The Green Death

Well, I never thought I’d fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar.

The Brigadier


In Wales, a miner is found dead and glowing green possibly due to Global Chemicals. The Doctor, Jo and UNIT investigate, with the help of Dr Clifford Jones and the Nut Hutch, to stop the march of the giant maggots!


The Green Death marks the end of Jon Pertwee’s fourth season as the Doctor, and closes the chapter on Jo Grant’s tenure as companion. It’s often thought of as one of the quintessential Pertwee stories, due to a strong story with an environmental message and some pretty damn fine performances.

The writing of The Green Death is an example of how Doctor Who has often had an important political message, which works well when it is given a good story to go with it. Letts’ concerns are perfectly valid, but he has managed to develop them, with the help of Robert Sloman, into a story that makes sense in a fictional universe with Daleks, Yeti and Cybermen to give us the giant maggots and Global Chemicals. Whilst it has a message, it helps that it feels organic to the story and the characters’s concerns feel real enough to prevent the story feeling like it is a lecture. It helps that the story always keeps the audience guessing what’s going to happen next and is fast-paced enough for the majority of its running time to keep them entertained. Part 5 almost feels the most like padding, and does lose something when Elgin disappears, although this can’t be blamed on either the actor or the production. It does, however, manage to recover in the final part to stick the landing.

In describing this as the quintessential Pertwee story, it’s worth pointing out that it does have problems that feature elsewhere in the run, although these are more to do with the technical side than anything. The story is blighted with CSO fringing issues and there are some shots where you wonder why they didn’t just do the shots differently to begin with, like the lift that takes the characters down to the mine shaft. Then, there’s the scene of the Doctor and Jo punting through the mines full of the maggots, which looks laughably bad, and then there are the shots of the Brigadier, Benton and two UNIT troops stood on a hillside, which also has fringing. For all of that, director Michael Briant and the production manage to make the maggots feel really threatening and the scenes on Metebelis 3 in the opening part feel really threatening.

Of course, the maggots aren’t the real villains of the piece. BOSS and Global Chemicals are the ones putting the waste byproduct of their work into the mines, leading to their mutation. BOSS is quite a fun addition to the collection of megalomaniacal computers that the Doctor finds himself up against, seemingly with a sense of humour due to his link to Steven’s brains. As a computer designed by Global Chemicals, he is designed to do what is best for the company and to protect their profits and wants to spread his influence all over the world. The supporting humans, including Stevens, seem increasingly reluctant to participate. Jerome Willis seeds his disapproval of BOSS’ methods, like when he orders Fell to “self-destruct” by throwing himself over the banister since the programming has failed to have the desired effect. Stevens is a surprisingly nuanced character for the villainous role that he is asked to play, and Willis brings a certain degree of charm to him. For instance, having managed to stop the Brigadier from using political connections to stop Global Chemicals, he is able to sit down and have a drink and a cigar with him.

Whilst the “UNIT Family” have had a rather more reduced role in this series, their return here is rather welcome and they are allowed to do things that we haven’t necessarily seen them do before. It’s nice, for instance, to see the Brigadier out and about without his military uniform, driving around in a convertible and wearing John Motson’s sheepskin. Having Mike Yates go into Global Chemicals undercover is a good idea and it reflects well on the Brigadier to have him come up with this idea. Yates undergoes BOSS’ programming, which we’ll come back to later, but I think the real impact that this story has on him is Jo’s engagement. Initially introduced as a love interest for Jo although this was not really followed through on, the news does seem to set him back a bit at the end of the story.

Pertwee is on top form here, and the story allows him to have an absolute ball, dressing up first as a milkman and then as a cleaning lady to infiltrate Global Chemicals. The chemistry between Pertwee and Manning has always been one of the defining parts of this Doctor – companion relationship and The Green Death is the inevitable conclusion of it. Jo is clearly beginning to drift away from the Doctor, being more interested in Cliff’s desire to go to the Amazon on his quest to find alternative food sources than in the Doctor’s travails on Metebelis 3 which the audience sees in Part One. That final scene is so unbelievably poignant, with the Doctor simply slipping away from the celebration of Jo and Cliff’s engagement being one of the most powerful scenes in a story that is full of memorable moments. It is clearly one that has stuck with two fans of Doctor Who who would later write and run the show, as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss pay homage to the ending scene in the Sherlock episode The Sign of Three.

It’s probably worth saying that Jo’s decision to leave the Doctor at the end of the story is carefully seeded throughout the story, as opposed to some of the other companions who have left for love. Jo seems to be ready to move on from the beginning of the story anyway, refusing the Doctor’s offer of taking her to Metebelis 3, and is so determined to go to Llanfairfach that she is prepared to quit UNIT, although this is more to do with her ecological concerns than Professor Jones. She only gets more infatuated with Cliff as the story goes on. The Doctor is clearly jealous and even takes Cliff away from her at the Nut Hutch after they’ve had dinner to discuss science. Regardless, the relationship between Jo and Cliff is really well developed throughout the story, and the chemistry between Manning and Stewart Bevan is really good. There are parallels in the beginnings of the relationship between the two and the meeting of Jo and the Doctor, as Jo sabotages one of Cliff’s experiments, and even a nod to her uncle, whose influence got her the post at UNIT and gets Cliff and the rest of his collective United Nations funding.

Verdict: The Green Death is a really good closing story that brings Jo’s tenure as companion to a close. A story with an environmental message but not one that clobbers you around the head, it deserves it’s reputation as one of the stronger Pertwee stories. 9/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), Stewart Bevan (Cliff Jones), Jerome Willis (Stevens), Tony Adams (Elgin), Ben Howard (Hinks), Mostyn Evans (Dai Evans), Talfryn Thomas (Dave), Roy Evans (Bert), Mitzi McKenzie (Nancy), Ray Handy (Milkman), John Scott Martin (Hughes), John Rolfe (Fell), John Dearth (Voice of BOSS), Richard Beale (Minister of Ecology), Jean Burgess (Cleaner), Brian Justice (Yates’ Guard), Terry Walsh (Guard) & Roy Skelton (James).

Writer: Robert Sloman

Director: Michael Briant

Producer: Barry Letts

Composer: Dudley Simpson

Parts: 6

Original Broadcast Date: 19th May – 23 June 1973

Behind the Scenes

  • The last story to feature what is commonly referred to as the “Pertwee logo” until the TV Movie. From the TV Movie until the 2005 revival, this was used on merchandise and variations continue to be used to date.
  • The story came about because of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks’ concern for the environment. In particular, Letts was compelled to make a story about the environment after reading an article in The Ecologist titled “A Blueprint for Survival”, written by Edward Goldsmith.
  • The last story to refer to the different episodes as episodes – from this point onwards, they were referred to as parts.
  • Katy Manning’s last appearance in Doctor Who, until her cameo in The Power of the Doctor. Manning would reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor.
  • Stewart Bevan was, at the time of production, the real-life boyfriend of Katy Manning. Director Michael Briant was worried about inviting Bevan to audition, however, he was the only suitable choice for the role.
  • When the Brigadier speaks to the Prime Minister, he refers to him as Jeremy. This was a joke on behalf of the production team referencing then-politician Jeremy Thorpe and the Liberal Party.

Cast Notes

  • Stewart Bevan has voiced Inspector Nettles in the Iris Wildthyme story MidwinterMurders and the voice of BOSS in The Green Life in the Torchwood Monthly Range.
  • Mostyn Evans also played the High Priest in Death to the Daleks.
  • Talfryn Thomas had previously played Fred Mullins in Spearhead from Space.
  • Roy Evans had previously played Trantis in The Daleks’ Master Plan and would go on to play Rima in The Monster of Peladon.
  • Mitzi McKenzie previously played Mrs Martin in Colony in Space.
  • John Scott Martin was primarily involved in the show as a Dalek operator, appearing in every Dalek story in the original run except for Destiny of the Daleks. He appeared in other roles in The Web Planet, The Chase, Colony in Space, The Mutants, The Brain of Morbius and The Invisible Enemy.
  • John Rolfe had previously appeared in The War Machines and The Moonbase.
  • John Dearth would go on to play Rex Lupton in Planet of the Spiders.
  • Richard Beale had previously appeared in The Ark, The Gunfighters and The Macra Terror.
  • Brian Justice had also played Castle Guard Wilson in The Sea Devils.
  • Terry Walsh was the stuntman for both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. He had appeared in Terror of the Autons, The Sea Devils, The Time Monster, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Monster of Peladon, Planet of the Spiders, The Sontaran Experiment, The Power of Kroll and The Creature from the Pit.
  • Roy Skelton played various voice roles in Doctor Who, but is best known for voicing the Daleks. The character was only created due to the illness of Tony Adams, who could not participate in the production of Episode 5.

Best Moment

It has to be the closing scene, as the Doctor drives away in Bessie, as the sun sets. The silence is perfectly judged.

Best Quote

If I were to tell you that the next thing I say is the truth but the last thing I say is a lie, would you believe me?

The Third Doctor

Previous Third Doctor review: Planet of the Daleks

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