Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Douglas Camfield (episode 1 and 2) & Barry Letts
My sister is a geologist. Also, she is a nerd. A few years ago she told me of an ill fated attempt to drill down to the Mohorovičić discontinuity (also known as the MoHo) named, appropriately enough, Project Mohole. It did not work out well. I was pretty delighted, therefore, not long afterwards to discover a Doctor Who story based on this this failed enterprise*.
Apparently though, the idea of a Who story based on people digging a big hole just wasn’t sexy enough for the production team, particularly if it had to go on for seven episodes. Clearly a bunch of other elements, most likely picked out of a hat at random, needed to be added. Que the entry of hairy neandertal things and mysterious gunge that regresses people to their primal instincts.
Oh yeah, and the parallel dimension where everyone’s a Nazi.
How a sci-fi show like Who went for nearly seven years without dabbling in the murky pool that is inter-dimensional revelry I do not know, but when they finally got round to it they really did it well. The whole Nazi motif had been well and truly done to death by this point: they’d been the bad guys is every damn film, comic and TV show for coming on for three decades now, including Who, which simply dressed them up in bumpy costumes and funny voices, but here a very different take on them is presented, with their blind efficiency, rather than racist shenanigans, being the focus of their antagonistic tendencies.
Even better than all that fascist madness though is that the parallel universe allowed them to do what they could never do in any other story: destroy the earth. Yup, the whole thing. In a universe where everyone is an authoritarian cunt, so its probably okay.
If I had to pick a nit about this story, it would be with the characterisation of the Brigade Leader. Every other parallel character is, at the heart of it, the same as they are in the primarily universe, but having grown up in a world of fascists. Some of them, like Sutton are exactly the same. The Brig, on the other hand, could not be more different. The Brig we all know and love is one of the bravest characters in the show. Barley an episode he’s in goes by without him coming close to death in order to save to world. The Brigade leader, on the other hand, is just as cowardly as the Brig is heroic. I’m not going to moan too much though, as Nicholas Courtney clearly had so much fun playing the double role. He needs that ’tash though.
Jon Pertwee’s first year as the Doctor, against all odds and expectations, somehow ended up working out as an unmitigated success. Four of Who’s finest stories can be found here, thanks in no small part to a spectacularly talented regular cast and crew, alongside a great set of guests. It wasn’t likely that this level of storytelling would be able to continue sadly, particularly as the inevitable repetitiveness of the earthbound stories would soon begin to kick in. Happily, not all may be lost though, as next time we are introduced to a rather dapper goateed antagonist, in Terror of the Auton.
*Not the only geological reference in this story; their peppered throughout all over the place. At one point the Doctor and the Brig have a wee chat about the loudest volcanic eruption on record.