For That Lean, Mean, Mean, Green

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Doctor Who and the Green Death, 1970s Target reprint.  The edition I own.

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: Six through Ten

Well, Gallifrey One is over for another year, and it’s back to the real world.  I’m already two books past Green Death, having read through most of Planet of the Spiders while out in Los Angeles, and now enjoying a gloomy New York City winter with the disappointing novelization of The Three Doctors.  But that’s a spoiler for a future post.  Right now, it’s time to resume the unashamed lovefest that is my look at the novelization of The Green Death.  This book is so far removed from its source material, and so much more quotable, that to call it a novelization is possibly an insult.  But last time we talked about the story’s heroes, so now let’s talk about the villains.

The world of Panorama Chemicals is told in much different, more cynical terms than the world of the dispossessed miners of Llanfairfach.  Now, the named characters from Panorama (or Global Chemicals, as they were renamed for TV) are not outright evil; of the four employees here, only Hinks, the sadistic security thug, is a one-dimensional goon. Hinks, Hulke tells us, “had a face like an ex-boxer who had lost too many fights”, and only has the brainpower to enjoy comics featuring violence and torture – probably more of an EC Comics guy than a Silver Age enthusiast.

The other three named characters – Director Stevens, Dr. Bell, and PR man Elgin, are portrayed to varying degrees of sympathy. However, it’s clear that we’re not meant to be on their side. Elgin, the early-chapters Elgin, refers to protestors as “the usual unemployed layabouts”, and Hulke reminds us that “Elgin came from a working-class background himself, but through being bright at examinations had gone to university, and now considered himself superior to others less fortunate”. Dr. Stevens is impressed to have Clifford Jones, Nobel laureate, as his enemy, “because he was a snob”; Stevens in fact keeps repeating Jones’ credentials, in the book, with “some pride, as though it reflected on him personally to have such a celebrated enemy”.

Stevens is the principal villain of the first four episodes (we’ll talk about the villain behind him in this series’ third and final post).  However, even though he’s a black-hat, Hulke does give us a few glimpses into Steven’s inner mind, and allows us to view him not just as an evil titan of industry, but also as a somewhat reluctant pawn of BOSS:

[H]e stood at the window and looked out towards the mountains. Years ago he had enjoyed climbing mountains. But now his family had all deserted him, leaving a gap in his life that could only be filled by work. He was delighted when he was invited to become director of the main British plant of Panorama Chemicals because he realized this was a job of such size and complexity he would be able to devote night and day to it. What he did not realize was that the job would provide him with the best and most faithful friend he had ever had.
[…]
Dr. Stevens had enjoyed studying history when he was a boy at school Sometimes he wished he was still there. But now he was a man and had the responsibilities of a man.

Stevens also has one fleeting moment of empathy for Professor Jones and the local protestors. Hulke attributes to Stevens the thought processes of a rapacious corporate baron, but offsets that with a faint touch of lingering humanity.

Those idiots, Dr. Stevens thought, banging drums and shouting, might have good intentions, but they were not realists. What the world wanted was more and more petrol and diesel, for industry, airplanes, and road vehicles. As for pollution caused through the continued use of oil, that was the price mankind had to pay. But in time, Dr. Stevens believed, even this problem could be solved. Professor Jones and his followers lived in a world of make-believe.
The clock of technological progress could not be turned back.

Naturally, not all of these sentiments are stale relics of the story’s 1973 TV production or 1975 novelization. Even as we read this today in 2017 (and particularly since January 20th, and the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the United States Environmental Protection Agency), these lines have an added weight and poignancy.

Our entry into the world of Panorama Chemicals is via the Brigadier, the Malcolm Hulke version of the Brigadier (as opposed to the warmer Nicholas Courtney version of the Brigadier), who’s been assigned to both investigate the strange deaths in the coal mine, and protect Panorama from the protestors. The Brigadier is… well, not made to look especially bright under the pen of Mac Hulke.

“Security is the main consideration,” Dr. Stevens was saying.
“Yes, of course,” agreed the Brigadier without thinking,  because it seemed the right thing to say.

There’s a conscious callback to Doctor Who and The Silurians, when the Brigadier here is forced to blow up the entrance to the coal mine in order to entomb the giant maggots. But mostly, the Brigadier is there to be made to look stupid, either by his own ignorance (he refers to “a small town with an extraordinarily long Welsh name”, not bothering to learn how to pronounce it), or by the Doctor, in dialogue that never made it to the TV broadcast.

“What if we made that other lift independent?”
“By Jove,” said the Brigadier. “You mean so that it could work on its own?”
“That,” said the Doctor, “is what “independent” means.”

And, as he was in Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, the Brigadier retains a touch of hard-right nationalism, in a way that most of us who read this book while growing up thought would just be a quaint memory in 2017.

“I recall a time, Dr. Stevens, when Great Britain could regard itself as a sovereign state, answering to no one but its elected Parliament and its monarch,” the Brigadier said. “Now, it seems, we can be told what to do by international business companies.”
“Sad, isn’t it?” said Dr Stevens. “Sure you won’t have some sherry? Or there’s some very good Scotch whisky here made from recycled wood pulp.”

However, all that aside, Hulke took most of his worst shots at The Brigadier in The Cave-Monsters, and gives the character a few more redeeming touches here than fandom reputation has it. Here, the Brigadier learns just enough to eventually stand up to Dr. Stevens and Panorama Chemicals. But he’s still capable of losing some memorable punchy dialogue exchanges, which you’ll only find in the Hulke novelization and not on TV, especially when he’s trapped in the alien world that is Professor Jones’ Wholeweal Community.

The Brigadier politely turned to the young man beside him who had shoulder-length hair, a flowing beard, and wore a kaftan and chunky wooden beads. “Ever fancied life in the army?” the Brigadier asked brightly, as a joke.
“It was quite pleasant,” said the young man, sipping the home-made elderberry wine Nancy had produced for the occasion.
You were in the Army?” the Brigadier looked astounded. “What did you do?”
“I was a colonel.”

For his own part, Dr. Stevens is there to assure the Brigadier and the Doctor that Panorama is a good corporate citizen, in the way that all multinational energy corporations donate time and money to charitable causes, to persuade us that their goals are our goals.

“Panorama Chemicals always tries to be a good neighbor. Our plant in Ethiopia has distributed thousands of tons of grain to the starving. In Persia and Saudi Arabia all local employees have free classes to learn to read and write their own languages.”

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They also provide giant maggots.  Did I mention that this story has giant maggots?  With fangs?

Hulke is clearly on the side of the laborers and socialists. He’s also, to a slightly lesser extent, on the side of the scientists, but he places a clear bent toward morality, and scientists who work for Panorama do not receive Hulke’s best efforts at Woody Guthrie lyrcs. There are two “pure” scientists in the story – Professor Jones, and Dr. Arnold Bell (renamed Ralph Fell by the time the story got made for TV). Jones is a deeply moral man, and spends much time with the miners. Bell, the head Panorama researcher, is more amoral, and, while clearly a good man at heart, is soon put under the influence by Panorama’s true Boss (of whom much more in the next post).

Dr. Bell starts off as a conduit for Hulke to explain the actual science that, in this story only, renders oil refinery waste fatal to the touch, and turns maggots into three-foot-long creatures with fangs.

The report stated in analytical detail that Bateson’s polymerization method was definitely working. It meant that for every ton of crude oil imported from the Middle East, or mined in the North Sea, Panorama Chemicals would be able to produce 25% more petrol or diesel fuel. The additional profit of the company might run into millions and millions of pounds. However, Dr. Bell was not concerned with profits – that was Dr. Stevens’ affair. What fascinated Dr. Bell was the scientific achievement. The method resulted in tons of waste fluid, and this would have to be deposited somewhere. But Dr. Bell did not regard that as his problem.

Bell of course is doomed – tertiary villains in Hulke stories, even reluctant ones, do not have long life-spans. You know he’s doomed the second that Dr. Stevens observes: “Many’s the time I’ve had to tell him not to work all night – to go home to his wife and children”. But, as Bell experiences the mental breakdown that kills him, he delivers (in the book, and only in the book), one of the most fascinating duality-of-man monologues you’ll find in a Target book, and certainly one of the few that explicitly references an actual Earthly religion:

Dr. Bell spoke in short agonized gasps. “Murder… save lives… no unauthorized personnel… Thou shalt not kill… exterminate… Jesus saves.. final solution…”
[And, a few pages later]
“God is love,” mumbled Dr. Bell. “Today Europe, tomorrow the world.” […] “Every time I heard the word “culture” I reach for my gun,” Dr. Bell babbled. “The meek shall inherit the Earth.”

Bad guys in Doctor Who stories are so rarely described as actual fascists (apart from the improbable Silver Nemesis, in which the Cybermen freely discuss Nietzsche with a retired Nazi officer). Anyone inside Panorama who develops a conscience is going to suffer the same gruesome fate as Dr. Bell.

“Why are you helping us like this?” asked the Doctor.
“Because,” said Elgin, “I suspect that this Company is somehow doing wrong”.
“I thought you were supposed to be the public relations officer,” said Jo. “You’re meant to say that everything the Company does is right”.
“May we discuss this some other time, Miss Grant?”
[…]
“But you’re the public relations officer,” said Jo, “you should know everything about the Company!”
“Perhaps,” said Elgin, “they pay me such a big salary so that I won’t ask questions.”

Elgin is the book’s tragic figure – all right, one of many tragic figures. His story was muted on TV, with the actor falling ill and vanishing from the story halfway through, replaced by Roy Skelton as a generic Panorama employee who inherits Elgin’s death. Elgin isn’t a scientist, he’s the PR man – the well-paid PR man – who realizes that the company is up to no good when a brainwashed Dr. Bell tries to kill the Doctor and Jo at one of the cliffhangers.

“But I understand there are two people trapped down there,” Elgin exclaimed. “You might kill them!”
“In that eventuality,” said Dr Bell, “I suggest that you sit at your desk and write a press release to explain it was an accident. That, remember, is your job here. And don’t forget, it’s a very well paid job you have.”

After Elgin saves the Doctor and Jo, you know that he’s going to be doomed, because tertiary characters who suddenly develop consciences don’t tend to live much longer than tertiary villains, even reluctant ones.

While it’s not necessary to equate Panorama Chemicals with actual fascism in order to make this novelization work, Hulke adds for the book numerous references to the deadliness of nearly every product in the Panorama catalogue, and it’s hard to argue that his words are not relevant today, painfully so.

“Our sherry and whisky,” said Dr. Stevens, “is slow poison”.
The voice of Boss chuckled. “But it will make money for Panorama Chemicals. Sell it but don’t drink it.”

Next Time: We leave behind the miners and the fascists and the earnest politics, and get to discussing what The Green Death is really about: humorous computers, giant maggots, and a love triangle involving Jo and the Doctor.

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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 For That Lean, Mean, Mean, Green

  1. Pingback: Planet of the Buddhists | Doctor Who Novels

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