Doctor Who: Inferno: Special Edition

Here are a couple of Doctor Who trivia questions to keep you going. Answers later.

Q1. What happens in Episode 4 (“The Traitors”) of The Daleks' Master Plan and Episode 6 of Inferno and on screen in no other Who episodes? (Be warned, the answer is a plot spoiler for Inferno.)

Q2. How many people have had a credited acting role in Doctor Who and lived to be 100?

Inferno, written by Don Houghton and broadcast over seven Saturdays in May and June 1970, was the final story of the show's seventh season. Season Seven was the first in colour and on a schedule reduced to half a year, the first to star Jon Pertwee as the Doctor and the first to be produced, other than its first story, by Barry Letts, with Terrance Dicks continuing as script editor from the previous season. It was first released on DVD in 2006, and I reviewed it for this site then. Short version: although it's not typical of the way the show was to progress, then or now, it's up there with the very best. Watching it for the fourth time (after UK Gold omnibus, VHS copy and previous DVD – the original broadcast was a year before I started watching) brings home how very tense it is. For the longer version, as usual with my reviews of Revisited/Special Editions, I'll link back to the original (which does contain plot spoilers) and come back here to talk about this new Special Edition and its extras.

DVD review by Gary Couzens


The special edition of Inferno comes on two dual-layered discs, the first encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for Region 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus.

Like almost every 70s Who serial, Inferno was shot on 16mm colour film for the location shooting, and 625-line colour videotape for the studio material, and broadcast from two-inch Pal Quad videotapes. Unfortunately the bane of archive TV struck and, apart from the all-16mm Spearhead from Space (soon to have a reissue on Blu-ray), only one episode of the whole of Season Seven still exists on its broadcast videotape. That episode is not one of the seven of Inferno, the broadcast tapes of which were wiped between 1972 and 1976. What were kept were black and white 16mm film telerecordings, intended for sale to the many overseas countries which were not then broadcasting in colour, a number which had rapidly decreased by the mid-70s, and the last monochrome telerecordings date from 1974. With the show being made in colour, another sales option was videotapes, either in PAL or converted to 525-line NTSC. And that is how this serial has been available in colour since then, from NTSC tapes returned to the BBC from Canada in 1983. The 2006 DVD employed the newly-developed process of reverse-standards conversion (RSC) to return the episodes to PAL. RSC'd PAL is not up to native PAL, and inevitably looks a little soft, especially noticeable on the location footage. But given that original materials no longer exist, it's more than acceptable and as good as we will ever get.

The soundtrack is the original mono. Sound design plays a big part in this serial, more so than is usual, given that it would have been listened to via small TV speakers. The background sound of the drilling adds a lot to the serial's tension. Dialogue, sound effects and music (from stock) are clear and well-balanced. Subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras other than the commentary. Also on the disc are the information subtitles, by Martin Wiggins, reused from the 2006 disc, which fill in a lot of detail about the serial and its making.

The commentary is again reused from 2006, featuring Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Nicholas Courtney and, recorded separately, John Levene. Other than introducing himself during Episode 1, Levene talks through most of the third and fifth episodes and contributes a little to the sixth and seventh. As I said in 2006, so again: this is an enjoyable chat, from people who clearly know each other well, the banter being most of the pleasure of commentaries like this. The presence of the now-departed Letts and Courtney does date this a little, as does the fact that the former refers to the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion of December 2005 as taking place a few weeks before the commentary recording.

There is a “Play All” option for the seven episodes, but it's split into two titles on this DVD, running 142:10 for the first six episodes and 25:03 for the seventh. The reason for this is the presence of an Easter Egg. Start up Episode 7 and it starts 26 seconds in. Go to the beginning of this title and you will see the countdown clock for this episode's studio recording.

On to Disc Two, and reprised from the previous release is “Can You Hear the Earth Scream?” (34:49), the making-of documentary. It features the commentary participants, Caroline John, actor Ian Fairbairn and stunt arranger/actor Derek Ware. Several participants had died by then, and actors Christopher Benjamin and Olaf Pooley, both then and now (May 2013) still with us, were presumably unavailable. (Pooley, by the way, is still alive as of this writing at age ninety-nine and if still alive on 13 March 2014 will be just the second Who actor to become a centenarian. The first was Zohra Sehgal, born 1912 and still alive as of this writing. Sadly, her Who roles, credited in one episode of The Crusades and uncredited in three episodes of Marco Polo, are all numbered amongst the 106 episodes currently lost.)

“Hadoke versus HAVOC” (27:35) is a newly-produced item in which Toby Hadoke tracks down four of the members of the stunt group HAVOC, which supplied “action” (as the credits had it) in early 70s Who and also doubled for the lead actors on occasion. These are the founder of HAVOC, Derek Ware, and also Roy Scammell, Derek Martin and Stuart Fell, and organises a reunion during which Hadoke is coached for and achieves a sixteen-foot fall onto boxes and mattresses. Given that Roy Scammell, who performs the fall before him, is now eighty years old, Hadoke can hardly back out of it!

“Doctor Forever!: Lost in the Dark Dimension” (27:32) is another in the continuing series of featurettes describing Who offscreen in other media than television broadcast. This departs from the usual formula by not being introduced to camera by Ayesha Antoine. Inside, Zeb Soanes narrates what happened between the show's cancellation in 1989, the 1996 TV movie and the show's current resurrection in 2005. In between whiles, there were constant rumours of the show's return, most of which came to nothing. However, at least two serious attempts were made to produce a new Who story, possibly as a video release. One of these was to star actor David Burton, who is interviewed here, Doctor Who and the Monsters of Ness. The other was a story, The Dark Dimension, which was to reunite all the then-living past Doctors (except for an unwilling Colin Baker), and was to be directed by Who director Graeme Harper. That had some interest from the BBC, but like the earlier attempt was finally cancelled.

“The Unit Family – Part One” (35:37) is another reprise from the previous edition, detailing UNIT from its beginnings in the Troughton era with The Web of Fear and The Invasion, to become a regular part of the show on the Third Doctor's exile to Earth. This Part One takes us up to the end of the Pertwee era and features contributions from outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin, incoming producer Barry Letts, Dicks, Courtney, John, Levene and Ware.

Also reused is “Visual Effects in Television” (6:02), subtitled “An Introduction to the Devices, Techniques and Operational Methods of the Visual Effects Department of BBC TV”, a somewhat battered and spliced showreel for said department which includes model shots from two Who stories, Inferno and The Ambassadors of Death. There are also extracts from an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s novel The Caves of Steel, and the filming of a sequence from a missing episode of Doomwatch. (And where's the DVD of Doomwatch?)

WhenInferno was made, it included a short scene set in Warp Two where the characters listen to a radio announcer, played by a rather too obvious Jon Pertwee doing an impression of the traitorous wartime broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce). This scene was cut for UK transmission, but was included for overseas broadcast and video release. However, it’s cut again here to reflect the original story as broadcast, but included as a separate item – the scene in context runs 1:58 including some explanatory text at the beginning. Finally, Jon Pertwee makes an appearance from The Pertwee Years video release, in which he describes his beginnings in the role and introduces the final episode of Inferno (2:45).

The extras are completed by a self-navigating stills gallery (6:12), including shots of the production team of Letts, Dicks and a woman I can't identify, and a Coming Soon trailer (1:14) for the next release, The Mind of Evil which has been restored to full colour for the first time in the UK since its original broadcast, and which was coincidentally also written by Don Houghton. Available as a PDF file are the Radio Times listings for the original broadcast, preceded by an article from the same source about the creation of the show's monsters and including a picture of Jon Pertwee with his wife and children, including a very young Sean. Among the listings is a colour shot of Pertwee as Radio Times Favourite No. 4. Also on the disc as a PDF is a 76-page reproduction of the 1971 Doctor Who Annual.

Finally, there is another Easter Egg. Click left from the Pertwee Years introduction and you will get “Being David Burton” (5:21), the full version of the interview, a part of which is included in the “Dr. Forever” featurette, an overview of the life and career of a Doctor who wasn't.

(The answer to the first question at the head of this review is: these are the two episodes where a character played by Nicholas Courtney dies onscreen, namely Bret Vyon in the former and Warp Two's Brigade Leader in the latter. Of course, the Warp One Brigadier has now passed away in his turn, but this was offscreen, as learned by Doctor Eleven in “The Wedding of River Song”, first broadcast in 2011.)



out of 10

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