Inferno (Doctor Who)

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This article is about the 1970 Doctor Who serial. For the 1965 episode of the same name, see The Romans (Doctor Who).
054 – Inferno
Doctor Who serial
Inferno (Doctor Who).JPG
The Doctor, the Brigadier and Liz confront Professor Stahlman.
Writer Don Houghton
Director Douglas Camfield
Barry Letts (episodes 3-7, uncredited)
Script editor Terrance Dicks
Producer Barry Letts
Incidental music composer Stock music
Production code DDD
Series Season 7
Length 7 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 9 May 1970
Date ended 20 June 1970
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Ambassadors of Death Terror of the Autons

Inferno is the fourth and final serial of the seventh season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in seven weekly parts from 9 May to 20 June 1970. The serial remains the last time a Doctor Who story was transmitted in seven episodes. This serial was also the last regular appearance of Caroline John in the role of Liz Shaw.


"The Inferno" is the nickname given to a project to penetrate the Earth's crust to reach pockets of Stahlman's Gas, which is theorised to be able to provide boundless amounts of cheap energy. Professor Stahlman is ill-tempered and obsessive about any interference with 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. UNIT is overseeing security at the project. The Third Doctor is also present, as he is using surplus power from the project's nuclear reactor in experiments on the TARDIS console, hoping to repair it and end the exile on Earth imposed on him by the Time Lords (The War Games).

Harry Slocum, a worker, encounters a toxic green slime seeping out of a pipe that mutates him into a subhuman primordial creature who kills several technicians and a soldier. The substance also scorches Stahlman's hand. Meanwhile, whilst operating the TARDIS console, the Doctor vanishes before the Brigadier and Liz and arrives in a parallel universe. On this Earth, Great Britain is a Republic under a Fascist regime, the British Royal Family having been executed many years previously. The Inferno project is also ongoing, though several hours ahead in this reality. The project is run as a scientific labour camp, under the auspices of Director Stahlmann, Professor Stahlman's counterpart. The Doctor, captured and under interrogation by the British Republican Security Forces, encounters alternative versions of his friends - "Brigade Leader" Lethbridge-Stewart, "Section Leader" Elizabeth Shaw, and "Platoon Under Leader" Benton. In this universe, Sir Keith Gold has recently died in a car accident. The Doctor tries to convince his friends' counterparts that he is from another universe, but they believe he is a spy, trying to feign insanity. The Doctor escapes his cell and tries to stop the drilling but is discovered.

As Stahlmann holds the Doctor at gunpoint with the Brigade Leader's pistol, an earth tremor rocks the installation, and most of the technicians and RSF troops flee the complex in terror. Stahlmann and most of the scientists become Primords. The Doctor believes that the parallel Earth is doomed and tries to convince the others that he can stop this from happening in his own universe if they will help him to return. Finally agreeing to help the Doctor, the group fights off the hordes of Primords, including an infected and mutated Benton, with fire extinguishers, as the creatures thrive on heat and are vulnerable to cold temperatures. The parallel Petra and Sutton feed power to the TARDIS console. The Brigade Leader threatens to shoot the Doctor if he doesn't save them but is shot dead by Section Leader Shaw. The Doctor returns to his own universe just as a wall of lava sweeps towards the hut.

After waking from a coma, the Doctor learns that since Sir Keith Gold survived the car accident that killed his parallel self, "the pattern can be changed" and this Earth need not perish. The Doctor tries to stop the project by smashing the equipment, but he is restrained by UNIT troops. This world's Stahlman has also mutated into a Primord and attacks the control room before being killed by the Doctor and Sutton with fire extinguishers. Petra has the drilling stopped, and with the project abandoned, Sir Keith plans to have the shaft filled in. Shortly before the nuclear reactor is deactivated, the Doctor tries to leave using the TARDIS console but lands several hundred yards away at a rubbish dump.


This story marks the last appearance of the original TARDIS console, which had been used on the series since the first story, An Unearthly Child. The story shows it removed from the TARDIS and malfunctioning badly. Liz Shaw does not feature in any subsequent serials, although an illusory image of her is seen in The Five Doctors. In Death of the Doctor, she is said to be at UNIT's moon base. In the next serial (Terror of the Autons, at the start of the following season) it is mentioned that Liz went back to Cambridge.


The production filmed at Kingsnorth Industrial Estate in Medway, Kent which featured as the setting for the Inferno project.[1]


Don Houghton came to Terrance Dicks with an idea for the story based on the real life Project Mohole. A smaller budget for the serial drove the idea of a parallel world, where the studio could use the same actors in multiple roles.[2] Despite Douglas Camfield receiving sole credit as director, Episodes 3-7 were directed by producer Barry Letts[3] after Camfield had a minor heart attack on April 27, 1970. Letts later stated that Camfield's preparations were so meticulous, that he merely followed the other director's plans. 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 Trooper Wyatt is shot and falls to his death from the top of one of the chemical tanks, in case he was injured, as he was also needed for studio recording. His place was taken by Roy Scammell, who also played the soldier who fired 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. John Levene's portrayal of Benton as a Primord was inspired by Richard III (so nicknamed because of the Primord creature's hump).[4]

Caroline John enjoyed her role as Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw and says that it was fun playing "baddie" Liz. She also said she hated doing the scenes when she was playing her usual role because it was boring compared to being the parallel 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 holster.[5]

During the scenes set on the parallel Earth, images of the British Republic's 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 Eighty-Four where the face of Big Brother was Head of Television Design Roy Oxley (Kine had worked on the visual effects for that production).

Episode 6 has a small damaged section on the American NTSC videotape, which the Doctor Who Restoration Team replaced by painstakingly recolouring the appropriate section of the existing b/w film recording.[6]


The director of Inferno chose not to commission any new incidental music for the serial, but instead made use of existing library recordings made by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. These included "Blue Veils & Golden Sands", "The Delian Mode" (both by Delia Derbyshire), "Battle Theme", "Homeric Theme", "Attack of the Alien Minds", "Souls in Space" (all by Brian Hodgson), and "Build Up To" (by David Vorhaus). In additional, as was usual, Brian Hodgson supplied new sound effects for the serial such as "TARDIS Control On & Warp Transfer"[7] According to the DVD release of the ITV serial Timeslip, the music was later featured in the second part of that show's production The Time Of The Ice Box.

Cast notes[edit]

Christopher Benjamin, who plays Sir Keith Gold, also played Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Colonel Hugh Curbishley in "The Unicorn and the Wasp". He also played Tardelli in the audio play Grand Theft Cosmos.

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, and had appeared twice before in Doctor Who, in The Invasion and The Daleks' Master Plan.

Derek Newark had previously played Za in An Unearthly Child.[3]

Stuntman, Alan Chuntz,[8] received a bad leg injury in episode 3 when he was hit by the car Jon Pertwee was driving. Pertwee felt so bad about it that he became ill himself, which threatened to disrupt filming.[citation needed]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"Episode 1" 9 May 1970 (1970-05-09) 23:21 5.7 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 2" 16 May 1970 (1970-05-16) 22:04 5.9 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 3" 23 May 1970 (1970-05-23) 24:34 4.8 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 4" 30 May 1970 (1970-05-30) 24:57 6.0 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 5" 6 June 1970 (1970-06-06) 23:42 5.4 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 6" 13 June 1970 (1970-06-13) 23:32 6.7 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)
"Episode 7" 20 June 1970 (1970-06-20) 24:33 5.5 RSC converted (NTSC-to-PAL)

In 2009, Mark Braxton of Radio Times praised the intense atmosphere, with a "good, scary, cautionary" plot. However, he noted that the Primords were not the best physical design and their relationship to the events was not cleared up.[12] Reviewing the special edition DVD release, Dave Golder of SFX gave the serial four out of five stars. He wrote that the alternate universe plot that was (mistakenly cited as being) added to stretch out the story[13] was "the best thing about it" and the actual plot felt "a little B-movie in comparison, but ... remains a stylish and action-packed slice of Pertwee Who.[14] DVD Talk's Ian Jane rated Inferno three and a half out of five stars, praising the cast and "decent" production values. Jane noted that the story had a slow beginning, but once the pace picked up it became "choice entertainment".[15] In 2008, The Daily Telegraph named Inferno as one of the ten best Doctor Who episodes ever.[16] Charlie Jane Anders of io9 listed the cliffhanger of the sixth episode as one of Doctor Who's greatest cliffhangers in a 2010 article.[17] Den of Geek listed the serial as an example of good sound design[18] and music score.[19]

This serial was judged by a 2009 Doctor Who Magazine fan poll to be the finest story of the Third Doctor's era and 31st in the series overall (out of 200 stories total).[20] A similar poll taken in 2014 ranked Inferno as the 18th greatest story of all time.[21]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who Inferno.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Nick Spender
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
18 October 1984
ISBN 0-426-19617-1

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in June 1984.

Home media[edit]

The original 625-line PAL videotapes were wiped for reuse in the mid 1970s. BBC Enterprises retained the black-and-white film recordings made for overseas sales. In 1985, a set of 525-line NTSC videotapes were returned from Canada. Due to the complexities of conversion, the original re-conversions back 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. Prior to this, episode 7 of the story had been included on the 1992 VHS release, The Pertwee Years (along with the final episodes of both The Dæmons and Frontier in Space). 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. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in Issue 44 on 8 September 2010.

A Special Edition re-release of the story was released on 27 May 2013.[22] This uses the same technique employed on the special edition DVD of The Claws of Axos: the colour information from the Reverse Standards Conversion video was combined with luminance information from a geometrically-corrected remaster of the 16mm film recording, with VidFIRE applied to the studio interior scenes to recreate the 50-field interlaced look.[citation needed] The resulting picture is sharper than the RSC version.[23]

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 Doctor, the Brigade Leader and Section Leader Shaw listen to a BBC radio news report spoken by Jon Pertwee imitating the style of William Joyce, the scene was cut because Pertwee's voice was too identifiable. 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 but is subsequently mentioned in spin-off media. The scene was included as an extra on the DVD releases, with the episode itself presented exactly as originally transmitted (using the b/w film recording for reference when editing).


  1. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Doctor Who – Inferno Article". 
  2. ^ "Episode 7". Barry Letts - Who & Me. 18 April 2010. BBC Radio 7. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ John Levene. Inferno, Episode 6 (DVD commentary). BBC Warner. 
  5. ^ Pixley, Andrew, "DWM Archive: Inferno", Doctor Who Magazine, #305, 27 June 2001, Panini Comics, p. 41.
  6. ^ "Doctor Who Restoration Team - Infero notes". 
  7. ^ "Doctor Who At The BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970-1980 (CD) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 12 Feb 2011. 
  8. ^ Alan Chuntz (1970). Dying for a Living (Documentary). BBC. 
  9. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "Inferno". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  10. ^ "Inferno". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  11. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2006-04-26). "Inferno". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  12. ^ Braxton, Mark (7 October 2009). "Doctor Who: Inferno". Radio Times. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "PAGE BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Inferno". 
  14. ^ Golder, Dave (24 May 2013). "Doctor Who: Inferno - Special Edition Review". SFX. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Jane, Ian (11 June 2013). "Doctor Who: Inferno Special Edition". DVD Talk. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "The 10 greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever". The Daily Telegraph. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  17. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (31 August 2010). "Greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers of all time!". io9. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "10 classic Doctor Who sound designs". Den of Geek. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  19. ^ "Top 10 classic Doctor Who scores". Den of Geek. 28 June 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  20. ^ "The Mighty 200". Doctor Who Magazine (Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Panini Comics) (413). 14 October 2009. 
  21. ^ Doctor Who Magazine Issue 474[full citation needed]
  22. ^ "DVD Update: The Ambassadors of Death / Special Editions". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  23. ^ "PAGE Telly TechL Doctor Who: Inferno - Special Edition - DVD Review". 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]