At number 37 in our countdown is a story that features the series’ first foray into the science fiction staple that is the “parallel universe.”
Inferno comes at the end of the triumphant first series helmed by Barry Lett’s as producer, where we saw a new action man Doctor with stories that were set on entirely on Earth, a new companion that, for the first time, was an equal to the Time Lord himself and met the elite fighting force that was UNIT. All in a lovely new format called “colour.”
And Inferno is the crown of that first series and set the standard for series finale’s to come.
It features arguably the finest performance by Nicholas Courtney, lapping it up as the alternate Brigadier, the Brigade Leader, complete with that now legendary eye patch. Indeed, Courtney himself once said that it was his favourite moment during his time on the series and you can see it on screen. The Brigade Leader is ruthless and sly and Courtney delivers his brilliantly written lines with a relish that is palpable. “I keep telling you, I don’t belong here!” says the Doctor to the Brigade Leader, who replies, “Then you won’t feel the bullets when we shoot you.” It also features Caroline John’s finest performance too but again, this was as Liz Shaw’s doppelganger, Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw. Like Courtney, she relishes the opportunity to play with the character and said, after playing the Section Leader. that playing our version of Liz was actually “boring”. Her alternate Liz is cutting and forthright in her opinions and not afraid to take ruthless action, even against her superiors. So you can see why playing the somewhat stayed Liz Shaw would be a less exciting prospect.
There is an intensity about this story that pervades every episode and it has a very different soundtrack that was created by the legendary Radiophonic Workshop that adds to the otherworldly feel of an alternate reality. The only two things that really let this story down are firstly, the Primords, who seem somewhat superfluous to the plot and who, I believe, weren’t actually in the original story and secondly, that it saw the last performance by Caroline John, just as she was getting to grips with the role of Liz Shaw.
The post 2005 revival of the show has a few stories that echo some of Inferno’s ideas and concepts. It features a parallel world, an idea recycled by Russell T Davies in The Age of Steel/ Rise of the Cybermen. The drilling operation is very reminiscent of the work being carried out in The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood. And It is a grand series finale, like the one’s we see nowadays.
Inferno stands as one of the most memorable of Doctor Who stories and unlike others, it’s not down to monsters and scares. It’s down to top-notch performances and brilliant writing. And that eye patch….
The march through March continues next week with #36.