Thursday, August 22, 2013

Doctor Who: The Green Death Special Edition DVD review

Though “The Green Death” wasn’t the end of the Jon Pertwee/Barry Letts era of Doctor Who, it was most definitely an end. An entire story was crafted around the wing spreading, falling in love, and exit of Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, and it hung its heart so slavishly on its sleeve that even though it wasn’t the first time the show had done something of this ilk (Susan in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”), it sure felt like it. While “The Green Death” may not be the pinnacle of the Pertwee era, surely it’s in his Top Five stories, and as such is more than deserving of some double-dip, special edition love, of which theres plenty to be found on this two-disc set.

With Jo Grant leading the charge, the Doctor and UNIT head to the Welsh coal mining village of Llanfairfach, where a miner has died in an accident – his dead body glowing bright green. The nearby Global Chemicals plead ignorance while promising a rich, oil-driven future for planet Earth. But dashing Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan, Manning’s real life beau at the time) and his band of hippie genius followers have plenty to say on all matters global, chemical and fungal. Meanwhile, something else is stirring below the planet’s surface – something more horrific than anyone is even aware, and behind the scenes at Global Chemicals, there’s the mysterious, possibly maniacal BOSS…

Affectionately known by many as “the one with the maggots,” “The Green Death” is so much more than that – though the fact that it’s known as such does speak to how creepily brought to life the nasty critters are. Aside from being a smashing, character-driven love story, “The Green Death” is also an ecological wake up call and a taking to task of the corporate mentality – aspects of it that, while occasionally dated from an execution standpoint, remain as timely as ever in this Monsanto/Koch Brothers-driven climate of fear and paranoia. More so than any other of the series, the Barry Letts era often ruminated on important issues and issued corporate indictments while telling its thrilling action adventure stories, and I’m not sure that any of them conveyed such messages as eloquently as “The Green Death.” Much cinematic sci-fi of the early seventies (Soylent Green, Silent Running) went down similar roads, so it’s entirely fitting that Doctor Who was doing the same.

Does it have minuses? Sure. There are numerous instances of terrible CSO work – stuff that to my eyes could easily have been avoided, but then I’m no expert on the ins and outs of this serial’s production schedule. The flying critters that the maggots morph into in episode six are not terribly convincing. The actor (Tony Adams) playing the rather prominent role of Elgin fell sick somewhere after recording episode four, leaving the production in a lurch. They were forced to create a new character for episode five to take his place, giving Elgin an unfinished story arc, and emphasis placed on a different character we’ve nothing invested in.

Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan
But none of those things even come close to taking away from the heartfelt story of a young girl who once upon a time met a brilliant scientist that whisked her away to distant worlds – a young girl who eventually grew up and fell for another brilliant scientist that offered to take her on a whole new set of adventures, including marriage - all while her mentor slips away quietly into the night. Yes, Jo Grant grew up, and so did Doctor Who and us, right along with her. “The Green Death” is truly a “very special episode” of Doctor Who, and now it exists in a very special edition. Read on… 

DVD Extras: Everything from the previous edition – such as the commentary track with Manning, Letts and Terrance Dicks, and the faux-doc “Global Conspiracy!” starring the increasingly ubiquitous Mark Gatiss – have been ported over. A new, proper making-of entitled (of course) “The One With the Maggots” is a loving look back, featuring all manner of cast and crew. A short bit entitled “Wales Today” consists of some silent location footage from “The Green Death,” as well as a news report about Pertwee returning to the location in Wales 20 years later. “What Katy Did Next is a brief news report on her leaving the show, as well as a clip from an arts and crafts program she hosted after leaving Who called SerendipityAnother installment of “Doctor Forever!” focuses entirely on the attempts of Russell T. Davies and then BBC Controller of Drama Jane Tranter to bring Doctor Who back from the dead, as seen through their eyes. A fascinating story this one is. You’ll be amazed the revival got off the ground at all, given the sheer amount of negativity that surrounded them.

Death of the Doctor
Speaking of Davies – all hail RTD! Not only are both episodes of the Season Four Sarah Jane Adventures story “Death of the Doctor,” guest starring Matt Smith & Katy Manning and written by RTD, on here, but RTD and Manning recorded commentary tracks for both – as well as for “The Green Death” episode six! So, yes, for nearly 90 minutes you get to listen to the pair of them gab, and the love and emotion and the stories and the utterly riotous laughter they share are all just so bloody infectious; it’s well worth the upgrade for these three tracks alone. And, yes, there’s plenty of talk about Elisabeth Sladen. Might want to keep a box of tissues handy…“Death of the Doctor” is an outstanding post-script to the story of Jo Grant, and its inclusion here is not only appreciated, but perhaps also warranted.

Richard Franklin and Jon Pertwee - you gotta see this!
Further, there are more new commentary tracks on episodes three, four and five of “The Green Death” featuring Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), actress Mitzi McKenzie (who plays Nancy), and visual effects designer Colin Mapson, all moderated by Toby Hadoke, who clearly at this point has one of the coolest jobs on the planet. There are also Radio Times listings in PDF form, a slighty longer photo gallery, and a coming soon trailer for next month’s release of “The Ice Warriors.”