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Doctor Who: The Green Death (1973)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Doctor Who: The Green Death (1973)
BBC1, tx. 19/05/1973 - 23/06/1973, 6 x 25 minute episodes (colour)
Written byRobert Sloman
Script EditorTerrance Dicks
ProducerBarry Letts
Directed byMichael Briant

Cast: Jon Pertwee (Dr Who); Katy Manning (Jo Grant); Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart); Jerome Willis (Stevens); Stewart Bevan (Clifford Jones)

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After the suspicious death of a miner at a disused colliery in Wales, the Doctor investigates the owner, Global Chemicals. He discovers that the area is on the verge of ecological disaster.

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Familiar to many as 'the one with the maggots', The Green Death (BBC, tx. 19/5 - 23/6/1973) is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pollution. Screened in the series' anniversary tenth season, it reflects an increasing awareness of the possibility of dealing with serious topical issues on children's TV.

From 1970, Doctor Who's producers had consciously attempted to modernise the show. As well as making the Doctor (now portrayed by Jon Pertwee) a more dynamic, violent and fashion-conscious character, most of his adventures were now based on present-day Earth. The Doctor became scientific advisor to 'UNIT', using his superhuman intelligence to investigate threats to Earth's safety. This new format attempted to recapture the success of Nigel Kneale's 1950s Quatermass serials, while economising on production costs.

Unusually, the hazard in The Green Death comes not from extraterrestrials, but from the greed and callousness of a large company, Global Chemicals. Its manager is unmoved by the deaths of miners caused by crude oil waste from his plant. He even obstructs an investigation, fearing the plant will be closed down. By ruthlessly pursuing profit at the expense of human lives and the local environment, he represents the audience's worst fears about scientific progress and 'big business'.

The early 1970s saw a gradual undermining of public faith in the industrial and technological programmes of the 1960s, alongside mounting social unrest. The protesting miners depicted in The Green Death foreshadow their real-life counterparts in the 1974 miners' strike. Most of the chemical plant staff, however, are brainwashed into obeying orders without question, and when one resists, he is forced by the plant computer to kill himself. These mindless, dehumanised workers refuse to take responsibility for the deaths and environmental damage their company is causing: they are simply 'obeying orders'.

By contrast, the free-thinking Nobel-prize winner Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan) is an advocate of moral and ecological responsibility in science, warning of the dangers of industrial waste and cultivating rare mushrooms in an attempt to solve the world's food shortage.

The story has been accused of resorting to crude national stereotypes in its depiction of the Welsh locals. While it is true that the script fails to suggest much depth to rustic characters like Bert the miner (Roy Evans), patronisingly described as a "funny little Welshman", it attempts to make amends by presenting the dashing Professor Jones as a modern and distinctive Welsh hero.

James Donohue

*This programme is the subject of a BFI TV Classics book by Kim Newman. Visit the BFI Filmstore to browse the collection.

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Video Clips
1. Title sequence (0:26)
2. Powerful friends (1:36)
3. Unauthorised personnel (1:42)
4. The hatching (3:17)
Complete episode - part three (25:11)
Pertwee, Jon (1919-1996)
Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)