“THE GREEN DEATH” – Season 10, Serial 5, Story 69 – Written by Robert Slocum and Barry Letts (uncredited); Directed by Michael E. Briant – It’s time to say goodbye to Jo Grant as it’s her final bow as a Companion. Jo and the Brigadier both want to head to Wales to deal with an ongoing conflict between Global Chemical and some hippies. Jo wants to side with the hippies and the Brig wants to investigate the death of a Global worker. The Doctor just wants to go to Metebelis Three, the blue planet, but no one wants to go with him. The Doctor recognizes that Jo is pulling away from him, which tinges the serial with sadness. Because Jo Falls In Love, Gets Engaged, And Leaves The Doctor For A Professor.
THE GREEN DEATH is a fantastic serial and a provides a fitting end to the Companion career of Jo Grant.
The set-up in episode 1 is one of the best of the Pertwee era. There’s trouble at Global Chemical over in Wales, and the Doctor, Jo, and the Brig all have different takes on it. The Brig wants to go in an official capacity to investigate a recent murder. Jo wants to go join the hippie commune of chief protester Professor Clifford Jones, and the Doctor wants to go to Metebelis Three, the blue planet.
The relationship between the Doctor and Jo has been an absolute treat to watch and so episode 1 hits pretty hard with a scene where the two of them are talking over each other. The Doctor is going on about fixing the TARDIS so he can get to Metebelis and Jo is reading the paper and going on about how awesome Professor Jones is; when they finally realize what’s been happening, there’s an obvious sense of disconnect. The Doctor is almost needy with his desire for Jo to come with him, and anyone who’s familiar with the weepiness and somberness of Tennant and Smith when it comes to saying goodbye to their Companions will find an awful lot in Pertwee’s performance that resonates.
Both Jo and the Brigadier want the Doctor to come with them, but he refuses to join either one of them until after he’s seen the blue moon.
There’s a wonderful failed power play by the Brig to get Jo and the Doctor to come with him, and he eventually resigns himself to the fact that both of them are going to do whatever they want, no matter what he wants. Rank is only important if it’s recognized, after all. Even after realizing that Jo is so serious about going down to hang with the hippies that she really will resign, the Brig offers Jo a ride. Jo is a bit surprised by this, but the Brigadier is a total gentleman about the whole thing.
I really like this whole sequence because it depicts just how much these characters like one another, even when they disagree with one another.
The Brigadier and Jo are off to Wales in the Brig’s Mercedes convertible (nice taste, Lethbridge-Stewart!) and he drops her off at the commune, Wholeweal, which the locals have nicknamed the Nut Hutch.
From there we get three different plots: the Brig getting stonewalled at Global Chemical, Jo getting to know Professor Jones, and the Doctor in a world of trouble on Metebelis Three. The serial quickly moves through these plots, creating a real sense of momentum. Before you know it, Jo is trapped down in a mine shaft, the Doctor is doing everything he can to help, and the Brigadier is, well, getting stonewalled by Stevens, the head of Global Chemical. Blending in Professor Jones and a good number of secondary characters, GREEN DEATH never feels like its slowing down to pad the story. Slocum’s script does a bang-up job switching up the characters: first it’s the Doctor and Brig teaming up, then it’s the Doctor and one of the mine workers, then it’s the Doctor and Jo.
Jo and the Doctor get out of the tunnels, which are infested with giant maggots, thanks to the assistance of one of the Global Chemical employees that have yet to be brainwashed into helping Stevens and his unseen boss (which turns out to be a computer named, you guessed it, BOSS). Now that they’re out, they do what needs to be done.
They all head back to the Nut Hutch to have dinner. It’s a delicious dinner, though the Brig gets all grumpy when he finds out he’s eating a bunch of fungus that’s been prepared to taste like something else. It’s another wonderful scene; the Brig is clearly both uncomfortable with the situation here in hippie-ville, but he’s also able to fit in.
And why’s that?
Because the Brigadier has faced Yetis. He can handle hippies.
The rest of the serial is just as good, continually changing up the conflict – we get the maggots, Captain Yates undercover, all the brainwashing, the Brig’s power play failing as Stevens’ Friends in High Places are better than Lethbridge-Stewart’s, Jones falling ill, bombs getting dropped, the BOSS supercomputer … it’s all really well done, making THE GREEN DEATH the rare six-part serial that feels just right and not padded out.
Which brings us to the end, and Jo’s decision to stay behind with Jones instead of continuing on with the Doctor. She says early in the episode that Jones reminds her of a younger Doctor and she has the same basic relationship with him. He’s brilliant, she’s not, but she manages to bring more to the table than he suspects. It’s telling that Jo isn’t stepping away from adventure and danger; Jones is headed into the Amazon and Jo’s going with him, after they get married.
Does this whole engagement thing seem unnecessary and out of left field (or whatever the Brit version of left field is)? Sure, but it also feels kinda right, too. The best part of the episode comes in the Doctor’s goodbye to Jo; he’s happy for her and sad for himself and it’s some of Pertwee’s most understated (and best) acting of his tenure. He doesn’t want to say he’s sad or that he doesn’t want her to leave, but it’s writ large all over his face. As the celebratory party turns into an engagement party, the Doctor downs his champagne and leaves the party to climb, alone, into Bessie, and leave the happiness behind. Director Michael E. Briant does a brilliant job using the day’s setting sun to add a sense of loneliness and solitude to the Doctor’s exit, including the last shot of him driving across our screen in silhouette.
Jo’s sad, too, of course, but also happy at this turn of events. She’s been a wonderful Companion. It’s not just the Doctor who will miss her.