The story that sits at number 5 in our ever decreasing countdown will forever be known as “The one with the maggots,” like an alternate universe episode of Friends.
The Green Death had a profound effect on me as a kid. Those maggots were brilliantly realized, even by today’s standards and freaked me out completely! To this day I get creeped out by the squirmy little blighters, and I’m sure it comes from watching this story when I was seven.
But of course, it’s not all about giant fly larvae. The Green Death was ahead of it’s time in several very important ways.
Firstly, there is the very obvious ecological message. In 1973, green issues weren’t necessarily top of people’s agendas, but writers Robert Sloman and an uncredited Barry Letts could had the foresight to see the dangers of the way we were draining the earth of it’s resources and crafted those into an engaging and genuinely scary tale. I’m not sure how much of that got through to me when I was seven (I was more interested into looking between my fingers at those huge maggots. Did I mention them?) but the story becomes an allegory for things to come when viewed in hindsight.
The second thing that makes this story interesting is that it forms the start of a story arc that ultimately causes the downfall of the Third Doctor. It’s the first time the Doctor visits Metebelis III, a planet mentioned in both The Sarah Jane Adventures and the new series, even if the Eleventh Doctor seems to have forgotten how to pronounce it correctly! People often say that story arcs are the invention of the post 2005 revival but that simply isn’t true. There have been many in the Classic series and the Metebelis crystal arc is one. It’s ironic that the Third Doctor can be a tad stubborn at times and ultimately it’s this stubbornness that is his undoing, insisting that he visit the planet and taking the blue crystal.
The third important thing about The Green Death is that it sees the departure of Jo Grant. Companions have come and gone before, but it’s the emotional way that Jo leaves and how it affects the Doctor that makes it unique up to this point. OK, so let’s ignore the fact that Jo seemingly falls in love at the drop of a hat and decides to leave in a heartbeat. But emotionally, it’s the first time we’ve seen the Doctor deeply affected by his assistants’ departure. The first time we’ve really seen that connection between Doctor and companion, that has become standard in New Who. The Doctor is genuinely devastated when Jo tells him she is staying with Cliff Jones. It’s like he’s lost his daughter. That final shot of him sitting in Bessie whole Jo and Cliff dance is heartbreaking.
The Green Death is a fine example of Classic Who at it’s best. Scary, prescient and emotional. And it’s got giant maggots in it too. Did I mention those? — Steve
Next week begins the Final Four in the 50 for 50. Only 7 days to wait.