Jeff Reviews “DOCTOR WHO: Inferno – Special Edition (DVD)”

doctor-who-inferno

DOCTOR WHO: Inferno – Special Edition (DVD)
BBC / 1970 / 166 mins / NR

 

THE EPISODE:
DOCTOR WHO has always infused its stories with timely social and political commentary even up to the current series. Sometimes it is buried deep in the subtext of a story but more often than not it is right there up front staring you in the eyes. The turbulent era of the early 1970’s saw many stories directly referencing real life current dilemmas and situations in the UK, probably more than at any other time in the shows history. “Inferno” is one such story but thanks to a small budget and a lengthy seven episode schedule, this pretty basic story was filled with the very memorable parallel universe sub-plot where the actors of the UNIT family gleefully got to play evil fascist versions of their characters.

Inspired by news reports of both Russian and American attempts to penetrate the Earth’s crust and then very abruptly stopping (with the reason being withheld from the public as “top secret”), writer Don Houghton created his own British run project attempting the same goal, nicknamed “The Inferno.” Professor Stahlman (Olaf Pooley) is the brusk, single-minded head of the operation trying to reach pockets of Stahlman’s Gas, theoretically a vast amount of cheap energy right beneath the planet’s crust. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and UNIT are overseeing security on the project and The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and his assistant Liz Shaw (Caroline John) are using the project’s nuclear reactor to experiment on the TARDIS console. Unfortunately, a repairman working on a drill pipe is exposed to a mysterious green slime which turns him into a primitive monster and The Doctor’s experiment throws him into a parallel universe where Britain is a Fascist republic and their version of “The Inferno” has progressed much farther.

“Inferno” just has everything that defined DOCTOR WHO at the time; there is a strong ecological message, there are monsters, there is dimension hopping, both a good and a bad UNIT and the charismatic Jon Pertwee dashing about shouting warnings and fighting the monsters both human and primordial. At seven episodes it is a touch on the long side but honestly, you don’t feel it as much as you would think as Houghton has a lot going on in each episode and director Douglas Camfield (and uncredited director Barry Letts) keeps the pace moving. If you are looking for a great introduction to the era of The Third Doctor, “Inferno” is one of the best.

 

THE DISC:
The stories that seem to benefit the most from these special edition upgrades are the Pertwee era stories as so many of the color episodes were wiped by the BBC and those color episodes exist today from 16mm prints or have been recreated using the “Reverse Standards Conversion” procedure. The advances in picture restoration have markedly improved since “Inferno” was originally released on DVD in 2006 and this “Special Edition” release looks excellent. No, it won’t have new series quality but the full frame 1.33 transfer is probably the best this story has looked since its original broadcast in 1970.

Likewise the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is as good as it has ever sounded. Outdoor scenes suffer from the sometime jarringly different methods used to record the sound (jarring from the controlled environment of the studio) but what is here is very representative of the era.

 

THE EXTRAS:
As with all the special edition re-issues, “Inferno” contains a mixture of the original supplements from the first DVD release and some fantastic new featurettes to spice up the goodie package. Here is what you get:

The commentary track from 2006 featuring the late actor Nicholas Courtney and the late producer Barry Letts, actor John Levine and script editor Terrance Dicks.

“Can You Hear The Earth Scream?” is this discs making of featuring interviews with many of the cast and crew including Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and Barry Letts.

“Hadoke versus HAVOC” sees frequent DOCTOR WHO DVD presenter Tobe Hadoke learning a stunt from the surviving members of the classic era’s most popular stunt team.

“Doctor Forever! – Lost in the Dark Dimension” is the penultimate episode of this five part series and examines how the BBC handled the cancelling of the classic series and all the rumors and false starts that occurred over the years leading up to the 2005 revival.

“The UNIT Family – Part One” looks at the Doctor’s Earthbound “family” through Liz Shaw’s departure.

A “Visual Effects Promo Reel” for the episode is mildly interesting.

A short “Deleted Scene” from Episode Five featuring Pertwee, John and Courtney in the parallel universe.

“The Pertwee Years Intro” featuring Jon Pertwee introducing the final episode for its VHS premier.

The usual photo gallery, can’t-praise-it-highly-enough Production Notes subtitle option and a trailer for the highly anticipated full color restoration of the final unreleased Jon Pertwee story “The Mind of Evil” round out the supplements.

 

MY SAY:
One of the most memorable stories from the Third Doctor’s era, “Inferno” is given a fine facelift and a great supplement package. Highly Recommended!

– Jeff Allen

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