I was thinking back to the first time I watched ‘Inferno’ in full. That joyous moment where I walked into Woolworths, on a Monday (release day) and could see it from afar.
I had seen episode 7 already, thanks to its inclusion on ‘The Pertwee Years’ compilation tape. And it had cemented my fascination with the story, as it contained the scene that was featured on the cover of the Target novelisation. But that’s for another blog post…
To say the first six episodes were a novelty is an understatement. The first two went down very well, capturing my fascination with the set up, and establishing new scares, thanks to the ‘first stage’ Primords (Harry Slocum, Private Wyatt, and technician (John) Bromley. By the time of episode three, I knew we were about to enter the unfamiliar ground of the parallel universe, but I had no idea how it would look or feel. It was so exciting. I distinctly remember those first impressions, alongside the Doctor. But I wonder how I will feel about it all with much older and jaded eyes?
Let’s find out.
We may have arrived at episode three, but it’s the beginning of the second act of ‘Inferno’.
The early scenes don’t suggest any difference in directorial style between the by now hospitalised Douglas Camfield, and Barry Letts, who is quoted as saying he simply used Camfield’s set up for this studio recording block.
What these early scenes do, is to introduce a new conflict into the narrative. It’s the point where Sir Keith finally loses his patience, and says “Something must be done about that man” – opening up a chain of events that will have an impact on the story until half way through episode 7.
For all the times I’ve watched this story over the years, I’m now thinking that the novelty of the parallel universe, has caused me to go blind to some of the wider events of ‘Inferno’, such as the importance of Sir Keith Gold going to London (or not going, as it will turn out), and how they mesh into the wider structure and philosophy of the whole saga.
Ah, the white cotton gloves has gone on. Never a good sign. Again Shelia Dunn emotes a finely tuned expression that conveys all the concern that the audience needs. You see, we listen to Petra, because she’s the only one who doesn’t shout.
And away we go, into another dimension!
You know something? I always used to think that the spinning glitter thing that indicated a switch between dimensions was really cruddy, complete with a jarring jump cut in the middle. Now, I think it is perfect – an uncompromising experience which is sold through a shrill sound effect, lacking any finesse or subtlety. This isn’t a comfortable switch or dematerialisation, it is an awkward, harsh, uncomfortable ride, that pushes the boundaries. That clunky jump cut in the middle, makes it.
It’s unsettling when the Doctor comes to, studying his new, pristine, organised hut, trying to work out what on earth is going on. Unsettling not because of the intrigue of his surroundings, but because – perhaps for the first time in this story – we can’t hear the distant sound of drilling, or any kind of ambient noise. It’s deathly quiet to start with, with only the ominous tones of ‘The Delian Mode’ to keep the Doctor company. Pertwee almost whispers his dialogue as he walks around the hut. It’s great stuff.
And hats off to co-founder of the Visual Effects department, Jack Kine, who looks totally convincing as a dictator, to the point where nothing can change my perception of him, even when he is being incredibly polite to Joan Bakewell while being interviewed on ‘Late Night Line Up’. And what of the homage to Head of Design Roy Oxley’s appearance in the 1954 adaptation of ‘1984’? Well Kine and his angular cheek bones make Oxley look like a cuddly teddy bear.
Back on location, Pertwee studies his surrounds, and as the camera pans across the bleak industrial landscape, we finally hear the familiar ascending and descending sounds of the complex. And of course it has been raining, making ‘Inferno’ even more grim than it already is.
Wish you were here.
And then the first shots ring out. On first viewing, it was quite surprising to hear the sound of overdubbed gunfire, as though we had wondered into to a western movie, but I’m sure we all know why it was necessary – “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!”
In fact, I wonder whether that memo from Douglas Camfield to the cast and crew, about the strict regulations about filming on the Berry Wiggins refinery is perhaps one of the notable examples of production paperwork in the whole of Doctor Who. It’s certainly the most memorable to me. I always have the image of cranky, fidgety cast and crew, chomping on chewing gum, or anything to keep the craving for nicotine at bay. The two Sue’s (Hedden and Upton) must have been kept busy.
And my goodness, isn’t Camfield getting full mileage of this location? As the shots ring out, we get our first taste that everything is slightly different, as the chipper Private Latimer, previously seen on film in episode 1, is now rather more trigger happy. It’s probably difficult to remember him after two weeks apart, but luckily there is Benton to seal the deal.
And for the first time Pertwee looks completely startled and terrified. By this I mean ‘instinctivly’ terrified, not ‘Pertwee’ terrified. I’m not sure how to describe the difference, but simply hope you understand what I mean. Either way it’s a complement.
With Camfield’s brand of action, it’s not just about the shots, but in true Eisensteinian mode, the way they collide. Camfield’s timing is impeccable. Take the sequence where the RSF solider (Roy Scammell) is attacking the Doctor on Bessie. The pace is unrelenting, and the action conveys the one track determination of the security forces, which is the biggest tribute to the boys of Havoc I can give.
Crash zooms, deep pans, POV – they’re all used. Even some of the abandoned ruins offer some lovely composition, as Bessie slips the dogs of war.
The soundtrack is also impressive. Camfield famously used a number of composers or stock music, after the mid 1960’s, and the electronic track here – Cosmic Sounds No. 5 by French composer Georges Teperino – sounds like a natural successor to Don Harper’s cymbalom from ‘The Invasion’. Teperino favoured the use of harpsichord in many of his film and television scores of the 1960’s and here it is used effectively, churning out contrasting chords alongside a pulsating electronic beat. It’s a reminder of the big gap between this story and Camfield’s return in 1975. It would have been fascinating to see how his music choice would have changed in, say, the later part of Pertwee’s run, had Camfield stayed with the series.
Back on location, it all ended up in a nasty gash for Alan Chuntz, and an upset Jon Pertwee, but when it comes to suffering for your art, well this is the example.
Let’s enjoy this image of the site from 20 odd years before, and marvel at the sheer joy Camfield must have had in planning the filming around the huts.
I’m still looking out for the moments of humour in ‘Inferno’ – the script is offering clunky attempts, but its small moments of physicality that work the best. The dustbin lid gag, is both neat, and very Pertwee.
Another little note about the sound design. Following the fun with a dustbin lid, the Doctor starts to climb a ladder. By episode 3, we’re starting to learn the grammar of ‘Inferno’, and we know that climbing a metal ladder is a sign that danger lurks above. There is a subtle shift in the sound mix, as the electronic sirens, are joined by another piece of stock music, a series of low ominous tones – ‘Homeric Theme’ by Nikki St. George (AKA Brian Hodgson), signaling that danger of a different kind is approaching.
And the parallels are there, with almost identical shots to those seen in the previous episode.
Another big close up, once again showing that Pertwee really can act terrified. Pertwee is often quoted by others, as wanting to ‘look good’ on the screen, and by jove, Douglas Camfield knew how to do this.
And as The Doctor peers over the top, we see that the threat is not in from of him, but right behind. It proves that you don’t always need corridors to run through, danger can lurk high up on a freezing cold spring day in Kent.
It’s Bromley, the technician in the switch room, who was on the phone one moment, and on the floor the other. It’s the first time I get a real sense of events repeating themselves – a core theme of ‘Inferno’ – and a reason why episode seven is unfairly maligned in many reviews I have read. But hey, I’m jumping ahead of myself.
The Doctor discovers the power of a fire extinguisher, and Bromley is overcome…for now.
But it isn’t going to get any easier, and as the Doctor climbs ever higher, I’m still concentrating on Pertwee’s facial expressions as his situation becomes desperate.
Never have I seen the Doctor, so alone, so terrified, and baffled. It almost feels like karma for the smirk as he left his ‘friends’ on our Earth.
And over the top of the gasometer appears Private Wyatt, who was last seen, like Bromley, in the previous episode. It’s these scenes that show off the effectiveness of the Primords. I want to talk a bit more about them when they reach their full form later in the story, but for now I want to say these early mutations are perhaps the most scary thing in all of Doctor Who. They’re not ‘zombies’ in the traditional horror sense, they’re fairly unique to my eyes, primarily due to the way they move. There is very little dragging and lurching in the classical sense of ‘possessed zombie’ movement. Instead, in the case of both Bromley and Wyatt, we have a agitated, uncontrollable inner rage which is realised through Bromley’s disturbing lunges on the walkway, and Wyatt’s shimmying and shuffling on the gas holder. It’s really dark stuff, and Pertwee’s expression is 100% convening. This is a far cry from the softer ‘paternal’ portrayal that will become his trademark.
And as Roy Scammel shoots himself into the Guinness Book of World Records, I give Havoc a big round of applause. Top job! Bravo!
This elongated sequence finally ends, yet we’re still on film, as the mode of direction totally shifts. We hear a distant sound of timpani and some handheld over the shoulder camera work, as Liz, or should I say Elizabeth, makes an appearance. It’s almost alway through the episode, and it’s time to seek out some explanations.
The timpani in question belongs to conductor and arranger Sidney Torch, and the track in question is called Mysterious. I’d never heard of Torch before, and was delighted to discover two small details. Firstly, his is the jazzy tune heard in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as the theme to ‘The World Tonight‘. Secondly, looking through the images, I discovered there was the opportunity to play doppelgänger with Jack Kine – even the background is spot on!
It’s been six full minutes of film, and an exhilarating ride.
On videotape, we are treated to four pairs of legs, leading to another absolutely corking crash zoom, as the Brigade Leader is revealed. Right from the very first sneer, I know this is going to be a cracking performance. It’s something about his glances to the side. It’s a subtle but noticeable touch.
“So many similarities, yet so many differences” – that’s ‘Inferno’ in a nutshell, yet much of the fan opinion I read in the 1990’s seemed to celebrate the differences (such as the parallel world), but not the similarities.
I love how Jack Kine and his stare overshadows both Pertwee and Courtney. In fact, there is something about the photo of the leader, and the ‘spotlight’ background behind him, that gives the parallel world a suitably post-war feel, where the sensibilities of the late 1940’s meet the contemporary time in which Inferno is set.
We’re introduced to Stahlman(n), Director Petra, and naughty boy Sutton, in a neat series of scenes that introduce the dynamics of their characters. The way that Stahlmann takes off his glasses when his interest in the Doctor is piqued, is the lasting memory of these moments.
And Sir Keith is dead. And that was a surprise when I first watched it. Just as he was on the verge of some significant action in our world, he is unceremoniously dumped in the other.
Meanwhile we get another excellent moment of world building, as we understand the power structure of the republic, the context of the project, and the sheer efficiency and order of the world the Doctor has slipped sideways into. The line “Then you won’t feel the bullets when we shoot you” is rightly lauded, but for me most chilling moment is when the Brigade Leader interrupts the Doctor’s question about the Royal Family, with the words “Executed. All of them.” Courtney’s stare cuts right through the Doctor. It’s clearly taboo.
And a quick shout out to John Levene, for the attitude he gives as Platoon Under Leader Benton. I first noticed it when he kicks the chair from under the Doctor and grabs his costume, but it is right at the end of the episode where he gets his own cliffhanger.
All this is happening as the alarms ring out with number two output pipe blowing – an excellent link to episode seven and the events that will play out then.
Wow. What an episode! It’s not only full of adrenaline and exhilaration, but the shocks, twists and turns that relate to familiar characters, and set ups mean that, not for one second, did I lose concentration. The urge to press pause was less great, meaning I wrote most of this from memory.
Watching this again, I’m reminded how much of episode seven is starting to be foretold, and how important it is that I try to look past the novelty value in seeing the same characters and situations replicated in parallel form. The Primords only appear briefly, but are totally convincing, the location work is some of the most sophisticated material seen in Doctor Who up to that point, and the acting is exceptional throughout.
It has taken me a good few hours to write down everything I can think of to do with this episode, and I’m sure there is plenty of stuff I’m forgetting – perhaps free will is an illusion after all!
In fact, I feel a bit put out that it ended. Oh well, episode 4 is just around the corner.
Over the years a lot of fans, myself included, have wondered if there was a counterpart to the Doctor in this alternate reality. It’s been suggested in a couple of Doctor Who novels that the Leader of fascist Great Britain, the one represented by the photo of Jack Kine, was in fact this universe’s Doctor. The canonicity of those books is perhaps questionable, so those who do not like the idea can always just ignore it.