Five Hundred Eyes


"And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit."

-- Book of Revelation ch.9, v.2

Doctor Who "gets better and better with each story". Thus spake Jon Pertwee In 1970, his Doctor having just been voted fourth favourite character on television In a "Radio Times" poll. Looking at Inferno, the final story of Season 7, one sees what he was getting at: these seven episodes constitute some of the most utterly gripping Who ever produced. This is one of those all too rare stories which grab the unsuspecting viewer by the throat with part one and only release him, breathless and shaken, as the sights and sounds of the final instalment fade from the screen. Inferno is unquestionably the grimmest, most nightmarish Doctor Who serial - It Is to Doctor Who what Bruegel's "Triumph of Death" Is to painting, or Mahier's Sixth Symphony is to music.

In terms of plot Inferno continues the stark, downbeat documentary style of Its season predecessors (even in the more far-fetched parallel world episodes). The plan to tap the pockets of Stshlmann'5 Gas, "an Infinitely more powerful energy source" than North Sea Gas, by drilling down through the Earth's outer crust, Is plausible and carries conviction. There are clear echoes of 1970's "Doomwatch" series - the Idea of the ecological catastrophes caused by Man tampering with the forces of Nature. Certainly, Dr Quist and his top-secret Government department of Doomwatchers would have been of more use than the well-meaning but Ineffectual Ministry man Sir Keith Gold, whose anxieties about the Inferno ("There's something ominous about the whole project") are balanced by his pride In the technological achievement ("That's a drill-head, I assure you - the only one of Its kind in the world"),

Such, then, Is the hellish scenario: we have a top-secret scientific establishment, where a sophisticated drill-bit Is boring towards the Earth's core, and where the monomaniacal Project Director arrogantly treats advice as Interference and throws all safety procedures to the winds - In spite of the fact that the viscous green deposit brought up through Number Two Output Pipe turns those technicians who come into contact with It into drooling, rabid sub-humans fond of beating people to death with wrenches.

With such a set-up, It comes as no surprise to find that Inferno is possessed of an unbearably oppressive and doom-laden atmosphere. This sense of menace Is augmented In a number of ways, The choice of location for the exterior filming helps: an Industrial plant consisting of pipes, gantries, cooling towers and louring gasometers which Is suitably dark and satanic in appearance. This bleak, metallic landscape Is at Its most effective in the scenes of the Doctor prowling about the bristling network of high ladders and catwalks, the only sounds being his clanging footsteps, the shrieking wind and the growling of the mutating technician who suddenly springs out on him.

The atavistic, beat-dependent mutations are, in the first half of the story, particularly frightening, with their ugly, ape-like paws, green-stained faces and slavering mouths. The sound boys really excel with the array of snarls and squeals emitted by the "Primords". The effect producad by still-recognisable human beings uttering such alien, bestial noises Is genuinely disturbing and unsettling. Particularly good are the truly bone-chilling screeches the creatures make whenever one does the obligatory tumble form a gasometer. It Is a shame, then, that the "complete" mutated form, revealed in the later episodes, Is a bit of a let-down: the sight of a crowd of extras done up as humpbacked Lon Chaney Jnr. lookalikes, sporting pairs of joke-shop plastic fangs, doesn't carry quite the requisite conviction, and one sympathises with director Douglas Camfield's dismay on seeing the finished products. In the long build-up to "penetration-zero", an incredibly taut feeling of hopeless doom Is created, a sense of events moving inexorably towards a disastrous outcome, rough-hew them how the Doctor will. This tension is partly created by the large, dark control-area set, filled with white-coated, purposefully bustling technicians, the continuous rumble of the drill-head and the grating chatter of the computer banks. There Is also, needless to say, a digital countdown clock, though it is thankfully not too prominently displayed to be an obvious cliche.

Two other factors help to create this atmosphere. The first is the incidental music. No actual score was composed for this story; Indeed, saturation-level music would have almost certainly detracted from it. Instead, the "music" consists of ominous, "Snakedance"-lIke gongings, sinister metallic scrapings and the piercing tone which acts as the "Primord" motif, all of which work on an almost subconscious level, not thrusting themselves to the viewer's attention.

The second factor Is the dialogue. In the early episodes this is loaded with various dark hints. When Greg Sutton explains to Sir Keith that stopping the drill would mean having to totally abandon the bore, the latter mutters "That mightn't be a bad idea!" There are other, rather less subtle, examples:

SUTTON - "Twenty miles.' Well, you're liable to wake up Old Nick going that deep!" SIR KEITH - (laughing) "As a matter of fact, some of the technicians have nicknamed thIs place 'the Inferno'!"

SIR KEITH - "May I present Professor Eric Stahlmann, the instigator of the entire project ..." STAHLMANN - "The Instigator! You make It sound as If I'd perpetrated some crime against humanity!"

When the Doctor's unauthorized experiments with the Tardis console (how did he get It out of the Police Box doors?!) result In him being "slipped sideways" into a parallel dimension, things get even worse. The sequence of the grim-faced Doctor fleeing In Bessie, pursued throughout the Inferno complex by jack-beotod guards with pseudoswastika flashes on their caps, while kiaxons hoot continuously In the background, is brilliantly Imbued with a real sense of disorientation and fear. There follow the meetings with the various "counterparts" - Section leader Elizabeth Shaw, Platoon Under Leader Benton, Brigade Leader Lethbridgw-Stewart and so on - all of which are very well handled and build up the picture of the Doctor's alarmingly isolated position, suddenly surrounded on all sides by deadly enemies.

In the long term, however, the concept of the "parallel space-time continuum", in which Britain is a Fascist state, the Inferno a "scientific labour camp" and the Doctor's UNIT friends "oafs in uniform", was potentially a bad device to introduce Into the story. Although a clever and original way of expanding Don Houghton's initial script into the required seven-parter, this additional source of danger, grafted on to the already existing threat of the drilling and its side-effects, might have merely resulted in a general dissipation of menace, with neither threat working particularly well. That this does not happen is due to Houghton's very wise decision to play down the "Republican dictatorship" angle. In other words, the Brigade Leader and his RSF bullies, although they subject the Doctor to a brutal interrogation and threaten to have him shot, are not so much major sources of menace in themselves; rather, they simply increase the threat posed by the drilling, inasmuch as their authoritarian presenca makes the Doctor's chances of stopping or delaying penetration-zero that much more slim. The Brigadier and Liz were always prepared to listen to what the Doctor had to say; not so the Brigade Leader and Section Leader Shaw in the "bigoted world" that the console has dumped him in.

And sure enough, the worst duly happens, inaugurated by perhaps the best cliffhanger ever: as Stahlmann is about to shoot the cornered Doctor, the loudspeaker voice, counting down the last few seconds to penetration, reaches "one", the fatal digit being intoned over the flickering, blood-red diamond of the end title sequence. That must have had viewers back in 1970 tearing their hair in frustration that they had a whole week to wait before episode five. The scene is now set for Armageddon, and the next two episodes proceed to depict the unimaginable - the end of the (parallel) world, caused by the release of forces which have "lain dormant since the beginning of time". As mentioned above, the final form of the mutants is a disappointment, but such is the momentum of the production at this point that this is no more than a minor flaw. There is now a dramatic change in the atmosl:here, from darit, ominous tension to red-hot, smoky catastrophe. As the script calls for all hell to literally break loose, the effects boys rise to the challenge, with some absolutely superb model shots of a pillar of volcanic fire erupting from the drill-head area; yellow filters placed over the camera lenses to achieve a "heat-glare" effect in the open; and first-rate CSO shots of flowing molten lava.

In these later episodes, the tension now lies in certain specific scenes, such as that of the Doctor, Sutton, et al, trapped in the Brigade Leader's cramped office while a pack of mutants mill about outside, one eventually smashing its arm through the window into the doer. The scenes of Petra Williams desperately trying to connect the nuclear reactor a power to the Tardis console are also highly-charged, with Petra, near breaking-point and close to tears, being bullied by the hysterical Brigade Leader, and making mistakes in her rewiring; add to this two attacks by the Stahlmann "Pritnord", together with the ever-present knowledge that time is quickly running out, and the tension is almost unbearable.

What really makes moments such as these work, however, is the acting. No amount of taut plotting and impressive special effects will convince if the acting is below par. Inferno is blessed with some excellent actors playing a number of extremely well-drawn characters, and it is these performances which make the end of the world scenario so believable for the viewer.

As far as the regular cast are concerned, there is a noticeable increase in the humanity and warmth of Brigadier Lethbridgw-Stewart (he even calls Miss Shaw "Liz" on one occasion!), which, apart from being a nice development in Itself, is vital for this story in particular, in order to achieve the necessary contrast with the Brigade Leader's sneering, brittle arrogance. The Doctor might insultingly remark that "Brigadier, there are times when you strongly remind me of your other self!" but this comment would be more apposite in respect of this season's other stories. Sergeant Benton has also Improved and is now something rather more three-dimensional than the colourless cipher glimpsed now and then in Ambassadors of Death. Caroline John's performance, meanwhile, makes it all the more sadder that this is Liz Shaw's last story. Definitely one of the better and more mature companions in the show's history, Liz here seems to be developing a closer, more affectionate bond with the Doctor, hopefully hanging around his hut after his sudden disapi:aarance; even in the parallel world, the Section Leader seems unwilling to have the mysterious, eccentric intruder summarily executed. For his part, the Doctor's anti-establishment resentment of authority in general and the military in particular is especially relevant once his friends from UNIT become his RSF tormentors. For the first time, the Doctor becomes an "action man", with the notorious "Venusian karate" making its debut - again, a natural development once his position vis a vis the establishment suddenly became less cosy and secure.

Of the supporting cast, Christopher Benjamin, later to return as H.G. Jago, Is in fine form as the pompous but likeable Sir Keith Gold, while Derek "Za" Newark is good as the oilman Greg Sutton, whose initial creepish macho posturing ("How do you do?" "All the better for seeing you, Petrel") is gradually replaced, particularly in the alternative dimension, by a gentler, more sensitive attitude towards Sheila Dunn's Petra Williams. It's a nice touch to let the two have the "happy ending" in this world that was denied them in the other, doomed one.

The best of the supporting cast, though, is the Project Director, Professor Eric Stahlmann. Olaf Pooley is absolutely marvellous as the obsessed scientist, "an opinionated oaf" with an inexhaustible stock of cutting remarks (poor old Benton is unflatteringly described as one of the Brigadier's "ape-like minions"), and whose mule-headed refusal to slow down the dangerous pace of his beloved project becomes something more sinister once he has been infected by the green slime from the Earth's core. Stahlmann always gives the impression of being dangerously close to madness, manic and twitching, ready to erupt In rage at the slightest provocation; it comes as little surprise that his association with the Doctor is an explosive one, consisting largely of swapping insults: DOCTOR - "Our liver playing us up again this morning, Is It, Professor?"

Stahimann's character Is much the same in the parallel world, although he Is a far more dangerous man now that he has the Brigade-Leader's "tin soldiers" as a ready supply of armed thuggery with which to enforce his will - he Is not so easily made a fool of by the Doctor. In fact, If I have any real critclsm of Don Houghton's script It is that he doesn't really take advantage of the opportunity that seven episodes offer him to expand on Stahlmann, perhaps by gIving him a more sympathetic side to his character and some background history, as Terrance Dicks does In his novelisatlon.

With such a strong cast there was no way Inferno could not succeed, and succeed it does - magnificently. Of all the seven-parters of this season, Inferno Is perhaps the most Immediate in its appeal in that, quite apart from the acting, it has very few slow patches, is simply the most striking in terms of visual appearance, and has easily the most dramatic scenario and tightest plotting. I would argue that the atmosphere of Ambassadors of Death is more effective In the long run, bet there is no denying that Inferno rounds off this season of classics splendidly. Barry Letta, with this Doctor Who story, the first he was involved with as producer from Its Inception, had proved himself to be more than worthy of the Bryant/Sherwin team's legacy to the show. Indeed, the fact that Letts was capable of producing a story like Inferno makes it an even greater pity that he chose to tone down the more adult elements of the 1970 season from Terror of the Autons onwards ...

While I would still maintaIn that there was a greater stylistic break between Season 6 and 7 than between 7 and 8, it Is true that Pertwee's debut season has a character all of Its own, one which Is frustratingly difficult to define or describe. In my review of Spearhead from Space I argued that the story's effectIveness stemmed largely from the Incongruity Inherent In the contrast between the documentary-style realism and the underlying sense of "wrongness". This dichotomy is perhaps part of the key to the effectiveness of the seventh season as a whole: something alien and disturbing would be introduced Into a carefully built-up picture of normality. This was hardly new to Doctor Who, of course - The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The War Machines and The Invasion had all used similar techniques. But the point about Season 7, what raised It above these examples and also above the Pertwee stories that followed, was that the "alien" wasn't In the heavy-handed form of Daleks or Cybermen patrolling London. Instead It would be something more "weird" and bizarre, something quite small-scale: taIIor's dummies suddenly coming to life in a high street; dinosaurs In Derbyshire; sinister, silent astronauts stalking the countryside; and horrible mutations among the personnel at an industrial establishment. It goes one stage further: the presence of the "alien" elements somehow affects the audience's perception of the "normal" elements, with the result that the most innocuous scenes of "normality" seem to have vague, ominous undercurrents to them. Perhaps only Troughton's The Faceless Ones or Fury from the Deep (or, for that matter, part one of An Unearthly Child) had a similar atmosphere. Thus, Season 7 has a peculiarly harsh and "dark" feel to It, in contrast to Its rather garish strip-cartoon successor.

The second strand which ran through this season was the essentially dramatic nature of the stories. The alien element, effective though It was In Itself, was merely a peg on which to hang the true essence of good drama - the depiction of human emotions and relatIonshIps. The excitement of a Season 7 story ultimately comes less from the fright of alien-meets-normality, and more from the reactions of the human protagonists to this incongruity. Spearhead is probably the weakest example, In that the "alien Invasion" theme tends to take precedence, whereas a story like Inferno Is not really about primordial mutations In southern England - it Is about a group of human beings with very strong characters being placed under conditions of Intolerable pressure, and about the conflicts and Interactions among them thus caused.

In both these respects, alien IncongruIty and human emotional responses, the team largely responsible for the conception of Season 7, Peter Bryant, Derrick Sherwin and Terrance Dicks, were beIng faithful to their declared Intent to reshape Doctor Who in the style of the anything-\but-cosy Quatermass serials of the late 50s and early 60s. The result was a maturity arguably not reached again In the series until Philip Hlnchcliffe and Robert Holmes Implemented their policy of having powerful character actors playing scenes Involving Intense emotional anguish and cruelty; and that such quality could be achieved In 1969/70, during such a state of flux in production team members, was nothing less than astonishing. In short, much as I enjoyed the "Jo Grant/Mike Yates/Master" stories,

I believe that tbe "Liz Shaw" season was Pertwee's strongest by far. I don't want to start mindlessly slagging off Who as it is today, and I am certainly not advocating a fidel return to the style of the Pertwee or Hinobdiffe ymr but tiw eai,, staleness and incoherence of the genery and ti ~ 33 like else just bow vibrant, fresh and vi bland gaes ~~~~~~~ ~~ t,,Ing erg of their energy and twb18flntg wI,o wth;veryf respect, a drama programme, a programme which reeeated It. t Ion with each successive story.

Let's hope we can get back to that attItude and the high ratings that went with it, before the guttering flame tbat Doctor Who now appears to be goes out for the last time.

"... the time is ripe for a change. I mt to ImId tb. programme aloi the lines of t oter aerlala which I found so comI'alling. I want to e-Itull the oDwoapt of having things hpen down on Eah, people with everyday lives coming up against the unknown."

- Derrick Sherwin

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