Random Asides

Doctor Who’s Green Death Maggots

My favorite Doctor is definitely David Tennant. But I also love classic Dr. Who, and The Green Death is one of the best episodes. Well, the best for an entomologist, anyway. So I bring you:

Giant Fanged Death Maggots that Spit Glowing Green Snot. 

Winning, indeed!  These episodes are from the 10th season of Dr. Who, in 1973.  Plot synopsis:

UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) is called in after a miner from the Welsh village of Llanfairfach is found dead, his skin glowing bright green. Jo joins forces with a local environmental group, led by Professor Clifford Jones, while the Doctor investigates the nearby plant of a company called Global Chemicals.

They discover that the mine workings are full of giant maggots and green slime – both lethal to touch – that have been produced by chemical waste pumped from the Global plant.

While the parts of this story ark that I love are the green glowy maggots, there are also interesting story elements that reflect the time in which this was made.  Hippies! Overpopulation! Evil Corporations! Environmental pollution! Computers making humans redundant! Regrettable fashion choices!

Screenshot; image Copyright BBC

I mean, a corduroy bell-bottom pantsuit to save the world from slime-spitting doom maggots….hmm.  I also love that the Doctor’s companion runs out to catch a giant deadly maggot with a wicker cat carrier, a fluffy white coat remarkably like this one worn by Lady Gaga, and red wellies.  But I digress.

The “environmental group” Professor Jones heads up is actually a commune made up of hippie scientists; their plan is to live on the land and save mankind from overpopulation by creating a sustainable food source made from mushrooms.  The professor supposedly is funding this with his Pulitzer Prize Award money, which is a bit surprising, since the professor also looks rather like David Cassidy. I guess he started researching really, really early in life.  Anyway, giant killer maggots and deadly green slime are NOT the sort of green economy they had in mind.

The Creatures

It’s the maggots that make these episodes so very wonderful. The props department really did an outstanding job with the maggots, as you can see from these screen captures.  The giant death maggots are a great match for the sort of slippery, plastic-ish appearance of real maggots.  This apparently was because the death maggots were constructed from slippery plastic condoms.

In other scenes, green screen (GREEN screen, get it?) was used to superimpose images of real maggots feeding behind the actors. This is how they created my favorite scene, where the Doctor poles a barge through a sea of glowing green death maggots.  (This was also included in the novelization with awesome illustrations!)

The maggots are pretty much indestructible–they survive aerial bombing, fire, point blank shooting, and pesticides.  This video clip gives you a brief intro to the maggots in action, and also contains the quite excellent line:

“I’m up on the slag heap with the Professor, he’s hurt, and we’re surrounded by maggots. Please hurry.”

Second best line:

“I never thought I’d fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar.”

I thought about going into why the glowing green death maggots:

  1. Wouldn’t really have sharp pointy teeth;
  2. Wouldn’t really exist in that size;
  3. Wouldn’t hatch into a dragonfly-like creature;

But why not just enjoy the cheese unencumbered by discussions of taxonomic phylogeny and tracheal diffusion rates?  Other highlights of the series include the Doctor dressing up as a cleaning lady and a milkman to infiltrate Global Chemicals.

This series has some of the most emotional rage of the early Doctors, since Jo, the companion, falls in love and decides to follow the hippie professor off into the Amazon to look for fungus that will solve world hunger.  Oh, and by the way? The professor’s dream of feeding everyone with a protein supplement made from fungus? THAT TOTALLY HAPPENED.



Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. “I never thought I’d fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar.”
    Must come from a very sheltered upbringing

  2. This begs the entomological question “Are real maggots made from slippery non-plastic (latex) condoms (XXS size, but stretchy)?”

    The BBC props department is brilliant, and obviously did it all for about 10 pounds per episode. (Not just Dr Who, but all 1970’s BBC shows.)

  3. The Center for Alternative Energy in Wales started the same year as the show. But they were planning it for rather longer.

    Barry Letts, the producer during the Pertwee era was a Buddhist and injected a non-violence ethic into the series. The doctor always tries to resolve situations non-violently and almost never carries a gun. The only creatures he kills on sight being Daleks. The green death is one of the four stories written by Letts while he was producer.

    The ‘crowd scenes’ of maggots covering the valleys are allegedly footage of sheep.

    The green death was the last appearance of Katy Manning as Jo Grant.

  4. At the risk of turning this thread into a dead end of Who pedantry, I feel compelled to point out that Robert Sloman was the credited writer of this story (it was a collaboration with Letts, like the highly entertaining ‘The Daemons’, which I watched the other night).

    “The doctor always tries to resolve situations non-violently and almost never carries a gun.” This isn’t down to Letts, but has always been a central point of the series. I don’t watch the revival, has this changed?

    Letts (or script editor Terrance Dicks) also engaged writer Malcolm ‘The Incredible’ Hulke for several stories. Hulke was a communist and had a terrific line in unfeeling, bureaucratic rich bastard civil servants/politicians. “Ah, smoked salmon!” beams one such odious toad upon being brought his sandwiches, right after possibly condemning thousands of people to death through refusing to listen to the Doctor. Hulke also addressed environmental concerns. This was an excellent era for the show; Letts’ first season in particular was surely the best in its history. It includes ‘Inferno’ (written by Don Houghton), which concerns a project to drill into the centre of the earth for a utopian endless energy source. Of course, this turns out to present hideous dangers to the planet. There’s an alternate reality Fascist Britain with horrid versions of the Doctor’s friends. Cracking stuff.

    (OK, I’ll go back to sleep now. This is the first Skepchick thread I’ve commented on for ages, and I’m worried that says something about me and superficiality!)

  5. For more maggots in media, do search out a copy of the Plasmatics’ Maggots – the record. It’s well awesome.

  6. This was my third Doctor Who serial I ever saw, going on my third night in the a row of not sleeping because I was staying up past my bedtime to watch it on PBS. I remember because I was just starting to love Jo, then she left and we were stuck with this Sarah Jane Smith person who was categorically Not Jo. Ah… good times.

    Anyway, I would, indeed like to see the answers to all the points you brought up.

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