Welcome to the forty-third instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to review all available episodes of TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, we bid a fond farewell to Jo Grant in The Green Death.
The Green Death
19 May – 23 June 1973 (6 Episodes)
Having returned to UNIT on Earth, the Doctor is making repairs to the TARDIS in preparation for his journey to Metebelis Three. While he works, Jo reads a newspaper article about the mysterious death of a miner in an abandoned coal mine in Llanfairfach in southern Wales. The miner was infected by something in the mines and his body was glowing green when discovered.
Jo also reads about the Nobel Prize winning Professor Clifford James, an environmentalist and protestor working in the area. James is protesting the recently opened Global Chemicals oil plant near the abandoned mine. The head of the Global Chemicals plant, Stevens, claims that the facility can produce greater quantities of petrol and diesel from crude oil with zero waste. James’ counter-claim is that the process creates thousands of gallons of waste, and even believes the efforts of Global Chemicals are linked with the miner’s death.
Jo decides to head to Wales to join James’ protests. His group is working from a retreat called Wholeweal (nicknamed “the Nuthatch” by the locals), a self-sustaining scientific commune. Fortunately, the Brigadier is also heading to the area to investigate the miner’s death. The Doctor agrees to help, but only after he has visited Metebelis Three. He cannot convince Jo to join him, so they part ways.
While the Brigadier investigates Global Chemicals, Jo visits the Nuthatch and meets with James, a handsome young scientist who she is soon drawn to. However, he is focused on his work, so she decides to explore the shaft where the miner was killed.
Meanwhile, the Doctor finally reaches Metebelis Three. However, it is not the paradise he envisioned and he barely escapes with his life, returning to UNIT HQ with only a blue crystal to show for his efforts. He heads to Wales, joining the Brigadier at Global Chemicals. They meet with Stevens, then decide to head down into the mine shaft. Stevens tries to talk them out of it but fails, so he sends his henchman Hinks to stop them from entering the mine.
Arriving before the Doctor, Jo and one of the miners, Bert, head down into the shaft. The Brigadier and the Doctor arrive and decide to head down after her, but the mine’s transport system has been sabotaged by Hinks. Jo and the miner become trapped below and begin searching for a means of escape, but Bert becomes infected with the deadly “Green Death.”
Checking the equipment, The Doctor determines that the need to cut the mineshaft cables to get the cages working again. They try to borrow cutting equipment from Global Chemicals but are given the run around. Professor Jones becomes involved and together he and the Doctor attempt to break into Global Chemicals to steal the facility’s equipment, but the attempt fails. Fortunately, the Brigadier secures some equipment from another source and they fix the cables, descending into the mine.
The Doctor manages to find Jo and her infected companion. Deep in the mineshaft, they find a vast lake of glowing green slime filled with giant maggot creatures. Unable to return the way they came due to a cave-in, they take a maggot egg and escape via a natural shaft. In the shaft they find Global Chemicals pipes pumping waste into the mineshaft, waste that is clearly responsible for the giant maggots.
The Doctor and Jo escape into the basement levels of Global Chemicals, where they discover that there is more going on in the plant than meets the eye. Steven’s appears to be using strange devices to control the minds of his employees, even ordering an employee to commit suicide.
The Doctor and Jo return to the Nuthatch and are re-united with Professor James and the Brigadier. They rest for the evening, and Jo and the Professor continue to bond. Jo is clearly falling for Jones. However, Stevens has sent his henchman Hinks to steal the egg the Doctor brought back. During the attempted theft, the egg hatches and a maggot attacks Hinks, infecting him.
The next morning, the Brigadier orders the destruction of the mine pithead, hoping to trap the maggots. Instead, the explosions bring the creatures to the surface through the Global Chemicals disposal pipes and a nearby slagheap.
Seeking answers, the Doctor infiltrates Global Chemicals and learns that the Brigadier has a man on the inside; Captain Mike Yates masquerading as a government official. Together, they learn that Stevens is controlled a megalomaniacal sentient supercomputer known as the B.O.S.S. (Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor). B.O.S.S. runs Global Chemicals and is programmed with maximising profits.
Unfortunately, they’re both captured. B.O.S.S. attempts to mind control the Doctor but fails, and the Doctor manages to escape. The super-computer then takes control of Captain Yates and sends him to kill the Doctor. Fortunately, The Doctor is able to use the crystal from Metebelis Three to hypnotise Yates and undo the mind control.
Meanwhile, Professor Jones attempts to find a cure to the green infection, but is struggling because he doesn’t have a live maggot to work with. Jo attempts to help, but only manages to ruin one of his experiments. Determined to make amends, she heads to the slagheap to capture one of the creatures.
Barely noticing she has left, Jones checks the ruined experiment and finds that Jo has accidentally stumbled upon the cure, as fungus she spilt on slides of the green slime have actually killed the samples. Reading a note Jo has left him about her whereabouts, he heads to the slagheap to find her.
Unfortunately, the Brigadier has ordered the RAF to bomb the area, hoping to destroy the maggots. Jo and the Professor are caught in the bombing and Jones becomes infected with the green death. Jo manages to contact UNIT via radio and the Doctor and Sargent Benton rescue them.
Taking Jones back to the Nuthatch, the Doctor and his companions continue the search for a means of combating the maggots. By deciphering Jones’ ramblings, they learn of the fungus the professor had developed. They use the fungus to cure Jones and destroy the maggots infecting the slag heap.
Returning to Global Chemicals, the Doctor confronts the B.O.S.S. and Stevens. Using the Metebilis Three crystal, he manages to free Stevens from the computer’s control. Furious over what the B.O.S.S. has done to him, Stevens causes the generator circuits on the computer to overload, destroying the entire facility. The Doctor manages to escape.
With the B.O.S.S. defeated, the UNIT team and the Professor Jones’ people celebrate at the Nuthatch. During the celebrations, the Professor announces that he and Jo are getting married. Despite being clearly upset over her departure, The Doctor gives Jo his blessings and offers her the blue crystal as a wedding gift. As the party continues, he quietly leaves, driving off in to the sunset in Bessie.
If the sole purpose of The Green Death was to tell a compelling, original Doctor Who story, it would rank fairly lowly. It is, for the most part, a standard UNIT-based story from this period, complete with action, pseudo-science, evil computers and a good dose of social commentary (this time about environmental and corporate pollution concerns). The villains are unoriginal and relatively two-dimensional and the plot follows the formula established over the past few seasons with very little variation.
However, the real purpose of The Green Death is to give Jo Grant a poignant send-off, and in this regard the story succeeds tremendously. Jo’s departure is genuinely moving, highlighting the strong emotional connection that has formed between her and the Doctor over the past three seasons. It’s clear right from the first episode that Jo is leaving, and everything that occurs from that point onwards is designed to highlight all of the qualities that have made Jo such a strong companion.
The final scene of The Green Death is particularly touching, as the Doctor bids a sad farewell to Jo and drives off into the sunset. This feels like the end of an era, and in many ways it is. Jon Pertwee, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks were moving on, although they all agreed to stay for another season to allow for a smooth transition to the new production team. Not long after the broadcast of The Green Death, actor Roger Delgado, whose performance as The Master was one of the genuine highlights of the Pertwee-era, was killed. While the Pertwee era would last for one more season, it would not reach the heights of the previous 3 seasons.
THE COMPANIONS – MY THOUGHTS ON JO GRANT
When Jo Grant first appeared, I wasn’t sold on her as a companion. In my review for Terror of the Autons, I wrote that:
She shows signs in Terror if a slightly adventurous and rebellious streak, a willingness to challenge the Doctor and not simply follow his lead…adding a certain dynamic to their relationship that wasn’t present with Liz and many of the past companions…there’s some positive signs there but not enough just yet.
It’s interesting looking back and seeing just how much Jo has developed as a character since those early episodes. The promise that she showed in her first few appearances became fully realised as the series progressed and Jo developed into a strong-willed, independent and capable assistant. More importantly, Jo formed the emotional core of the series, comparable with the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan or Jamie and Zoe from the Patrick Troughton era.
Interestingly, Katy Manning almost missed out on getting the role. According to Barry Letts:
I saw about sixty girls…Katy Manning was the last girl to arrive, resembling a nervous sparrow, puffing away at cigarette after cigarette and absolutely covered in rings. I told her it was far, far too late, but she begged to be allowed to do it, so I agreed, thinking that she certainly seemed worth it.
Thankfully, she was given the role, as the incredible chemistry between her and Jon Pertwee is a major part of what makes this era of Doctor Who so memorable, and her departure so moving.
The Green Death has an incredible emotional resonance that elevates it’s rather pedestrian storyline to something greater than it otherwise would have been and gives Jo Grant a fitting send-off.
We begin Jon Pertwee’s final season of Doctor Who with the introduction of Sarah-Jane Smith in The Time Warrior.