Review: Doctor Who, Inferno

1 May

inferno

 

Inferno is one of the best classic Doctor Who episodes.  Yes, there’s a few weak points, the design of the Primords is a little bit silly, and their whole reason for being is never quite explained, but other than that you’ve got everything.  Green goo!  A drill!  Scientists running about!  A parallel universe!  The explosion of the world!  Heat Wolfman Zombies!

The writing of this is first rate, and the parallel world is fascinating to watch.  Their story is a tragedy, where everybody is so stubborn and reactive that their destruction is truly inevitable.  And that’s the funny thing–even though the story takes pains to show that the parallel world is fascist, it’s not the fascism that does them in, but their inability to stop the wheels of destruction once in motion.  The “real world” very narrowly averts the very same fate, not because the people there are any better, but because the Doctor pushes them a little harder to stop the drilling before destruction comes.

And the story is dark–people turning into zombies, the world turning to lava and ash, people knowing that death will soon come to them, zombie-like creatures roaming the apocolypse–this takes the story all the way over the edge and then some.  It’s no wonder that new Who pulls the most strongly from the Pertwee era, both because of the higher amount of action (and less talk, I love Tom Baker, but there’s an awful lot of talking in his episodes) and also the storyline that gallops through all seven episodes with almost breakneck speed.

Some things I noticed, first the amount of noise in this place–it is never quiet, whether because of the sound of the drill, alarms going off, distant explosions, everybody is constantly talking over the background noise, and it’s completely unsettling.  It sets a sort of unconscious reminder that as people talk and plan that drill is getting ever closer to beyond the crust and certain doom.    The other thing I noticed was how great this series was at hinting at things without saying things straight out–look at the end of the world and how you mostly see disjointed images of smoke, fearful faces, and rolling lava–if this show was made right now I have the feeling that they’d have to be more literal about it, and we’d lose out, because the hinting is far more evocative.

It’s a shame that Liz Shaw left after this episode, because she is terrific–her character just pushes the story to a much higher level that takes away a lot of the explaining the show usually feels like it has to do.  Unfortunately, this is why, I think, her character got packed off–I don’t think the writers always knew what to do with her–she’s far too accomplished and smart to be the woman who hands beakers to the Doctor and looks through personnel files.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jo Grant, but her character didn’t really require the writing to be at such a high quality all the time.

The story also sat in my head long after I was finished watching it–I’m not sure why, but the thoughts about free-will and the whole group not being able to get itself together despite the fact that most of them knew what was going on was foolish just touches a nerve.

Watch it.  Forgive the effects.  You’ll be glad you did.

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