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Doctor Who: Inferno

“Listen to that! It's the sound of the planet screaming out its rage!”

For a science fiction series with such a long and diverse history as Doctor Who it is somewhat surprising that ‘Inferno’ is the only time in its original 26-year run that everyone’s favourite Time Lord ever ventured into a “parallel space-time continuum”. Can’t understand why they never did it again because ‘Inferno’ is very good indeed.

I’ll admit that it isn’t perfect, often suffering from many of the same problems that blights most of season 7 (being too long, too serious and too grim). Also, it features some of the most embarrassing monsters this show has ever produced. But these are all minor faults that I feel ‘Inferno’ easily overcomes.

In keeping with the more gritty tone of this season ‘Inferno’ is a very dark and often brutal story. At one point the Doctor is practically being tortured as he is viciously interrogated by the Brigade Leader. And the ending of Episode 6 is a moment of utter hopelessness. Not only does the Doctor fails to save the other universe he is then forced to abandon it completely and everyone there in order to get back to his own in time to save it. I mean, this is the Doctor we’re talking about, the type of a man who values life so much he’d gladly sacrifice his own to save his enemies as well as his friends. So seeing him willingly leave behind people who have risked their own lives to get him home is something of a shock.

The parallel world the Doctor finds himself in is an Orwellian nightmare where even the most trusted friend is a deadly enemy. In this world our beloved Brigadier is the ruthless, one-eyed and shockingly ‘tache-less Brigade Leader with loveable Sgt. Benton as his obedient thug and Liz Shaw as…well, she’s still Liz Shaw, only sterner and sporting a horrendous wig. Bizarrely, the remaining supporting characters aren’t that much different from their dimensional opposites. Petra and Sutton are vitally identical (albeit, better dressed) and Stahlman is just as much an arse over there as he is over here.

‘Inferno’ is a great story for the Third Doctor and marks his gradual shift towards being more of an unconventional action hero. We finally get to see Worzel show off his fighting skills as the Doctor whips out the Venusian karate for the first time. You’ve gotta love that Jon Pertwee of all people, with his silver bouffant, frilly shirts and velvet jackets, is the one we consider to be the action Doctor. In days gone by all that action stuff, the running about and thumbing bad guys, was typically handled by the male companion. The Doctor just stood on the sidelines cheering them on, which isn’t really much of surprise when someone like William Hartnell is your Doctor. Can’t say I’ve ever imagined him karate chopping a bad guy across the head.

Typically of classic Doctor Who it’s the monsters that let the whole side down. 'Inferno' is one story that certainly didn’t really need any monsters. So I have no idea why the producers thought it would be a good idea to shove in a pack of lime flavoured wolfmen Ed Wood would dismiss as being too rubbish looking. I try not to judge the series too harshly for its charity shop production values. Despite being one of the BBC’s most popular shows it was made on a tiny budget. And in all fairness, the Primords are quite effective in the early stages, when they’re more like ravenous zombies. Too bad they don’t stay that way.

Notes and Quotes

--Final regular appearance of Caroline John as Liz Shaw. She was abruptly sacked between series as Barry Letts didn’t feel Liz Shaw was working out as a companion.

--In the 1984-inspired world Great Britain has become a brutal totalitarian Republic. There’s no monarchy with the entire Royal family having been executed as traitors.

--There’s some classic Pertwee gurning action going on in Episode 1 when the Doctor first goes dimension hopping.

--Director Douglas Camfield was forced to pull out mid-filming after suffering a minor heart attack. Barry Letts quickly stepped in and directed the remainder of the story uncredited out of respect for Camfield, who had already done all the prep work needed with Letts just following his notes.

--It seems rather absurd that someone like Stahlman, an arrogant isolationist who values no one’s opinion but his own, would have such unquestionable control over a major government project.

--The Doctor was at Krakatoa in 1883.

--In a nice reversal of convention regular Stahlman has a goatee while his counterpart is clean shaven.

The Doctor: "Look, without the Tardis, I feel rather lost. A stranger in a foreign land. A shipwrecked mariner."

Stahlman: "I would’ve come to the same conclusion."
Sir Keith: "He came to his answers in 10 minutes. You had a team of mathematicians working on it for months."
Stahlman: "That’s hardly the point, Sir Keith."
--Someone's tetchy.

The Doctor: "What’s going to happen to me?"
Brigade Leader: “You’ll be shot, eventually.”
The Doctor: “Without a trial?”
Brigade Leader: “This is your trial.”

The Doctor: "Proper little bureaucrat, aren’t you? Can’t shoot me unless you’ve filled in all the forms, is that it?"

The Doctor: "I keep telling you, Brigade Leader, I don't exist here!"
Brigade Leader: “Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you.”

The Doctor: "Well, I'll tell you something that should be of vital interest to you. That you, Sir, are a NITWIT!"

The Brigadier: "Sergeant, I sent you to get Professor Stahlman."
Sergeant Benton: "But that's just it, sir, Professor Stahlman won't come. He says he's too busy to…"
The Brigadier: "Too busy to what, Sergeant?"
Sergeant Benton: "He says he's too busy to waste time bandying words with a pompous military idiot… sir!"

Greg Sutton: "Marvelous, isn't it? The world's going up in flames and they're still playing at toy soldiers."

The Brigadier: “'Pompous, self-opinionated idiot,' I think you said, Doctor.”
The Doctor: "Yes, well, we don't want to bear a grudge for a few hasty words, do we? No, not after all the years that we've worked together. Now, come along, my dear fellow. Put on a smile..."
--I think this could be the continuation of a beautiful friendship.

Four out of four parallel space-time continuums.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


  1. "There’s no monarchy with the entire Royal family having been executed as traitors, thus denying this world the wonder of Pippa Middleton's backside. Truly, this is a cruel and unforgiving reality."

    A very valid point and a terrifying prospect. It hardly bears thinking about.

    Thanks for for your classic Who reviews, Mark. Pertwee was the Doctor I first remember and I'm really enjoying these trips back behind the sofa (although in my case it was actually a rather battered rocking-chair.)

  2. Happy to hear you are enjoying the classic Who reviews, Tim. McCoy was my first Doctor but Pertwee was one of the Doctors I remember watching the most as a kid. Even so, he'll still always be Worzel to me.

  3. This is a great one. It's not quite in my top 10, but it's not far off, even with the dime store werewolves (the primords). Too bad this was Liz's last story, as I felt she did very well as both herself and the parallel world's version, along with of course the brigade leader who we find is a coward and a bully, which is a great way to express how different he is, and alternate Benton as well, even if Benton being evil feels so very wrong.

    This is a stark story, and the Doctor not being able to save the other Earth is actually quite shocking. They do a good job driving home just how bleak things are, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

    I do agree that's it not perfect (mostly for those silly primords), but I do see why some love this one so much, and have to agree with your rating Mark.

  4. Thank you for telling us that Caroline John was fired by Letts. I have always wondered where she went, and why she left so suddenly. "Not working out" indeed!!! Perhaps she went to compare notes with Dr Pulaski.

    1. To be fair, Caroline John had just found out she was pregnant and was at the exact same moment trying to think of a way to tell Barry Letts that she wasn't going to want to come back the following season.

      It was really a case of two people trying to find a kind way to break up with one another.

    2. The above comment was from me. I don't know why it wouldn't let me log in.

  5. I enjoy the irony that the Fascist parallel Earth is much more efficient and gets around to blowing itself up much quicker.


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