Doctor Who: The Green Death: Special Edition DVD Review: Hello, Giant Maggots; Goodbye, Jo Grant

“So the fledgling flies the coop,” states the Doctor in one of the opening scenes of The Green Death. It is an interesting moment, as the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) has just declined his offer to take a trip in the TARDIS. At this particular juncture, going anywhere in the TARDIS is something of a new experience, as the Third Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for most of his tenure. He has been “forgiven” at this point, and the TARDIS is now operational. The Doctor is headed to Metebelis Three, a planet with a blue sun.

Jo is much more interested in going to a protest at a mine in Wales however. This may have something to do with a certain Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan), who is leading the protest against The Global Chemical Company. They are drilling for oil in an abandoned coal mine, and the young, long-haired professor is very concerned about the environmental implications. When Jo tells the Doctor that Jones reminds her of a younger version of him, we sense that there may be more going on than just a protest rally.

The Doctor’s trip to Metebelis Three turns out to be a bust. There are some very big and hungry blue creatures living there, and the Doctor beats a hasty retreat. He returns with nothing but a beautiful blue sapphire for his troubles.

The real action has been on Earth, at Global Chemical. The situation erupted when a worker emerged from the mine with a phosphorescent green glow about him, then died. There is also the protest going on, with Cliff Jones, Jo Grant, and a few hippies making noise. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) of UNIT has arrived to investigate the situation, and is getting the usual corporate runaround. Nobody can explain what happened to the miner, but the purported boss, Mr. Stevens (Jerome Willis), tells Lethbridge-Stewart that with their new drilling process, there is practically zero pollution.

The new method returns the waste products back into the earth, and seems to be a step forward. Alas, it is too good to be true. We soon discover that giant maggots are being created as an unfortunate by-product of this process, and they are responsible for the “green death.”

There is also some major intrigue in the offices of Global Chemical, as the boss is not really Mr. Stevens at all, but the computer itself. The management of the company have been brainwashed, and now speak for the amoral computer. Maximum profits over all other concerns is the order of the day. Luckily, the blue sapphire that the Doctor brought back from Metebelis Three seems to have a de-programming effect on the men, which turns the tables on the evil corporate computers.

This being a six-part serial, there is a lot of action and plenty of cliff-hangers. I know that there is a segment of Doctor Who fans who complain about so many of the Third Doctor stories taking place on Earth, but I thought The Green Death was excellent. As for Jo Grant leaving the Doctor’s side, I am not going to spoil what it is she decides to do. I think I have dropped enough hints to figure that out anyway. I must say that the final shot is surprisingly poignant. The Doctor literally drives off into the sunset all alone, in his trusty yellow jalopy, “Bessie.”

The two-DVD set of The Green Death includes a full second disc of bonus materials. In the 26-minute making-of segment titled “The One With the Maggots,” we discover that Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan were a couple in real life. It was Manning who pushed her boyfriend to audition for the role of Cliff Jones, and he was perfect. They do not say whether or not they are still together, although their very flirtatious manner in the interview would suggest that they are. There is also a great deal of discussion about the genesis of the story, which was most definitely a product of the nascent environmental movement of the early ‘70s.

“Global Conspiracy?” is one of the best special features I have ever seen on a Doctor Who DVD set. This 11-minute piece treats the whole Green Death story as fact, and updates us on the situation. We are introduced to “Proto Eco-Warrior” Clifford Jones, who is now chairman of the organic food company Nutchutch Foods. He explains that Jo left him years ago after an ill-fated trip to the Amazon. “Global Conspiracy?” sort of reminded me of Eric Idle’s classic Beatles spoof, The Rutles. It is truly funny, in the best dead-pan British manner. I realize that it would just turn into a familiar stunt if the producers were to create something like this for every Doctor Who story. But I sure am happy they did it this time. “Global Conspiracy?” is hilarious.

Insights about The Green Death are offered in interviews with writer Robert Sloman (seven minutes), and Stewart Bevan (seven minutes). We get a look at “What Katy Did Next,” which is basically a five-minute excerpt from what can only be described as a “hippie crafts show,” titled Serendipity. The snippet is dated 1973, and was a BBC production.

I have noticed that nearly every Doctor Who DVD released this year includes an extra feature about either the resurrection, or the upcoming 50th anniversary of the show. The 23-minute “Doctor Forever! – The Unquiet Dead” concentrates on the former, featuring a discussion with Russell T. Davies and Jane Trantor about the reboot of the program. Davies is the creator of the new series, and Trantor was his champion in the BBC at the time. Their perspectives concerning the difficulties they had in getting it green-lit are quite intriguing.

The biggest extra feature comes with the inclusion of a two-part episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures (52-minutes). For those who may be unfamiliar with this Doctor Who spin-off, it starred Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, and aired from 2007 to 2011. “Death of the Doctor” is from the fourth season (2010), and features a very special guest star. Katy Manning reprises her role as Jo Grant for the occasion of the Doctor’s funeral. Just like Mark Twain, the reports of the Doctor’s death had been greatly exaggerated, but it is great fun seeing the two companions of the Third Doctor together here. The inclusion of “Death of the Doctor” also offers those who have never seen The Sarah Jane Adventures a chance to check it out.

Rounding things out in the extras department is a 10-minute photo gallery, and PDF materials. There are also commentaries on the episodes, including those of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

As the title of the behind-the-scenes bonus for The Green Death indicates, it is indeed “The One With the Maggots.” The fact that it is Jo Grant’s final Doctor Who adventure may be even more significant though. The Green Death (Story #69) originally aired from May 19 to June 23, 1973, and closed out the tenth season. To use a well-worn cliché, it is a classic. Maybe not the greatest Doctor Who serial ever made, but very, very good. Katy Manning went out on a high note with The Green Death, and it is definitely recommended.

Greg Barbrick

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