Inferno is a
serial in the British science
fiction television series Doctor
Who, which was first broadcast in seven weekly parts from
May 9 to June 20,
This serial was the last regular
appearance of Caroline John
role of Liz Shaw
The Inferno is the nickname given to a project to penetrate the
's crust to penetrate pockets of
Stahlman's Gas at its core, which is theorised to be able to
provide endless energy. Professor Stahlman himself is ill-tempered
and obsessive about any interference with the progress of his work.
Sir Keith Gold, the project director, is concerned about this and
tells Petra Williams, Stahlman's assistant that he is calling Greg
Sutton, an oil drilling expert, to consult on safety issues.
overseeing security at the project, and the Third Doctor
is here too. He is using the
output of the project's nuclear
to power experiments on the TARDIS console, which has
been made portable, hoping to end the exile on Earth imposed on him
by the Time Lords
(The War Games
The project, however, has its own problems. Slocum, a worker
repairing one of the drill pipes encounters a toxic green slime
seeping out of the pipe that rapidly mutates him into a feral
creature, which goes berserk and kills one of the other workers.
While the Brigadier
Slocum creature enters the reactor control room and attacks
Bromley, the technician there, then pushes the reactor power to
At the same time, the Doctor is using the TARDIS console, and the
energy rush shifts the console and the Doctor into a dimensional
void, from which he is barely saved when Liz
manages to cut the power. Alarms go off as the drill is in
danger of shutting down due to the overload. When the Doctor
reaches the reactor control and starts to lower the power output,
Slocum bursts through a door, into the room, ready to
The Doctor tries to calm Slocum down while the man screeches
horribly, but a UNIT soldier, Wyatt, tries to shoot Slocum and is
attacked. Slocum eventually collapses, as does Wyatt, and the
former's body is so hot that it scorched the wall where he fell.
The Doctor voices his concern that Slocum's mutated form seems to
be filled with some strange power. He has also heard the screeching before —
during the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa.
Benton informs the Brigadier that Bromley and Wyatt have gone
missing, before their medical checkups, and the Doctor encounters
Wyatt, who is in the process of mutating, on the cooling towers.
Wyatt falls from it, to his death, but the Doctor does not notice
the mutated Bromley on the towers as well.
The drill has been bringing up more quantities of the green slime,
but Stahlman dismisses any connection between that and the
incidents at the project. When a jar of the slime starts to bubble
over, he quickly grips it, superficially burning his hand. Stahlman
places the jar in a box, which he orders frozen, and secretly
sabotages the project computer, by stamping on the computer's
micro-circuit, which was predicting disaster. He also orders that
the power be cut off to the Doctor's hut, so that the drilling can
be accelerated, with penetration occurring in 49 hours. The Doctor,
in the meantime, sends Liz away on a wild goose chase while he
hooks up the console again. Noticing the power drain, Stahlman cuts
the power to the console just as Liz and the Brigadier rush back to
the hut. As they look on, the Doctor, his console and his car,
Bessie, vanish into thin air...
The Doctor arrives in a parallel universe
. On this
world, a Republic of Great Britain exists, and is run by a fascist
regime after the execution of the Royal Family
, possibly in 1943. The
Inferno project is also ongoing, though having progressed farther
in this reality. The security is provided by the 'Republican
Security Forces' (RSF), a parallel universe version of UNIT.
Personnel include Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart, a sinister man
with an eyepatch, Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, and Platoon Under
The Doctor, captured and under interrogation, tries to convince the
parallel versions of his friends that he is from another universe,
but they believe he is trying to feign insanity. Here, Director
Stahlmann (as his name is spelled in this universe) has also been
infected with the green slime, and is mutating. The Doctor is
placed in a cell with a sedated Bromley, but the alarm is raised
when Bromley awakens fully mutated. Escaping, the Doctor makes his
way to the main control room to stop the drilling but is
discovered. The Doctor pleads for them to stop, telling them that
the screeching is the sound of the planet "screaming out its rage",
with Stahlmann holding him at gunpoint, with the countdown just
less than 10 seconds before penetration...
As Stahlmann holds a gun on the Doctor, penetration is achieved, an
explosion is heard and an earth tremor
rocks the installation. The temperature rises rapidly as more green
slime oozes out of the cracked pipes. As the Doctor and the
parallel Sutton try to contain the explosion, Stahlmann, now fully
mutated, attacks them. They manage to escape, leaving Stahlmann
behind a heat shield with the bodies of the unconscious workers.
Stahlmann rubs the slime on their faces, mutating them as well.
There are seismic disturbances all over the country, and the Doctor
explains that now that the crust has been penetrated, the planet
will soon revert back to the gases it sprung from, saying they have
"reached the point of no return,", and that they will never be able
to plug the hole, as nothing can withstand the immense pressures of
The Doctor tries to convince the others that he can stop this from
happening in his own universe if they will help him to return, and
shows them the TARDIS console. The Brigade Leader demands that the
Doctor save them, too, but the Doctor says that they do not belong
in the other universe. Refusing to accept this, the Brigade Leader
orders everyone back to the control room, where Stahlman and his
fellow mutants attack, infecting Benton as well…
Finally agreeing to help the Doctor, the group fights their way out
using fire extinguishers
paralyse the mutants. By this time, the sky has turned red and the
heat is overwhelming. The parallel Petra, with Sutton's help,
manages to feed power to the TARDIS console. At the last moment,
the Brigade Leader snaps and threatens to shoot the Doctor if he
doesn't save them, but is gunned down by Section Leader Shaw. As a
wall of lava
sweeps towards the hut and the
others watch the end coming towards them, the Doctor transfers back
to his own universe…
The Doctor is back but unconscious in a healing coma
, and there are only three hours left before
penetration zero. When he awakes, the Doctor goes to the main
control room and tries to smash the controls. He is unsuccessful
and has to be restrained, but manages to tell Liz to put a new
circuit into the computer that Stahlman had sabotaged. Liz does so,
and the computer advises drilling be stopped at once. In the
meantime, Stahlman orders everyone out of the drill head area, then
when they are gone he picks up a handful of slime and rubs it into
his face, causing himself to completely mutate. The Doctor escapes
from the sickbay and returns to the control room, dealing with the
Bromley mutant on the way. As Sir Keith struggles with the decision
to order a shutdown, the Stahlman mutant emerges and has to be
subdued with fire extinguishers. With seconds to go, Sir Keith
orders that the drill be shut down and the shaft filled in.
Later, Sir Keith informs the Doctor that the project is being
abandoned and everyone is leaving. The Doctor announces that he,
too, is leaving. The Brigadier and Liz protest, and the Doctor
sharply tells the Brigadier that he reminds him of his fascist
counterpart. The Doctor activates the console and vanishes; on this
occasion, Bessie is left behind. A few minutes later, the Doctor
appears at the door of the hut with mud on his clothes and a banana
skin on his shoulder, having only made it as far as a nearby
rubbish dump. Suitably chastened, he asks the Brigadier to help him
retrieve the console, which has landed in a somewhat inaccessible
position, much to Liz's amusement.
- This episode marks the first story in Doctor Who to be set in a parallel universe.
- The Tenth Doctor also travels to a
parallel universe where Great Britain has a president, in "Rise of the Cybermen"/"Age of Steel". This is not the same parallel
UK, and its president appears to be in place of a prime minister as
Rose Tyler opines and as evidenced by the Royal cypher of Queen
Elizabeth II on police helmets.
- In the parallel world, the nametag on Director Stahlman's
uniform reads "Stahlmann", despite the credits to Episode 5
spelling his name as "Stahlman", like his non-fascist counterpart.
It is unclear whether the nametag is in error or the credits are in
- The Doctor's remark that he had heard the screeching sound the
Primords made before at Krakatoa could imply that he had
encountered (or at least heard) the creatures before. In the 2005
series episode "Rose" a sketch
that washed up on the shores of Sumatra following the eruption was
seen, depicting the Ninth Doctor in
front of a volcano.
- The Doctor mentions on two occasions that he and the Brigadier
had been together for years, although in real life they had been
depicted together for only one season plus two serials, featuring
Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, before that.
- This story marks the last appearance of the original TARDIS
console, which had been used on the series since the very first
story, An Unearthly
Child. The story shows it removed from the TARDIS and
- Liz Shaw does not feature in any subsequent serials, although
an illusory image of her is seen in The Five Doctors (and the character is
one of many in the Children in Need
skit, Dimensions in
Time). She also headlines the direct-to-video P.R.O.B.E.
adventures. She properly returns to the role in the audio story
The Blue Tooth, which takes
place just after Inferno.
Primords were humans mutated by slime produced as a byproduct of
Project Inferno. The creatures were never actually called Primords
in the story, although they were credited as such.
In some circumstances, the infection could be transmitted if a
Primord touched a human and heat would cause the transformation to
progress at a more rapid pace. Primords were resistant to gunfire.
Their known weaknesses were falls from a great height and rapid
application of cold, such as from a fire extinguisher. The degree
of intelligence displayed by the Primords was variable; they acted
primarily on instinct, but displayed signs of organisation and
tactics. They made a high-pitched, screeching sound,
which the Doctor claimed that he had heard before during the
eruption of Krakatoa in
The BBC Books
sequel to the
serial, The Face
of the Enemy
by David A.
, later revealed that
despite the Doctor's assumption, the parallel Earth had in fact not
disintegrated, but the surface had been devastated beyond recovery.
It also implied that many survivors of the disaster had since
John Levene's portrayal of Benton as a Primord was inspired by
nicknamed because of the Primord creature's hump).
Working titles for this story included Operation:
, The Mo-Hole Project
(after the real-life
) and Project:
The opening credits for this serial were unusual in that after the
initial titles, the name and part number of the serial were
superimposed on footage of a lava flow, with no music.
In spite of Douglas Camfield
receiving sole credit as director, Episodes 3-7 were directed by
producer Barry Letts
after Camfield had
a minor heart attack on April 27 1970
. Letts later stated that Camfield's preparations
were so meticulous, that he just followed the other man's plans
anyway. Camfield remained credited as director, as BBC regulations
at the time forbade any person from being credited for more than
one production role, and they did not want Camfield's illness to
become widely known, lest it harm his career.
Derek Ware did not actually perform the scene where the mutated RSF
Private Wyatt is shot and falls to his death from the top of one of
the cooling towers, in case he was injured, as he was also needed
for studio recording. His place was taken by Roy Scammell, who
strangely also played the RSF sentry who fires the fatal shot. Ware
also stated in an interview that Scammell had already signed the
contract to do the fall before Ware had been cast as Wyatt. At the
time it was filmed, the fall was the highest fall ever performed by
a British stuntman.
Episode 6 has a small damaged section on the tape, which the
Doctor Who Restoration
replaced by painstakingly recolouring the appropriate
section of the existing b/w film recording.
Caroline John enjoyed her role as Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw and
says that it was fun playing 'baddie' Liz. She also says she hated
doing the scenes when she was playing the 'goodie' version because
it was boring compared to being an evil character. She was
particularly upset though about the scene in which Shaw shoots
Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart, as she was pregnant at the time.
As a result, the scene was recorded with the weapon fired from
out-of-shot, after which Shaw was shown returning the gun to her
During the scenes set on the parallel Earth, images (supposedly) of
the UK's dictatorial leader are seen on posters. The image used is
that of Visual Effects Designer Jack Kine
in homage to the 1954 BBC adaptation of Nineteen
where the face of Big Brother
was Head of Television Design
(Kine had worked on the visual
effects for that production).
Christopher Benjamin, who plays Sir Keith Gold, also played Henry
Gordon Jago in the Fourth Doctor
serial The Talons of
and Colonel Hugh Curbishley in the Tenth Doctor
serial The Unicorn and the
The role of Petra was given to Sheila Dunn after Kate O'Mara
was not available to play the part.
O'Mara would, years later, be cast as the Rani
, a renegade Time Lord. Dunn was the
wife of this story's director, Douglas Camfield.
Broadcast and reception
late 1980s, when the California PBS
member station KTEH encountered
budget problems, the station broadcast this serial
The original 625-line PAL
videotapes were wiped
for reuse in the mid 1970s. BBC
retained the b/w film recordings made for overseas
1985, a set of 525-line NTSC videotapes were
returned from Canada.
to the complexities of conversion, the original conversions to
625-line PAL left the picture looking a little blurred and faded
when the story was released on VHS
in May 1994
in the UK. When Inferno
was released on Region 2 DVD
on 19 June 2006
, however, the picture quality had been markedly
enhanced through the use of the "Reverse Standards Conversion
procedure (see also The Claws of
The Canadian videotapes include an additional scene in Episode 5
that was not originally transmitted in the UK, but was retained for
overseas screening (and has also appeared on both the UK Gold
transmissions and the BBC Video release).
Set in the Brigade Leader's office where the survivors listen to a
radio broadcast done by Jon Pertwee in the style of Lord Haw Haw
, the scene was cut because
Pertwee's voice was too identifiable. It is also interesting to
note that the radio announcer names the area where the Inferno
project is taking place as being Eastchester; the name is not
mentioned anywhere else in the story. The scene was included as an
extra on the DVD release, with the episode itself presented exactly
as originally transmitted (using the b/w film recording for
reference when editing).
The final episode of this story was also issued on the VHS release
The Pertwee Years
along with the final episodes of both
and Frontier in Space
A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks
, was published by Target Books
in June 1984.
Andrew, "DWM Archive: Inferno", Doctor Who
Magazine, #305, 27 June, 2001, Panini Comics, p.