Metamorphoses

Review of The Green Death: SE (#69)

DVD Release Date: 13 Aug 13
Original Air Date: 19 May - 23 Jun 1973
Doctor/Companion: Three, Josephine "Jo" Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding Story: Planet of the Daleks (Three, Jo)
Succeeding Story: The Time Warrior (Three, Sarah Jane)

What is it with green slime that infects the innocently curious on Doctor Who? First Inferno, now this...

Aside from being the finale of the Third Doctor's fourth series, The Green Death marks the end of his Companion Jo's time in the TARDIS. You can see when the farewell scene comes, no one really had to do much acting; all the emotion was right there on the surface. It's so appropriate for this well-loved Companion because, unlike some of them, Jo gets a proper send-off story.

From the beginning of Episode One, we get foreshadowing of her departure. She's exhibiting a new independence from the Doctor, refusing to go to Metebelis III with him and following her own plan of action instead. Then, when she meets the handsome, young Dr. Jones, she gets off on the wrong foot with him in almost exactly the same way she did with the Doctor. Their relationship is allowed a chance to grow, the romance bloom, over all six episodes (unlike, say, Leela's utterly shocking, sudden, and perhaps even out-of-character decision to stay behind on Gallifrey to be with Andred when she leaves Four in The Invasion of Time).

In between the development of that particular relationship, you get more of the usual Three/UNIT fare, with some unusual circumstance threatening the welfare of the entire planet. It's got a Welsh mine, an insane computer trying to take over the world, an environmental disaster in the making, unforgettable creatures (seriously; could anyone, having once seen Green Death, ever fail to remember the maggots?), UNIT trying to solve everything with explosions and guns ("Well, I never thought I'd fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar..." grouses the Brigadier), and the Doctor saving the day through his own cleverness (not to mention a couple of extremely hilarious disguises).

And Jo. Again, it's so much about Jo. She's still a bit clumsy and hare-brained—she's got to stay in character, after all—but she really does show how much she's matured since first setting foot in the Doctor's lab. When something needs doing, she does it, rushing in much as the Doctor himself would. She plays the hero herself, such that we believe she really is ready, as the Doctor himself puts it, to "leave the nest" by the end.

Of course we're sad to see her go, but at the same time, we can't help but be happy for her. After all, she's found a new life for herself, a human one as close as anybody can get to continuing to travel with the Doctor. What else could one of his Companions ask out of life?

DVD Extras (highlights)
The One With the Maggots
For many of us, the maggots are the first thing we think of when someone mentions The Green Death (for the rest of us familiar with the story, it's probably Jo's departure). Naturally, then, the "making of" documentary covers the use of both live and created maggots in filming in the early minutes. Much time is also given to Katy's last moments on set. In between are the usual revelations about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of shooting this particular story, which despite its flaws remains relatively well-loved among both fans and its cast & crew.

Global Conspiracy?
I haven't chuckled so much at an extra in ages. Hosted by Terry Scanlon (Mark Gatiss), this spoof "special report" (which was included with the original 2004 DVD release) explores strange goings on in the Welsh town of Llanfairfach, thirty years later. The in-story references never stop, and I'll bet if I were a Brit I'd have laughed even harder at the ending.

The Doctor Forever - The Unquiet Dead
Through a chain of fairly serendipitous events, writer Russell T. Davies and then-BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning Jane Tranter dragged Doctor Who back to our screens. In their interviews here, they take us down memory lane, as they outline the whole, complicated process.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Death of the Doctor
If you've never watched The Sarah Jane Adventures (whether because it's "for kids" or any other reason), you're missing out. Even if you're not interested in watching them all, though, do yourself a favor and sit through this one. The story itself is pretty good, and it's a full-on nostalgia bomb for fans of pre-Hiatus Who, as it adds another of the most popular Companions of all time (Jo Grant). It's included with The Green Death because it makes a perfect bookend, giving Jo a chance to have her "why didn't you ever come back?" moment with the Doctor.

You might even consider watching it twice—once for the story and once for the commentary. Jo actress Katy Manning is joined by writer Russell T. Davies to giggle their way through their memories of getting the project rolling, working on it, and—more seriously—their fond memories of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane). This is the extra that makes it worth buying the Special Edition, even if you've already got the 2004 release.

When you think of Doctor Who monsters that stretch willing suspension of disbelief, giant maggots with teeth have to rank pretty far up the list. Yet somehow, the whole thing works. Perhaps the message is somewhat heavy-handed, and some of the effects fail miserably, but there's enough about Green Death that does work to put it fairly high on the list of re-watchable serials. Seeing how fully Jo has metamorphosed over the course of her Companionship more than makes up for any failures in analogous development by the story's iconic creatures.

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