Doctor Who: Inferno (s07e04, pts. 1 – 7)

2 out of 5

Directed by: Douglas Camfield, Barry Letts

Liz (Caroline John) is perfect; Pertwee’s Who is a great bundle of eccentricities and snark; the Brigadier may be a somewhat plot-questionable gobetween our time-traveler and this-week’s-serial problem, but Nicholas Courtney never fails to entertain, with his blend of forthright and fluster; but the third doctor’s first season ends with a rather dull sigh. It repeat the same general formula its been using – some scientist discovers something; UNIT is involved in some capacity and so, then is the doctor; DW crys foul and no one listens – and can’t even throw a new or worthwhile enemy into the mix to liven it up, and then manages to completely waste an exciting new addition to Who’s sci-fi-isms by turning it in to another problem the Doctor just shouts at instead of trying to logic his way through.

In Inferno, Professor Stahlman (Olaf Pooley) is digging toward the Earth’s core for some long-gestating project for securing sciency energies, while everyone seems to ignore how that digging has caused some goo that’s been exposed to mutate people from the lab into cavemen-like savages, and I guess they’re being called “Primords?” This is when the Doctor says nay, and Liz flutters between support and skepticism, and the Brigadier maintains that policy must come first harumphadumb, and Stahlman acts crazier and crazier because he’s under the control of the good and wants more Primord friends.

Despite this premise pretty much a spin on what’s occurred in the other season’s episodes, entertaining villainous overacting from Pooley, and some quality supporting character work, does keep it entertaining, at the least. Pertwee, after being ignored, decides to go back to his work, and he and Liz fiddle with the TARDIS… allowing Inferno to whip out its trump card, when the Doctor is shifted to an alternate dimension in which the world’s been 1984’d and Brigadier is a Nazi with an eyepatch. It’s unclear how this also gives Liz black hair, but nevermind – it’s a great cliffhanger.

…That’s fully wasted. For such a smart, worldly dude, the Doctor has historically been horrible at explaining things to people, and so can’t talk his way out of alterna-dimension, and this is a pattern that just repeats for about four more episodes: running out the clock until digging-into-the-Earth doomsday as Pertwee shouts nonsense at people, the scientist acts really weird, Liz disappears for chunks of time because the scriptwriters shamefully couldn’t write women characters if they weren’t damsels, and the Brigadier wanders around and around, being stern without purpose. What’s the worst is that none of this even ends up mattering: Doc’s original warning is basically just repeated in the final episode, and then – spoilers – the day is saved.

In a scene pretty well summing up the faulty structure of Inferno, Doc wanders out, calmly, from a section of the lab with a smile on his face, having fixed something that thus avoids a meltdown. While this is already proof of things being a-okay, everyone else watching the Doctor has to wait for an announcement over the PA saying that things are alright before they’re allowed to do the whole cheering bit.

Apply that disconnect to 7 half hour episodes, and a great cast and some good ideas will eventually be all you can hang your hopes on.