Aired 19 May – 23 June 1973
One of the trademarks of the Jon Pertwee era is its willingness to tackle important and sometimes difficult political and social issues. At least a small part of the reasoning for originally bounding the Third Doctor to Earth was to give him a chance to confront the issues that plague humanity on a daily basis, and that concept fortunately is not forgotten now that the Doctor has regained his ability to travel throughout time and space. Finally giving reason to the occasional references of Metebelis III over the past several stories along the way, the Doctor finds himself at least initially entwined in the battle between corporations and the environment in a story that very much feels like another early attempt at a more grandiose season finale.
The core conflict is effectively set up early on in the small Welsh mining town of Llanfairfach, Global Chemicals responsible for the sudden appearance of a toxic green slime and giant maggots as the result of burying the toxic by-product from their highly profitable oil processing system. Led by the business-driven Stevens, the executives involved do at least show flashes of conscientiousness, making them a much more sympathetic foe as they go up against Cliff Jones’s group of environmental activists that, in addition to protesting the corporation’s eco-unfriendly tactics and resulting profits, is also attempting to end world hunger through the cultivation of a super fungus.
However, ‘The Green Death’ also initially takes the time to focus on the plight of the working class members of the town caught in the middle of this conflict. With the mines shut down and the miners out of work, they are willing to listen to Stevens’s hollow promises of returning wealth and prosperity to the land, choosing to ignore Jones’s protests that they are selling their own future for a minimal slice of the profits. Writing Jones off as a man who cannot empathize with them because of his secluded lifestyle, the miners present an interesting side of the argument that unfortunately is dropped partway through the story and never fully addressed or resolved.
The divide in Llanfairfach even extends to UNIT itself as well when the force is called in to explore the recent spate of deaths in the area, the Brigadier hesitantly siding with the corporation over potential sabotage concerns and Jo enthusiastically siding with Jones’s environmental ideals. Interestingly, the Doctor spurns the Brigadier’s initial request to investigate the green slime to instead travel to Metebelis III, a trip he takes alone after realizing that Jo just might be growing up in front of his eyes and forming her own ideals that, in this case, just happen to coincide with her infatuation of Jones whom she has never previously met. There’s an interesting parallel between the Doctor and Jones even down to the initial meeting of both with Jo, and it makes logical sense that Jo would start to fall for a man she very much views as a younger version of the Doctor.
As Jo’s final appearance, ‘The Green Death’ highlights the strongest and weakest aspects of her character. Jo has always been a strong-willed, independent type who has shown inspired flashes of bravery and resourcefulness as different situations have necessitated. However, she has also retained a sort of childlike innocence and recklessness throughout her tenure, and here that manifests as Jo’s vital discovery being due to an accidental act of clumsiness as well as her brave attempt to get a giant maggot only serving to put both her and others in a position of mortal danger. That said, her final moments on screen are handled incredibly well and create a poignant scene that speaks volumes about the deep friendship the Doctor and she have formed, the Doctor fondly looking back on her engagement party and silently driving away to start his new life without her.
While the inclusion of the megalomaniacal computer BOSS perhaps serves to undermine the environmental messages being attempted and does take the story more into a monstrous territory, ‘The Green Death’ itself is still a very intriguing and tense story full of iconic moments that lead up to an understated but incredibly effective departure for Katy Manning’s beloved Jo Grant. An effective season and character finale that references several previous events along the way, ‘The Green Death’ proves that the Doctor’s renewed ability to travel through time and space will not preclude him from helping out with day-to-day issues on modern-day Earth.