September 26, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Doctor Who “The Green Death Part 6”

The Third Doctor. "The Green Death," Final Episode.

So, let’s talk about Jo Grant.

Sure, this is the end of the “Green Death” serial.  But it’s also the end of Jo Grant’s time on this show as a  regular character.  Yes, UNIT defeats the maggots because Professor Jones’ fungus was deadly to them.  And yes, the Doctor defeats BOSS before it can link up and take over multiple giant computers across the globe in some kind of world domination scheme.  The Doctor even defeats a giant fly by throwing his cloak over it.

But then Professor Jones proposes to Jo, someone he has known for something like two days or so.  She says “yes” and will leave UNIT to sail the Amazon with him during his research.  This serial, at least, was building to something like this, and it generally works.  Most of the Doctor’s past companions get a shot of going home or having some important task dropped in their lap if they get any sort of goodbye at all.  Sometimes circumstances force a companion to leave, and other times they just disappear.

But here, from the first episode of the serial, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Jo wanting something more with Professor Jones, a man who reminds her of a younger version of the Doctor.  Plus, she has made it clear she prefers to stay on Earth.  She ends most space-based stories with a desire to simply go home.  The TARDIS is the Doctor’s home if anywhere is, so he’s always out gallivanting with the thing.  Plus, even the most stalwart companions are ultimately as temporary as whatever face the Doctor is currently wearing.  So, that she left isn’t surprising.

But there’s something a bit melancholy about Jo’s departure.  While most of the supporting characters are happy for her, and the Doctor says he is, he ultimately leaves the party early to return to UNIT HQ in Bessie.  Was he also smitten with Jo?  Pretty much every guy seems to be smitten with Jo at one time or another.  But the Doctor was more of a parental figure in certain respects.  He acted as a mentor who saw progress in Jo maybe becoming a scientist.  I am inclined to think he regrets losing someone who he was molding to become a more serious and intellectually rigorous person.  Particularly since Jo was starting to show progress in that direction.

But the Doctor silently tossing back a drink before slinking out to drive home alone, unnoticed by everyone except for Jo, shows some real pathos the likes of which I don’t think Doctor Who has successfully shown in any episode I’ve seen up to this point.  The Second Doctor is still my favorite so far, but even his last episode, saying goodbye to Jamie and Zoe, lacks the sort of more subtle sadness of the Doctor’s existence as an ultimately lonely figure who can only find occasional temporary companions to fly around and keep him company, few of whom seem to be anything of an intellectual equal to whatever the Doctor has going on in his mind.  If there’s a sad tinge to the Second Doctor’s final episode, it may be more of the sadness of the Doctor himself going away.  It is not about the loss of his companions.

By contrast, this is actually a sad farewell to the companion herself.

So while the Doctor will gain a new companion, one of the series’ most all-time popular, in the next and final season of Pertwee’s run, it may be worth taking a look at Jo as a character.  Was she my favorite?  Not precisely.  Actress Katy Manning certainly is charming enough.  But the general idea behind Jo is that she’s something of an idiot.  She is a naive young woman, kind but not very bright.  I’m not sure that character type ages well.

I do wonders what it would have been like for the show if Liz Shaw stuck around a bit longer.  Liz was a scientist in her own right and could have held her own with the Doctor in the lab.  Maybe there were cast conflicts that kept Liz from doing another season, or maybe someone felt the Doctor needed someone less like himself to create more interesting character dynamics–and few companions are less like the Doctor than Jo–but Liz was many of the things Jo never was.  I’m not sure alien men falling for her all the time would fluster Liz the same way Jo was, but I’m likewise not sure the writers would have done that to Liz either.  She didn’t seem like the dating type.

Besides, Manning is still occasionally appearing as Jo in other places in more recent years.  True, I don’t think she once returned during the series “classic” era even for reunion specials.  But she does bits now for modern Who material.  That includes one very recently as a decades-later sequel to “The Green Death,” where Jo and still-husband Cliff Jones (also played by the same actor) return to the Welsh town to deal with the last of the giant maggots.  Set to appear on an upcoming DVD release of the Third Doctor’s tenth season, you can see the teaser trailer below:

As for Jon Pertwee, he had one more season of 26 episodes to go before passing his TARDIS keys along to someone else.  I’ve heard he was actually less enthused for his final season.  He liked working with a lot of actors from previous seasons.  He and Manning had grown close before she departed the show.   Roger “The Master” Delgado was a friend who had sadly died in an automobile accident.  And the various UNIT regulars were a lot less regular once the TARDIS became a regular part of many plots.  UNIT was Earth-based, so any story that went to a different time and space meant UNIT wasn’t going to be involved.

We’ll have to see where this goes.  But at this rate, I should easily finish the Third Doctor’s serials before the summer is out.  And then we’ll see what happens next.  For now, let’s move on to Pertwee’s last year on the show.