Inferno, which originally aired in May and June, is not only the final serial of 1969-70s seventh season, but also the last seven-part Doctor Who adventure. Additionally, it is the last episode which features Caroline John as the Doctor’s companion, Liz Shaw, so there are a lot of “lasts” in these installments, the most recent batch to get the Special Edition treatment in a two-disc DVD set.
Liz doesn’t officially leave in Inferno, but after a mere twenty-five episodes, amounting to four serials, she disappears between this tale and the next one, only being mentioned in passing after. The actress is said to have reported being bored playing Liz after only their brief span, though enjoyed portraying her opposite in the alternate pieces of Inferno. As such, some of her best work on the series can be found on these discs.
The story of Inferno is an important one, just as relevant today as when the episodes aired. Earth is looking for a new energy source, and “the Inferno” is a project to find it, courtesy of drilling deep down into the planet. Unfortunately, as we’ve discovered in other energy projects in the real world, there are unintended consequences, and things go terribly, terribly wrong. It’s a call to save the planet as much as it is an exciting television program, one that judges the things we do in our quest for power harshly.
Doctor Who chooses to show these disasters as an alternate reality, one in which the Doctor (John Pertwee) falls into while using his universe’s Inferno to try to repair his broken TARDIS. In the other world, Inferno is much further along, and the planet is not a very nice place. The Doctor’s friends are among the new villains, and somehow the Doctor must convince them not only of the truth, but also get them to assist him in returning to his own timeline.
Inferno gives regular characters Liz, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), and Sergeant Benton (John Levene) lots of room to play with their familiar personalities. Haunted by a world torn asunder, they are not the same people on the other side, and one can sense the delight the performers take in finding these new aspects of the characters.
Because of this cool alternate world, done for budget reasons, rather than story, though it works very well, and the environment messages within the episodes, Inferno stands out as a top notch entry in the Doctor Who library. It is also rated consistently as one of the best serials ever by a number of critics and rankings, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.
As is usual for a Special Edition, buyers get both an updated video and picture quality, as well as the regular PDF materials, photo gallery, and audio commentary, this one featuring Courtney, Levene, Terrance Dicks, and Barry Letts, the latter two of whom are regular contributors to the DVD releases. There is also a deleted scene, a introduction to the Pertwee era, and visual effects promo film.
On top of the typical, there are quite a few extended featurettes, making for nearly as much “extras” footage as there is for regular episodes. Among the offerings in this bout are a look at UNIT’s family (Part One), the fourth part of a five piece saga chronicling the efforts to keep Who going while not on the air, a stunt team reunion, and a “Making Of.” For some of these, they do build off of past releases, so you may want to check out the older titles to view the completed feature. But even when taken alone, there’s some rich back story and source material here.
Doctor Who Inferno Special Edition is available now.