DOCTOR WHO – Inferno. Episode 2

Previously in Eastchester.

Episode 1 showcased the parallel, or should I say mirroring, themes of ‘Inferno’. I thought that it might be one of the weakest episodes of the serial, by its own exceptionally high standards. So what could episode 2 offer?

Let’s find out.

EPISODE ANALYSIS

The first three minutes of this episode does not hang around. The reprise is literally a few seconds long. Immediately after, the phone starts ringing in the reactor switch room, and there is an absolute corker of a crash zoom on Slocum, as he is freaked out by the sound.

I must confess to always marvelling at these types of crash zooms. Of course, it’s part of the grammar of the end of an episode, but some, like the “You can’t depend on anyone can you, Mr. Yates?” moment in ‘The Green Death, takes some seriously good technique.

During these early minutes, we are switching between two situations. There’s the attempts to settle the situation at central control, and the events in the switch room. It’s giving the episode extra urgency as we see how each situation impacts on the other; the attempt to reduce the power at the reactor, and the need to get someone to answer the damn phone.

Private Wyatt (who I’m sure has been shot a million times in season seven already) falls foul of Slocum’s apparent invincibility. Once again it’s a little step up in terms of aggression and violence.

As Derek Ware and Walter Randall grapple with each other, I’m reminded how ‘Inferno’ has so many connections to those early years of Doctor Who. There is the final appearance of the TARDIS console, the link with Camfield as production assistant of the very first story, and the appearance of Derek Newark. But it is seeing Ware and Randall together that is the greatest connection between ‘Inferno’ and the black and white era – together they have appeared so often. From Egypt to Eastchester, these two have seen it all!

Poor old Slocum. I did feel for him actually. There did seem to be a hint of him trying to resist the power of the goo, particularly as he ramped up the power in episode one. And I won’t comment on the scorched wall/clothing thing, as frankly, it never mattered to me in all the years I grew up watching it.

Finally, the incessant (aptly for Inferno) sound effect of the phone is dealt with. It’s interesting to hear of a brief argument between Pertwee and Camfield about the positioning of the star in this shot. I understand Pertwee’s concerns about how unnatural it appeared to be, as he has to switch hands quickly to slam the phone down. But I have to say, I think Camfield got this one right. I always felt it worked, and give us a better chance of seeing the phone where it belongs – on the receiver.

Mind you Pertwee does look mightily peeved. Perhaps it was all a ploy by Camfield to help the star find the right motivation when responding to Stahlman’s less than charming enquiry.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sutton has wasted no time in ingratiating himself with the workers, with a joke about Turkish Baths. As mentioned in the previous episode, humour doesn’t sit comfortably in ‘Inferno’. But I’m glad to say my po-faced expression was wiped off my face within seconds, as he starts arguing with Stahlman – just the way it should be.

A quick stop off now, to check in on the two supporting artistes prominently featured in this scene. ‘Inferno’ has a pleasing mix of extras from differing ethnicities, and tellingly, a distinct lack of, on the fascistic parallel world.

Bertie Green has a good smattering of credits, culminating with a small speaking role in The Bill ‘The Old Pal’s Act’ in 1997.

Meanwhile Richard Lawrence, who is mopping his face with the hankie, pops up in many other Doctor Who’s and two episodes of Doomwatch.

Back in the switch room, events are starting to take a menacing turn, establishing a key threat of the serial. The Brig and Doc note Wyatt and Bromley slumped against the wall. Bromley might be unconscious, but I remember watching this shot for the first time, and thinking that he’ll be active soon enough.

But it’s Wyatt that is the centrepiece of the next few minutes. The change of behaviour that we previously saw in Slocum is happening again, and it is unnerving – the slight twitching of Derek Ware’s mouth as Camfield goes in for another kick-ass close up, is really nicely done.

We cut to film, and a scene that often seems to be commented upon over the years. It’s atmospheric and nicely framed. The moment where The Doctor announces “I have” with another lovely close up, gives the discussion added gravitas.

Nicholas Courtney once talked about how he and Pertwee – after a cautious start – solidified their working relationship on this location shoot. And it does come across on screen. Look at the way Courtney delivers the Brigadier’s lines, fixed on the Doctor, rationalising the situation in his own mind, while simultaneously seeking answers. It’s the first time (I can think of) where he has purposefully taken the Doctor away from everything to try to get to the bottom of things.

Benton interrupts the party, to announce that Wyatt and ‘the technician’ have disappeared. I note that the name ‘Bromley’ is never mentioned in the dialogue, so I suppose the decision for him to be identified as nothing other than a technician makes sense. Benton arriving also marks the point in ‘Inferno’ where mystery gives way to menace.

Within seconds, Pertwee is on the move, trying to control his vertigo, while Camfield treats us to some lovely shots as The Doctor pursues Wyatt across the walkways. Apart from one single shot where The Doctor is moving along a long platform, with his hand tight on the railings, Pertwee is totally convincing.

As is often the case in ‘Inferno’, you can chase and pursue all you like, but when you end up in a confined space – a pokey switch room, a gantry, a security cell – suddenly the pursuer becomes the pursued.

And so we have the first ‘signature’ scene of Inferno. The Doctor Vs Primord in a confined space – proper behind the sofa material. Once more, Pertwee is convincing, but again it is the body language of the proto-Primords that is the selling point – in this case Wyatt suddenly turns modern weaponry into primitive club, and the one-leg-on-the-pipe pose just before he jumps onto the ledge is chilling.

And as Derek Ware falls out of shot, and we see a dramatic overhead shot of Wyatt’s prone body on the floor, I’m thinking that Camfield must be loving the opportunities offered by this location.

As I’m sure we all know, the location in question is the former Berry Wiggins site, now known as ‘Kingsnorth Industrial Estate’. Bits of it are long gone, but other bits can still be found. For those who like this kind of thing, check out the Doctor Who locations page, or for something more recent, a collection of photos from the British Film Location Spotters facebook group – album 1album 2. Or you can check out my attempt to locate the locations from a few years back.

My earlier hunch was correct. Bromley is seen again. In the excellent ‘About Time’ guide, Tat Wood notes how this scene is so similar to the hapless civil servant, Ward, stumbling out of the dome in the Quatermass II episode ‘The Food’ (BBC, 1955). And it’s true.

There is a happy gathering around the green goo. Like the Primords, I’m enjoying the mystery around the substance. I don’t always want answers to everything. Once again I digressed for a moment, looking at the history of Swarfega, the gelatinous green cleaning product, that was always a firm favourite of both the Visual Effects Department, and the Radiophonic Workshop. I was interested to discover that it was created in the late 1940’s by a company set up to extend the life of silk, and later nylon stockings. As Greg Sutton once said, “You learn something new every day!

Minutes later, Stahlman’s arrogance becomes his eventual death sentence, as he picks up the canister and a glob of ooze ends up on his hand. It’s a curious scene, and makes me ask questions of whether the Doctor, or indeed anyone else has put two and two together, to find a way to isolating Stahlman in some form. Perhaps there’s an arrogance to the Doctor too, who might see it as a chance to see the project change direction, or ultimately cease. Whatever the motivation, the reaction to Stahlman’s infection doesn’t suit where we are in the story – I was expecting something more.

But it does give us another chance for Petra to be the link to the audience, through concerned and questioning facial expressions. It’s subtly done, but important, and might be the highlight of Shelia Dunn’s performance. (Just to be clear, that is a complement).

Petra asks for Mr. Phillips to join her for a conflab. It’s rare for a supporting artiste to be given a character name. I wonder if the artiste in question, Alan Clements, got an extra fee for the pleasure. I’m certainly enjoying his slightly quizzical expression. Clements appeared in a handful of productions including ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’.  But, in terms of quizzical expressions, it is a brief moment as a medical student, in the factual drama ‘Microbes and Men’ BBC 1974, that is the stand out. 

‘Inferno’ moves along at such a pace, that the infrequent moments it draws breath, really stand out. The first such moment, is as Stahlman sneaks into the office to smash up the micro-circuit. Of course, the scene is memorable for the use of Delia Derbyshire’s depiction of the Tuaregs crossing the shimmering desert – ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’, but also I love the professor’s edgy, aggressive mannerisms, suggesting the infection is starting to take hold.

The Venusian ‘ooja’ (one of Benton’s greatest legacies, alongside tea, and actual Pterodactyls) gets, I think, its first outing. It’s another suggestion that, while ‘Inferno’ might be one of Pertwee’s most intense performances, slightly unlike anything else, it also contains the seeds of all his quirks and foibles that we know and love.

The Doctor is moving into 100% manipulative mode now, as Liz makes the lonely walk back to central control. And as she passes, we are given a timely reminder that Bromley is still at large. And it’s an important reminder, as the technician will be a constant menace throughout the entirety of the serial. We’ll be keeping a close eye on him/it as we go along.

But look at the Doctor! He’s smiling with glee. This might be the darkest portrayal we have seen for some time, maybe since the very first story. The sound effect (by David Vorhaus) that accompanies the build up is sinister too.

And it’s a smile that disappears alongside Bessie and the TARDIS console. I’m interested about the realities of the console, and its connection to the rest of the TARDIS. I like the fact that it has never been explained how and why it was taken out of the ‘Police Box’. And may it never be explained, on-screen at least.

It’s a great cliffhanger, and I like that fact that the viewer, at this point, will have no knowledge of the parallel universe ahead of him. My mind was also thinking of the poor lackeys who would have been assigned to transport all the Doctor’s books, belongings and apparatus to the Doctor’s hut. I thought he always liked to travel light?

EPISODE VERDICT

Based on reviews I have read, episode 2 of ‘Inferno’ is often described as one of the lesser instalments. But for me, it might be one of the very best. It’s the episode that starts to move away from establishing mystery, towards outright menace – something at the heart of this Doctor Who serial. Many stories contain menace, but ‘Inferno’ is thick with it. As mentioned, Bromley will become the symbol of persistent threat, but this is the episode that establishes one of the memorable images of ‘Inferno’ as a whole – that of confrontations on high up walkways, and dynamic location filming.

The other menace is the Doctor, who is starting to vamp up the manipulative, almost disdainful, attitude towards Liz, Brigadier and everyone else on Earth. It’s cementing the idea of the Doctor as a lone operator, which foreshadows his isolation in the parallel world. The episode also contains some functional developments that set up the rest of the serial – the green goo, the increase in infections, the micro circuit, and slow but inexorable descent of Professor Stahlman. Yes, this is an oft overlooked episode.

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