REVIEW: Inferno Special Edition DVD

Starring Jon Pertwee

2 Disc DVD
Extras: See HERE
UK: May 27
Australasia: June 5 
North America: June 11

Review by Nick Fraser

It’s a rare event in Doctor Who when our hero finds himself unable to save the day. The Doctor invariably bluffs, charms or - just occasionally - blows things up to defeat his enemies and save his friends. At the end of episode six however, the Doctor finds himself utterly defeated, the chain reaction unleashed by the Inferno project now impossible to stop. He’s wholly reliant on the survivors of this alternate fascist reality to help get him home.

Inferno is all the more powerful for that stark moment, informing the Doctor’s subsequent desperate efforts to stop the drilling project in “his” version of Earth, to the evident confusion of his friends, and emphasising the contrast between the cosiness of UNIT and its alternate reality counterpart.

This is classic Seventies Who, and to my mind, not much bettered. I await the Blogtor’s comments, assuming he has the good sense to place Inferno high in his top fifty countdown… [Sorry, didn't make the Top 50 - Ed.]

As a reissued DVD, albeit remastered and with additional extras, there will be few who aren’t aware of the story. The Doctor, Liz Shaw, the Brigadier and UNIT are all in residence at the Inferno project, a venture overseen by the icy, domineering Professor Stahlman, drilling down below the Earth’s crust (presumably avoiding any hibernating Silurians?) to tap into hidden energy resources.

The Doctor is ostensibly present as an advisor, but is in fact there to make use of the project’s nuclear reactor to conduct experiments on the TARDIS console. With the countdown descending inexorably towards Penetration Zero, the sense of tension rises and the Doctor and Stahlman clash over their views on the inherent dangers of drilling through the Earth’s crust. With perhaps questionable timing, the Doctor manages to get the TARDIS working and pitches off in a fit of pique into a parallel dimension. Paradoxically it’s there, trapped in the skewed reality of Earth v2 that he comes to realise the appalling consequences should Stahlman’s project reach completion on Earth v1.

It’s a remarkable testament to all involved that over the course of seven episodes, this is a story that doesn’t sag or drag. Jon Pertwee is on fantastic form, his rare flashes of humour and charm heightening the seriousness of the Doctor’s predicament. His portrayal of the Doctor’s mounting sense of desperation towards the story’s climax, in contrast to his usually urbane and unflappable demeanour, underscores the perilous situation. The supporting cast clearly follow their lead’s example, playing their roles dead straight and with total conviction.

Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John are dependably supportive as the Brigadier and Liz, believably selling the alternate reality of their counterparts, the Brigade Leader and Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw. Theirs is a nightmarish version of Earth in a parallel dimension. Praise also goes to Olaf Pooley (Professor Stahlman), Derek Newark (Greg Sutton) and Sheila Dunn (Petra Williams) for their solid work, breathing life into their characters and alternate reality versions.

Writer Don Houghton is well served by the meticulous directorial control afforded his story by Douglas Camfield (the baton then gamely taken up by Producer Barry Letts), in giving vision to two versions of the Inferno project. The attention to detail in the model work, the effects of the rising heat levels once the drill has broken through the crust of the alternate reality Earth and the ever-present dull roar of the drilling, all combine to draw the viewer in over the course of this adventure. This reviewer, having finished watching Inferno, began to start worrying anew about the current day trend of “fracking”…

This truly is a gem worth drilling for. And I haven’t even said a word about the Primords’ shiny white teeth other than to say - Douglas Camfield was right. Darker lighting would have helped.

The DVD comes with the plethora of extras that Who fans have now become accustomed to, spoiled as we are. In addition to the extras provided with the story's first DVD release, there are: Can You Hear the Earth Scream?, covering the making of the serial; the self-explanatory The UNIT Family – Part One; Deleted scene (Jon Pertwee’s Haw-Haw, hawhawhaw); photo gallery, etc... We also have the fascinating Production Notes - as always, an enhancement of the viewing experience, providing detailed insight into the making of Inferno.

Hadoke versus HAVOC – in which Toby Hadoke sets himself the daring mission of bringing together the surviving stalwarts of the HAVOC stunt squad, to assist him in his quest of becoming an honorary member. Whilst it could never be described as a reverent tribute to the unsung members of the Pertwee era “family” – and really how could it be, interspersed with footage of the various members of the team being variously shot at, blown up, run over and falling off… things – it’s an affectionate, sincere and informative tribute to the unknown stuntmen that made Pertwee look so fine. There is something gloriously, quintessentially Whovian (if I’m allowed that word) about the HAVOC survivors assisting Toby Hadoke in jumping from the top of an alarmingly high scaffold, before settling down for a barbecue on a disused airfield.

Talking of the glorious quintessentiality [nice word - Ed.] of WhoDoctor Forever: Lost in the Dark Dimension investigates the forgotten years, when it looked as if Doctor Who was destined to continue crossing the void beyond the mind and all other places in between – so long as it wasn’t happening on the telly. Narrated by Zeb Soanes, this is a documentary which will linger long in this reviewer’s memory for the bemused appearance early on in the proceedings of David Burton, “the man with the car”. I’m still not entirely sure whether to ascribe any particular significance to the fact that, during his segment of the documentary, there was a bottle of smarties sitting on the shelf behind him. The succession of “wacky” photos illustrating the mysterious Mr Burton’s career provide a detailed counterpoint to the considerably less detailed recollections of his short tenure as someone who might have been, “The Doct…”.

The documentary then plots its way carefully across the tragi-comic landscape of Who fandom’s increasing desperate campaigns to rescue the Doctor from obscurity: the polite letter-writing, the “Day of Action”, the declaration of war…and perhaps somewhere in an alternate reality these might have worked too.

This DVD provides, in both its main feature and extras, a timely reminder in the anniversary year of Doctor Who’s rich history. Well worth seeking out and adding to the collection. 

Thanks to BBC Worldwide

Review by Nick Fraser

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