My wander through Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Third Doctor (ie Season 7) comes to an end with Inferno. Some people say it’s the best story of the season, if not the whole Pertwee era; others say the Primords look like werewolf zombies. All I know is it’s parallel universe time!
First up, it’s called Inferno, not The Inferno. I always lose ‘The’ from the start of titles, so I checked. Each episode starts with the relentless flow of lava coming at camera. There’s no doubt as to what this is about.
I like to imagine the script creation went along these lines:
Writer: So the Doctor is in the future, sees the world end, the Brig and Liz nobly sacrifice themselves and the Doctor goes back in time to change things!
Script Editor: Hmmm! Well, one day we’re going to have fixed points in time, but until then, let’s remember the Doctor can’t travel in time, that’s the whole point of this season.
Writer: But it’s a great story!
Producer: What if we had a parallel world? Then we could destroy that and it wouldn’t matter.
Writer: What about the being in the future idea?
Script Editor: The parallel world could be in our relative future.
Writer: Hmmm. Suppose so. I know! What if the parallel world was like that one in Star Trek?
Producer: Star Trek?
Script Editor: I know the one. And it’s still just Star Trek, luckily it won’t be The Original Series for some years yet!
Writer: I like this, we could have evil Brig, nasty Liz, bad guy Benton…
Producer: Of course it’s not long enough. Let’s throw in a nasty something from prehistory the drill finds deep in the Earth.
Writer: Isn’t that just Silurians again?
Script Editor: What if it was some green gunge turning people into mad zombies?
Producer: Yes! Zombies with werewolf features! Genius! Oh, and a really mad scientist. And get that chap who’s going to play Henry Gordon Jago as well…
I digress, but it does serve to break the story into parts.
For me the Primords are not essential, and while they give a foreground distraction, there’s enough with the love story (Petra Bromley), the Doctor’s experiments, the twisted parallel world and the wonderfully driven mania of Stahlman (Olaf Pooley). It’s great seeing Christopher Benjamin not as Jago, and while the whole drilling expert romance is dated in treatment, it’s a human touch.
The whole end of the world with twisted versions of our heroes is exceptional in design and execution. Nicholas Courtney shines as the fear driven bully and there’s plenty for Caroline John to get her teeth into. Am I the only one who finds this version of Liz more interesting than the ‘real’ one? It’s such as shame Liz was moved on at the end of this, though the dynamic between the Doctor / Brig and her is nice and poised. The Doctor needs the Brig and it’s all rather wonderful.
Jon Pertwee carries a lot of this story. If at times he seems indifferent to the impending deaths of copies of those he knows, his joy at realising his Earth can be saved is wonderful. We avoid the complete Star Trek rip-off of a bad Doctor back in our world (Big Finish has drifted closer to this in UNIT stories) and I really believe in the group of people who don’t want to die, don’t really believe the Doctor and are human right to the end.
Is there a more nasty mad-scientist than Stahlam? Even Davros has nuance whereas Stahlman is ever more arrogant than the Master can be! Anyway, well done writer Don Houghton, Script Editor Terrance Dicks, Producer Barry Letts and everyone else.
There’s really a lot to admire about Inferno, for me Ambassadors of Death is better, but had I watched them in a different order, who knows!