Friday, October 9, 2009

"Planet of Giants"

Hello and welcome to season two of Doctor Who, here at the TARDIS Project! The Historian here, along with Ketina and Ronelyn, bringing you the first in another year's worth of episodes. Let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 31 October 1964. The TARDIS crew prepares to land, having recovered from their eighteenth century adventure. Barbara puts her hand on the console and jumps back, having burned herself. The Doctor sends Susan to check the Fault Locater (see "Inside the Spaceship"); she does and finds circuits QR18 and A14D registering. Suddenly, just as the ship is about to materialize, the doors begin to open! The Doctor yells to Ian and Barbara to physically shut the doors, and, with Susan's help, they do so. The Doctor flips some switches to complete the TARDIS' materialization and collapses into a chair. Ian and Barbara bombard him with questions, but he snipes at them and sends Susan off to check the Fault Locater again. Ian dismisses the Doctor's fear, saying that since they materialized, everything must be fine, mustn't it? The Doctor snaps at him not to be childish--the doors opened before materialization and anything could have happened. The two teachers try to question him further, but he just gets more irritated. Susan returns and says no faults are registering. The Doctor goes to check for himself while Ian and Barbara ask Susan for information. All she knows, she says, is that the point just before materialization is the most dangerous time for anything to happen...and nothing like this has happened before. The Doctor returns and confirms the no fault reading, then proposes they see where they are. But when they turn the scanner on, it explodes! As if it saw something too big for it to register, the Doctor muses. Since everything is safe, environmentally, outside, the Doctor proposes they go out and take a look. He also apologizes to Barbara for being so short with her. The TARDIS appears to have landed between two great stone walls. Barbara calls the Doctor's attention to the fact that there are two different kinds of stone in the wall, and the Doctor calls Ian over to confirm that the "second stone" appears to be some form of concrete, though it is so coarse as to be hardly recognizable. There is no question, though, that the walls are man-made, not natural formations. The Doctor, keen to explore, suggests splitting up. He and Barbara will follow the wall one way, and Ian and Susan will go the other. Ian reluctantly agrees, but insists that no one go out of calling range. When they've gone a little way, Barbara is startled by what appears to be a giant snake hanging off the wall. The Doctor examines it and determines that it is dead...and it's not a snake. There are no eyes or a mouth. Barbara says she's more disturbed by its size than anything else and is relieved when the Doctor suggests they move on. Ian and Susan, meanwhile, discover a giant ant, also dead, along with a large pile of what seem to be giant ant eggs. It seems to have died while protecting the eggs, a very natural ant behavior, while all of its fellows escaped from some disaster. Ian begins to wonder, with giant ants and some mysterious force that killed them, just what kind of world they've landed in this time! Barbara and the Doctor have circled round the rock formation to find the other end of the "snake," which the Doctor now realizes is a giant earthworm! The Doctor is puzzled; it's exactly like a normal worm from Earth, except for its size. He determines to press on to get to the bottom of this mystery. Barbara has noticed that the rock formations, while haphazard, do seem to be in some kind of pattern, as if an intelligence was behind them. They continue on. Ian and Susan, meanwhile, have come across several more dead ants. They turn a corner and almost run into a giant sign advertising seed from...the Norwich Seed Company? But the sign is huge! Ian believes that, if on Earth, they must be in some sort of exhibit or fair where everyday things are shown at an increased size. The Doctor has found a large piece of obviously expertly cut timber. As he examines it, he accidentally knocks it over, scaring Barbara. After a moment, she notices the charred end, saying that it looks like a matchstick! The Doctor confirms this and is beginning to piece together the mystery...Susan, too, is also beginning to figure things out, as she and Ian round the corner of the sign and discover what looks like a gigantic matchbox. Ian climbs inside to see if there are any matches, but insists that they must be in some exhibit. Susan disagrees, saying she is sure that it's not that everything is larger, it's that they have been miniaturized! As we cut between the two groups, both Barbara and Ian are incredulous, but the Doctor and Susan unknowingly agree: it is the TARDIS fault, the doors opening during materialization, that has done this. To confirm this, the camera pulls back to show that the TARDIS is sitting on a walk between two paving stones! The Doctor decides they must reunite and return to the TARDIS immediately to try and set things right. Susan, meanwhile, continues to try and convince Ian. When the doors opened, she says, the enormous "space pressure" must have reduced everything to a tiny size--about an inch high. Before Ian can reply, the two hear a gigantic THUMP! and they're suddenly in darkness. The darkness is the shadow of a normal sized man, walking to where they are, who picks up the fallen matchbox--with Ian inside! He carries it back to the house down the path. Susan, who had ducked for cover, comes out to find the matchbox gone and the Doctor and Barbara walking towards her. She explains what happened, as best she can between sobs. The Doctor deduces what must have happened, as ridiculous as it sounds to all of them. Meanwhile, Ian is being battered inside the box as the man goes to a chair near the house and sits. With some help, the Doctor climbs to the top of the paving stone and manages to get a glimpse of the house, far (to him) in the distance. He sees the man reading a notebook, but cannot see the matchbox. As Susan and Barbara question him, the Doctor thinks. He believes he can enlarge them again, but they must find Ian and get back to the TARDIS first. They head, as best they can, towards the house. Meanwhile, the man, still reading his notebook, grabs a cigarette. Just as he is about to pick up the matchbox, a hand reaches in from offscreen to offer him a light. The man from offscreen is named Forester, and he calls the man who owns the matchbox Mr. Farrow. They shake hands and Forester asks whether Farrow has "taken any action." Farrow says he has made, but not filed, his report. Forester, angry, asks Farrow if he understands how much money has already been sunk into manufacture and marketing for "DN6." He based all this expenditure on the initial good report from the ministry Farrow belongs to. Farrow is sorry, but he cannot give DN6 a good final report. Forester asks if more refinement is needed, but Farrow says no. While DN6 at first seemed to be a breakthrough insecticide, further tests have shown that it is totally destructive, killing the necessary "good" insects/animals as well as the bad. It would hurt more than it helped! Forester again protests the money wasted, saying this will ruin him. Farrow is, again, sorry, but this is science, not finance. Forester tries to bribe Farrow, but the man dismisses the idea. Farrow is anxious to leave; his vacation was to have started the day before and his boat is ready and waiting for him, but he wanted to tell Farrow in person out of respect for him and his partner Smithers. Farrow plans on telephoning the ministry right after taking his leave, and then plans to go on his holiday. Forester tries to persuade him to put off filing the report, but the scientist refuses. This is science, he says, not business. DN6 is simply too dangerous. When he looks back at the businessman, Forester has pulled a gun. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Susan and Barbara are startled when a bee drops dead from the sky in front of them. What chance, muses the Doctor, would humans have against a bee that large? All three notice a distinct odor coming from the dead insect, the same odor that they'd smelled around the other dead creatures they'd encountered. The Doctor warns the others not to eat or drink anything until they are back in the TARDIS. Suddenly, they hear what sounds like an explosion! It almost sounds as though a cannon has been set off! Of course, it was actually a gunshot, as Ian discovers when he escapes the matchbox only to come face to face with Farrow's body, lying on the ground. Ian holds up a handkerchief to the "giant's" open mouth, determining that the man is dead. Unseen by Ian, the house's cat has noticed something amiss and gone to investigate. Ian finds the other three and tells them of the dead man. They go to examine him and the Doctor notes the distinct smell of gunpowder in the air. Barbara is shocked at the amount of death around them. The man was obviously murdered, but why? And all the insects they'd seen--how and why had they died? The Doctor says they must return to the TARDIS quickly, but before they can move, a giant confronts them. The cat has found the crew and Susan screams as it gets ready to lunge....

Let me start off by saying that neither Ketina nor I have particularly great memories of this story. Although neither of us had seen it for years, we both remember it being a bit weak. Which made this episode a bit of a surprise; it's quite good! True, the opening is a bit vague (ok, the doors open, um, that's bad? Doctor? Hello?), but once the crew gets outside, things definitely start looking up with the immediate mystery of where they are and what the malfunction might have done. Ronelyn, who hadn't seen it before, wasn't sure if they'd landed on a planet where everything was giant, or whether something else was going on. She says that it wasn't until the sign that she was fully sure of the miniaturization plot and that they must be on Earth. I'd call that successful! The props, from the stone walls to the matchstick, are pretty uniformly excellent (admittedly, the ant a bit less so). They really feel like "giant versions" of the real thing. As Ketina will mention below, we were all impressed with how the effects of Farrow walking and the "cannon" booming were done as well. But the "standing in front of a giant film backdrop of a dead body?" Not so much. It wasn't terrible, but it was obviously very limited by the technology of the time. (Better than chroma-key, though!)

The story also has little bits and pieces that shine through. The Doctor apologizing to Barbara, who he has developed a special, somewhat paternal, relationship with, but not feeling the need to apologize to Ian. The "switching it up" of the split teams for searching. Last season, it was Barbara and Ian or Barbara and Susan, this time it's Barbara and the Doctor. Who are, let's face it, tempermentally the best two to go together in a lot of ways. Susan and Ian work well too, with Susan taking a bit of the "Doctor explaining things" role. (Hurrah, she's smart again! We've barely seen that since the first story!)

As for the, er, "larger" plot, well, it's a bit bog-standard. The "industrialist tries to stop report that will shut him down" is something that had been done before and would be returned to by Doctor Who again and again. This time, it does take on a bit of resonance, though, as a very early pro-environmental plot. Silent Spring had, after all, been published only two years before, which kind of makes this cutting edge, doesn't it?

The acting is quite, quite good on the part of the regulars. After a season of adventures together, they've come to feel like familiar friends, both to each other and the audience, playing off each other wonderfully. As for the guest cast, Alan Tilvern's Forester comes off all right, nothing exciting, but Frank Crawshaw's Farrow is simply a dull performance. It's as if he'd seen the script, memorized his lines and decided to just speak them verbatim, with no effort or emotion involved. Not an over-the-top performance, but an under-the-water one, perhaps.

We'll see how this story develops over the next couple of weeks, since my memory's obviously not done this story justice...unless it's another "strong first episode, then falls down a bit" stories. Still, I'm very much looking forward to finding out what happens next! Until then, though, I remain



I m in ur episode bringn ur cliffhanger.

Ketina here,

Starting off with a LOL Cat quote seems appropriate this week. This story is pretty fun so far. A bit of a reality stretch, but certainly no more than most Sci-fi shows.

The good: The core cast did generally well this week. Ian and Barbara in particular, at least when physical acting wasn't involved. It was fun watching them wander around the area trying to figure everything out. It was a nice change of pace to put the Doctor with Barbara and Ian with Susan.
Also several of the set pieces and props were very cool - in particular the terrain, worm carcass, and matchbox. And I loved the effect of the huge person creating instant darkness and boom sounds just from walking over, his shadow concealing the light.

The bad & silly: Ian's being flung about in the matchbox was worse than the worst "everybody lean left" on Star Trek. And some of the props and visual effects did not hold up, in particular the grass in the background that was clearly a painting, and the grainy picture of the dead guy that Ian examines. And the cat - both scary and hysterical at the same time.

Yet another opening episode where something inexplicable happens in the TARDIS, the Doctor freaks out, staggers through his dialog, and refuses to provide an understandable explanation to Ian and Barbara. Didn't we see this in at least half the episodes of the first season?

The plot of evil corporate investor killing the investigative scientist feels a big cliched to me. However, given that this episode is from the early 60's, the heavy environmentalist message may not have been so much of a cliche at the time.

And finally, Susan's back! Poor kitty, I'm surprised Susan's shrill cry alone didn't scare it off. I guess we'll find out next week.



This Historian here with a quick note. The TARDIS Project would like to dedicate this post to the memory of that wonderful friend of Doctor Who, Barry Letts, who passed away earlier today at the age of 84. Although almost all of his work (save the direction of "Enemy of the World," which we should get to in 2013 or so) falls outside the Project's scope, we wanted to say thank you to Mr. Letts. Doctor Who fans will never forget you.


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