Doctor Who: Inferno review (DVD)

This is the story that drew Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who to a close and it’s a good time to reflect what a shock it had been. From black and white to colour was one thing, everybody was doing it; from an anti-establishment hero, fumbling about in the shape of Patrick Troughton, to the army’s debonair right-hand man was a bit more of a shock. The assistant going from bright but patronised ingénue to a capable scientist, almost the equal of the Doctor, was another shock, and that’s before we’ve started on the tone. By now the dated bits – and there are several – lend the whole thing a much more child-like air than it had at the time.

Inferno is a good story, sadly stretched over too many episodes. It begins well enough, with the Doctor turning up at yet another research establishment (his third similar set-up in four stories) and clashing with the Brigadier. Scientists are drilling into the Earth’s core and the Doctor is worried they’ll find something nasty. Meanwhile, he’s been trying to repair the Tardis and gets flung into an alternative dimension with an evil Brigadier wearing an eye patch and no moustache, and a nasty assistant Liz Shaw (also with no moustache in either universe). He gets back to find technicians have been turned into baying beasts called (in the credits but not on screen) Primords.

It's atmospheric, it’s well made, the chase sequences around the industrial settings are well handled. Oh, and the episodes on the alternative world, entertaining though they are, are blatant padding. They take the plot no further except the Doctor works out that if the fanatical professor is infected in one universe he must be in the other; they’re just, well, padding and a chance to see the world ending. That’s one flaw holding me back from giving this four or even five stars; it’s just too long. The other is the Primords themselves. The sequence in which a scientist is turning into one, discolours a bit and goes crazy, attacking people with a spanner, is genuinely chilling – then basically they all turn into cut-price wookies. The effect is comical rather than thrilling and once again, the plot didn’t really need it.

Pertwee is at his best in his first season. The relentless cosiness of the "Unit Family" that would make the army seem much too fun a place in later years has not been established yet and Liz Shaw, regardless of the production team’s wish to get a more ordinary girl in, really made a very strong companion. The jokey ending is of its time. If it had been shorter and missed out some of the padding, maybe making a four or five parter, this would have been the best of the season. As it is, it stands up well for what it is – it’s just very good rather than a complete classic.

EXTRAS ★★★★★ For this special edition the picture has had the customary spruce-up; there are cast and production crew commentaries and an excellent making-of called Can You Hear The Earth Scream, which goes through the troubled production and just how much input Terrance Dicks had to have as script editor. There’s a deleted scene in which a news item is broadcast on the radion and good grief, it’s so obviously Pertwee’s voice it’s embarrassing (this was included in the Australian broadcast, those of us who had the pirated tapes will confirm). There is also a featurette on the Unit Family, first part, which is brilliant for nostalgia-driven old gits like me.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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