We began the final serial from Doctor Who‘s seventh season this morning. “Inferno” is a seven-part story written by Don Houghton, a newcomer to the program, and directed by the veteran Douglas Camfield. As I mentioned a few posts ago, it appears that Camfield came straight onto this production from three episodes of the first season of Paul Temple. Badly overworked, Camfield finished all the location filming and the first of three studio sessions before collapsing. Producer Barry Letts, who had been a BBC director for several years, finished up the studio work while Camfield recovered from his heart attack. Letts ensured that Camfield received full screen credit as director; he didn’t want any indication that Camfield’s heart condition would prevent him from finishing future work.
The story, which guest stars Olaf Pooley, Sheila Dunn, and Derek Newark, along with Christopher Benjamin as the Civil Servant of the Month – this one, in a nice twist, not a complete interfering twit – is set at a research project looking for a new energy source deep beneath the Earth’s crust. But the drill is bringing up what our son calls “green goo that turns people into mean, hairy monsters.”
He was a little distracted this morning, and the first episode is very, very talky. The guest characters are kind of drawn in very, very broad strokes. Pooley is the ruthless scientist who intends to ignore anybody else’s advice or interference, Benjamin is timid and overcautious, Dunn is completely dedicated to her boss and won’t hear a bad word about him, and Newark is the action man voice of experience. Some writers have drawn parallels between this story and a popular BBC drama of the time, The Troubleshooters, about boardroom intrigue and dangerous events in the oil industry. Newark’s character is apparently the sort of tough-talking guy who’s seen dozens of people killed at unsafe drilling platforms in third-world countries that Ray Barrett had played on The Troubleshooters.
Since the focus is on these four guest characters right now, with the regulars really hovering on the fringes of the story, it was difficult for our boy to really pay attention. But Jon Pertwee nevertheless lit up every scene. He’s insulting and rude to Olaf Pooley’s character, but unlike the aggressively derisive Doctor of the previous two stories, he’s insulting with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes, because this time he’s got his own agenda. He’s siphoning power from the project’s nuclear reactor for his own project, and this subplot will take over the story very soon.