Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Douglas Camfield
The Doctor: “Yes well I’ll tell you something that may be of vital interest to you, Professor.”
The Doctor: “That you sir are a nitwit.”
I often have trouble going through the average four part serials so when you have to watch a seven part story; it definitely requires a lot of patience. The usual worry about the plot being dragged is the big concern but this serial is something of a rarity.
Not only is it one of Jon Pertwee’s darker stories but it’s also one of those serials that uses its length to its advantage. The whole thing may have taken nearly three hours but I guarantee there won’t be many times in which to be bored.
The main plot here concerns The Doctor and UNIT getting involved with the Inferno project. This is basically a top secret drilling operation that is aiming to penetrate the earth’s crust in order to release a major source of energy. It also means that already something can’t be right with this scenario.
It also doesn’t help that Stahlman, the man who is causing all of this havoc is an insufferable git of a man. I get scientists who are passionate about their work but this guy’s obsession with drilling the earth only raises alarm bells from the very start.
It’s also not a good sign that the man seems to ignore reason at every turn. When Greg Sutton tries to warn him of potential danger, he shuts him out and The Doctor despite getting the chance to be pithy is also routinely ignored by Stahlman. It’s almost as if the crazy git is deliberately looking for trouble.
There are of course other things to worry about as well. When Slocum is infected, he becomes savage and starts killing soldiers. Physically he also doesn’t look that far off from the Hulk either and as monsters go, this is definitely one that stands the test of time so to speak.
Better yet again, there’s also an interesting twist where The Doctor halfway through the serial winds up in a parallel world. This is something that hasn’t been done often on the series and as experiments go, it adds a bit of flavour.
While alternative versions of Stahlman, Greg Sutton and Petra behave more or less in the same way as the real world versions, this is also a world where The Doctor doesn’t exist and The Brigadier, Sergeant Benton and Liz Shaw are also rather different.
Yes, Liz has gone from scientist to soldier and she’s quite the brute. Similarly so is the normally sweet Benton but it’s the Brigadier (called Brigade Leader) that surprises the most. The Brigadier isn’t always the most liberal minded of men but his alternative version really is a nasty piece of work.
No sooner is The Doctor both the Brigade Leader and soldier Liz are torturing the hell out of him. Okay so the scenes are never that graphics but they still are rather shocking and Nicholas Courtney, whilst always a good actor does seriously excel himself here. He oozes menace with such ease it’s almost hard to watch.
Still with The Doctor seemingly going back and forth in two realities and the imminent disaster about to break out at the Inferno project, there’s a frantic rush to save everything.
Using the alternative reality as a means of helping with the action is smart. While the brutish Brigade Leader later comes off as coward, it’s nice to see that even the abrasive soldier Liz can still be influenced by The Doctor in a bid to do the right. Pity it doesn’t mean she completely makes it.
As for Stahlman, despite his steely determination and attempts of even stopping an inquiry into his work, at least the entire project is managed to be stopped. It’s also during this entire serial that The Doctor has been making some attempts to get off earth.
Naturally his plans don’t succeed which means for a bit longer, he’ll have to be nicer to UNIT. One thing I enjoyed is the playful banter between The Doctor, Liz and The Brigadier. If there’s only one fault with this serial is that while Caroline John is given a wealth of material, Liz doesn’t exactly get anything in terms of a departure scene, which is a pity.
Also in “Inferno”
At seven episodes, it was interesting to see each episode open up with a volcanic image.
The Doctor (re the Brigadier’s school photo): “Good heavens. Which one’s you?”
The Brigadier: “Don’t you recognise the one?”
The Doctor: “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Not that one. Not that one. None of them?”
The Brigadier: “Fifth from the left. Third row.”
The Doctor: “Yes, well if that’s true I can see why you grew that moustache.”
I feel like a nitwit myself but I actually didn’t know that Nicholas Courtney actually wore a fake moustache. As Brigade Leader, he didn’t have to wear one.
Stahlman: “That computer is oversensitive. Its data is unreliable.”
The Doctor: “You talk about that thing as though it were your maiden aunt.”
Stahlman: “Don’t presume to tell me what to do.”
Greg Sutton: “No director. Sorry director. Three bags full director.”
There was a romance lingering between both versions of Sutton and Petra. Great chemistry from both actors involved too.
Brigade Leader: “You are giving us a great deal of trouble.”
The Doctor: “I'm delighted to hear that.”
Brigade Leader: “You'd make things much easier for yourself if you would tell us who you are.”
The Doctor: “Proper little bureaucrat, aren't you? Can't shoot me unless you've filled in all the forms, is that it?”
The Doctor: “But I don't exist in your world!”
Brigade Leader: “Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you.”
Various titles for this story could’ve been “Project Inferno”, “The Mo-Hole Project”, “Operation: Mole-Bore” and “The Mole-Bore”. Interesting!
The Doctor: “Listen to that! That's the sound of the planet screaming out its rage!”
Greg Sutton: “It's marvellous, isn't it? The world's going up in flames and they're still playing at toy soldiers!”
Interesting bit of information is that Barry Letts directed some of this serial and that originally Kate O’ Mara had been considered for the role of Petra.
Greg Sutton: “They could stand up to an atomic blast.”
The Doctor: “Compared to the forces that you people have unleashed, an atomic blast would be like a summer breeze.”
The Doctor: “Listen to that! Do you want to end your lives fighting like animals?”
The mutant creatures in this serial were called Primords but the name wasn’t mentioned on screen and instead was credited.
The Brigadier: “Sergeant, I want to see Professor Stahlman and I want to see him now and I advise you not to come back without him.”
Sergeant Benton: “But sir –”
The Brigadier: “A chance to use your initiative, Sergeant!”
Liz: “Oh dear!”
The Doctor: “Um, Brigadier, my dear fellow. I wonder whether I could borrow a couple of your stalwart chaps to give me a hand in bringing the TARDIS back. It's landed in rather an inaccessible position.”
The Brigadier: “'Pompous, self-opinionated idiot' I believe you said, Doctor.”
This was released on DVD in June 2006, with some brilliant extras, including a UNIT feature.
Well “Inferno” wanted to be a scorching serial and at seven episodes long it certainly had the opportunity to ignite and it really did. This is definitely one of the best Third Doctor stories out there.
Rating: 9 out of 10.