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.