Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Malcolm Hulke

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Doctor Who and the Green Death.  Original Target novelization cover.

Title: Doctor Who and the Green Death
Televised as: The Green Death
Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Teleplay by: Robert Sloman  and Barry Letts
Screen Credit to: Robert Sloman
Televised in: May/June 1973
Published in: August 1975
Chapters: One through Five

“You ask about work and you ask about pay,
They’ll tell you they make less than a dollar a day.” – Woody Guthrie

Malcolm Hulke did not write The Green Death. The TV serial itself was the annual season-finale, co-written as always by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman.  Letts himself had already novelized the first Letts/Sloman script, The Daemons, and the final Letts/Sloman script, Planet of the Spiders, would be the next book novelized after this one.  I’m not privy to the chain of events that led to Hulke writing this book, but I do know that, of his seven Target novelizations, this was the only one not based on his one of his own TV serials.

However, in reading the book, it’s impossible to tell that this isn’t based on a Hulke script.  It’s an intensely personal story told direct from Hulke’s own heart. What this is, is such a politically minded, labor-versus-management, good-versus-evil story that, for the first five or six chapters, it’s not even a science fiction story at all.

The Minister cut in again: “Then let me put it to you another way, Brigadier. I have just consulted with the Prime Minister who is by my side. This country cannot afford to have an argument, or even the hint of a dispute, with Panorama or with any other multi-national company that’s good enough to have its plants here.”

If you’re familiar with the TV serial, bear in mind that Hulke is novelizing the pre-production scripts.  So TV’s Global Chemicals is still called Panorama Chemicals in the book.  And the two accidental casting changes which occurred during the course of taping the story (with the actress who played Nancy absent from Episode One, and the character of Elgin disappearing after Episode Four to be replaced someone else named James) don’t happen in this book, so Nancy appears in the Episode One material, and James’ sad TV fate is reassigned to Elgin where it belongs.

But never mind the production details.  The basic story (one of the few things the TV serial and its novelization have in common) is about what happens when a petroleum manufacturer sets up a non-Union refinery in Llanfairfach, small Welsh village with a disused coal mine. The miners are bereft about having lost their dangerous and underpaid jobs, especially when the coal mine wasn’t nearly empty yet.  Enter Professor Clifford Jones, a Nobel-prize winning chemist who’s got his own little commune in Llanfairfach, researching green alternatives to petroleum.  He’s horrified by the prospect of the toxic byproduct that he expects to be the inevitable outcome of Panorama’s new oil-refinery methods.  Panorama’s toxic sludge, which is pumped into the coal mine, is nearly instantly fatal to the touch, and kills three Welsh miners over the first half of the story.

And,in a nod to Doctor Who‘s sci-fi roots, the green sludge eventually mutates the local insect population of the mine, and creates enormous maggots which later hatch into enormous, venom-spitting flies. But that’s not important right now.

*****

There are many sides to the Panorama controversy. (or, if Terrance Dicks were to describe this book, he’d call it “a many-sided controversy”).   Remember from our looks at Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon that Hulke is fascinated by the motivations of different layers of right-wing political theory – rapacious capitalists, evil industrialists, nationalist soldiers, dispossessed laborers, and amoral scientists.

Most of the first half of the book is a paean to the laborer, the common man, the noble victim of capitalist oppression.  Hulke lays it on quite thick in the book, in a manner just about entirely absent from the TV serial as broadcast.

Llanfairfach Colliery, in a mountainous part of Wales, had been closed for some time. No one in the village saw the sense of this – particularly the miners who had spent their lives hewing coal from the pit. There was still ample coal down there, enough for another hundred years of mining. But government economists in London had “proved” it was better business to buy oil overseas than to mine coal here in Britain. So, Llanfairfach’s coal mine had been closed and its miners put out of work.

The disused coal mine is an active character in this story, as much so as the displaced miners (three of whom die in the coal mine over the first half of the story).  There are literally paragraphs and paragraphs from the POV of these miners (one relayed through thoughts, the other two through dialogue), which turns the book into a Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs protest song, much more so than the novelization of a Barry Letts script.

As he poured himself some tea the old sadness came over him. He looked up and down the section of gallery where he was sitting, thinking back on the old times when the mine had been worked and was full of his friends. There was no one to talk to now. Economists in London had made a calculation, and the friendly world of Ted Hughes had been brought to an end.

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Welsh miner Ted Hughes (not that Ted Hughes), as played by John Scott Martin, is the first victim of the Green Death.

The miners are, under Hulke’s pen, good honest folk, and they don’t take kindly to outsiders: “To be accepted you had to have three generations of dead behind you in the village graveyard; above all, both you and they had to be miners”. And there’s lots of mention of labor action:

The memory of the General Strike in 1926 was still with many of them. For seven bitter months the coal miners had remained on strike until finally they were defeated because they had no food.

*****

The real key to this first half of the story is not the Doctor, or Jo, or the Brigadier, or anyone else you read about in the earlier novelizations.  No, the real heroes are two of the ex-miners: Bert Pritchard and Dave Williams (although, in an editing blunder that nobody caught, Hulke refers to Bert as both Pritchard and Williams in the book). On TV, Bert and Dave were characterized primarily by being Welsh.  Bert on TV refers to Jo as “Blodwyn” (and “love” and “girl”), and, although he doesn’t say “boyo” a lot, four other characters in the script did. And in the book, Hulke does remind us that Welshmen tend to be short.

But the books adds so much more depth to the miners.  In print, Dave “shook his head at the simplicity” of the visiting Englishmen, and points that that “We’ve got telephones, just like you English”. He also gets in a dig about coal mine owners being in the business only for profit, and that it’s “uneconomic” for the mine to have more than one lift shaft.

Bert is the bigger part, on screen and in print. On TV, Bert is a memorable role, but he’s still basically Jo’s exotic Welsh pet, as evidenced by the way she eulogizes him after he dies:

He was such a perky little man. He called me Blodwyn. Cliff, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying. A funny little Welshman that I hardly knew.”

Now, tertiary characters who die only partway through Doctor Who serials don’t typically get eulogies, so Bert is a bit unique in that respect. But his TV dialogue was mostly functional; he was there only to share exposure to danger (here, the green death) with the regulars, and dying so that they don’t have to (or so that, when a more important character gets infected by the same green death later in the story, they can be cured using information learned from Bert’s death).

But in the book, Hulke adds several other dimensions to Bert, and provides him with almost entirely new, sharper, more poignant dialogue. He begins by patronizing Jo, a little bit, man-splaining to her how the lift shaft in a coal mine is slightly different from the lift at Woolworth’s, but quickly reveals that to be just bluster.

“This isn’t a lift like you’ll find in a shop,” said Bert. “We don’t go down slowly and gradually, with someone to tell you what you can buy on the different floors. Once we start moving, we drop like a ruddy stone, and you can see everything go by.”
“I’m not frightened,” Jo fibbed.
“I was the first time,” said Bert. “Fourteen years old I was, and scared out of my wits, but I tried not to show it.”

On TV, Bert does allude to having survived a mine collapse, but in the book he gets to describe it in detail, and in words that could easily pass for Woody Guthrie lyrics (“Six of us never saw daylight again”). And he gives voice to the laborers and common man – on TV he’s Jo’s pet, but in the book he gives voice to real people, and helps move Jo along her journey of self-discovery, the one that will result in her leaving UNIT and joining Professor Jones’ crusade to find meat-substitute food supplies.

“Why do people become miners?”
“You don’t get much choice,” he said simply. “There’s some people get born in Buckingham Palace, and they becomes kings and queens, because that’s the family occupation. Us, we get born in a place like Llanfairfach, where our fathers and uncles all go down the pit. When you’re old enough, you go down too, to show the world you’re a man. Daft, isn’t it?”

But Bert is never bitter about his upbringing or lot in life. He finds the value in it, too, and we know from this that he’s the moral center of the book, in this version of the story that Malcolm Hulke wanted to tell. Of course, this isn’t the version of the story that got made for TV. But we have the book, and that’s the more important version.

“When you’re a miner you are part of one big family, and that’s a wonderful feeling. Every man in the pits knows is life depends on the other men. We live together, we die together, and” – he grinned broadly – “by goodness if the people up top don’t treat us right, we go on strike together!”
“It’s really like being a member of another nation,” she said.
Bert got to his feet. “That’s exactly how it is, miss. There’s us down here, and there’s them up there.”

As Bert dies, a victim of the green death brought on by Panorama’s toxic sludge, his mind drifts back to childhood, and he thinks he hears the voices of “his uncle Dafydd and his father, both long dead”. Jo doesn’t get to eulogize him in this book, and Cliff Jones doesn’t remind Jo of the uniqueness of Bert – those are some poignant lines, added for TV. But, because in the book Bert is his own fully-rounded character, those extra bits of eulogy just aren’t necessary. In the book, Bert got to speak for himself.

Next Time: Well, those were the good characters.  Now we’ll talk about all the evil ones.  And I do mean “all”.

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About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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One Response to Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Malcolm Hulke

  1. Pingback: A Report From Gallifrey One | Doctor Who Novels

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