Doctor Who – Planet of Giants. Part 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. Part 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).

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Six – Prisoners of Conciergerie

 

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The final episode of The Reign of Terror is somewhat disconnected from the rest of the serial. There’s a couple of possibilities to consider – either Dennis Spooner ran out of plot and had to bolt this epilogue on or maybe it was felt that after five episodes of capture/escape/capture there should be an ending that looked ahead to France’s future.

Lemaitre reveals that he’s the English spy, James Stirling. Or at least he says he is – it’s rather remarkable that everybody takes this statement at face value without asking for any sort of proof. After the moral complexities of the previous episode it’s a little unimpressive – what better way could there be for an agent of the Revolution to infiltrate the rebels than by claiming he’s one of them? But thankfully Stirling is who he claims to be and quickly ropes Ian and Barbara into assisting him with a dangerous mission.

This is another strange development – out of all the people that he could have been chosen, why pick Ian and Barbara? But these scenes – the pair go undercover at a tavern to spy on a meeting between Paul Barrass and Napoleon Bonaparte – do help to give the story a wider scope (even if they’re historically very dubious). Still, we get to see Barbara as a serving wench, so it’s not all bad.

Robespierre’s final appearance is brief. He’s shot in the jaw (off-screen) and later finds himself incarcerated at the Conciergerie, where the jailer gleefully receives him. The turncoat nature of the jailer – he’s now happy to share in the derision heaped on Robespierre, whereas an hour earlier he had been his most loyal servant – stands in sharp contrast to the unswerving viewpoints held by the likes of Jules and Leon.

Even if this episode closes the story with something of a whimper rather than a bang, the final scene, set in the TARDIS, is interesting as it offers another restatement of the belief that Earth’s history is unalterable.

IAN: Supposing we had written Napoleon a letter, telling him, you know, some of the things that were going to happen to him.
SUSAN: It wouldn’t have made any difference, Ian. He’d have forgotten it, or lost it, or thought it was written by a maniac.
BARBARA: I suppose if we’d tried to kill him with a gun, the bullet would have missed him.
DOCTOR: Well, it’s hardly fair to speculate, is it? No, I’m afraid you belittle things. Our lives are important, at least to us. But as we see, so we learn.

It’s easy to believe that this scene was the handiwork of David Whitaker, as Dennis Spooner would soon gleefully prove that history could very easily be changed. In retrospect it’s clear to see why this was untenable – the concept that history (or at least, Earth history) was fixed whilst the future (or at least, the future as seen from a 1960’s Earth perspective) could be altered at will was a rather bizarre one.

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Five – A Bargain of Necessity

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At the end of the previous episode Ian was captured by Leon, who reveals that he’s an agent of the Revolution. “I’ve been loyal to the Revolution from the beginning. If you’d known what France was like six years ago, before the Bastille, you’d understand. France will never be anything until we’re rid of these high-born leeches who’ve been sucking the life-blood of France for so long.”

Although Leon could viewed as a villain, like Robespierre he’s convinced of the right of his actions. And whilst he chains and threatens Ian, there’s the sense that he does so reluctantly. This scene is open to various interpretations though – maybe Leon is a skilled manipulator and tells Ian exactly what he thinks he wants to hear. Or is his desire to spare his life genuine?

It’s no surprise that although Ian is restrained and several menacing guards are present, there’s no attempt to torture him for the information which Leon is convinced he has (Jules appears and kills Leon before this happens). Saturday tea-time back in 1964 wouldn’t have been the place for explicit scenes of suffering (which makes the subject matter of this serial an odd one to have chosen).

The dramatic highlight of the episode, indeed the entire serial, occurs when Barbara is told of Leon’s death.

IAN: It was the only way, Barbara.
JULES: He deserved to die. He was a traitor.
BARBARA: What do you mean, he was a traitor?
IAN: When I got to the church, he turned on me. He was going to kill me.
JULES: He betrayed us, Barbara.
BARBARA: He was a traitor to you. To his side he was a patriot.
IAN: Barbara, we’ve taken sides just by being here. Jules actually shot him. It could just as easily have been me.
JULES: And what about Robespierre? I suppose you think ….
BARBARA: Well just because an extremist like Robespierre
IAN: Oh, Barbara, Jules is our friend. He saved our lives!
BARBARA: I know all that! The revolution isn’t all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change.
IAN: Well, he got what he deserved.
BARBARA: You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.

It’s a sparkling scene for both William Russell and Jacqueline Hill and offers a rare opportunity to see Ian and Barbara at loggerheads. Although Barbara’s view of Leon is no doubt coloured by her appreciation of him as a man, the point she makes (Leon would have been viewed as a patriot by his own people) is a valid one. But Ian’s retort that they’ve chosen sides and Leon had to be viewed as an enemy is equally valid. By showing Leon to be a cultured, well-educated man who also happened to believe that the overthrow of the ruling elite was morally justified, Spooner’s script has a level of complexity which wasn’t always present in Doctor Who. Generally, during this era of the series goodies and baddies tended to be painted in broader brushstrokes (although the historical stories did seem to offer more scope for nuanced character studies).

The Doctor spends the episode manipulating the hapless jailer in order to obtain Barbara and Susan’s release from prison. It provides a spot of comic relief which counterpoints the darker theme of Leon’s death. But it looks as if the Doctor hasn’t quite been as clever as he thinks – as we see that Lemaitre is still the one pulling the strings ……

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Four – The Tyrant of France

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In 1990 I acquired pirate copies of the four existing episodes of The Reign of Terror on VHS and happily watched them for many years. Back then I didn’t have a great deal of interest in the  audios of the missing episodes. This was understandable in one way as I was keener to track down copies of all the episodes that did still exist (meaning that the audios were a much lower priority).

It wasn’t until the remastered soundtracks started to appear on CD that I began to plug the gaps (later on these missing episodes would be enhanced by various recons – both official and unofficial). With some stories, like The Invasion, I never felt that I’d missed too much by not having audios of the missing episodes back in the 1990’s, but it wasn’t until I had the chance to listen to the audios of episodes four and five of The Reign of Terror that I finally realised what I’d been missing all those years.

These two episodes contain the dramatic heart of the story. The first three episodes contain a great deal of interest, but in many ways they’re simply designed to get us to this point (episode six is a coda which has very little connection to the rest of the story).

The Doctor’s meeting with Robespierre (Keith Anderson) is a fascinating one. Robespierre isn’t presented as a cackling villain, but rather as a weary administrator who – whilst authorising carnage on a grand scale – is convinced that he’s doing it for the greater good. This is a much more interesting portrait than had he simply been shown as a stock, “evil”, character. Beware the man who knows he’s right.

ROBESPIERRE: I could, and I shall, do great things for France. For too long the Nobility have kept our people to heel. And now finally, my world is at power, what happens? My colleagues, my trusted friends, plot for power.
THE DOCTOR: Do they? Or is it just their wish to keep their heads, hmm?
ROBESPIERRE: Danton planned to restore the monarchy. I had the proof, I knew! I had to dispose of him. And the Girondins. Even now, convention members are at work, plotting my downfall. But I will triumph, even if I have to execute every last one of them! Death, always death. Do you think I want this carnage? Three hundred and forty two executions in nine days in Paris alone. What a memory I shall leave behind if this thing lasts.

Elsewhere, the spark that seems to exist between Barbara and Leon deepens a little (this pays off in spectacular fashion next time) and Ian finds himself reunited with Barbara and Susan, although in the capture/escape/capture nature of this serial it’s not for long as the girls once again find themselves back in the prison (and once again under the unforgiving eye of the jailer). Ian continues his hunt for the English spy called James Webster whilst Lemaitre has definite proof that the Doctor is an impostor. But still he doesn’t act on this information.

There’s at least three different ways to enjoy episodes four and five – the audios, the DVD animations or the Loose Cannon recons. I tend to favour the Loose Cannon recons, as the animations are rather too hyperactive for my tastes. It seems that the animation company, Planet 55, learnt a great deal from this commission as their later efforts (The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase) were much, much better.

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Three – A Change of Identity

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Given the cramped studios they had to record in, it’s remarkable just how much was achieved in the early years of Doctor Who.  A good example of the quality of Roderick Lang’s design work can be seen in the opening minutes of this episode – as Barbara and Susan are transported in a horse-drawn cart through the streets of Paris (all of which was created in the studio).  The fact they have a real horse – as well as small touches like the cackling women at their windows – helps to sell the illusion.

Barbara and Susan are rescued from the guillotine by Jules Renan (Donald Morley) and his friend Jean (Roy Herrick).  Many of the historical stories from this point on would freely plunder popular fiction and it’s easy to make a link between Jules and Jean and the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel.   Their arrival helps to move the story in a slightly different direction – we leave behind the squalor of the Conciergerie and the uncouth antics of the soldiers.

Meanwhile the Doctor has reached Paris and has gone shopping for some new clothes.  This is another scene that seems tailored (if you’ll excuse the pun!) to Hartnell’s comic strengths.  He sets his eye on a very impressive uniform and is informed by the shopkeeper that it signifies the position of regional officer of the provinces.

DOCTOR: Yes, I’m quite aware of that. Yes, quite aware. Yes. In fact, it’s a post that I myself personally occupy.
SHOPKEEPER: I see. I’m sorry, citizen.
DOCTOR: Don’t apologise. I want to try that on.
SHOPKEEPER: Certainly, citizen. The quality is unmatched, and in comparison, the price
DOCTOR: The price is of no matter. I haven’t any money.
SHOPKEEPER: No money?
DOCTOR: No. No, I though possibly we could arrange an exchange.
SHOPKEEPER: For this?
DOCTOR: What’s wrong with it?
SHOPKEEPER: Nay, it’s little better than a fancy dress outfit.
DOCTOR: A fancy dress? My dear sir, I doubt that you’ve seen a coat like it.
SHOPKEEPER: I agree.
DOCTOR: Am I correct to assume that you’re not interested?
SHOPKEEPER: You realise there is not much call for a
DOCTOR: Have you had a similar coat like this in your shop?
SHOPKEEPER: Never.
DOCTOR: Then I can understand why there has been no call.

You have to love the Doctor’s cheek, although we’ll later learn that he didn’t quite convince the shopkeeper of his bona fides. Which if you think about it isn’t that surprising – had the Doctor really had been a regional officer then surely his uniform would have been provided by the state.  And why was one hanging up in the tailor’s shop anyway?

The dashing Leon Colbert (Edward Brayshaw), a friend of Jules, is introduced to Barbara and makes an immediate impression.  If you’re a fan of 1970’s and 1980’s BBC children’s television it’s impossible to see Brayshaw as anybody other than the harassed Mr Meaker from Rentaghost.  But if you can push that to the back of your mind then you can enjoy Brayshaw’s fine performance.  It’s just a pity that all of his key scenes were in the forthcoming wiped episodes.

The Doctor (complete with the sort of hat that would have turned Troughton’s Doctor green with envy) makes his way to the prison and has his first meeting with the jailer.  It’s yet another dialogue-heavy scene that Hartnell and Cunningham play to perfection.   This is a good example of the first Doctor at his imposing best.

As I’ve touched on before, Hartnell was excellent at reacting to other actors. He never needed to overplay – he was able to express a world of emotions with just a few expressions.  This is notable at the point when the jailer tells him that Barbara and Susan have been taken for execution.  A spasm of pain crosses his face – which is quickly gone – and the news that they were rescued (and that Ian has also escaped) is quickly processed and digested before he moves on to the next topic.

But although Ian, Barbara and Susan are free, the Doctor now finds himself a prisoner of sorts.  Lemaitre (James Cairncross) is a key figure in the Revolution and after he meets the Doctor suggests that he joins him in a meeting with Robespierre.  This is the start of some cat-and-mouse games which play out over the following episodes. Is Lemaitre aware that the Doctor is an impostor, and if so what is his gameplan?

That the Doctor appears to be on shaky ground is strengthened when the shopkeeper comes to the prison to denounce him.  Quite why he would decide to come to the prison isn’t clear (except in story terms of course) but it sets us up nicely for the next episode.

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Two – Guests of Madame Guillotine

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Guests of Madame Guillotine neatly splits the narrative into three parts. Ian, Barbara and Susan have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris – Ian is put into one cell and Barbara and Susan are deposited in another. William Russell was the last of the four regulars to take his two-week holiday, so Ian only appears briefly on film for the next two episodes. Although his mission (entrusted to him by a dying prisoner) to find an English spy called James Stirling will prove to be significant later on.

Barbara and Susan are placed in the dingiest, most rat-infested cell, all because Barbara refused the lecherous attentions of the Jailer (Jack Cunningham). The Jailer is generally regarded as a humourous character (he’s later comprehensively bamboozled by the Doctor) but he’s a little more sinister and threatening to begin with. These early scenes at the Conceirgerie are a little grim anyway, since there seems to be no way that Barbara and Susan can avoid losing their heads.

SUSAN: Oh, what’s the use? We’ll never get out of this dreadful place.
BARBARA: Oh, you mustn’t lose heart, Susan.
SUSAN: I’m not going to fool myself.
BARBARA: Well, think of the times we’ve been in trouble before. We’ve always managed to get out of it in the end.
SUSAN: Oh, we’ve been lucky. We can’t go on being lucky. Things catch up with you.
BARBARA: I’ve never heard you talk like this before. You’re usually so optimistic.

Given that Susan is the much more experienced traveller it seems strange that she’s presented as the defeated one. Later on she reacts with terror at the sight of some rats – which stops Barbara from attempting to dig her way out of the cell. Although given the tools they had, it would have probably taken her years! These are further moments which probably wouldn’t have been viewed favourably by Carole Ann Ford, as they reinforce the notion that Susan is easily the least resourceful of the TARDIS crew.

Whilst the others face an anxious time in prison, the Doctor attempts to make his way to Paris. He’s rescued from the farmhouse by a young boy called Jean-Pierre (this is a touching scene with Hartnell and Peter Walker. As they part, the Doctor asks the boy his name. “I shall remember. Yes. Jean-Pierre. Au revoir, Monsieur Captain”).

We then see the first bit of location filming used in the series. It’s only a few scenes of Hartnell’s double strolling down some country lanes but it really helps to open things out. This then leads into one of the comic highlights of the story. Although Hartnell often referred to himself as a straight actor, he had a great flair for comedy (not really surprising since he started his career playing in stage farces). Spooner had obviously been quick to recognise this and gives him some first-rate material here.

The Doctor runs into a party of men toiling on the road, supervised by a brutal Overseer (Dallas Cavell). No surprise that the Doctor can’t resist sticking his oar in. “If you were to expend your energy helping with the road, instead of bawling and shouting at them every few seconds, you might be able to get somewhere. Good day to you, sir!” But when the Doctor is unable to produce any papers to prove his identity, he finds himself press-ganged into the working party.

The Doctor manages to effect his escape by convincing the Overseer that there’s buried treasure close at hand. When the Overseer bends down to take a closer look, the Doctor bashes him over the head with a shovel! The rest of the men are shocked (“sacre blue” they naturally say) and run off. As does the Doctor, once he’s mischievously put two gold pieces on the unconscious Overseer’s eyes. It’s highly entertaining stuff and was obviously a stepping-stone to the even broader comedy of Spooner’s next script, The Romans.

The time-scale for this episode is a little odd though. The others appear to arrive in Paris at the same time that the Doctor is extracted from the burning house. This clearly makes no sense, so it appears that Guests of Madame Guillotine is hopping backwards and forwards through time. Well, this is a time-travel series I guess ….

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