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Doctor Who: Planet of Giants (TV Serial J)



Blurb: The TARDIS doors open accidentally while the ship is still in flight. Although they have arrived back on Earth in the 1960's, a time they have been trying to return to since they all met, the travelers soon realize that something is very wrong.

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan discover that they have all been reduced in size and the world they are now exploring has dangers at every turn.

Format: Television drama transmitted from October 31, 1964 - November 14, 1964. Released on DVD on September 11, 2012.

Setting: Earth: Southern England sometime in the summer. It's elegant to say that the Doctor has actually gotten Ian and Barbara home here and has adjusted for the time that they have spent with him and that this is the summer of 1964. However, this is never stated onscreen and this can be just about any year after World War 2 until about 1966.

Continuity: The Doctor mentions that they were just in the 18th century (see The Reign of Terror). However there is plenty of time for everyone to have changed their clothes so there's still room for untold number of novel and audio adventures as long as the story immediately before this one is another story set in the 18th century. Susan says that the doors have never opened while they're in flight before but appears to have forgotten the events of The Edge of Destruction.

DVD: Like all of the DVD's to date this one has an audio commentary. Unfortunately this one has none of the regulars nor does it have Raymond Cusick the designer that did such a stunning job on this story. It ends up being a rather boring set of anecdotes from people we didn't really need to hear much from. There is a reconstruction of the full episodes 3 and 4 based on the camera scripts and recording the dialog with Carole Ann Ford and William Russell along with soundalikes for William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill. There's a "behind the scenes" documentary on the reconstruction as well as interviews with Carole Ann Ford and Verity Lambert. For some reason there's no making of featurette so we have no information about what the regulars or the designer felt about this story.

Discussion: It seems very odd in hindsight that the original Doctor Who creative team were so hellbent on doing a story where the time travelers were reduced in size. They had originally wanted that to be the basis for the pilot story with the four being reduced in size in Ian's classroom and being menaced by some insects and the students. Thankfully that idea never saw the light of day as it would have been weaker than the caveman story that we got and wouldn't have suited the purpose of a pilot in setting up the format of the show. Yet, for whatever reason they felt that it was a story that needed to be told and handed the idea to writer Robert Gould to try his hand at it. When that fell through they gave it to Louis Marks. Thankfully, Marks' work isn't just about the travelers shrinking and the problems associated with it. Instead we get an ecological tale with the time travelers' shrinkage problems actually happening literally in the background, thus helping to add some interesting to a story that would get old very quickly.

So first off, I'd like to rave about just how good the production values are in this one. The whole miniaturization angle is handled really really well. The giant ant looks a lot like an ant and the earthworm and bee look similarly impressive. Special praise needs to be reserved for that fly. The other insects that we see are all dead but that fly is alive and moves very convincingly. Contract it with another fly that we'll see in The Green Death and oddly the earlier work is far superior. All of the macroscopic items in the story are very well done and convincingly built by designer Ray Cusick, the inventor of the Daleks. We're only let down by three small points. First, the scale isn't consistent. It's most noticeable with the ant, which should be larger, but unless you're really paying attention this is something that you're not likely to notice. Second, two of the large scale shots are achieved by having the regulars stand in front of a blown up photo that takes up a whole wall. Unfortunately the photo looks like a photo and lacks a third dimension so those two sequences it is very difficult to suspend your disbelief because that effect just doesn't work. Thankfully those two sequences are fairly short and we move on to the much better props. The other problem is one of visuals. Susan acts like she can't see the other eggs or the giant ant until they're in shot even though she's only 3 feet away from them and has been looking in the right direction. I realize that this is down to the cramped sets and the fact that they want the visuals to shock the viewer but it looks so pathetic that one wonders if Susan needs glasses as badly as Velma on Scooby Doo. Otherwise the visuals are really good and in some places like with the fly hold up even today.

The regulars also come across strong in this one. We have one scene where Ian has to be incredibly dense, no hearing what Barbara's saying and then not realizing why she'd ask for a handkerchief even though they're right next to some wheat that's been infected with some insecticide. Other than that, though, he and Barbara show the kind of fear and bemusement that seems appropriate under the circumstances where the familiar can now be a scary danger. Barbara shows a great deal of bravery with her insistence that her own health doesn't matter but they need to make sure that DN6 is never put into production. If there's any need for proof that the Doctor has changed there's a sequence here where he and Susan are safe and can make it back to the ship but they go looking for Ian and Barbara anyway. In the early stories he'd have just gone to the TARDIS and abandoned the two school teachers. Now, it doesn't even enter into his mind as he puts himself and Susan in danger to find them. Early on in the story he also decides that something must be done about DN6 despite it not being an immediate problem to them. He displays some reservations at what can be done at their diminished capacity but that moral certainty that this is harmful and needs to be stopped does no waver. Although it started in the Sensorites the Doctor has completed his journey now and is definitely the hero. As the second season continues, we'll see his role in the series continue to increase until he's indisputably the lead. It's also a lot of fun to see him get excited about a bit of arson in a good cause. In many ways the first Doctor is just a big kid and it's so nice to watch him so thoroughly enjoy causing destruction to the bad guys.

Unfortunately the story for the supporting characters is nowhere near as positive. Forrester is your typical one-dimensional businessman. He's got an important role to fill since the main theme of this story is about how greed corrupts good intentions. All that he really does though is sneer a lot and tell Smithers how he's just as bad as he is. Smithers is even more strange. He has a little more nuance to his performance but you're left wondering if the man is incompetent or an imbecile. He's supposedly been involved in rigorous testing of DN6, but he seems completely surprised that it kills things other than pests. I could understand this if he were a scientist in the same mold as Forrester, simply trying to make a buck and doesn't care about the collateral damage. But Smithers is painted as somewhat sympathetic, a man who just wants to help people who are starving. We're supposed to believe that he's just turned a blind eye to the downfalls of his formula but it's almost beyond belief that he wouldn't be able to notice evidence as obvious as this. After those two we only have Farrow who exists only for exposition and Hilda and Bert. The less said about these two latter the better and they're just there so that Smithers and Forrester can get their comeuppance at the end of the story. Mercifully their parts were cut down from two episodes to one so we only have to deal with them in the final part of the story.

It says a lot about this story that it was felt to be so boring that they had to take two episodes that were already recorded and cut them down to one. Remember that means that they still had to pay for studio time, sets, music, and actors for two episodes and then only get one at the end, which was a net loss for the series. That's what I feel when watching the show. Visual spectacle is a horrible thing to base a story around because it ages poorly. The sets and props were great in the 1960's but now that the same thing can be achieved so easily you get a "so what?" feeling when watching this story. Although it's nice that the show is becoming more topical and is talking about current issues in a current setting in the way that the Pertwee era would do regularly, the story really isn't all that good. Mostly that's because the Doctor and his friends are so far divorced from what's going on with Smithers and Forrester. It feels like we're in two different stories that only occasionally intersect so that we can see a new way for the travelers to be menaced by a mundane object. With the main characters so far apart from everything else we don't really feel connected to the story and it means that the story is really rather boring as the travelers don't really effect the outcome. Even blinding Forrester only possibly keeps him from killing Smithers. Bert would have arrived anyway to sort things out by that point. Still, the idea of an insecticide that kills everything and doesn't easily breakdown is a clear reaction to DDT and it seems like it could be the basis for a more traditional Doctor Who story. Unfortunately this just isn't the story that really realizes its full potential.

As usual there are quite a few things that don't make sense. The scanner blows up upon arrival and the Doctor says that they need to go outside to tell what's going on. This seems amazingly risky. Why don't they just have the Doctor repair the scanner before leaving. It's not like there's any urgency to the situation and the Doctor never says that they're out of spare parts for the scanner. On the contrary the thing is repaired at the end of the story meaning that they must have had something on hand. Yet, even that is an odd thing that doesn't make sense because the Doctor hasn't had time to repair anything. They came back in to the TARDIS and immediately went about the process of returning to normal size. There was no point in-between for the Doctor to fix anything. The Doctor sends Susan with Ian, which just seems odd. I realize that Barbara winds up with Ian in episode two and they were probably just trying to create some variety but the Doctor has always shown that his primary concern is for Susan's safety and it seems an odd thing for him to send her off with anyone else while he stays with Barbara. Why in the world does Ian think that hiding in the briefcase is the smartest thing to do, especially after the incident where he'd already been carried off in a matchbox? Susan and the Doctor run one way and there's no reason why he couldn't have followed them other than the writers didn't want the plot to end here. Why do the Doctor and Susan decide to go up the sink after they survived the water drain incident? When they originally come up they talk about finding Ian and Barbara and having them climb down the pipe with them. Yet in episode 3 suddenly they decide to go up instead. I have a feeling that something important was cut when episodes 3 and 4 were merged together. The Doctor insists to Susan in episode 2 that there's no way that anyone of normal size could hear them. Yet in episode 3 he has them try to talk in a telephone, a device which doesn't even pick up the full range of human hearing, to summon aid.

I will try and make sense of the one thing that I've never seen a real theory about in this story, which is why they get miniaturized. The Doctor talks about the "space pressure". Contrast that with the fact that the TARDIS materializes between the cracks in two cement blocks. My theory is that the Doctor overrode some sort of safety protocol when he "alterred the frequency" to try and take Ian and Barbara home. This caused the ship to try and materialize partially within solid matter. I imagine part of the ship was trying to occupy space underground while the upper half was materializing above ground. This was an impossibility so to keep some form of destructive annhilation from occurring the ship reduced its outer shell in size until it could safely occupy the coordinate it was being told to materialize at. With the outer shell scaled downwards, the TARDIS crew get scaled when they leave the ship. As the ship naturally scales things coming from the outside to its internal dimensions this is not a problem when they come back although the process that the Doctor uses to get them back to normal size is somehow able to differentiate between things that are altered in this manner and those that aren't. If that's not how it works then I've got nothing.

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: Tedious even at 3 episodes. The visual spectacle is still pretty good but it's nothing that anyone alive these days hasn't seen in dozens of other places and is only really impressive if you are able to appreciate the context of the conditions in which they were able to achieve it. Everything else is a slow march towards a bland ending although I give them full marks for trying something different but it just doesn't work. I'd encourage skipping this one.

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