Inferno (Doctor Who)

Template:Doctorwhobox Inferno is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in seven weekly parts from May 9 to June 20, 1970. This serial was the last regular appearance of Caroline John in the role of Liz Shaw.



The Inferno project plans to cut through the crust of the Earth to discover a potentially unlimited new source of energy. However, when an experiment throws the Third Doctor into a parallel universe, he discovers the horrible consequences that will result. But even if he makes it back to his own universe, can he convince anybody of what he has seen?


Missing image
Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart.

The Inferno is the nickname given to a project to penetrate the Earth's crust to liberate pockets of Stahlman's Gas, which is theorized to be able to provide massive amounts of energy. Professor Stahlman himself is ill-tempered and obsessive about any interference with the progress of his work. Sir Keith Gold, the project director, is concerned about this and tells Petra Wilson, Stahlman's assistant that he is calling Greg Sutton, a drilling expert, to consult on safety issues. UNIT is overseeing security at the project, and the Third Doctor is here too, for his own reasons. He is using the output of the project's nuclear reactor to power experiments on the TARDIS console, hoping to end the exile on Earth imposed on him by the Time Lords (The War Games). The project, however, has its own problems. Slocum, a worker repairing one of the drill pipes encounters a super-hot green slime seeping out of the pipe that rapidly mutates him into a feral creature, which goes berserk and kills one of the other workers. While the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton investigate, the Slocum creature enters the reactor control room and attacks Brombley, the technician there, then pushes the reactor power to maximum.

At the same time, the Doctor is using the TARDIS console, and the energy rush shifts the console and the Doctor into a dimensional limbo, from which he is barely saved when Liz manages to cut the power. Alarms go off as the drill is in danger of shutting down due to the overload. When the Doctor reaches the reactor control and starts to lower the power output, Slocum attacks. The Doctor tries to calm Slocum down while he screeches horribly, but a UNIT soldier, Wyatt, tries to shoot Slocum and is attacked. Slocum eventually collapses, as does Wyatt, and the former's body is so hot that it scorched the wall where he fell. The Doctor voices his concern that Slocum's mutated form seems to be filled with some strange power. He has also heard the screeching before - during the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa. Benton informs the Brigadier that Brombley and Wyatt have gone missing, and the Doctor encounters Wyatt, who is in the process of mutating, on the cooling towers. Wyatt tumbles over to his death, but the Doctor does not notice the mutated Brombley on the towers as well.

The drill has been bringing up more quantities of the green slime, but Stahlman dismisses any connection between that and the incidents at the project. When a jar of the slime starts to bubble over, he impulsively grips it, superficially burning his hand. Stahlman places the jar in a box which he orders frozen, and secretly sabotages the project computer, which was predicting disaster. He also orders that the power be cut off to the Doctor's hut, so that the drilling can be accelerated, with penetration occurring in 49 hours. The Doctor, in the meantime, sends Liz away on a wild goose chase while he hooks up the console again. Noticing the power drain, Stahlman cuts the power to the console just as Liz and the Brigadier rush back to the hut. As they look on, the Doctor, his console and his roadster Bessie seemingly fade out of existence.

The Doctor arrives in a parallel universe which is run by a fascistic government. Here, the Inferno project is also ongoing, but the security is provided by Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart, a sinister man with an eyepatch, Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, and Platoon Under Leader Benton. The project is also much more accelerated, with only a few hours before penetration. The Doctor, captured and under interrogation, tries to convince the parallel versions of his friends that he is from another universe, but they believe he is trying to feign insanity. Here, Stahlman has also been infected with the green slime, and is mutating. The Doctor is placed in a cell with a sedated Brombley, but the alarm is raised when Brombley awakens fully mutated. Escaping, the Doctor makes his way to the main control room to stop the drilling but is discovered. The Doctor pleads for them to stop but to no avail, telling them that the screeching is the sound of the planet "screaming out its rage." As Stahlman holds a gun on the Doctor, penetration is achieved, an explosion is heard and an earth tremor rocks the installation. The temperature rises rapidly as more green slime oozes out of the cracked pipes. As the Doctor and the parallel Sutton try to contain the explosion, Stahlman attacks them, now fully mutated. They manage to escape, leaving Stahlman behind a heat shield with the bodies of the unconscious workers. Stahlman rubs the slime on their faces, mutating them as well.

There are seismic disturbances all over the country, and the Doctor explains that now that the crust has been penetrated, the planet will soon revert back to the gases it sprung from. The Doctor tries to convince the others that he can stop this from happening in his own universe if they will help him to return, and shows them the TARDIS console. The Brigade Leader demands that the Doctor save them, too, but the Doctor says that they do not belong in the other universe. Refusing to accept this, the Brigade Leader orders everyone back to the control room, where Stahlman and his fellow mutants attack, infecting Benton as well. Finally agreeing to help the Doctor, the group fights their way out using fire extinguishers to paralyze the mutants. By this time, the sky has turned red and the heat is overwhelming. The parallel Petra, with Sutton's help, manages to feed power to the TARDIS console. At the last moment, the Brigade Leader snaps and threatens to shoot the Doctor if he doesn't save them, but is gunned down by Section Leader Shaw. As a wall of lava sweeps towards the hut and the others watch the end coming towards them, the Doctor transfers back to his own universe.

The Doctor is back but unconscious in a healing coma, and there are only three hours left before penetration zero. When he awakes, the Doctor goes to the main control room and tries to smash the controls. He is unsuccessful and has to be restrained, but manages to tell Liz to put a new circuit into the computer that Stahlman had sabotaged. Liz does so, and the computer advises drilling be stopped at once. Stahlman, in the meantime, has succumbed to the mutation and is rubbing green slime over himself. The Doctor escapes from the sickbay and returns to the control room, dealing with the Brombley mutant on the way. As Sir Keith struggles with the decision to order a shutdown, the Stahlman mutant emerges and has to be subdued with fire extinguishers. With seconds to go, Sir Keith orders that the drill be shut down and the shaft filled in.

Later, Sir Keith informs the Doctor that the project is being abandoned and everyone is leaving. The Doctor announces that he, too, is leaving. The Brigadier and Liz protest, and the Doctor sharply tells the Brigadier that he reminds him of his fascistic counterpart. The Doctor activates the console and vanishes, but only makes it as far as a nearby garbage dump. Suitably chastened, he asks the Brigadier to help him retrieve the console, much to Liz's amusement.


  1. The opening credits for this serial were unusual in that after the initial titles, the name and part number of the serial were superimposed on footage of a lava flow, with no music.
  2. The mutant creatures were referred to as Primoids in the end credits, but were never named in the televised story itself.
  3. Christopher Benjamin, who played Sir Keith Gold, would also play the part of Henry Gordon Jago in the Fourth Doctor serial, The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  4. In spite of Douglas Camfield being credited as director, most of the serial was directed by producer Barry Letts after Camfield had a minor heart attack. Camfield remained credited as director, as BBC regulations at the time forbade the same person being credited as producer and director.
  5. During the scenes set on the parallel Earth, images of the world's dictator is seen on posters. The image used is that of Visual Effects Designer Jack Kine, in a homage to the BBC adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four where the face of Big Brother was also the Visual Effects Designer. On the fictional level, fan speculation, carried forward in the comic strips and novelizations, suggest that this may be the parallel version of the Doctor.
  6. Liz Shaw does not feature in any subsequent serials, although an illusory image of her is seen in The Five Doctors.
  7. In the late 1980s, KTEH, a PBS affiliate in California broadcast the serial repeatedly on its schedule when it encountered budget problems.
  8. The BBC Books Doctor Who novel The Face of the Enemy, by David A. McIntee, is a sequel to Inferno.

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