Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I enjoyed a review of another Pertwee Doctor Who adventure on YouTube a while back, which spent the ten minutes quoting production trivia and saying how great everything was.

Now I have no argument with that. Cheap and cheerful shows inevitably attract those of us who are interested in the film making process, and if the viewer actually enjoyed watching the story also, well then so much the better.

But you know what? I was a bit irritated that the guy had nothing to push back with. Surely, I thought, he should really be balancing all this praise with some, or even any, criticism?

When writing my own reviews, I've observed that I tend to have plenty of opinions about the negative aspects of a particular story, but very little to say about the good. Because, y'know, good is the way that everything is really supposed to be. Good is even the goal which the programme-makers themselves were aiming for, in all areas. When something is good, it robs me of the opportunity to suggest what I think might have been a better alternative, and I wind up with nothing to say. And what's the point of a review that has nothing to say?

Therefore, I worry that all my reviews tend to err on the side of sounding negative.

When I watch a story as excellent as Inferno, it leaves me quite literally lost for words. Let me have a quick go anyway.

It looks very bleak, which perfectly conveys the tone of the entire story. The whole seven parts feature the Doctor constantly losing ground. Even his saving Earth in the finale is at a terrible overall cost. The overcast film location work segues well into the videotaped studio scenes, which feel every bit as oppressive, and isolated.

Special mention must go to the sound on this story, which likewise never lets up the tension. There is GREAT atmos at the drilling site, which has the whole cast shouting their lines over it right through to the final episode.

I was watching the VHS release, which seamlessly includes episode five's deleted scene of Jon Pertwee's dual role as the radio announcer - another bleak moment which I find it hard to imagine the episode's original transmission without.

The story's look and sound are obviously down to the directors, Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts. When the first episode jump-cuts from a victim about to be struck, to a hammer banging a nail, we know we're watching something of quality.

Even the script pulls no punches, uncompromisingly confronting us with a Doctor who abandons the whole of an alternate planet Earth to die, whilst still appealing to its doomed inhabitants for help to save his own one.

It's not just the plot though - there's also the well-defined and well-played characters, not to mention their gem-laden dialogue.

“The safety margins are for cautious old women like Sir Keith.”

“We have no proof of an emergency situation.”

“An infinity of universes. Ergo an infinite number of choices. So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed.”

That last line brings me onto the meagre push-backs that I can come up with. To me, an infinity of universes in which every choice is played out suggests no free will for their inhabitants, who must follow whichever alternate choice their universe is there to accommodate. Granted though, we could probably argue about this forever, but only if we were in the right universe for it.

With all the political, hierarchical and ecological challenges for our heroes to wrestle with and overcome, the inclusion of a set of green zombies seems an unnecessary embellishment, and I admit that both times I have watched this, I have not quite processed what was going on there.

There are a couple of weak effects that stand out, but only really because the rest of this epic sucked me in so effectively.

These were the film effects of the TARDIS console in episode one, which jar with the surrounding VT shots, and in the case of the Doctor's sudden materialisation was surely unnecessary. The other was the cliffhanging final shot of episode six, but even that couldn't overcome the intensity and sheer exhaustion of the preceding 24 minutes.

My only real criticisms would be the usual ones about parallel universe yarns - that there's no acknowledgement of the principle character's double, nor the realisation that in such a divergent history there really ought to be different people in these roles, but meh. Given an infinite number of universes, any scenario can play out, no matter how unlikely.

The whole thing finishes unthinkably - with the cast laughing at a joke that is actually funny! Now I ask you - in this genre, how often is that successfully achieved? It's a comfort when you bear in mind that this sadly turned out to be Liz's final scene, unless you count… come to think of it the list of her return appearances is longer than I thought.

For me, the bottom line is that it doesn't get any better than Inferno. Except for all the other greatest Doctor Who stories ever.

Somewhere out there sits another me in a universe where every Doctor Who story was this fine. He doesn't blog at all.

Except maybe on YouTube.

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