I was in the mood for a Third Doctor story so this past week I watched The Green Death again. I think this Doctor Who serial might make interesting companion viewing to John Ford’s 1941 film How Green Was My Valley which was also about Welsh coal miners. Ford didn’t see fit to include giant space maggots, though.
I often think about how zombies seem to represent a repressed fear of or resentment for the homeless. There’s something similarly evocative about unstoppable, repulsive maggots springing from the same terrible subterranean chambers where often politically inconvenient human beings toil their lives away. 1970s politics are very present in this serial which sees a group of environmentalist bohemian academics forming an unlikely and tenuous alliance with the coal miners.
There’s something you wouldn’t see to-day and it’s obviously a bit of a strain even on the show. Such an alliance might represent a better future liberals, though. They’re united against a conspicuous agent of globalism, a company called Global Chemicals, who are competing with the bohemian academics for a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, only Global Chemicals is doing it with dangerous green sludge that produces massive, unbiodegradable waste.
Enter Jo Grant (Katy Manning), whose last serial this is, and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney). The latter has an interesting dramatic placement here as a U.N. officer. He represents globalism, too, in another way, and is initially disposed to be an ally to Global Chemicals. But Jo is already smitten by Professor Jones, played by Manning’s real life boyfriend at the time, Stewart Bevan. I wonder if his parents ever considered naming him Steven Bevan.
Jones is more or less the leader of the bohemian academics called the “Nuthutch” who are busy developing alternative fuels and meat substitutes. They’re also all musicians and artists on the side and impress our heroes later with their taste in wine. They seem to represent a shorthand for a Beat ideal though the disconnect between academic elite and working class interests, apparently absent here, had been partially responsible for turning Jack Kerouac into a bitter old man.
But where’s the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) for all this? Disappointed that Jo didn’t want to join him on an alien adventure in the TARDIS, he goes off alone to a dangerous blue world to retrieve what he somewhat redundantly describes as a “blue sapphire”.
He gets his olive jacket shredded for his trouble but I much prefer the outfit he’s wearing when he does show up in Wales, a blue velvet coat with red piping, a blue ruffled shirt, and a red bow tie he wears under the collar.
The first thing he does, though, is to trade it for coveralls to go down in the mine to rescue Jo, showing a willingness to get into the thick of things. Now there’s an ideal for us all to aspire to—a man who recognises the value of aesthetic taste who also gets his hands dirty.
If I’m throwing any shade at Professor Jones it must be remembered this is the serial where Jo decides to trade her life with the Doctor for a life with the younger man—the man she directly describes to the Doctor as being like, “a younger you.” I think there are a few fans who support the theory this may have played into the Doctor’s subsequent regenerations being younger. But by the time the elderly Jo briefly reunites with a very young Eleventh Doctor on The Sarah Jane Adventures she still doesn’t seem to regret going off and marrying the human. Maybe this played into the Doctor giving up on being a youngster for a bit and becoming Twelve.