You can tell things are getting serious because Greg’s taken his suit jacket off. This is a very fast flip to the end of the world, which leaves me wondering when the Doctor worked it out – as he definitely hasn’t been warning about it all along. Was it literally only when he looked at the computer readings at the end of Episode 4? Has something been triggered in his mind by the ‘sound of the planet’? We just don’t know.
The first half of the episode is set in the parallel universe, and Don Houghton’s script neatly drops enough hints about this Britain to give us some idea of what happened in 1943. The talk of ‘servants of the state’, ‘party members’ and ‘crackpot free speech groups’ sketch a familiar picture, and Greg’s preordained fate is to be liquidated once the project is complete and his outspokenness outweighs his usefulness.
Parallel worlds must have been a reasonably familiar concept to audiences in 1970 (Star Trek had done its famous Mirror, Mirror episode in 1967, although in that case the inhabitants of the mirror universe all had facial hair, whereas here it’s “our” versions that are hirsute). Accordingly, it doesn’t take ages for the Doctor to work out that he’s travelled sideways in time, to what looks like an Orwellian alternative: posters proclaiming ‘Unity is Strength’ with Big Brother looking stern. If that wasn’t clue enough in rapid succession we get Benton shooting at the Doctor, a dark-haired Liz holding him at gunpoint, and a clean-shaven Brigadier modelling an eyepatch.
A drilling facility with an overwrought director whose staff are falling victim to something bubbling up from the depths: so far this is Fury from the Deep with lava instead of seaweed, tufts of hair instead of fronds of weed poking from the cuffs of the infected. On the plus side, there’s much more sense of forward momentum, and the character work is stronger, but there’s nothing – yet – that suggests this has seven weeks’ worth of story.
This is the first Doctor Who script by Don Houghton, who also wrote Hammer Horror movies (including the excellent Satanic Rites of Dracula), Sapphire and Steel and Ace of Wands. After 14 weeks largely written by Malcolm Hulke, this has quite a different tone, even if the setting – a scientific facility beset by unexplained issues – is the same. Professor Stahlman is very much in the vein of Dr Lawrence – a choleric and overbearing director, with no time for the civil servants or “experts” that continually seek to interfere with his work. But whereas Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death kept its monsters mysterious, this episode pretty much tells us everything we need to know up front: Stahlman is drilling into the Earth’s crust; the drilling is releasing a weird green ooze; the green ooze turns anyone it touches into a green werewolf.
The conspiracy is cracked open, and it turns out to be based on the delusions of a man broken by first contact. General Carrington’s frighteningly unexpected encounter with the aliens he met on his Mars expedition, and the accidental death of his co-pilot, has convinced him that he must save the Earth from alien conquest. His ‘plan to save the world’ involves publicly unmasking the aliens on a worldwide TV broadcast to spook the UN into launching an interplanetary war.
This is the first Doctor Who episode to actually utilise colour for effect: when the Doctor is taken aboard the UFO to meet the captive human astronauts, he’s lit by bursts of pink, green and blue light. It’s a marked contrast after the wintry greys and muted shades of the space centre. Later, Liz comes literally face to face with one of the alien ambassadors and Michael Ferguson uses a strange repeated zoom as the alien removes its helmet to reveal a lumpy and bright blue face.
The focus of the episode is on the unravelling conspiracy’s increasingly murderous attempts to maintain its cover up, facilitated by Reegan’s cruel self-interest. It’s best illustrated in the exchange between Liz and Lennox (Cyril Shaps), when Liz essentially accuses him of being an accessory to murder, prompting the fussy little worm to turn and sell out to the Brigadier and UNIT. In response, the conspiracy arranges for a mystery UNIT member to lock Lennox in a cell with a radioactive isotope, ironically turning his own work against him in a way that has all the hallmarks of Reegan’s sadism.
The conspiracy begins to unravel as Carrington is spooked by the Doctor’s continual questioning, and Reegan continues to eliminate weak links and loose ends: after last week’s unfortunate henchmen this time it’s the turn of the unlikely-accented Dr Taltalian, who falls victim to a bomb in a briefcase that looks like something Q-Division might have thought up, and of Sir James Quinlan, whose willingness to tell all to the Doctor makes him too dangerous to live.
The colour recovery process, while miraculous, works better on some episodes than others. This one has a slightly nicotine-stained patina which actually suits the seedy nature of the the villains introduced here (disposing of bodies in a gravel pit), with grey grass and a washed-out sky giving a properly wintry feel to the location filming.