Sunday, June 25, 2006

Doctor Who - Inferno

This week saw the DVD release of my favourite Doctor Who story of all time, Inferno. To mark this, I've fished out a review I dashed off for the Doctor Who Ratings Guide half a decade ago:

Simply the best

There is probably no harder review to write than that of the reviewer's favourite story of all and Inferno is my favourite tale. There's little to fault in the entire production, give or take a few shots of the Pimords that make them seem too comical, and the picture quality of the NTSC transfer, which is an understandable by product of the means by which the story has survived at all in colour. Otherwise this is three hours of strong storytelling enhanced by excellent direction, design and casting that never once drags but instead propels the viewer towards its dramatic conclusion.

Inferno works by taking two very strong ideas, neither of which has been substantially used in the series so far, and combining them in a highly effective character and action piece. It's surprising that Doctor Who has only extremely rarely ventured into the realm of parallel universes given how strongly they have featured in many other science fiction series. What is so striking about this story is the way it turns the entire UNIT format on its head and once more allows a story in which the Doctor accidentally arrives in a semi-mysterious world where he has to fight to establish his right to tackle the emerging danger before it's too late. However on this occasion it is too late and the destruction of the alternate Earth at the end of Episode 6 is one of the most chilling cliffhangers in the series' history.

The cast is exceptionally strong in this story, particularly given that many of them have to play dual roles with subtle differences. Nicholas Courtney's portrayal as the Brigade Leader is especially sadistic and an immense contrast from the Brigadier, whilst Caroline John gets thrust into the role of a soldier rather than a scientist and so gets more of the action than usual. Of the guest cast Olaf Pooley shines especially as both versions of Stahlman whilst Derek Newark gives both Greg Suttons a strong presence. The camera work is especially good in the way that familiar sequences from one Earth are shown to happen in a subtly different way on the other, such as the Doctor encountering a mutated Bromley as he desperately moves around the complex. Equally good is the shot of Slocum battering to death a technician with a wrench that cuts to Benton hammering a nail into the wall.

UNIT and its counterpart, the Republican Security Force, come across as particularly effective here, being portrayed as though they are real soldiers. Douglas Camfield's direction in the location sequences is as strong as ever and even in the later studio scenes his influence is felt. The design work is also strong, even with the Primords who are only let down by a couple of shots that look cheesy due to their teeth being too obvious. Otherwise the design work is strong and it is supported by some good lighting which can often otherwise ruin a story's atmosphere. Equally supportive is the soundtrack, with the drill noise ever present whilst the incidental music is highly memorable. More so than any other Doctor Who story, Inferno represents a triumphant combination of all the elements of production to complement one another and thus present a strong story that can be enjoyed again and again and again (or at least until the videotapes wear out - unsubtle DVD hint). 10/10
Inferno can be purchased from here.


Paul Burgin said...

In which case, what did you think of the recent cybermen adventure?

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I thought it was fantastic! But I'm going to wait a while (certainly beyond the spoiler limit on the Ratings Guide) before writing my reviews of the last and current series.


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