As was mentioned in my review for the “The War Lords”, the Second Doctor ends his era in exile after the Time Lords strip him of his ability to use the TARDIS and leave him stranded on Earth for meddling with time (read: budgetary reasons). This leaves the Third Doctor in a bit of a predicament. How does the Doctor be the Doctor without his TARDIS? How can he stand being stuck in one time when there are so many others times and places he could be? As much as I love him, I’m not sure Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor would make it out of this Time Lord time-out alive.
Well, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) handles his exile by being a bonafide badass. While stranded in 1970’s Earth, the Doctor joins UNIT (United Nations/Unified Intelligence Taskforce) and basically becomes James Bond — if James Bond had a taste for frilly shirts and capes. Not only does the Third Doctor come equipped with questionably exquisite taste (I love it, but I don’t know why), but he also takes out foes with a single blow from his “Venusian Aikido” and has a tricked-out yellow roadster named Bessie that would put both the Gadgetmobile and the Mach Five to shame.
I challenge you not to love the Third Doctor.
In the Third Doctor’s seven-part serial, “Inferno”, we have a scientist (Professor Stahlman) hell-bent on extracting a new, (theoretically) endless source of energy (creatively called “Stahlman’s gas”) from beneath the Earth’s crust. Of course, things go exceptionally wrong when that gas turn out to be a big, green mess. If you’re an avid watcher of the Modern era of Doctor Who, that short plot summary undoubtedly sound a bit familiar. However, we’re not dealing with the Silurians like we did in “The Hungry Earth”/“Cold Blood” — the Third Doctor handled that in a different story that same season — but a toxic, green ooze that turns humans into weirdly green-tinted werewolves known as “Primords”.
Sounds like fun!
Luckily for those involved in the “Inferno Project” (the drilling project), the Doctor just so happens to be on scene siphoning power from their nuclear reactor to try to jump-start the TARDIS’ control panel when everything starts to get ugly. A worker gets infected by the green ooze coming out of the drill’s output pipes and begins the transformation into a cheesy green werewolf with super strength and a really bad fever. Of course, this doesn’t mean anything for the Doctor or Professor Stahlman just yet — just an average day for the two of them, I guess — and things get much worse before they get better. Stahlman, tired of having UNIT’s “scientific advisor” buzzing around his project, decides to turn off the Doctor’s power and initiates the best part of “Inferno”: an adventure in a parallel universe!
After Stahlman cuts off the Doctor’s power, the Doctor — along with Bessie and the TARDIS’ control panel — is transported into a parallel, dystopian universe where all members of the British Royal Family have been executed and replaced by a fascist regime in the newly formed “Republic of Great Britain” policed by the “Republican Security Forces”, their version of UNIT. If this part of the episode sounds familiar, it is because the same sort of thing happened in the Modern Who.
The best part of all this parallel universe is that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (one of my favorite characters in Classic Who) is now the evil, eye-patch equipped Brigade Leader. Most of the other folks have turned into “evil” versions of themselves (though Stahlman is pretty much the same jerk he always was an Liz Shaw is still, well, Lizz Shaw) and have turned against the Doctor because the new pirate version of the Brigadier has deemed him a spy.
After the Doctor figures out where he has traveled to, he finds that things aren’t looking too great in this parallel universe, either. In fact, the parallel version of the Inferno Project has progressed further than the one in his universe and seems to be facing certain doom. The Doctor does what he can to try to win over and save his Bizarro World friends, but eventually figures out that there is no way that he can save them. The Doctor, the person most likely to risk his own life to save friend and foe alike in any universe, does the unthinkable: he leaves them behind to face certain death so that he can save his friends back in his own universe.
Isn’t Doctor Who supposed to be uplifting and fun? Why am I so depressed? I’ll miss you Bizarro Brigade Leader.
While “Inferno” might tote some pretty poorly crafted monsters, it is the only story in (televised) Classic Who to feature the Doctor traveling to a parallel universe and that part of the story more than makes up for the Primords in my opinion. I don’t understand why more parallel universe stories weren’t told when it seems to be the cheapest (and most fun, I’d think) way to create a story with minimal need for new actors, costumes and locations. Parallel universe stories seem like they would be a dream come true for a science fiction series cursed with a criminally small budget.
For my next review in the Tonight’s Watch “50 Years of Who” celebration, I will be covering Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor in “The Brain of Morbius”. If you aren’t sure why I picked that particular story out of Tom Baker’s seven year term as the Doctor, well, you better check in to find out!