Friday, October 23, 2009


Hello everyone, the Historian here along with Ketina and Ronelyn, bringing you the final episode in our miniaturization adventure. (Schmallturm, alas, has been felled by illness, but he will hopefully be back with us next week.) Let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired on 14 November 1964. Barbara and Ian stand, helpless, as the giant Smithers washes his hands in the sink, then pulls the plug, sending the water down to where the Doctor and Susan had hidden! Luckily, the two have taken refuge in the sink's overflow pipe, so the water simply passes in front of them. Still, if the sink is filled again...Luckily, Smithers and Forester leave the lab. Ian and Barbara venture forth from hiding and make their way to the sink to see if their friends survived. The four are overjoyed at being reunited. As the Doctor says with a smile, the schoolteachers won't be rid of him that easily! Back in the main house, Forester has finished making additions and "corrections" to Farrow's report. Smithers, although he "doesn't want to know," still stands by and watches him. He gets nervous when Forester says that Farrow would have to report in as well as sending the report on, but Forester tells him not to worry. Forester places a call to Whitehall with the local operator, posing as Farrow and with a handkerchief over the receiver. He knows exactly who to call and what to say. The local operator, a woman named Hilda Rowse, is suspicious; she has placed many calls for Mr. Farrow and is convinced that the man on the phone isn't him! She turns to her husband, a local constable named Bert, and tells him of her suspicions. On the phone, meanwhile, Forester is playing up the amazing success of DN6 to Farrow's superior. He mentions that he will send the report on before leaving on his holiday and that he will "inform Forester" of the decision and then rings off. The TARDIS crew has decided to explore a bit more to find out more about the insecticide and has discovered a giant notebook. The writing is obviously partially composed of a formula, but it is too big for them to take in as a whole. The Doctor takes a notebook and, with the help of the others, starts to transcribe it piece by piece. Barbara, who still hasn't mentioned coming into contact with the DN6-laden wheat, suggests that they could use it to find a cure for the stuff, but the others say they are looking for a way to stop it; the only reason to look for a cure, Ian says, would be if someone had become infected with it, and no one has, right? Barbara does not reply. After a time, the transcription is completed. The Doctor and Ian examine it (though the latter admits it's a bit beyond him); it is clearly the formula for an insecticide, and a very deadly one at that! It will never wear off and, thus, will seep into the ground and the water supply. Eventually, not just insects, but humans could be killed by it! Barbara angrily snaps the question of why they're just sitting around and not doing anything about it? She then, realizing what she's done, apologizes and claims to be feeling weary from a lack of food. The Doctor reminds them that, even if they did find food, they must not eat any of it as it might be contaminated. But the sink's water should be fine. Besides, the Doctor noticed a telephone near the sink and he has a plan. They arrive at the phone and, luckily, find a large pile of cord that they can climb up. Barbara and Susan bring over a cork with the idea that they can place it under the receiver to hold it up. Barbara, however, does not look so good. Even Ian notices her flushed face and obvious weariness. She still claims it is hunger and urges him to go on. Another cork is brought and handed up. Ian, the Doctor and Barbara use their combined strength to lift the receiver and Susan pushes in the cork. They repeat the process for the other side. Back at the operator's station, the line from the house is buzzing, annoying Bert. Hilda picks it up and asks if anyone is there. The four travellers are meanwhile yelling their lungs out on the other end, asking for the police to be called, but Hilda cannot hear a thing; their voices are too high. Barbara, trying to listen for a response, collapses, while the Doctor explains that he'd hoped the phone would amplify their voices. Ian goes to tell Barbara and discovers her looking even worse, holding the handkerchief he'd given her. She still claims fatigue and he tells her he will go fetch her water. But when he tries to that his handkerchief back to help, she screams at him not to touch it and then faints. The others arrive and the Doctor immediately notes the smell of DN6 on the handkerchief. He deduces what has happened. Ian and Susan ask what can be done as Barbara's eyes open. The Doctor tasks her for not telling them, but tells her that the attack was only temporary. She is all right for now, though things will get worse if nothing is done. He pulls Ian aside and tells him they should return to the TARDIS soon; if he can get them to the proper size, Barbara's larger protective cells should be able to cope with what was, after all, a very small dose of the insecticide. Ian tells Barbara that they must return to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Forester has attempted to make a call and discovered that the phone isn't working. Barbara refuses to return to the TARDIS until they are able to stop the production of the poison. After all, even if they survive, how can they return to a poisoned world? The Doctor agrees with her, as does Susan, so Ian sees he has no choice. Forester asks Smithers if there is another phone at the house and the scientist says there is one in the lab. Smithers wants to go there anyway to look over Farrow's notes. Concerned that his compatriot will discover the secrets he has been hiding, Forester checks his gun after Smithers leaves. The Doctor has decided that, in order to draw attention to the house, they must start a fire. That will surely bring someone and the body could be discovered. But how to start a large enough fire to be noticed? Ian recalls seeing a gas tap earlier and starts to form a plan. Just then, the sound of the giants returning comes to them and they hide. Forester discovers the corks holding up the receiver and is absolutely baffled. Who could have done that and why? Smithers notices the increased smell of DN6 as Forester replaces the receiver. The phone rings immediately and Forester picks it up. It is Hilda, making sure the line is working. Recognizing the voice of the man as the one claiming to be Farrow earlier, she plays her hunch and claims that a call from London is waiting for Mr. Farrow. Forester puts the handkerchief over the receiver and claims to be the government man again. Hilda has Bert listening in and, after getting "Farrow" to talk a little more, convinces him that something funny must be going on. Donning his constable's helmet, Bert leaves for the house to check it out. Forester hangs up, believing he's escaped. Smithers, meanwhile, has seen some of Farrow's notes and is out in the garden. He is aghast at what he finds: DN6 has killed everything. Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew gets to work. They loosen the gas tap, getting it ready, while Ian sets up a match and matchbox. The plan is simple: the Doctor and Barbara will turn on the gas while Ian and Susan take the match and run at an angle to the cover in order to strike it. This will ignite the gas flow and heat a giant tin that the Doctor and Barbara have set up near the tap. The Doctor realizes that it is actually an aerosol can and tells Barbara that once they turn the gas on, they must run--it will explode with such a force that, were they full sized, would be equal to a 1000 ton bomb! What none of them realize is that the can isn't simply an aerosol, it is an aerosol filled with DN6! Smithers now knows what must have been in Farrow's report and realizes the true danger of DN6. Unfortunately, Forester has seen the scientist and stands over him, menacingly. Ian and Susan are having a problem lighting the match, but finally get it. The Doctor and Barbara turn on the tap and they all run. Fire flashes out at the can. Outside, Forester confesses to Smithers, telling him too much money had been sunk into DN6 for Farrow to have lived to file the report. He then pulls his gun on Smithers and directs him back into the lab. The crew watches, behind cover, as the can heats up. Susan reminds the Doctor of an air raid they'd seen earlier. Yes, the Doctor muses, dangerous things those zeppelins! The two men enter the lab. Smithers, incredulous, asks Forester if he doesn't understand that DN6 is deadly, more dangerous than radiation! Forester does not care and uses the gun to motion to Smithers to get Farrow's notes. The scientist, having no choice, begins to comply when he sees the fire and the can. He dives out of the way as Forester moves closer. The can explodes in Forester's face, blinding him! Smithers grabs the gun just as Bert enters, takes the gun away and then takes the two men away with him. Knowing that they have succeeded in stopping DN6, the crew reenters the sink in order to return to the TARDIS. Barbara does not have much time left, so there is none to lose. Still, the Doctor stops to pick up a giant seed to take with them. Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor's fingers fly over the controls as Barbara collapses into the chair. He tells Ian to move the seed (in his cape, not touching it) to a table in the corner. The lights dim and then return. The Doctor smiles and points to the seed; it has shrunk to a tiny, proper size. They have returned to normal! It takes a moment, but Barbara appears fully recovered. The Doctor suggests the other three take the time to wash up while he sees where they will land this time. The others leave and the Doctor tries to view their surroundings on the scanner, annoying him. But, as the materialization sound fills the control room, the scanner picture resolves into a scene of running water....

Let me first say that this story was much, much better than either Ketina or I remembered it being. There were a lot of quite fun and clever bits and the props, given the time, space and budget of the show, were pretty amazing. With the exception of the obviously filmed backdrops, everything looked to scale and very real. A tremendously good job by the designer and builders.

The story itself was pretty good as well! Despite a slightly disappointing cliffhanger resolution (though Ronelyn liked it, and yes, it did make sense, but still), I really enjoyed how things developed. I will admit that, at first, it felt a bit like the Doctor and crew were ultimately extraneous to the resolution of the plot (beyond their specific bits), which was probably one of the reasons Ketina and I had remembered the story as being a bit weak. But a little closer examination shows that they were anything but extraneous. Follow along with me: Yes, Hilda and Bert were already a little suspicious. But what really piqued their suspicion and what caused Hilda to ring the house back was the phone being off the hook--thanks to the Doctor and company. And, even though Bert was already almost to the house, there's no question that Forester would have had the time to shoot Smithers (to shut him up if nothing else), had he not been blinded by the explosion of the can--again, thanks to our friends. I think the interesting/frustrating thing about all of this is that what the TARDIS crew does succeeds, but never in the way that they want and for the reasons that they want. (The phone is a "failure" because no one can hear them and it's not the fire that attracts the police.) Really, they have no idea what's happened or why, and one view could be that this is a failing of the story. After some thought, I don't think I agree; the fact that the Doctor and companions don't really know/understand what's going on is another aspect of the miniature vs. giant motif that's gone through the entire story. At that size, there's no possibility that the crew can understand events in the, er, macro-world. The fact that what they do has a good result simply shows that...well, I don't know what it shows. At any rate, I think the criticism that "the plot could have happened even without the TARDIS showing up" is not quite true. As I said above, Smithers wouldn't have survived the experience!

Speaking of Smithers, I loved the development of his character from a single-minded man, driven to succeed to feed the world, to one suspicious of his backer's motives, to someone horrified by what they had done and determined to put it right. His horror when he realizes DN6's real potential was very well played. I also liked Hilda and Bert, ostensibly comical characters, but actually very intelligent. Well, clever, at any rate. And fun!

I'm going to leave it here, since we have a small treat for you this week. Before we get to Ketina's Kommentary, we have a guest lecturer! So, I'll sign off here; see you later for the story writeup and next week for the start of a new story! Until then, I remain



Science whining with Ronelyn:
1) If you’re the size of an ant, a match alone should be enough to frizzle you into a frizzle. Lighting the match might well have killed Ian and left Susan rather badly scarred.
2) You’re a centimeter tall and you want to attract attention. So you grab and light on fire the nearest thing that’s pressurized…a can of bug spray. In aerosol form. So that when it explodes it will fill the room with…aerosolized insecticide. I know there’s a lesson in irony here somewhere but I can’t quite narrow it down.
3) Okay, this is mean but I HAVE to say it: If the molecules of poison are reduced to 1/70th of their presence in Barbara’s system, shouldn’t all the oxygen in everyone’s systems be as well? Fainting spell for the crew? No? Tardis magic? Fine.

All in all, though, not a bad classic SF adventure story. I’m not complaining, just nit-picking.



Ketina here,

The Good:
Again, there were some interesting set pieces in this one. Getting the corks under the phone was well done (if a slightly long scene), and I liked the notepad with the formulas. As someone with an actual biochemistry degree (really), I can say that the chemical formulas on the pad (esters and nitrates) are quite large, at least in comparison to things like sodium chloride and di-oxygen hydrate :) I think I would also need to rewrite them to figure them out if they were written that huge.
I also enjoyed the telephone operator being the hero of the piece. She was pretty funny. Why evil business guy thought he could get away with disguising his voice just by holding a handkerchief over the phone boggles my mind. I was very glad that they addressed it, and that it didn't actually work, and that in the end is, at least in part, why he gets caught.

The Not So Good:
The Doctor and Susan's escape from last week's cliff hanger was a bit of a let down (hiding in the overflow pipe in the drain) but I suppose that made the most sense. At least it was a simple and realistic solution.
Barbara hiding the fact that she was poisoned for most of the story was frustrating. I couldn't understand why she wasn't willing to tell them. They could potentially do something to help her, so why wouldn't she tell them? The Doctor's reaction to her "foolishness" was spot on.
Using the match to light the gas and blow up the insecticide can was extremely silly. Lighting the match itself was cool - I loved the bit with Ian and Susan running with this giant 4x4 plank of a matchstick to get it lit. But the short scene where we see a match get held up in front of the gas was terrible - at least you couldn't see the person's fingers holding the match.

But, as much as I gripe, overall the special effects in this story were pretty good, especially considering the level of effects that could be done at the time. However, I am glad it was only a 3 part story - nearly two full stories with the TARDIS crew running around on a table top was quite enough, thank you.

And I could complain about the bad "science" in the science fiction of shrinking people (see Ronelyn's commentary this week) but I personally chalk it up to "the Magic of the TARDIS", and can suspend my disbelief. We've certainly seen much worse on Star Trek and similar scifi shows. But, that's just my opinion.



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