Daily Archives: June 15, 2013

Planet of Giants

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The opening serial of the second season of Doctor Who, Planet of Giants saw the return of the Tardis Crew after a break from the television screens of a mere six weeks. The penultimate serial to feature all the original cast members, Planet of Giants, albeit in a somewhat divergent form and with a different writer, was originally intended as the premiere serial of the first series.  Rather unsurprisingly given its infancy, the ninth Who story was the first since the premiere episode, An Unearthly Child, to be set in modern day England.  That being said, the action is all studio based and not a glimpse of London can be spied. Although modern day London was featured prominently in the season three finale, The War Machines, viewers didn’t have to wait that long to see the recognizable landmarks of England’s capital.  Set in the twenty second century the next serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, would undoubtedly have satiated the tastes of all those viewers seeking earth-bound points of reference. That story, however, is for my next review.

The frightened Tardis Crew are smaller than painted blades of grass

The frightened Tardis Crew are smaller than painted blades of grass

Planet of Giants was an ambitious story, beautifully realized on what was undoubtedly a budget almost as minute as the Doctor and his companions were in the serial.  Originally filmed as four episodes, but cut to three to quicken the pace of episodes three and four, Planet of Giants saw the Tardis Crew reduced to not much more than the size of ants.  As the Tardis was materializing in a suburban London backyard, presumably to return Barbara and Ian home, the doors flung open. For reasons unable to be later explained by the Doctor, the ship and its occupants were shrunk. The Tardis Crew, however, were unaware of their diminutive size until they stumbled upon a series of strange and perplexing objects whilst exploring outside. After splitting into two groups, Ian, with Susan, initially presumed that they had landed in the middle of some form of trade fair.  An exhibition, of sorts, in which huge copies of various objects were on display. Ants were the size of dinosaurs and matchboxes like houses. It was Susan, though, who quickly realized that it was the Tardis Crew that had been shrunk.  Perhaps it was her alien antecedents that permitted her to see that which Ian couldn’t.

Susan, Ian and the matchbox

Susan, Ian and the matchbox

Soon the Doctor and his companions were confronted by the hazards that naturally confront ant sized people.  Ian, who had climbed into a near empty match box, was picked up and carried away but a short distance. He was bounced around the matchbox brutally, slamming uncontrollable from side to side. To the others, this otherwise short stroll across a nicely manicured lawn to be reunited with Ian was a treacherously long haul. The Doctor, who was now much more concerned about the well-being of his companions, was insistent on locating “Chesterton”.  Eventually they are reunited.

A profoundly dead insect of mammoth proportions is examined by Barbara and the Doctor

A profoundly dead insect of mammoth proportions is examined by Barbara and the Doctor

In the interim, the viewers were witnesses to a conversation about a new insecticide, DN6, between Farrow, a “Ministry” man and Forrester, a conniving business person whose income and life style is dependent upon the approval, production and marketing of DN6.  Developed by the scientist Smithers in his back yard laboratory, DN6 has the capacity to kill more than just insects and remains effective indefinitely.  Farrow had learned of the potentially fatal consequences of DN6 whilst preparing a report for the government, however the insecticide’s inventor, Smithers, seemed blindly unaware of its hazards.  Unprepared to risk losing approval for DN6, Forrester shoots Farrow dead. He soon after reveals the murder to Smithers, thereby implicating him as an accessory after the fact.

The deceased Mr Farrow as seen by the Doctor and his companions.  This looks like something out of a Hitchcock movie

The deceased Mr Farrow as seen by the Doctor and his companions. This looks like something out of a Hitchcock movie

The Doctor and his companions are confronted by Farrow’s body on the lawn but are soon separated again when Ian and Barbara seek shelter in a brief case.  The brief case is picked up and carried inside the house.  Barbara considered the ride in the suitcase not dissimilar to that of a roller coaster and sustained a bad bruise to her knee from an unsecured paper clip. The Doctor and Susan must now rescue the teachers and in doing so encounter adventures galore.  Whilst outside a domestic cat was a menacing beast, inside a common sink and drain is sufficient to make out heroes contemplate imminent death by drowning. Lighting a match is akin to ramming a stockade, whilst lifting a telephone receiver is almost as laborious as lifting a London bus an inch off the ground.

Ian and Susan are confronted by a giant ant

Ian and Susan are confronted by a giant ant

Perhaps what I admire most about this story is its strong environmental message. Concern for the long term effects of pesticides is something I would have thought was rarely discussed in the early 1960s. It’s certainly Doctor Who’s first venture into enviro-politics, an area of much concern in a number of Third Doctor serials including Inferno and The Green Death (yes, the one with the giant maggots!).  Not only is the Doctor concerned about the effect of the insecticide on his companions – he advises them not to eat or drink anything – but also other insects.  When Barbara questions what would kill insects in an ordinary garden, and then posits that killing “bees, and worms, and things” is wrong, the Doctor concurs and states that “Quite so.  Both are vital to the growth of things”.

The Doctor and Susan contemplate death by drowning

The Doctor and Susan contemplate death by drowning

Barbara, who absolutely shines in this story, subsequently becomes gravely ill after touching a grain of wheat which had been sprayed by insecticide.  Ian, who is with her at the time, does not notice and upon realizing her error, Barbara hides her actions from him. This is in spite of the fact that Barbara had asked to borrow Ian’s hanky and was aggressively attempting to clean the poison off her hands.  The usually observant and intelligent Ian was clearly away with the fairies on this occasion. Once Barbara becomes so ill that she collapses, and can no longer deny that she touched the insecticide, the Doctor determines that they must return to the Tardis as soon as possible.  When the ship’s crew is returned to their normal sizes the pesticide will only be 1/70th as potent on Barbara, the Doctor asserts. Naturally the Doctor was entirely correct and at the serial’s end the grain of wheat which was taken into the Tardis with much physical exertion, had resumed its normal proportions. Barely could it be seen.

Barbara is terrified to run into a giant fly

Barbara is terrified to run into a giant fly

A thoroughly enjoyable romp, with an honourable message and momentous adventure,  the Planet of Giants was a memorable start to Doctor Who’s second season. 

Planet of Giants was originally broadcast in the UK between 31st October and 14th November 1964

Planet of Giants was originally broadcast in the UK between 31st October and 14th November 1964

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

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The Reign of Terror

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Released for the first time on DVD in 2013, The Reign of Terror is an eagerly awaited addition to the collections of Doctor Who fans.  With episodes 4 and 5 junked by the BBC, the missing episodes were animated.  For the first time, probably since its original transmission, viewers are able to see this great historical epic on the French Revolution.

The Doctor in animated form

The Doctor in animated form

The last story of Season 1, The Reign of Terror was also the first Doctor Who serial to include some location filming, albeit in the form of a very persuasive double of The Doctor walking down a row of poplar trees. It was also the last filming of First Doctor stories at the old and cramped Lime Grove studios where the Director, Henric Hirsch, collapsed in the third episode. Unable to complete direction of that episode, Hirsch was not credited as Director.

The Doctor with the work-party leader whom he subsequently knocks unconscious with a shovel

The Doctor with the work-party leader whom he subsequently knocks unconscious with a shovel

Attempting to return Barbara and Ian to present day London, the Tardis, not surprisingly, gets the time and location wrong.  Instead it lands 170 years earlier and 100 kilometres away in Paris during the height of the French Revolution.   Not that any of the Crew initially realize the error!  That the ship should dock in the Doctor’s favourite period of Earth history, The French Revolution, is quite fortuitous, for him at least.  Whilst the teachers are again unable to return home, the Doctor is afforded the opportunity to dress in fine clothing and impersonate a District Commissioner.  The Reign of Terror allows the Doctor the occasion to again take the show’s lead and save his fellow companions.  Ian, Barbara and Susan are arrested by soldiers and are awaiting execution by guillotine.  The Doctor was lucky to escape capture by being conveniently knocked unconscious just prior to the soldier’s arrival.  His miraculous escape from a burning farmhouse, with the help of a young peasant boy, afforded him an element of surprise as he was assumed dead.

The Doctor, resplendent in the costume of a District Commissioner

The Doctor, resplendent in the costume of a District Commissioner

Whilst the Doctor is more willing to take risks to save the Tardis Crew in this serial, his ethics still remain dodgy.  He not only forges documents enabling him to impersonate a senior government official, but also grievously assaults the leader of a work-party after he has been mistakenly conscripted into it. Although this incident is played somewhat as a farce, it certainly exhibits a dimension of the Doctor which fans of today’s episodes would be unfamiliar with. Hitherto, knocking people out had been Ian’s domain.  The Doctor also takes a blow at another bloke whilst endeavouring to free Susan from prison.

Barbara and Susan in prison

Barbara and Susan in prison

The companions in The Reign of Terror begin to take on a more secondary role, in line with the Doctor’s increasingly pivotal role. Susan spends much of the serial moaning (quite justifiably) or ill, and displays a profound fear of rats. Ian and Barbara are given a little more to play with, and are particularly amusing when they take on the roles of landlord and barmaid of a pub. Barbara gets a love interest, of sorts, and William Russell’s two weeks leave during the serial is well disguised by the insertion of pre-recorded segments.

Ian looks from his prison cell as Barbara and Susan are taken to the guillotine

Ian looks from his prison cell as Barbara and Susan are taken to the guillotine

Whilst lore has it that historical dramas were the least popular of the early Doctor Who escapades they certainly showcased the BBC’s great skill at historical dramas. Costuming was divine. The animation of the two missing episodes was particularly well done, even if my children questioned why it was presented in black and white.  Once I explained the need for authenticity so as not to stand out from four extant black and white episodes, they were happy to accept what appeared to them to be very bizarre animation.

An animated Doctor

An animated Doctor

Barbara animated

Barbara animated

The Reign of Terror was originally broadcast in the UK between 8th August and 12th September 1964

The Reign of Terror was originally broadcast in the UK between 8th August and 12th September 1964

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.