It's a while since I last watched 'The Green Death', but I remember thinking that it wasn't very good. Consequently, watching it again proved to be a pleasant surprise (especially after the execrable 'Planet of the Daleks'), since I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The basic plot of 'The Green Death' concerns the dangers of pollution, and in some ways harkens back to the glory days of Season Seven, with the earthbound menaces of 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' and 'Inferno'. Global Chemicals is a big, ruthless corporation promising a cheaper supply of petrol by using a new chemical process, but which is causing particularly dangerous pollution as a by-product. Opposing them are the members of Professor Jones' Wholeweal community, basically eco-activists who are on the verge of being hippies. Caught in the middle of this are the local miners, three of whom get killed off by the pollution in the mine, and UNIT, who are ordered to provide security for Global Chemicals despite the Brigadier's entirely justified distrust of Stevens. This is a reasonably sound premise in itself, but it succeeds beyond that due to some intelligent characterisation and decent acting. It would have been very easy to just portray the employees of Global Chemicals as faceless corporate drones, but instead Sloman and Letts give them some character; Elgin rebels against Stevens when he learns that his superior is refusing to lend cutting equipment to UNIT because he doesn't want the mine to be investigated further. All Elgin cares about is that lives are at stake, and he holds this in greater importance than the profits of his company. Fell likewise overcomes his programming to save the Doctor and Jo when they are trapped in the pipe, for much the same reasons. Even one of the guards shows a human side, asking "Doris" the cleaning lady how her husband is. We also have the Wholeweal community members, who could easily have been portrayed as stereotypical hippies or indeed some kind of lunatic fringe, but who are instead shown to be a community of intelligent scientists; Professor Jones of course, is even a Nobel prize winner.
'The Green Death' also benefits from two effective villains. When I reviewed 'The War Machines', I mentioned that I dislike megalomaniac computers as villains. Whilst this is still true, I find that BOSS works quite well, primarily because he's charismatic and thus quite unlike most evil computers in science fiction, including WOTAN. He is bombastic, chatty and rather amusing, especially when he hums Wagnerian ditties as Stevens prepares the final stages of his plan to take over the world (or at least parts of it). I do find it slightly annoying that the Doctor is able to confuse him with a simple logical conundrum, which is an unfortunately clichéd stock method for foxing naughty computers, and which BOSS should in any case realize is a transparent trick if he's really been programmed to be irrational. What I also like about BOSS is his interaction with Stevens, whom he does genuinely seem to consider a friend, and whom he constantly teases and taunts. The irony of course is that Stevens has less of a sense of humour that his transistorized accomplice. Stevens himself is superbly portrayed by Jerome Willis, who imbues the character with an air of icy menace, but who also shows the character's human side. Ruthless and dedicated though he is, Stevens seems to genuinely believe that what he is doing is right, until his very last scene, and like BOSS he seems to value his friendship with the computer. Consequently, their final scene works very well, as Stevens is convinced that what he is doing is wrong and destroys BOSS. However, this is not simply played as Stevens destroying a machine, it is rather a case of him killing his best friend, and it is for this reason that Stevens remains behind to die with it. BOSS's pitiful cries of "It hurts" and Stevens's tears as they die together make it a poignant moment, even if their plan was rather Machiavellian.
The main iconic image from 'The Green Death' that everyone remembers is of course the maggots. The interesting thing about the maggots is that they do not directly form part of BOSS's plans and he and Stevens are as keen to get rid of them as everybody else, since their very existence proves that the accusations leveled against Global Chemicals's new process are absolutely true. Consequently, the maggots are in a sense token monsters, since the danger of the pollution could have been shown solely by the deadly green slime that gives the story the name. However, the maggots work because they emphasize this point and in effect act as a more monstrous embodiment of pollution than the slime alone, which probably had more of an impact on a traditional Saturday teatime Doctor Who audience. For the most part, the maggots work well in close-up, when the stuffed-condom maggots are used, with their gaping mouths. Unfortunately however, this is not the only way in which they are depicted, and the other ways in which they are realized are rather variable. Long shots of static maggot mock-ups don't hide the fact that they don't wriggle, but even less successful is the use of CSO to superimpose various actors against a shot of normal sized live maggots in green food colouring. Even worse is the giant fly in Episode Six, which criminally manages to be far less convincing than the one seen almost a decade earlier in 'Planet of Giants'. I usually don't complain about dodgy effects, but it irks me when they get progressively *worse* over time, and I remain convinced that better camera work and editing could have reduced the need for CSO maggots. My other criticism is that the maggots' resistance to, well, anything, stretches things a bit by Episode Five; I don't care how big they are, chitin is neither bullet-proof or fire proof!
As I'm on the subject, I'll just mention the overall production. Generally 'The Green Death' is rather well directed, and great use is made of location filming. The sets all work well, especially the mines, which are quite convincing. Particularly note worthy is the sequence in Episode One, when the action cuts repeatedly back and forth between the Brigadier in Stevens's office, and Professor Jones and Jo in the Nuthutch (with occasionally switches to the Doctor on Metebelis 3). This is highly effective in establishing the basic plot, as both parties discuss Global Chemicals' new process, Stevens praising it, and the Professor criticizing it. And since I've brought it up, Metebelis 3 looks suitably alien, due to it being (as far as I can tell) shot on film, and lit with blue lighting. However, I personally consider this story to suffer more from bad CSO than any other Doctor Who story. It isn't just the amount used, but rather the fact that it stands out more than usual. I'm not sure why this is, but it looks terrible, enhancing the infamous "wobbly line" effect, and making bits of whatever is being imposed vanish, most notably the edges of the advancing maggot at the end of Episode Three.
At this point, I feel I must mention the Welsh. It's frankly astonishing that the BBC managed to get away with this as much as they did, for never have a seen such ludicrous stereotyping. To appreciate how astonishing this is, image any other ethnic group instead of the Welsh being this badly stereotyped, and cringe. They are nearly all miners, they all say Boyo and Blodwyn, and the milkman is called "Jones-the-milk". Even on a visit to Maesteg, in the heart of Mid-Glamorgan, I've never witnessed such things! Mind you, Talfryn Thomas as Dai Evans puts in rather a good performance; he actually gives the impression that lives are at stake at the start of Episode Two, as he and the Doctor struggle to stop the plummeting lift.
The regulars are generally very good here. Pertwee is at the top his form throughout, especially when the Doctor is dealing with Jo's impending departure. He also makes the Metebelis 3 scenes work well, and I personally find them highly amusing; after repeated mentions of the planet, as soon as he arrives he is attacked by a tentacle, and then beset by snakes and giant birds, before legging it back to the TARDIS as various objects clatter off the door behind him including spears. It's quite silly, but it's also funny, and Pertwee makes it work. His heartfelt "I'll talk to anyone" when he gets back and answers the 'phone nicely emphasizes his relief to be back. He also uses his knack for righteous anger very well when dealing with both Stevens and BOSS, without slipping into the pious pomposity of 'Planet of the Daleks'. Having said that, points are deducted for his ridiculous drag-act, particularly his stupid female voice impression. The Brigadier, previously reduced to the status of an imbecile, here makes something of a comeback. His smooth, diplomatic attitude when dealing Stevens recalls the commanding figure of Season Seven, and he even manages to keep his dignity when silenced by the Prime Minister. In addition, he gets on well with the Wholeweal community, proving as he used to do that he's not just some kind of clichéd military idiot but an intelligent man who is quite willing to listen to other people's points of view with an open mind even if he is duty-bound by his job. Even Yates isn't bad here; I still dislike Richard Franklin's portrayal immensely, but his role as a spy at least gives the character something useful to do and his usual inappropriate cheekiness is mercifully restrained. Although during the scene in which the disguised Doctor writes "Get rid of him" on the window, Yates continues to gawp idiotically until the guard almost spots the message and the Doctor, a trivial but thoroughly irritating matter.
Finally, there is of course Jo. She's come a long way from the dumb blonde of 'Terror of the Autons', and by this point is a great character in her own right. The seeds of her departure are sown right from the start, as she shuns a trip to Metebelis 3 in favour of a visit to Professor Jones, champion of a cause that she is currently interested in, and as she does so the Doctor sadly reflects "the fledgling flies the coop". Her growing attachment to Professor Jones, and his reciprocated feelings, are gradually built up, making it obvious that she is going to be staying with him not only to the audience, but also to the Doctor; his childish hijacking of the Professor at the end of Episode Three so that he and Jo can't be alone together shows just how much the Doctor is affected by the realization of her imminent departure. After this immature lapse however, he sadly comes to accept it, and watches them grow closer until the end of the story, as she and the Professor get engaged. His final scene with Jo, as he gives her the Metebelis crystal, is very poignant, and had far more of an effect on me for watching the series in order that it ever did watching the story at random. The Doctor's quiet departure in Bessie is a moving end to a strong final story for Jo.