The Who Who Haunted Whomself
Doctor Who visits 1970 and finds a Britain suspended between decades
An occasional series looking at Doctor Who, a peculiarly British kind of TV show, and its cultural contexts.
1970 is a moment of dualities, apparently, hanging as it does between the ‘60s and the ‘70s. There is a sudden rash of stories about duplication and mirroring: in Inferno The Doctor slips into another universe populated by alternate versions of his friends, while in The Man Who Haunted Himself Roger Moore gets more, bifurcating into a doppelganger. In Roeg and Cammel’s psychedelic nightmare Performance Chas and Turner fatally confuse their identities; in the 1970 version of The Secret of Dorian Gray, Dorian finds his own mortality (and morality) separated off into a painting.
7 episodes, colour, May to June 1970
Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, and Caroline John as companion Liz Shaw, an accomplished scientist with UNIT (an organisation dedicated to defending Earth from aliens).
The Doctor has sidled into a government drilling operation just so he can borrow their nuclear reactor to repair his spaceship, the TARDIS. But an accident propels the Doctor into an alternate Britain under a one-party military rule, where the drilling is going horribly wrong. Oh, and there's a strange green goo that turns people into overheated and over-hairy beast men. I'm still not sure what that bit is about, to be honest.
The Man Who Haunted Himself
1970, 89 mins, colour. Directed by Basil Dearden.
Roger Moore, Anton Rogers, Hildegard Neil, Freddie Jones and an awful lot of ‘Look, it’s him out of thingy’ British character actors.
Roger Moore is Pelham, a straight-laced City gent who, after a car accident, finds that people claim to have met him in places he hasn't been. Someone is pretending to be Pelham - someone considerably more hard-edged and easy-living, more prone to fast cars, fast women and fast business practices. Slowly Pelham loses his identity, his grip on reality and, finally, his life, to this doppelganger.
SIR CHARLES FREEMAN
I'll be glad to get out of it all…
Business is an alien world these days.
Inferno is a story full of strange incongruities. Not the least the fact that it's so highly rated in IMDb while parts of it are so alarmingly silly. Especially the beast men.
It is a story about parallel universes, different versions of Britain in 1970. Both feature a project to drill into the Earth’s core to unleash a new power source for the country. In both the megalomaniac scientist in charge of the project (whose name is Stahlman, steel man, like Stalin, do you see?) doesn’t know that the drill is also bringing up from beneath the earth a strange green goo that de-evolves people into beast men. Absolutely no explanation is attempted for what the green goo is, why it should cause humans to suddenly develop furry gloves and Rhodes Boyson sideburns, or why, weirdly, they should then be searingly hot. But here they are, the hairy handed sons of boil, hopping about and leering at the camera like Jim Dale’s Mr Hyde in Carry On Screaming. It has almost nothing to do with the alternate universe plot of the story and is all the more delightful for it.
To be fair, the Doctor slipping sideways across dimensions into an alternate universe is a genuinely fine idea, contrasting the contemporary Britain of the series with a version under the rule of a dictator (who looks disturbingly like Brian Murphy from George and Mildred), where the Royal family have been done away with and Caroline John, playing a sadistic version of the Doctor’s assistant Liz, gets to wear knee high boots and camp it up terrifically.
(“Pity,” says the Doctor when he hears about the execution of the Queen, “A charming family. I knew her great grandfather in Paris.” Which hints at a whole new level of adventures, although what Edward VII got up to in Paris almost certainly wasn’t fit for Saturday tea time TV.)
The contemporary Britain the Doctor leaves behind is similarly a terribly dangerous place; Stahlman’s drilling project endangers the planet. The sole difference between the two Stahlmans in the different universes is that one of them dresses like a Bond villain and has a death squad at his disposal.
Pertwee’s Doctor is very identified with being a scientist. He is perfectly obsessed with the idea and harps on about it at great length, doting over the hulking computer that Stahlman neglects in his control room. The story, however, is a good deal more ambivalent. It is the white heat of technology that is turning people into uncomprehending brutes. It is Stahlman’s unbending devotion to progress and the laws of science that will doom mankind.
Roger Moore’s bowler hatted businessman Pelham in The Man Who Haunted Himself is similarly inflexible, although in character he’s a lot more like Sir Keith Gold, the hapless civil servant nominally in charge of the drilling operation in Inferno. Both are derided for their old-fashioned squeamishness; Sir Keith is the only flabby brake on Stahlman’s hectic onward rush towards disaster.
Pelham’s doppelganger is just as suspect as Stahlman, ruthless and unstoppable, although considerably more suave and scheming (he is also Roger Moore, after all) and - worse - sexually active. Pelham eventually visits a psychiatrist, played by Freddie Jones. That’s played in the sporting sense, rather than the thespian; Jones chases the part round the ground for 90 minutes until it gives up, exhausted, and he wins on points. Anyway, he claims that the doppelganger has been caused by Pelham’s own impotence. Starved of sex, his libido has spawned a Roger Moore of its very own.
Like James Fox’s East End gangster hardman Chas in Performance, the swinging ‘60s have passed Pelham by; he is lost in this new world. Part of the message of Performance is that freedom can be dangerous. Repression might cause Roger Moore to spontaneously duplicate, but decadence fuses Fox and Jagger into a whole new uncomfortable being, just as indulgence in all the ‘60s vices destroys Dorian Gray.
And this is the core ambivalence of all these conflicting cultures: they’re not sure what side they want to come down on; they’re not sure which side is right. Despite the fact that his cursed painting appears to mean he can indulge without cost, Dorian Gray’s depravity destroys him in the end. As it does Chas in Performance, who murders Mick Jagger’s Turner in a psychedelic fugue of ego death and sexual confusion. The Krays are behind bars and Timothy Leary is in jail. The ‘60s are over; the only swinging they’re doing is at the end of a noose.
But old certainties have been swept away in the process. Pelham’s end comes when Freddie Jones, in his peripatetic accent, persuades him to finally give up his city gent bowler hat and umbrella. Without them no one recognises him, and he is finally replaced by his sports car-driving duplicate.
In Inferno the alternate Sir Keith Gold is assassinated, while the other only manages to avert disaster at the very last minute after things get (literally) hairy. The implacable forces of science and technology almost roll right over him, squashing mankind in the process. We are caught between the overpowering onward rush of modernity and the stifling red tape of old-fashioned bureaucracy.
The dependable stalwarts of the establishment are moribund, the shooting stars of the cultural revolution have fizzled out; here comes the ‘70s. Are we going to be left as the playthings of the emotionless scientist and the heartless businessman? What kind of Britain is the next decade going to bring? No one seems quite sure.
Which is ironic, because Inferno provides an all too accurate vision of the future. The threat that the Doctor is trying to avert all along is global warming (in this case because of volcanic activity, but it’s still anthropogenic, brought about by a search for new forms of energy). The twenty-first century, in other words.
No wonder people are so nostalgic for the ‘70s these days.
Annette Richardson reflects further on doppelgangers and doubles in Double White Female:
Doctor Who - Inferno: https://www.britbox.co.uk/watch/Inferno_(Part_1)_45961
The Man Who Haunted Himself: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Who-Haunted-Himself/dp/B078MVGHSL
The Secret of Dorian Grey: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Dorian-Gray-Helmut-Berger/dp/B07C3WJFDY
(Incidentally, this version of the Wilde story is deeply grubby in a way that only something made cheaply in 1970 can be, and we can’t recommend it, despite enjoyable turns from Herbert Lom and Richard Todd.)
For this series, we’re using the iMDB ratings to pick the story with the highest average ratings for each Doctor Who actor (in the classic run).