Sunday, April 28, 2013

Doctor Who: 1973

Episode 350: The Green Death, episode 1
First broadcast: 5.50 pm, Saturday, 19 May 1973
<< back to 1972
The Doctor reacts to Jo declining a trip to Metebelis 3
The Green Death, episode 1
There are those who will tell you that, unlike this modern Doctor Who, the old-skool show did not dwell on relationships or extended family, that such things were hardly deemed suitable for a family audience and got in the way of the adventures. There are even those who say such things should not feature in new Doctor Who.

But the scares and excitements are all the more palpable when we care for the Doctor's friends. Some of the most powerful moments have come when those relationships are tested: for example, the Doctor and Barbara's arguments in The Aztecs about changing history or Jamie accusing the Doctor of being too callous in The Evil of the Daleks. The departures of companions are often extremely effective because they play to our emotions.

Even today, most companion departures occur at the end of a story - often as a shock twist. The audience may know an actor is leaving but the drama is in how. I'd argue that the departures of Susan, Steven and Victoria all have an impact at least as powerful as anything done since 2005. But they're nothing compared to the loss of Jo Grant.

The main reason for this, I think, is that Jo doesn't leave at the end of The Green Death. Yes, that's the last time we see her (until her return in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2010). But she actually makes the break from the Doctor in her first scene in episode 1.

In that scene, she and the Doctor talk at cross purposes: him about a jaunt to the planet Metebelis 3 (mentioned in last week's Hide, if not with the same pronunciation), Jo about the latest news of strange things happening in Wales. When she runs off to pack a suitcase, the Doctor thinks she's all set to join him on another adventure. "I'm not going to Metebelis 3!" she snaps - and this most erudite of Doctor's is completely lost for words. He sees what she does not: they're going their separate ways.

Later he tries to persuade her: "Jo, you've got all the time in the world - and all the space. I'm offering them to you." It's one hell of an offer, the same one that makes so many other young women go rather weak at the knees.

"All the time in the world, and all the space.
I'm offering them to you"
The Green Death, episode 1
Yet Jo still turns him down. Worse, she says she's leaving him for a man just like him but younger. As the Doctor says, "I don't know whether to feel flattered or insulted." But he puts on a brave face and is all smiles until the moment she's gone.

"So the fledgling flies the coop..."
The Green Death, episode 1
It's perfectly written and played to pack an emotional punch. There's a hint, too, that the Doctor's been waiting for this to happen. As I've argued, Jo's never been interested in all of time and space. After the events of The Three Doctors when he regained control of the TARDIS, she joined him on a test flight to Metebelis 3 - but they never got there. Having been chased by giant Drashigs in Carnival of Monsters they crash into another spaceship. "I'm never going in that thing again!" Jo complains of the TARDIS. It takes 12 weeks to get home again - after battles across space with Ogrons, the Master and Daleks - but then Jo is as good as her word.

So the Doctor goes to Metebelis 3 on his own. And perhaps Jo's got a point: it's not quite the tranquil place he described.

The Green Death, episode 1
Jo, meanwhile, has met the young man so like the Doctor. Just to hammer home the point, she does exactly what she did the first time she met the Doctor and ruins an experiment. It's the start of a beautiful friendship - and something altogether more.

It's not just that dashing Clifford Jones is like the Doctor but younger: he's also permanently earthbound. Jo's keen to save the Earth as it is not swan about in the future pretending to be someone important. You could argue that her first trip in the TARDIS only underlined her sense of priorities: she saw in Colony in Space what pollution would lead to.

Yet as the story plays out she's also the last to spot what's happening between her and Cliff and between her and the Doctor. That means we're one step ahead of her in what happens next. For the next five weeks, the audience reads between the lines of dialogue and notes the telling glances, and adds layers of extra meaning to what could otherwise be a silly tale about giant maggots.

In the last episode, the villains and monsters are defeated relatively early, allowing time to tie up the loose threads of the "family" surrounding the Doctor. Mike Yates - created specifically as a love interest for Jo - hears that she's engaged and looks momentarily distraught before telling her, "Well, that's marvellous". Only the Brigadier spots that Mike is being brave.

"Uh... Uh... Well, that's marvellous!"
The Green Death, episode 6
(On the rebound, Mike considers his future - and the future of the Earth. It's therefore Jo's fault he'll betray his friends.)

The Brigadier raises a toast and Benton starts singing: we should delight in what's happening. But the Doctor glowers sadly, knocks down his organic fizz and slips off without a word. It's brilliantly rich in things unsaid and yet the meaning is clear: the Doctor loves Jo and she knows all too well as she leaves him for another man.

Down in one.
The Green Death, episode 6
I find myself wondering if the modern series would dare do something so haunting and brave?

Next episode: 1974

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