Doctor Who: The Green Death: Special Edition

The Green Death, written by Robert Sloman (in uncredited collaboration with producer Barry Letts) and first broadcast in six parts in May and June 1973, was the final story of Doctor Who's tenth season and Jon Pertwee's fourth as the third incumbent of the title role. It's “the one with the maggots” featuring one of the most memorable, and disturbing, of the Doctor's one-off foes, and is a good example of the show's environmental concerns at the time, courtesy of Letts's own concerns. For three seasons, the show had maintained a stable format, with Letts and Terrance Dicks finally achieving their goal of ending the Doctor's exile on Earth, with spacebound stories sharing time with ones, like this one, down on Earth, often with the aid of UNIT, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). I saw the serial on its original broadcast (missing a couple of episodes due to a family holiday) and in retrospect it shows that that stability was to come to an end, first signalled by the tragic death of Roger Delgado, who had been playing the recurring villain The Master since I first began watching the show, in 1971. Jo Grant (Katy Manning) had been the Doctor's companion character all the time I was watching and hers was the first companion departure, one of the show's greatest – and a memorably touching one it was too, both for the eight-year-old I was then and the forty-eight-year-old I am now. Things were changing, and this story continues a story arc (with that blue crystal from Metebelis 3) that would end in Pertwee's own departure a year later, for which I refer you to Planet of the Spiders.

The Green Death was previously released on DVD in 2004, and as before with Special Edition reissues, I'll link back to the original review for this site, which was by me, and then come back to discuss the discs and the extras for this new release.

Review by Gary Couzens.

The DVDs

The Special Edition of The Green Death comprises two dual-layered DVDs. The six episodes are on the first, which is encoded for Regions 2 and 4, with extras on the second, encoded for Region 2 only. Given the differences in number of audio tracks (see below) the Play All option is split into two titles, running 51:53 and 102:32. Both discs have optional audo-descriptive menus.

The episodes all survive on their original two-inch quad master broadcast tapes, with the serial being recorded in the usual combination of 16mm films for the exteriors and 625-line colour PAL video for the studio work. The episodes have been restored and look very good. The film-originated material is somewhat grainy, but then it always has been. Don't forget that you are watching it on much less forgiving equipment and no doubt a much larger screen than you would have been expected to in 1973. Many people then were watching in black and white. Given that this is SD PAL, and 70s-vintage television, this will never look state of the art, but I wouldn't want it to, and this is entirely satisfactory. The original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is of course adhered to.

The sound is the original mono, and has likewise been cleaned up and restored. Dialogue, Dudley Simpson's music score and sound effects are clear and well balanced. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras apart from the commentaries. Information subtitles are provided by Richard Bignell, replacing the 2004 track by Richard Molesworth and tell us all you need to know about the production of this serial and more besides.

There are two commentary tracks on this DVD. The first is the one used on the 2004 release. It covers all six episodes and features the same three people throughout: Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and Katy Manning. This was one of several recorded in quick succession at the beginning of the decade, to take advantage of the Australian-resident Manning being available in London. It’s clear that a considerable rapport exists between the three of them. Letts spends a lot of time apologising for the special effects, especially the giant fly. Manning’s little-girlisms aren’t as irritating as they are on other tracks. It’s an entertaining listen, which becomes poignant in its later stages, when dealing with Jo’s departure from the series, and Manning’s working relationship with Jon Pertwee. 

The second commentary track makes its first appearance on Episode Three (hence the Play All being split into two titles, as mentioned above) and is in two parts. For Episodes Three, Four and Five, Toby Hadoke moderates a chat with Mitzi McKenzie (who plays Nancy, and as Mitzi Webster also appeared in Colony in Space). and special effects man and chief maggot wrangler Colin Mapson, with Richard Franklin joining them for Episodes Four and Five. The result is an engaging talk, with the three guests all getting to say their part, with many memories of the production coming through. The commentary on Episode Six features Katy Manning and Russell T. Davies, then a nine-year-old fan, later of course showrunner behind the 2005 revival of the show. The result is something of a love-in between the two, with Davies (who is a year older than me and had watched the show from an earlier age to me) waxing enthusiastic about how much Jo's departure meant to him at the time and how emotional everyone on set was at Jo's departure...and they share a kiss at the end. Davies later was able to bring Jo back to the Who universe, but more of that in a moment.

Disc Two begins with “The One With the Maggots” (26:24), a newly-produced making-of documentary. It's the usual solidly-produced job, taking us through the production from its inception in Barry Letts's then-fears about the environment, through production to broadcast. Manning is reunited with former boyfriend and on-screen love interest Stewart Bevan (who now has much shorter hair and is bearded) and it's clear that there is still considerable rapport between them. Director Michael Briant (without the middle E. he added later) talks of how Bevan auditioned dressed as a hippy and speaking in a thick Welsh accent. Assistant Floor Manager Karilyn Collier and Colin Mapson discuss the difficulties of working with live maggots in the studio, given that they tended to turn into bluebottles under the studio lights. Mapson kept a blowlamp on hand to control and eliminate them as necessary.

The next few extras are reused from 2004. “Global Conspiracy” (10:54) is a spoof piece of investigative journalism. News reporter Terry Scanlon (Mark Gatiss) reports on Llanfairfach now. It’s an amusing piece, with plenty of references that fans will catch. Written and produced by Gatiss, it’s technically very well done, particularly in the creation of “archive” news footage. The featurette is 16:9 anamorphic, with the “archive” footage windowboxed into 4:3.

Next up is a visual effects featurette hosted by Colin Mapson (11:41), who describes the making of the maggots, the model shots and explosions and the CSO problems. Finally he shows you how to make your very own maggot! Writer Robert Sloman (6:52) talks about how the story came about. Sloman’s two great phobias are maggots and spiders, so on the catharsis principle these creatures appear in his two stories for Doctor Who, this one and Planet of the Spiders. It’s an interesting listen which doesn’t outstay its welcome. Stewart Bevan (7:43) talks about he was cast. Given his connection with Manning, she was hesitant at recommending Bevan for the role which had up to them been hard to fill. The idea always was that Jones would be a younger Doctor – the makers being very aware of the dynamics of the Doctor/Jo relationship.

BBC Wales Today (2:30) featured the location shoot in the Principality, beginning with mute footage and a news report of Pertwee opening a tourist centre at Parc Cwm Darran, at the same place where the mine where the serial was shot used to be.

“The Unquiet Dead” (23:09) is the fifth and last of the series of featurettes dealing with the show's afterlife in different media after its cancellation in 1989 and the abortive hope of the TV Movie in 1996. Russell T. Davies and the then BBC Controller of Drama Jane Tranter talk about how the show was reborn – a process of some six years, beginning with Davies becoming a writer to conjure with post Queer as Folk. There was also the intriguing prospect of a collaboration with SF/fantasy writer China Miéville, which Davies turned down in favour of reviving Who.

“What Katy Did Next” (5:40) was intended for the 2004 release, and was certified by the BBFC but was presumably squeezed off that single-disc release. This item begins with Frank Bough on Nationwide talking about her departure from Who and then goes on to feature clips from Serendipity This was the word that Jones says that gives a vital clue in The Green Death, but coincidentally the name of an arts-and-crafts show that Manning went on to present, an extract from which is presented here.

From what Katy did next to what Jo did rather later. In 2010, Manning returned as Jo Jones in “Death of the Doctor”, a two part story for The Sarah Jane Adventures written by Davies. This also featured, along with Elisabeth Sladen of course (the two women knew each other but had never acted together before), Matt Smith as Doctor Number Eleven. His own stories had yet to be broadcast so Davies was provided with early versions to help him write the character. The two episodes (26:25 and 26:14) appear on that show's DVD release, but they appear here as well, with either the original audio or a commentary track. This again features Davies and Manning, and the love-in continues, though Davies does get to talk about how this story came about and Manning is effusive about her co-stars. The story itself is fair enough. I've not been a watcher of this series, though there's a definite frisson in seeing older versions of Jo and Sarah Jane together. We find out what Jo has been doing since we last saw her (producing seven kids for one) and we are also filled in on the afterstory of several other past companions as well.

The extras are completed by a stills gallery (9:52) and Radio Times listings from the original broadcast and the Christmas omnibus repeat, with two letters responded to by Barry Letts. To a woman mourning the departure of Jo, Letts presciently suggests that Sarah Jane will be just as popular and as loved as companion. The Coming Soon trailer (0:55) is for The Ice Warriors.

There are two Easter Eggs. On the first menu screen on Disc Two, click left from “The One with the Maggots” to reveal original continuity announcements from the 1973 broadcast. It was BBC1 Colour back then (not just BBC1) and for some reason The Fugitive was often on BBC2 at the same time. We also see continuity announcements from a 1994 repeat run, and The Fugitive is often on the other side. The whole item runs 4:10 and ends with a plug for the BBC's Who video range, DVD being a blink in people's eyes back then. For the second Egg, go to the second menu screen and click left from “What Katy Did Next” and you get what appears to 41 seconds of an outtake from “Global Conspiracy”, of which one watch is more than enough.



out of 10

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