Sunday, 21 August 2011

272 Inferno: Episode One

EPISODE: Inferno: Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 09 May 1970
WRITER: Don Houghton
DIRECTOR: Douglas Camfield
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Inferno
Episode Format: 525 video RSC

We've got proper titles for this story, no break in the middle for the reprise, but the title, writer credit and episode number captions are displayed over colour film of lava flow seen in monochrome in previous black & white Doctor Who stories.

The Doctor is driving to work singing as technician Harry Slocum is cycling to the the control room, called in by Sir Keith Gold to look at #2 output pipe. Professor Stahlman, the project's head, is unhappy that drilling had slowed, and is angry with Sir Keith Gold for ordering the maintenance, arguing the he is in charge of the drilling while Sir Keith "is in charge of the canteen". Slocum burns his hand on the green gunge seeping from pipe. Sir Keith tells Petra Williams, Stahlman's assistant, that he's sent for Greg Sutton a drilling consultant. A dazed Slocum savagely attacks another member of staff. Later Unit are searching for the missing Slocum. The wrench he used to murder his colleague is still warm. The Doctor is at the project because he's interested in the penetration of the Earth's crust and is advising the project. Greg Sutton has arrived and is briefed by Sir Keith. It is 60 hours to penetration. Sir Keith introduces Greg Sutton to Petra Williams & Professor Stahlman both of whom snub him. The Doctor is worried that the computer's warnings are being ignored. He is borrowing reactor power for his own project. He has brought the Tardis console to an outbuilding and is attempting to fix it. Liz tries to persuade him it's too dangerous to make a trial run with the console but he won't be deterred. Slocum, transformed into a hairy being with green skin attacks & sabotages the reactor switching room as the Doctor begins his test. The Doctor vanishes, materialising in a nightmare limbo like dimension which he only escapes from when Liz cuts the power. He wonders where he was and where it led to. An alert sounds at the drill head. Stahlman refuses to put safety procedures into action and continues drilling. Analysing the data and hearing a Unit troop has been murdered he deduces the problem lies in the reactor room. The Doctor & Brigadier find the wounded technician in the reactor room and are confronted by Slocum.

Right: Have you got a copy of Inferno on your shelves? No? Buy One Now at Amazon by Clicking Here. Seriously, do it. If you buy ONE Doctor Who story because of this Blog then it should be this one. It was £5.49 when I last looked which is a bargain. Take away any child hood association of watching certain stories and Inferno is my favourite Doctor Who story. Not a typical tale by any means and, as we'll see, it's the only "classic" Doctor Who story to use a certain well known Science Fiction plot device. And what's more it does it so well... But I'm getting ahead of myself here....

This episode sets up what's to come. But even the set up feels different, opening with the jolly scenes of the Doctor driving in Bessie while singing compared to Slocum, making his way across an industrial compound not dissimilar to the rocket fuel area in the last story. There's some lovely little touches here: Douglas Camfield's back directing and the notorious armyophile has immediately fixed one of the things that had been annoying Barry Letts: The Unit soldiers are in regular army uniform. Then we have the Doctor's automatic door opener, astounding the unit troop but familiar to many people who put their car in a garage over night. And there's something here you probably won't notice because it's missing: There's no music in this episode, just industrial noise in the background. Little things, but it sets this first episode and thus the rest of the story aside as being something a bit different.

Because Douglas Camfield is at the helm, the familiar faces are present and correct. Welcome back to Sheila Dunn (The Director's Mrs playing Petra Williams, a part he attempted to cast Kate O'Mara in), Walter Randall (Harry Slocum) and Ian Fairbairn (Bromley). Derek Newark (Greg Sutton) initially appears to have no previous with Camfield, his sole prior Doctor Who being as Za in An Unearthly Child, directed by Waris Hussein. However if you read down the order on the production credits you'll spot one of the Production Assistants was Douglas Camfield. Olaf Pooley (Professor Stahlman) is the series major guest star and is one of the few Doctor Who actors to also appear in Star Trek (Voyager in his case). At the time of writing he's still alive aged 95. Christopher Benjamin (Sir Keith Gold ) is on is his Doctor Who debut here and he's one of the few actors to be in both classic and new Doctor Who returning as Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and Colonel Hugh in The Unicorn and the Wasp. David Simeon I have met (but had no idea it was him) when we gatecrashed a Doctor Who convention in Aldbourne. He also plays television presenter 1970 and Alastair Fergus in The Dæmons.

This is the first episode we've come across to use Reverse Standards Conversion (RSC) for it's DVD release. Inferno survives as a 525 line NTSC video used to broadcast the story in America, a conversion from the original 625 line PAL video recording. These videos can be shown in the UK by applying the process by which NTSC programs are normally converted to PAL. However this results in a soft picture and a certain amount of motion judder. The RSC process - and I won't even pretend to understand the intricacies - attempts to unpick the original conversion and give a video look that's closer to the original.

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