Doctor Who – Inferno Special Edition DVD review

A classic Doctor Who story gets another re-release. But is this newly-minted Inferno DVD a worthy purchase? Andrew takes a look...

The main reason for buying this re-release of Pertwee-era serial Inferno is its improved picture quality. It’s instantly noticeable when compared with the 2006 release, and makes the film and video transitions less jarring. It is so sharp that it could be mistaken for the Third Doctor’s dress sense, although he gets somewhat rumpled in this one.

Inferno, for a seven-parter, largely manages to avoid feeling padded. Season seven had its production schedule imposed on it by the outgoing Troughton-era team; the new regime of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were concerned that the two seven-parters scheduled might drag on a bit, and came up with sub-plots that could keep the momentum going and re-energise the narrative. In Inferno’s case, this resulted in a parallel universe concept that turned out to be the most memorable aspect of an already gripping scenario.

As part of the Quatermassisation of Doctor Who (a phrase you will never read again, and with good reason), we are on Earth at an advanced scientific project. Like Doctor Who And The Silurians, something underground is being disturbed. Unlike Doctor Who And The Silurians, it’s a very insidious form of primordial terror. Best of all, it comes complete with a monster exacerbated by physical viral transference. In other words, you can very easily play at being Primords in the comfort of your own playground by roaring like a wounded volcano and turning Tig into a ‘You’re turning into a big green angry dog’ style apocalypse. Green gunk and false teeth are optional.

Behind this lurks good ol’ hubris, as Professor Stahlman’s stubborn refusal to not be a massive pranny keeps Operation Mole-Bore teetering on the brink of disaster. Aiming to find a layer of gas beneath the Earth’s crust to improve the country’s energy supplies (based on a real-life project) he is drilling into the planet and unleashing the forces that dwell there, forces the Doctor compares to the eruption of Krakatoa. Meanwhile, the Doctor is siphoning off energy from the project to his own little experiment as he tries to get the TARDIS working again. After the initial setup of mutations and narrowly thwarted disaster, the story moves to a parallel dimension where events are happening slightly faster, possibly due to the totalitarian regime in power there.

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That’s right. The ‘Evil version of everyone’ dimension. Even Benton. And no one has a goatee. In fact, Professor Stahlman loses his beard in the evil dimension. As the production notes point out, there are a lot of thoughtful touches throughout, right down to set dressing and the amount of tan one character has in different dimensions. What results is brilliantly tense: the Doctor has arrived somewhere too late, so we see what could happen in our reality if the Doctor doesn’t escape the other.

Don Houghton’s script is full of convincing minor characters, and Director Dougie Camfield casts them all well. The regulars are clearly having fun with their evil counterparts, but not to the point of moustache twirling. The scenes set in the project control room benefit from excellent sound design, and there is some excellent editing for the violent scenes (cutting away to leave the really horrible bits to your imagination) especially for 1970. It really is very well made indeed, with only one transformation sequence failing to hold up.

If I had to make a criticism, it’s that Inferno could probably afford to cut out some repetitive chase sequences, but these result in some superlative and record breaking stunt work. Thanks to the bonus dimension, this time it makes sense to see the same actor dying twice in a Pertwee story.

Despite it being almost three hours long, Inferno is gripping enough to watch in one sitting. In terms of eking out tension, parts three to six are among the greatest in the show’s history, and what a way to end a series. After this, Letts and Dicks took the show in a different direction away from the Quatermassisation stylings.

Season seven might be an anomaly in terms of tone and style, but what a great anomaly it is.

Extras

Doctor Forever! focuses on the off-air era of 1989 to 1996, and the soul-destroying insanity of the early nineties, as fans veered from crushing disappointment to crushing disappointment. For every instance of fandom becoming militant there’s another of the BBC performing a banally Orwellian nad-punching exercise. It manages to maintain the balance between light-hearted talking head interviews and interesting new facts until it covers the TV movie, then seems to skip over the following nine years in approximately three minutes.

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Hadoke Meets Havoc is very confident in its tone and presentation style. On top of being a one-man-IMDb, Hadoke seems a natural interviewer (possibly helped by his DVD commentary moderation and years of stand-up), and fulfils the ‘Justin Lee-Collins on a quest’ role very well. Crucially, he is also not Justin Lee-Collins, which improves the concept tenfold.

Under the aegis of ‘Getting the HAVOC boys back together’, Hadoke interviews the stunt team about their craft and their work on Doctor Who. While HAVOC have been interviewed before on DVDs, this follows on from Hadoke’s interview feature on the re-re-release of Resurrection Of The Daleks by giving time and space to all the surviving members to talk about their careers.

These, however, are the only new features compared to 2006, and while enjoyable, they aren’t necessarily essential (although I’m sure the HAVOC feature will be actively sought out by some). Fortunately, the original release has many highlights in its bonus features. Inferno’s troubled production, with director Douglas Camfield falling ill and the parallel universe subplot being added to stop the story flagging, makes for a satisfying making-of feature, Can You Hear The Earth Scream?

Then we have the commentary, a good-natured natter between the legends that are Nicholas Courtney, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, interspersed with the thoughts of the lone Benton. John Levene’s mind given free reign to wander is a Marmite experience (it’s a love/hate thing. Also it’s spreadable), but you can’t deny he’s putting on a unique show.

We also have a 60-second trailer for the next DVD release. It’s ludicrously exciting, though I have a suspicion that the makers of these could make one minute of well-edited footage of eggs into a heady adrenalin rush (if they so desired). On top of this we have the existing extras including a deleted scene, The UNIT Family feature, the introduction to The Pertwee Years VHS and a BBC visual effects promo.

It’s a good package, to be sure, but then again it was seven years ago. Does anyone fancy an egg?

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Doctor Who – Inferno Special Edition is out on the 27th May.

Rating:

4 out of 5