an official liaison capacity. Sir Keith Gold, Executive Director, is there to provide oversight that Stahlman ignores. Petra Williams is there as Stahlman’s personal assistant. And newcomer Greg Sutton, an oil drilling expert, is there to provide practical experience in case of emergency… which Stahlman ignores. Suffice it to say, of the above list, only Petra is happy to be there… though, once he lays eyes on her, Sutton doesn’t seem to mind sticking around too much.
Problems (beyond the personal ones) arise when a toxic green slime begins spewing from the drilling pipe- one of the workers touches it and begins to mutate into a feral creature, radiating incredible heat, and going entirely and murderously berserk. While the Brigadier and returning character Sergeant Benton investigate (he was in Ambassadors of Death as the nitwit who let Lennox die on his watch…), the Doctor is testing the TARDIS console- and an unexpected surge of power due to a struggle between the mutated man and a technician in the reactor control room sends the Doctor and the console hurtling through a strange dimensional void, which he barely escapes from thanks to Liz. The Doctor is certain that he had almost reached somewhere, possibly somewhere important…
The mutated creature is killed by a UNIT soldier in self-defense when the group goes to investigate the reactor room, and the Doctor recognizes its eerie sound from something he heard once… in 1883 at the explosion of Krakatoa. Outside, the Doctor encounters another mutated creature (the technician attacked by the first man) which falls to its death from a catwalk- but doesn’t see a third creature, lurking in the shadows.
In the shadow of multiple murders and the strange green goo, Stahlman… refuses to listen or halt the drilling. (The nuclear station must be restored! The Wheel must run smoothly! The gas-flow will NOT be shut down!!!) Instead, he manhandles a canister of the stuff and almost-bravely gets it inside a containment box as the container begins to fracture from the heat- his hand is briefly exposed, and he begins to mutate very slowly, hiding his condition. He also sabotages the project computer, which was reading unsafe conditions and recommending a shutdown. He also throws the Doctor out of the project, cutting off the power, and then orders the drilling ACCELERATED. Then, a baby seal shows up with a warning to slow down the project, and he axe-murders it, followed by a message from God written in the clouds that says “STIOP YOUR DRILLING,” which he responds to by ordering a dome be built over the drill-site so that no one can see the sky.
Okay, maybe those last two didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did, just off screen.
The same shenanigans have been going on in this alternate universe, but now the danger readings, mysterious murders, strange creatures, and broken computer are blamed on a saboteur- the Doctor. He is repeatedly interrogated, and even though he saves the day during a crisis with pipeline pressure, he is still thrown in a cell. His cellmate is a green, feral, beast-like creature; a Primord (so named only in the credits- like the Ewoks of Star Wars, the name is official and canonical but never spoken or known by anyone onscreen), the full result of the green slime mutation- an animalistic savage radiating incredible heat. When it kills one of the guards, the Doctor is able to escape- too late, as penetration of the crust is achieved. The Earth rocks and the bore-hole screams in howling fury; tremors and eruptions wrack the globe. In short, the Earth retaliates with a fiery fury unrivaled in all of human history. Stahlman (already infected as in our universe) enters the heated, boiling drill chamber and is sealed in… he, and the others trapped within, soon emerge as Primords and begin to attack the survivors, as the Doctor calculates that this world is doomed, and will soon tear itself apart from the crust-breaching. However, the survivors latch on to the Doctor’s plan to restore power to the TARDIS console and return him, at least warning the other Earth to prevent its following in their footsteps.
But it may be too late- in our universe, a few hours behind its counterpart (and thus drilling has not yet reached the critical point), Sir Keith Gold has also gone to his superiors to lobby for shutting the drilling down, and after his driver’s bribe and orders from Stahlman to delay him are discovered, the car gets into a crash- perhaps the events the Doctor has seen ahead in the other universe are inevitable! And even if it isn’t, the Doctor arrives in our universe, comatose from the traumatic crossing… with only three hours left to go on the drilling, the time is ticking down.
One thing is destined to happen, though- Stahlman reaches a critical point in his mutation, and instinct takes over- smearing himself with more of the goo, he completely hulks out into a full Primord. He emerges to attack as the drill reaches critical and warnings sound all over the complex…
The Earth is then destroyed.
The season-ending Inferno is quite an interesting story which at first seems to be shaping up as something quite different than what it turns out to be. We dip into the Star Trek Mirror Universe conceptual spring for this parallel-Earth tale about a brunette Liz and a clean-shaven, eye-patched Brigadier on an alternate, totalitarian and oppressive Earth, the manically obsessed professor drilling through the Earth’s crust to reach the mantle in both worlds, and to a lesser extent, a mysterious green possibly-sentient goo that mutates humans into green-skinned versions of Lon Chaney’s Wolfman makeup. Yikes! Let’s get into it…
The Brigadier has another unfortunate serial in which he is sometimes on the Doctor’s side but sometimes not, though certainly far more positive than the Silurian madness. He is firm and authoritative (as much as his position allows) in dealing with the mad professor, but he’s still in Ms. Marple Mode (MMM), doubting or mistrusting the Doctor who has yet to be wrong (unless you count the Silurian incident, which the Brig might- but since the Doctor doesn’t show any evidence of acting or being motivated based on those events, why should we assume the Brig is?)- which the Doctor calls him on at the end, and rightly so. Does their reconciliation mean a change in the Brig’s character for next series? We shall see. Meanwhile, Nicholas Courtney gets a chance to stretch his acting legs with a turn as the nasty, cruel, thuggish, and selfish Brigade Leader, who becomes the piece’s secondary villain by the end- a nice evil mirror universe character to have fun with.
In the real world, she only has the first and last episodes and a few cutaways, but manages to be both supportive and stern in warning the Doctor off of another ‘test run,’ and has a great scene in which she realizes what he’s up to. So… still fairly background in her this-universe incarnation, but in her alternate persona, the actress finally gets a chance to break out of the background. I think Liz may end up going down as one of the meekest and mildest companions in Doctor Who history (save for her initial appearance). She hasn’t given me a strong character impression to counteract her initial noxiousness, but while I still don’t have a strong positive impression of her character, her gently supporting and sympathizing nature, and tendency not to call much attention to behavior negative or positive, has managed to soothe away the initial feelings. To put it more simply, she hasn’t done anything to make me ‘love’ her the way Jamie, Zoe, Steven, Ian, Barbara, etc. have… but I don’t dislike her, either. She’s on my good side in general, but more towards the middle neutral ‘I don’t mind them one way or another’ median than towards any extreme of like or dislike.
Yes, Professor Stahlman is a pain in the neck, another stock RPGP character in the Robson/Lawrence/Carrington mode, driven by Hollywobsession, the kind of obsession that presumably occurs only in TV shows and movies, and involves a completely unreasonable degree of insane, unyielding, driving obsession which not only cannot stop, but cannot slow down long enough to take measures that will ensure its own success in the long run until you begin to suspect that the character is not so interested in their end goal (drilling through to penetration) as they are to the action that they seem to be contributing more to (running the drill as fast as they can without stopping EVER) since their choice to repeatedly endorse the latter action is actually endangering the success of the former goal! And he does so to a dangerous degree, actually smashing safety equipment and the like! Strangely, in the parallel universe of evil counterparts and fascist, totalitarian doppelgangers… he doesn’t really seem any different.
The monster concept was pretty cool, as is the notion of intense heat radiating from them, which I don’t think was always consistently portrayed, but was very neat whenever it was. Funnily enough, the Primords were an addition to the script to help pad out the 7-episode length.
As for his staff, though, I have to ask, just as I did for Robson, Charles, and Carrington (and many others)- just how loyal are his staff? At point do you just say “This guy is nuts and clearly very ill, staring off into space and groaning, doubled-over, while racked with pain- I am going to have to say that this guy is not in his right mind and I am not going to listen to him anymore, I’m going to follow established safety procedures.”? Loyalty is great and all, but- what have these RPGPs, these ranting, obsessed, insulting, belittling, decidedly-non-people-person, non-confidence-inspiring, selfish, introverted, demanding, impatient, short-tempered cruel bosses done to inspire their workers to follow them into the very gates of Hell? I mean, leaders like Washington, Patton, and Macarthur likely had trouble inspiring such loyalty in their troops; what the heck would these people- hired employees in all cases but General Carrington- have POSSIBLY done to inspire such loyalty and unwavering, unquestioning obedience in the men whose lives are being actively endangered by their ignoring every safety protocol and scrap of prudence?
Then there’s Greg Sutton, the oil rig driller. (Whose actor is a Who veteran, having first appeared as Za in An Unearthly Child) Not exactly Mr. Congeniality (at least to the prof. he’s nice to everyone else, and it’s only after he’s snubbed that he gets caustic), he says things like they are, and seems intent on the roughest, most drag-her-out-of-the-cave-by-the-hair, least tender, most-aggression-based romance ever seen on the face of the Earth (or as we Trek fans call it, a Kahn/McGuyvers romance) with the prof’s assistant, who he lumps into his aggressions for being a meek sheep to the crazy boss.
In the alternate universe, he is quite right in pointing out everyone’s futility in continuing on with their actions in the face of Armageddon, and at first seemed like the bloke to root for, bucking the tiresome totalitarian authority, beyond caring about the consequences… but he became quite obsessed in his own way with a completely and equally illogical need to escape. Considering that everywhere was equally doomed, is there any reason that his last days couldn’t be more fulfilling NOT risking his life in escape attempts to nowhere? Perhaps pursuing the potential romance he had right where he was? So, he became a bit annoying in his hypocrisy, challenging the illogical adherence to orders in the face of death to advocate his own illogical need to escape the compound in the face of death.
And lastly, the professor’s assistant, a passive-aggressive woman with a strangely vulnerable side in the alternate universe. Too much of a minor character in our own world to really review, she was a heroic and brave character- like alternate-Liz, a far more open and reasonable (for some reason, all of the parallel-males are just thick and obstinate- I suppose some might say that it’s a trait not reserved solely for the parallel Earth…) character who saw what needed to be done and risked her life to do it.
Music was minimalist, but good when used. Sound effects were pretty good- especially compared to the recent ear-piercing Silurian hogwash. I had hoped that we were seeing the Third Doctor Sonic Screwdriver with the ‘door handle device,’ but since there were two, I’m guessing it was a separate device.
The cliffhangers on this one felt a little sloppier, not quite as effective as the Ambassadors of Death, and the makeup- though it looked pretty good in patches or partial-mutants, was pretty hokey in its final form. Still, that lava/doorway shot… man, was that cool!!! And of course, we’re left with a deep-Earth menace never explored or explained, a menace bubbling deep beneath the surface that may return some day…
Venusian karate, the Doctor calling Stahlman a nitwit, and the lava through the doorway.
This story ends the series on a high point, garnering 4 out of 5 “Shoes!”, marred only by slightly slow pacing at first and a patently obnoxious stock villain. Still, this is a very good showing for the Third Doctor’s era, and a recommendation to watch. Most significantly, this is the final appearance of the original TARDIS console, which has been in use since An Unearthly Child all the way back in the pilot- it is fitting, then, that the console become a centerpiece of this particular story. Farewell, TARDIS v1.0- it shall be a long time until we see your like again. Or even the TARDIS again. Rats.
Nothing in particular implies a date. Slightly futuristic drilling technology and computer capabilities are offset by the fact that the computer technology is decidedly contemporary. Sure, there’s nuclear power, a drill that can reach the Earth’s core, etc., but nothing to suggest these aren’t meant to be contemporary. Still... the Doctor does end it by referencing the years he’s known the Brigadier, so I’m going to have to give this one the future-1980s nod.