I’ve been watching a lot of Classic Doctor Who lately in an effort to try and consume as much of the show’s history as possible, and I just finished the last serial of the 10th season of the show, The Green Death. I’m not sure if I’m gonna make reviewing Classic Who episodes a regular thing, but I had to review this one mostly as it contains the first time the Doctor really seems to get all melancholy about the departure of a companion. We’ll get to that later, though, because of spoilers. Written by Robert Sloman and directed by Michael Briant, The Green Death follows the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), Jo Grant (his companion, played by Katy Manning), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), and the rest of UNIT as they investigate a series of mining accidents at the site of Global Chemicals as they attempt to implement their plan to drill for more oil. As a mysterious virus breaks out and infects the miners and an array of odd and large maggots appear throughout the mine, it’s up to the Doctor and his friends to solve the mystery and avoid total disaster.
I can see why The Green Death tends to be considered one of the best Third Doctor stories. While the plotline itself is a bit rubbish, the way it’s executed is what makes it stand out. Much of the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the end, but it’s an incredibly fun journey and leads to some interesting character moments for both the Doctor and Jo. The serial begins with Jo finally standing up for what she wants and believes in, a theme that’s carried over from the ending of Planet of the Daleks, with her wanting to join a Professor Jones (Stewart Bevan) in protesting Global Chemicals’ latest drilling disaster. It’s this act of independence from Jo that begins the arc of her departure at the end of the serial. During this scene, the audience is shown the Doctor’s reaction. First, he doesn’t take her seriously. Second, he seems confused. Third, he quietly and sadly lets her do as she pleases. This happens a few times throughout the serial as Jo is allowed to make her own decisions (for once) repeatedly.
It culminates in the scene at the end of the serial where Jo and Professor Jones announce their intention to get married to the Doctor. The Doctor is happy for Jo, but he’s also sad. It’s bittersweet for him. Companions come and go, but for some reason, this is the first time that the Doctor has really shown a whole lot of emotion about the departure of a companion. Perhaps he really did view Jo as an equal. Perhaps he knows he’ll miss having her around. Perhaps, since she was the first companion he was really able to travel in the TARDIS with after being exiled to Earth, he has a special attachment to her and mourns the fact that it has to end. After all, the Doctor hates endings.
More than anything else, it’s this plot thread that made me want to review the episode. I don’t have much to say about the rest of it all. It’s a bit too long, the plot is forgettable, the motivations of the antagonist are never fully explored, etc. But it’s still really enjoyable. Michael Briant manages to create and maintain a really palpable atmosphere of dread, creepiness, and suspense. Add in the whole espionage element with Yates having infiltrated the company. And, finally, sprinkle on top the fun 70s style pro-environmental message poorly hidden in interesting science fiction. With all those ingredients, you have yourself an enjoyable, if somewhat forgettable and nonsensical, story. It’s a pretty good one for the Third Doctor. One of my favorites.
I give it three and a half out of five wands.