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.
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Barry Letts (episodes 3-7, uncredited)
Written by Don Houghton
Script editor Terrance Dicks
Produced by 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 drilling project financed by the British government, at Eastchester in England, which is intended to penetrate the Earth's crust in order to tap pockets of Stahlman's Gas: a new energy source discovered by Professor Stahlman, the originator of the project, which he believes will provide boundless amounts of cheap energy. 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 in an oil drilling expert, Greg Sutton, to consult on safety issues. UNIT is overseeing security at the project. The Third Doctor is also present, using surplus power from the project's nuclear reactor in experiments on the TARDIS console, hoping to reactivate it and end the exile on Earth imposed on him by the Time Lords (in The War Games the previous year).

Harry Slocum, a maintenance engineer, encounters a toxic green slime seeping out of the drilling pipe, which mutates him into a subhuman primordial creature (termed a Primord), and kills several technicians and a soldier. This green substance also injures Stahlman's hand. Meanwhile, whilst operating the TARDIS console, the Doctor vanishes before the eyes of the Brigadier and Liz. He arrives in a parallel world, in which Great Britain is a Republic under a Fascist regime, the British Royal Family having been executed during the Second World War. The Inferno project also exists there, although progress on it is several hours more advanced. 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 Republican Security Force, 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 Stahlman holds the Doctor at gunpoint with the Brigade Leader's pistol, penetration zero is reached. There is a volcanic eruption, and a violent earth tremor rocks the installation. Most of the technicians and RSF troops flee the complex in terror. Stahlman and many of the scientists become infected and are transformed into Primords. The Doctor believes the parallel world is now doomed, and tries to convince the others he can prevent this happening in his own world if they will help him to return. Finally agreeing to help, the group fight off the hordes of Primords, including an infected and mutated Benton, with fire extinguishers: the creatures thrive on heat and are vulnerable to low temperatures. The parallel Petra and Sutton feed power to the TARDIS console. The Brigade Leader threatens to shoot the Doctor if he doesn't take them with him, but is shot dead by Section Leader Shaw. Just as a wall of lava sweeps toward them, the Doctor returns to his own universe.

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


This serial marks the final appearance of the original TARDIS console, which had been used on the series since the very first story, in 1963, An Unearthly Child. Its swan song 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 moonbase. In the next serial (Terror of the Autons, at the start of the following season) the Brigadier mentions that Liz has returned to Cambridge to resume her academic career.


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


Scriptwriter Don Houghton was a personal friend of the Doctor Who script editor, Terrance Dicks: they had worked together for Lew Grade at ATV in the 1960s, on the TV soap opera Crossroads. During a train journey, Houghton discussed with Dicks his idea for a serial based on the real life drilling project known as Project Mohole. Budgetary limitations eventually led to the concept of the parallel world, so that the same actors and sets could be used for seven episodes, rather than the four episodes in Houghton's original story breakdown, in order to cut costs.[2]

Despite Douglas Camfield receiving sole credit as director, episodes 3 to 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, he merely followed Camfield's plans. Camfield remained credited as director, for BBC regulations at the time forbade Letts from being credited for more than one production role (i.e. as both producer and as director), but, more importantly, Letts did not want Camfield's illness to become widely known lest it harm his career.

Stuntman Derek Ware did not actually perform the stunt in which his character, the mutated RSF Trooper Wyatt, having been shot, falls to his death from the top of one of the chemical tanks, in case he was injured (since he was also needed for the subsequent studio recording). His place was taken by Roy Scammell, who (ironically) also played the soldier who fired the fatal shot. Ware 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, it was the highest fall ever performed by a British stuntman.

John Levene's portrayal of Benton as a Primord was inspired by Shakespeare's play Richard III (because of the Primord creature's hump).[4]

Caroline John said she enjoyed her role as Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, as it was fun playing Liz as a "baddie". She also said she hated doing the scenes in which she was playing her usual role, because it was boring compared to playing the parallel character. She was upset, though, about the scene in which Section-Leader Shaw shot 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] Her pregnancy made it impossible for her to continue in the show, and this became her final serial.

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 BBC visual effects designer Jack Kine, in homage to the 1954 BBC adaptation of Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the face of Big Brother was actually that of the BBC's 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 was used as the source of the colour signal for the restoration, which the Doctor Who Restoration Team replaced by painstakingly recolouring the appropriate section of the b/w film recording.[6]


Director Douglas Camfield chose not to commission any new incidental music for the serial, but instead made use of existing library recordings by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. These included: "Blue Veils & Golden Sands" and "The Delian Mode" (both by Delia Derbyshire); "Battle Theme", "Homeric Theme", "Attack of the Alien Minds" and "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, including "Tardis Control On & Warp Transfer".[7]

According to the DVD release notes from the ITV serial Timeslip, this music subsequently featured in the second episode of that show's serial The Time Of The Ice Box.

Cast notes[edit]

Christopher Benjamin, who plays Sir Keith Gold, subsequently appeared as Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and as Colonel Hugh Curbishley in The Unicorn and the Wasp. He also played Tardelli in the audio play Grand Theft Cosmos. Most recently, he has returned to play the character of Henry Gordon Jago in a long running series of audio dramas titled Jago & Litefoot based upon the situation established in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

The role of Petra Williams was given to Sheila Dunn when Kate O'Mara was unavailable 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 intended director, Douglas Camfield, and had appeared twice before in Doctor Who, in The Invasion and The Daleks' Master Plan.

Ian Fairbairn had previously appeared as Questa in The Macra Terror and as Gregory in The Invasion, and would subsequently feature as Doctor Chester in The Seeds of Doom.

Derek Newark (Greg Sutton) had previously played Za in the first ever William Hartnell serial, An Unearthly Child, in 1963.[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 alternative 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 broadcast quality 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 the UK in May 1994. 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 b/w 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 BBC Video's VHS release). Set in the Brigade Leader's office with the Doctor, the Brigade Leader and Section Leader Shaw listening to a BBC radio news report voiced by Jon Pertwee, who imitates the style of William Joyce, the scene was cut before transmission because Pertwee's voice was too identifiable. The radio announcer names the area where the Inferno project is taking place as 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 - Inferno 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]