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Project Inferno

By Paul Scoones

Under close scrutiny, the 1970 Third Doctor story Inferno reveals a highly structured and coherent plot. Here are some of my observations.

The references to the passage of time are specific and frequent enough to allow the events of individual days to be discerned.

Day 1: The Doctor and UNIT arrive at the project. The time to Penetration Zero (PZ) is 72:18:35 when first seen: there are three days to go. The first death occurs in the afternoon when a technician is killed by Slocum.

Day 2: UNIT set up their HO in an office next to the project control room in the morning. The Brigadier says to the Doctor "within a few hours of your arrival I have a motiveless murder on my hands", and states that this murder took place the previous afternoon. Wyatt and Slocum are killed during the day. Greg Sutton arrives on the project in the morning. In the late afternoon, Stahlman accelerates the drilling, advancing the PZ time by "nearly five hours". He announces that PZ is now "49 hours" away. The Doctor leaves for the parallel world. Sir Keith Gold makes arrangements to go to London.

Day 3: The Doctor is away in the parallel world all of this day. Liz Shaw waits anxiously for his return. Sir Keith spends the whole day in London attempting to convince the Ministry to shut down the project, and is involved in a car accident at night as he is returning to the project.

Day 4: The Brigadier mentions in the morning that Sir Keith "left the Ministry yesterday evening. He should have been back here last night." The Doctor returns from the parallel world around noon. It is now PZ 3:22. The Doctor shuts down the drilling with just thirty seconds to spare.

Day 5: The project is officially shut down in the morning. The Brigadier says "word came through this morning". The Doctor attempts another excursion with the TARDIS console.

Day 6: The nuclear reactor is dismantled. The Brigadier said on Day 5 that this would take place "tomorrow".

The Doctor is away in the parallel world from the late afternoon of Day 2 until noon of Day 4 in the real world. When the Doctor arrives in the parallel world, it corresponds to noon of real world Day 4 and PZ is already at 3:22 when he is first in the control room. Either the Doctor jumped ahead in time some 44 hours, or drilling is at a more advanced stage and it is still the afternoon of Day 2. He stays in the parallel world for approximately 44 hours, nearly two days. It is likely that the second explanation is the correct one, as the first would require him to have jumped back the same number of hours when he returns to the real world.

UNIT sets up its office at the project on Day 2, implying that they have just arrived, but it would appear that UNIT soldiers have been patrolling the grounds for longer than this. It is apparent that the Brigadier has only come in to supervise operations for the final days before Penetration Zero. (Perhaps prior to this the Brigadier was occupied with returning the alien ambassadors...?)

The Doctor arrives at the project to begin his experiments to get the TARDIS operational on Day 1, as on Day 2 the Brigadier talks about the first murder occurring within a few hours of his arrival. The Doctor has apparently been involved in the project for some time, despite having only just moved on to the site. The parallel world Elisabeth Shaw observes that the Doctor "seems to know all about this project, as if he'd been here for weeks."

Professor Stahlman has been working on the project for eleven years. His team of mathematicians took a month to come up with the calculations on initial stresses; the Doctor came up with them in just ten minutes. On the face of it, this would imply that the Doctor has been involved with the project for years, but in fact the drilling itself for which the calculations were required might have only commenced a few months ago.

The Doctor twice refers to the length of his association with the Brigadier. To the Brigade-Leader he says, "You ask me my name after all the years that we've -" (he is interrupted at this point); and to the real Brigadier he says, "We don't want to bear a grudge after all the years we've worked together." Just how long is it since the Doctor first met Lethbridge Stewart in the London Underground?

The Defence of the Republic Act, a parallel world law which gave the Brigade-Leader full authority to have the Doctor shot without trial, was passed in 1943.

The Doctor knew Queen Elizabeth II's great grandfather in Paris. He is referring to King Edward VII (1841-1910). He also makes reference to the royal family as "charming", implying that he knows them personally.

The Doctor witnessed the eruption of Krakatoa in the Sundra Straits in 1883.

Liz Shaw is very familiar with the workings of the TARDIS console, and has the knowledge to repair parts of it without assistance. Clearly she has received much tuition in TARDIS technology from the Doctor since her encounter with the console in the previous story.

Liz also has her own sonic screwdriver. She doesn't have one when she first leaves the hut where the console is stored, as she has to get the Doctor to use his to open the door, but when she returns she has one and thereafter for the remainder of the story.

Liz is a qualified medical Doctor amongst other things. Her parallel world self studied physics at university.

The Doctor's pulse rate is normal at 170. In Spearhead from Space, the Doctor's heartbeats are measured at ten per minute.

The official title of Stahlman's project is not "Inferno"; although widely used, this is just its nickname.

Terrance Dicks's novelisation closely follows the on-screen story, but he does make a few apparently deliberate alterations to references to time. A line of the Brigadier's which mentions how long the Doctor has been at the project when the first murder occurs is changed from "a few hours" to "a few days" (page 14). Another line of the Brigadier's is also altered, this time when he is talking to Stahlman about the deaths. On screen he says "In the last few hours, three men have died." This is changed to two men in the book (page 32), which is technically more correct, as the first man died the previous day.

This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).

Index nodes: Inferno
Reprinted in: TSV: The Best of Issues 21-26