Doctor Who: Inferno - The Doctor Goes to a Parallel Universe to Save Humanity Here

Oct 21, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:excellent acting, well paced story, great special features, remarkable restoration

Cons:a few spots where it bogs down, missed potential with the creatures

The Bottom Line: This is one of the better stories from the Jon Pertwee era of the series, especially considering its length. Kudos to the restoration team for the job it did.


Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as "The Doctor" and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a "Tardis" which is disguised as a British Police booth.

A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, the Doctor is portrayed by Jon Pertwee.  He's still stuck on Earth, having been sent there after the controls on the TARDIS were disabled.  The Doctor has been keeping himself busy working with UNIT and the Brigadier (portrayed by Nicolas Courtney).  Inferno marks the final appearance for Liz Shaw (portrayed by Caroline John).

A scientific experiment is going on drilling down deep into the Earth, ostensibly to harness a new source of endless energy.  UNIT is overseeing the security of the project.  Sir Keith Gold (portrayed by Christopher Benjamin), the project’s executive director, is proceeding cautiously, especially when things aren't going as planned.  His counterpart, Professor Stahlman (portrayed by Olaf Pooley), plunges ahead with little regard for things that could possibly go wrong.  There's no great surprise that his foolhardiness foreshadows something going wrong.

Not only does the project malfunction, releasing a gas that turns those who inhale it into monsters, but the Doctor ends up in an alternate universe where no one knows him. This happens as a direct result of the experiment going awry and interfering with the partially restored controls of the TARDIS that the Doctor has been working on.  Being in the parallel universe has its problems and the Doctor is fraught to return to the world he knows, but here they are about to penetrate the Earth’s crust to the point of no return.  The Doctor has ring-side seats for what will happen in his own universe if he doesn’t stop the project.

With seven segments, Inferno is quite different from the hour-long stories of today.  Although longer story-arcs were popular in the initial years of the series, it’s different from most of the story-arcs of the series as well.  There’s great potential to wander off in directions that would leave the viewer feeling bored and uninterested and eventually loses them.  Coupled with the militaristic feel of the Earth-centered story, this story has many obstacles to overcome.  Thankfully it does, and quite well.

The reason for this is largely due to the acting.  Although Jon Pertwee is great as the Doctor, it is really the rest of the cast who make this episode work.  So much hinges on their performances being convincing, both in this universe and the parallel one and they pull it off quite well.  There is something of a feel to having lifted ideas from how Star Trek depicted two parallel universes similar to these in that series episode Mirror Mirror.  There are some minor costuming changes between the two worlds, with the alternate universe seeming quite fascist which intimates that perhaps Germany either wasn’t defeated or the citizenry of Great Britain embraced their philosophies.  Either way, the physical changes are minor and it’s up to the actors to convince us of the differences.  Nicolas Courtney and Caroline John perhaps have the biggest stretches while Olaf Pooley’s mad scientist has the least.  All pull it off excellently, being convincing in their roles in both universes and managing to keep the story interesting through seven segments.

The effects and costuming are sufficiently cheesy when it comes to the resident aliens in this story.  The creatures which are present in the green goo come across more like a child’s depiction of a monster; one that can’t really hurt you.  If they were given a bit more of an edge with this depiction they would have actually worked quite well, but they miss the boat on that, unfortunately.

The Doctor Who DVDs are noted for their plethora of special features, and this one is no exception.  The commentary is great as the players are all together in one room rather than coming in separately with their own observations, which makes it a lot of fun for fans of the series to listen to.  The rest are a variety of shorts about the series itself or the making of this particular story-arc.  They really go all-out to include extra material in the releases, something other television show to DVD releases could take a cue from as to what they can do to make their collections more valuable.

The restoration on this is remarkable, but unfortunately won’t be appreciated by most.  To watch Inferno without knowing the backstory, most would dismiss the restoration as substandard.  However, this is from a hodge-podge of sources as the original masters were among those that disappeared from the BBC vaults for some reason no one is still quite sure of.  This is the reason that many of the early serials remain unreleased.  What the restoration team has managed to achieve cobbling this together from a variety of sources to make a near seamless seven-part story-arc is something of a miracle.

Although the Doctor Who stories for this period when he is Earth-bound are missing something, this story in particular fares well.  My initial feelings of trepidation when approaching this weren’t warranted and I was pleased overall with Inferno.  The acting goes a long way to that.  Nicolas Courtney, Caroline John, and Jon Pertwee are excellent as are the rest of the supporting cast.  It’s definitely one of the better story-arcs I’ve seen from the Jon Pertwee era of the series.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

• Commentary with Producer Barry Letts, Nicholas Courtney, Script Editor Terrence Dicks, John Levine
• Can You Hear the Earth Scream? - Making Inferno
• The UNIT Family ~ Part 1
• Visual Effects Promo Film
• Deleted Scene
• Pertwee Years Intro
• Photo Gallery
• Doctor Who Annual
• Radio Times Billings



© 2009 Patti Aliventi


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