Previously, in another universe.
The Doctor takes a tumble sideways, and the novelty value is ramped up to 10, as the Doctor finds himself in a parallel space time continuum.
Episode three is a great instalment, with some magnificent film sequences, as the Doctor is literally on his own and on the run, in a way that he has never been before. And like elastic that pings back, by the end of the episode, he has stoped running, and is waltzing around the place causing all kinds of trouble. The question is, in this new world, can he continue to do this?
Let’s find out.
Section Leader Shaw saves the day, and puts Benton in his place. I always thought that rolling letters (think when Count Federico calls Hieronymus a “ttttttraitor” at the end of episode three of The Masque of Mandragora) were the domain of larger than life male actors. But Caroline John’s “cccccorrect procedure” is up there with the best of them.
Within seconds the Doctor has, well not necessarily charmed his way out of execution, but at least got to the point where he is being listened to. However it’s a small victory, as Stahlmann orders him to be taken away. Pertwee delivers a perfect and exasperated “Of all the ungrateful nitwits!” The use of the word ‘nitwit’ feels like another small parallel, from a similar moment in episode 2.
Then we come to a lovely quiet scene which, when you take away all the noise, shouting, heat and mutations, is the pulse of Inferno – that of free will. The Doctor asks Section Leader Shaw, whether she had considered taking up science earlier in her life. Caroline John’s expression is beautifully played, and it’s the moment where, slowly, the Doctor brings his new and very temporary family close to him.
There is a very deep, descending, distinctive noise as the systems are reversed. For some reason it’s a noise that really stands out in my mind.
Immediately following the scene with the Doctor and Liz, we see another discussion that hints of humanity against the odds. Once again, it is all about facial expressions, as Sutton looks despondent with Dr. Williams staring helplessly as they both face the reality of a sudden demise for the drilling expert.
I have to say that Don Houghton is writing some cracking dialogue.
“Maybe you’ll give me a medal. Posthumously.”
There are some excellent stage directions, as Stahlmann turns the tapping of his glasses into the ultimate threat.
With this being episode 4, I’m guessing that Barry Letts is still working from Camfield’s plans for this studio session (two episodes a fortnight, rather than one a week – if I recall correctly).
With this in mind, the interrogation scene has a punch and impact that feels very Camfield-esque. Close up’s are deep, and the intercutting suggests a zip that he often brought to proceedings.
But it’s the performances that stand out. Courtney and John bark out the questions, while Levene jerks back Pertwee’s head with total conviction. A quick note, too, for Olaf Pooley, whose calm, assured “Take him away” is the tone of a man who can do no wrong, even when you can see the green through the bandages.
There’s another quick scene between Dr. Williams and Sutton, which builds their relationship further, then we reach the half way point, and a switch to a new set – the first new one since the first episode. It’s a simple design, containing two security cells, but one which will house a very memorable scene.
The Doctor points us in the direction of something ominous – a figure under a blanket. Watch again, and you can just about see a shuffle. Children and adults alike must have known that there must be something nasty underneath – a delicious appetiser to a situation we know is coming.
Back on ‘our’ Earth, it’s quite a shock to see Stahlman with a beard, not to mention Sir. Keith. But the tone is changing as Sir Keith notes an ominous feeling, one that will play out in the next couple of episodes.
Back to the parallel world, and mutated Bromley is the figure under the blanket. Roy Scammell is the unsympathetic sentry who is given the old heave-ho by it.
I must say I was impressed by Ian Fairbairn’s ability to bodily pick up Scammell (I suspect some extra rehearsals between the two). In fact, I started imagining what the corner of a London church hall would have looked like as Scammell teaches Fairbairn how to pick him up, in the same way Bob Simmons teaches Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel to fight in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.
Bending bars convincingly must be one of those acting challenges that vary considerably across history.
But it’s a totally convincing, terrifying scene – a confined space, a million proverbial miles away from home, and The Doctor is trapped with no where to run. The atmospheric lighting, the slow turn by Ian Fairbairn, the broad chin, and those staring, wild eyes really are the stuff of nightmares. In the background is the same deep rumbling, clunking soundtrack (Battle Theme by Nikki St. George) that has been used for the scenes of Wyatt in episodes 2 and 3, and will become the go to score for a Primordial attack.
From a personal point of view, it might be one of the most unsettling scenes in Doctor Who, and one that, once again, pushes the boundaries of violence seen in the series. It’s interesting that ‘Inferno’ doesn’t have the same reputation, when you compare it to the furore of Philip Hinchcliffe’s run, or the following story after this.
Escaping Bromley, who will no doubt workout that he can escape the cells with ease (in fact I recall the novelisation notes that he shuffled down the corridor after the Doctor) we have another game of hide and seek. But this time it feels different, as everything goes a little more quiet – the lull before the storm.
The extra who gets into the Land Rover, B. G. Heath, appears to have a number of credits that seem to suggest that driving vehicles was his forte. Milkman, UNIT soldier, and here, the man in the anorak.
The fact that it’s a sunny day on location, makes me think “Man alive, what are they about to do to this world?” The shot of the two solders walking away from a field, in a supposedly green and pleasant environment, just hammers home the horror that is about to be unleashed.
Inside the complex, we’re treated to some slow zooming into character faces, as the soundtrack tells the story for us. We have Ian Fairbairn’s uncredited voice of the countdown, the dull roar of the drill, the murmur of computers, the shrill tone of impending penetration and various other small details. It’s a reminder that a good soundtrack is key to creating a convincing environment. There’s no such thing as silence.
Finally the Doctor is revealed and there is a final useless runaround, which offers Pertwee his best moment in the role up to this point.
“That’s the sound of this planet screaming out its rage!”
It’s one of his most impassioned lines, and the final moment of Stahlmann pointing the gun, is nicely framed – a low angled shot, looking upwards. Excellent suff.
This fourth episode lacks some of the intensity and purpose of other episodes, for example, the first and third instalments are establishing a new world or situation.
However, like episode two, it is more important than it might appear. I read an argument somewhere – I can’t remember where – which lamented Inferno’s seven episode length, and offered a number of suggestions about how it could be cut down to five or six instalments.
However, it is the episode that convinces me that ‘Inferno’ is perfect for the seven episode treatment. The first two parts set up the narrative, conflict, and emerging menace. So episodes three and four need to fully realise the brand new world that has been created.
When penetration zero strikes, and we get to see what is about to be unleashed, we need more than one episode to care about this mean old world, otherwise, what is the point of travelling there in the first place? And it is this episode where we get the first glimmers of humanity, the first sense that the Doctor can turn a facist mindset around – the ‘free will’ alluded to in episode 7. And it is the scene with Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, and a nod to her past, that represents the humanity that drives Inferno – a humanity that is literally buried under political and military ideology, steel, metal and freezing cold weather.
This is the episode where relationships are built; the Doctor and Elizabeth, Sutton and Dr. Williams, Stahlman and…er… himself.
But there is also action to be had, and it’s all going to come to nothing. The final expression on Jon Pertwee’s face says it all. The Doctor isn’t going to save the day, and it is fascinating to see the moment where he knows this.
Penetration Zero marks the halfway point of ‘Inferno’, and reflects the symmetry of the narrative. Over four episodes we have humankind working towards the ultimate goal, initially on ‘our’ world, and then the alternate universe. The rest of the story will see everything being undone in the reverse order that it has been set up. It’s such a simple narrative structure, and one that after all these years, is still super satisfying.