Doctor Who – Planet of Giants. Episode Three – Crisis

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As is well known, Planet of Giants was originally a four part story before producer Verity Lambert, apparently on the orders of the head of serials Donald Wilson, opted to combine the last two episodes (Crisis, The Urge To Live) into one. It’s always slightly amazed me that this happened – for financial reasons, if nothing else. Merging two episodes together effectively meant that the budget for the transmitted Crisis doubled (in today’s terms it’s not a great deal of money, but Doctor Who, like every other BBC series of the time, was closely monitored to ensure that their budgets were adhered to).

The reason for the editing was twofold – it was believed that the four-parter was too slow and also that it wasn’t a sufficiently impressive season opener. Whether it’s slower than, say, The Sensorites is open to debate (and just consider if every Doctor Who producer who followed Lambert had been as ruthless – just how many more episodes would we have lost over the years?).

The notion that it would make a poor debut serial for Doctor Who‘s second season is a little odd – episode one was transmitted on the 31st of October 1964, whilst the last episode of season one was aired on the 12th of September 1964, a mere six weeks earlier. Since very little time had elapsed between Reign and Planet, most viewers probably wouldn’t have considered Planet to be the start of a new season anyway (back then, it was common for long-running series to take occasional breaks of a few weeks or months – it didn’t always signify that a new production block had started).

Douglas Camfield (who had directed the original Crisis, Mervyn Pinfield directed The Urge To Live) was given the task of editing the two episodes together. Overall he does pretty well, although there are a few signs that it’s something of a bodge-job (a handful of sudden fade to blacks, plus the odd scene ends fairly abruptly). Nothing too vital was lost (unless you’re a fan of Hilda and Bert) and there’s no doubt that the transmitted Crisis zips along nicely.

But even the more streamlined transmitted episode can’t hide the basic weakness of the story – the Doctor and his friends remain impotent characters, unable to prevent Forester and Smithers from carrying out their plans to introduce DN6 to an unsuspecting world. All their attempts to warn the authorities – using the phone, starting a fire – achieve nothing and it falls to the nosy telephone exchange operator Hilda (Rosemary Johnson) and her police-officer husband Bert (Fred Ferris) to save the day.

You have feel a little sorry for Forester – a master criminal he was not. After ringing up Whitehall and pretending to be Farrow by using the classic trick of placing a handkerchief over the receiver (he would have been better off attempting to imitate Farrow’s whistling speech impediment!) he immediately catches the interest of Hilda, who realises that the man on the phone wasn’t Farrow. Clearly, Hilda must spend all her time listening in on calls! It’s also a little bizarre that Forester made no attempt to change his voice when he pretended to be Farrow, obviously he felt that the handkerchief was doing all the work for him.

Hugh Greene, director general of the BBC, reported at the BBC’s regular programme review board that he felt Planet of Giants didn’t really work and also that he was looking forward to the return of the Daleks. No doubt his anticipation concerning the the Daleks was shared by most of the viewers at home, so it’s tempting to view Planet of Giants as little more than “filler” – just something to kill time before the next story. That’s a little unfair, as whilst Giants has some narrative problems it’s also a visual treat.

Doctor Who – Planet of Giants. Episode Two – Dangerous Journey

 

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At the start of Dangerous Journey there’s no real reason why the Doctor and his friends don’t return to the TARDIS and leave. Although they were concerned about Farrow’s dead body in the previous episode, the Doctor accepted that given their current size there’s nothing they can do to help. But the arrival of Forester and Smithers panics them and Ian and Barbara run straight into Farrow’s briefcase (another nicely designed prop). They could have hardly picked a worse place to hide in as it’s then taken into the house.

Smithers might be a blinkered scientist, but he’s not a a complete fool. He quickly ridicules Forester’s claim that Farrow was killed in self defence, pointing out that the unfortunate man was shot through the heart at point blank range. Smithers, unlike Forester, isn’t interested in profit – he’s motivated purely from a desire to save lives. “I’ve seen more death than you could imagine. People dying of starvation all over the world. What do you think I started on research for?”

But whilst he may have the best of intentions, he’s blinded to the issues with his formula. The misguided scientist would be a character who would feature numerous times in subsequent Doctor Who stories. Normally the Doctor would have a scene where he could explain to him or her the error of their ways. But due to the Doctor’s small stature this can’t be done here, so Smithers remains unenlightened until he reads Farrow’s notes in the next episode and finally understands just how flawed his work is.

One thing that’s always slightly irritated me about the story is the moment when Barbara touches some seeds which are coated with DN6. She mentions this in passing to Ian (who ignores her) but when she realises that she’s been infected, why doesn’t she tell Ian? Ian doesn’t come out of this very well either as he’s shown to be, once again, rather slow on the uptake.

But although the story isn’t quite gelling you can always just sit back and enjoy the visuals. The sink, complete with plug and plughole, is yet another wonderfully designed Raymond Cusick set and the animated fly is also stunning. Doctor Who had its fair share of design disasters (the paper-plate Dalek flying saucers in the very next story, say) but when things work they really work.

There’s a faint touch of the series’ original educational remit as the Doctor tells Susan that since they’re in the sink their voices will be magnified. Ian also explains why communication with the people in the house would be impossible. “Imagine a record played at the wrong speed. We’d sound like a little squeak to them and they’d sound like a low growl to us”.

The cliffhanger is a decent one – the Doctor and Susan shelter in the sink’s pipe as Smithers washes his hands. That such a mundane action could be fatal – they risk being swept away by the deluge of water – is one of the main strengths of the story.

Doctor Who – Planet of Giants. Episode One – Planet of Giants

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Planet of Giants opens with the Doctor fretting over the fact that the TARDIS doors opened just before the ship materalised.  He’s clearly extremely worried about this and it’s possible that the scripted anxiety seeped into Hartnell’s performance as he’s rather incoherent during the scene.  But once the Doctor calms down, Hartnell also seems to recover somewhat.

When they venture outside, the four split up (bad move, you’d think they’d have learned by now!) to explore and begin to puzzle over the strange things they see (such as giant earthworms and ants).  The audience, thanks to the episode title, is slightly ahead of the TARDIS crew but it takes the reveal of items like a huge matchbox to provide the final clues.  The Doctor has finally managed to steer the TARDIS back to Earth in the 1960’s but they’ve all been reduced to the size of an inch.

Ian’s slow to accept this, preferring to believe that what they’ve found are nothing more than advertising props, built for an exhibition.  Given all that he’s seen over the course of the first season it’s a little jarring that the rational Ian fails to grasp the truth.  However this does, for once, enable Susan to be shown to be the sensible one (although she still has her fair share of hysterical outbursts).

A minuscules story had been planned right from the beginning (originally it would have followed on directly from the first episode).  It’s a clear technical/design triumph – Raymond Cusick, on the show’s usual tight budget, works wonders (the glass-shot of the house is a stand-out shot).  The various dead insects are also impressive.

But the story tends to fall down with the sub-plot of the giants.  The trials and tribulations concerning the TARDIS crew’s attempts to return to the ship are fine, but they wouldn’t have been substantial enough to carry a four-parter by themselves.  So in this first episode we meet the single-minded businessman Forester (Alan Tilvern).  Forester has invested a great deal of money in a new insecticide called DN6 and he’s perturbed to learn that the man from the ministry, Arnold Farrow (Frank Crawshaw), is recommending that it doesn’t go into production.  The reason is quite simple – DN6 is an indiscriminate killer and wherever it’s applied nothing (not even insects) will survive.

Because the Doctor and his friends never directly interact with Forester and later on the deluded creator of DN6 (Smithers), there’s a disconnection between the two main plot-threads which is one reason why the story never quite satisfies.  But on a positive point, Tilvern is a suave villain who thinks nothing of shooting the unfortunate Farrow dead (which could be said to be a mercy killing, thanks to Crawshaw’s distracting speech impediment).