DOCTOR WHO INFERNO – SPECIAL EDITION
“Doctor, are you telling me that there’s some link with the volcanic eruption in Krakatoa?”
The concept behind Inferno can only be described as pure Doctor Who. A project led by Professor Stahlman (Olaf Pooley) is drilling into the Earth’s crust in order to obtain a new and revolutionary source of energy. But something else arrives instead, a menace that has been buried in the Earth for a very long time. This story gets going faster than some others, because the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is already in on the action. He is acting as an advisor on the project, while simultaneously using the nuclear reactor to power his own little project: the on-going storyline of the Doctor trying to get the TARDIS working again following his exile to Earth by the Time Lords.
The story is one of the most atmospheric and tense in Doctor Who (Classic) history. The series’ regular composer Dudley Simpson did not work on Inferno. Instead, stock library music was used, and it’s surprisingly effective. Although quite simple and brief, the music is very eerie, and the effect it has is wonderful. But a lot of the dramatic power of Inferno is down to the content of the story itself, and how it is realised by directors Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts (the latter stepping in to direct parts of the story after Camfield fell ill). A mysterious green slime emerging from the drilling area transforms anyone who touches it into a vicious Primord – a “retrogression of the body cells” – in sequences which, for Doctor Who, are quite harrowing to watch. This facilitates a number of fantastic scenes, such as an inevitable yet shocking moment in Episode 4 which works so well because it’s pulled off so simply.
On paper, reading that Inferno is a whopping seven episodes long could forgivably be a bit daunting. There are plenty of stories which drag at six episodes, so seven could have been a big problem! But in reality, while the story could have been chopped down by an episode or two, its structure (and the tension it creates) means that it still works very well. After all, much of this story’s drama is in its slow inevitability, as no-one seems to appreciate what’s at stake apart from the Doctor, 30 Days of Night so you could argue that its length makes it more effective. A mysterious threat is established, which the Doctor then slowly builds up an understanding of – there is one very striking moment when he realises that a noise he hears reminds him of an event from long Interview: Stuart Humphryes, long ago in the Earth’s past. The breathing space the story has also means that we are treated to a lot of character drama, as relationships fracture and develop in equal measure. One touching moment in Episode 5 is a great example of this, and is wisely left totally ‘raw’ as we see it on-screen. No music, nothing happening in the background, just clear, heart-warming character development.