It’s unusual for a Doctor Who story to be 3 parts long. I initially wrote this review on the basis that there were never any ‘proper’ three-parters, because the Two Doctors is really a 6 parter in length and the Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords triumvirate is arguably a single part story linked to a two-parter. And I was being a smart-arse by thinking you’ll think “But wait, what about Planet of the Giants”. And then, as I’d explain how it was originally a 4 part story that was cut down to three parts because Episodes 3 and 4 were considered too dull and plodding and thus were merged into one.
It all looked so good.
Then I was reminded that the Sylvester McCoy era had six different three-part stories. I’d forgotten. What a tit. Subconsciously I think I was just trying to forget that era ever happened.
I’ll try and save face with the Doctor Who Fun Fact that since episodes 3 and 4 were filmed and were never broadcast, it means that there is technically a ‘properly’ missing episode of Doctor Who, as the audio no longer exists either.
No…that didn’t save my blushes.
But anyway, let’s get to the review of Planet of the Giants…
What’s This One About?
Due to the doors of the TARDIS opening before they land, the Doctor and chums are reduced roughly to the size of an inch. They don’t realise this until they are – surprise surprise – separated from the TARDIS. In this case, Ian has become separated from the group when he goes inside a matchbox which is subsequently picked up by a full sized man.
The Doctor, Susan and Barbara manage to catch up with him, but once again they are separated when Ian & Barbara take refuge in another man’s briefcase, which – in turn – is also picked up and taken inside a laboratory.
The Doctor & Susan climb up the inside of a rusty water-pipe to get into the lab.
While this has been going on, a small business owner (Forrester) who has invested all his money in an insecticide (DN6) is given the bad news that it is too potent by a man who comes from what we can assume to be the Insecticide Board of
Standards. As it turns out, Forrester is either ruthless, insane or both and came to the meeting packing heat. He shoots and kills the bloke from the board (Farrow). Then the scientist who made DN6 (Smithers) turns up and is alarmingly not too concerned about the murder.
They attempt to cover up their crime by phoning Farrow’s work pretending to be him, but because Forrester sounds nothing like Farrow he raises the suspicions of the telephone switchboard operator (Hilda) and her policeman husband (Bert). So he comes to arrest them.
Switching back to the travellers, Barbara has accidentally poisoned herself by touching a seed that had been covered in DN6 and looks set to snuff it. They must return to the TARDIS and return to normal size pronto before she dies. Before they go though, they decide to indulge in some light vandalism by setting fire to an aerosol can.
First I’ll address the merging of Episodes 3 & 4. As it turns out, both episodes were very heavy on Bert and Hilda and their suspicion that something wasn’t quite right over at Forrester’s house. We can only give thanks to BBC Head of Drama Sidney Newton for making the decision to merge them, because I can only imagine how dull it would have been. As it was, with around 22 minutes of material cut, Bert and Hilda still had too much screen time.
Hilda: “Oooooh, that didn’t sound like Mr. Farrow to me”
Bert: “I’d best take a look”.
That’s all there needed to be. But no, they still had numerous scenes that amounted to no plot development.
One would also assume that there were other scenes cut involving the gradual decline of Forrester and Smithers’ relationship, and also a few more scenes with the travellers doing exciting things like reading a giant notebook to discover the formula for DN6.
So no, we don’t miss much with losing an episode of Planet of the Giants.
Onto what was left of the story and the first thing that comes to mind is that they decided to use the gimmick of the travellers being miniaturised before they thought of a plot to go with it. I say that because the plot was crap. The idea of a suburban murder because a man looked set to lose his life-savings just has no place in Doctor Who. Doctors maybe, but not Doctor Who.
What saves the story is just how stupid some of the things that happen are. Let’s list them…
- The Match Box: Why would Farrow leave the match box on the ground not once, but twice. Other than to conveniently allow Ian to get in and get out again it just makes no sense. Surely he’d put it in his pocket?
- The Telephone Call: When Forrester makes a phone call pretending to be Farrow, why does he not try and make his voice sound different? He just puts a thin handkerchief over the mouthpiece on the receiver and speaks in exactly the same voice. No wonder it raised suspicion. And then when Hilda phones him back pretending there’s a phonecall for Farrow, he does it again. Idiot! He deserved to get caught.
- The Corks: This is stupid on many levels. The first is that if the travellers are supposed to be an inch tall (and remember, the designers generally do a good job of keeping things to scale) what size are these corks supposed to be,
considering that they are able to be picked up, walked around with and then placed underneath the phone receiver to put it off the hook? We must assume they are about a quarter of an inch big at best. So how are they big enough to put the phone off the hook? And finally, why is such an insignificant thing enough to be the final nail in the coffin of the Forrester/Smithers relationship. “Did you put these corks under the phone, you bastard!!” He didn’t actually say that – instead he flirts with murdering him.
- The Phonecall: Under what circumstances could the travellers – a party containing two scientists no less – think that they would be able to have a telephone conversation with Hilda at the switchboard when they are only an inch tall. And why do they even want to speak to the police? Maybe this is something lost among the cuts of episodes 3 and 4.
- Farrow’s Holiday and the Planned Dumping of His Body: Farrow must know that he’s dealing with a man teetering on the edge in Forrester. Why on earth would he be so stupid as to say “Right son, DN6 is a no-go. I’m going to let the board know about this, but not before I sail across the English Channel on my own tonight”. That’s just playing into Forrester’s hands for goodness sake. So once Farrow has been killed, Forrester then thinks that all he has to do is to overturn the boat – presumably half way across the Channel – and when Farrow is found he’ll get off scot-free. a) How’s he going to manage that and b) Maybe I’m giving 1964 too much credit but what about the bullet wound?
- Barbara – The Silly Little Woman Who Would Rather Die Than Have Ian Say “I Told You So”: So Barbara has picked up the seed covered in DN6 mere moments before Ian says “Oh by the way, don’t pick up that seed”. At this point she has two choices to pick from. On the one hand she can say “I just touched it. We should get back to the ship as quickly as possible”. Alternatively she can just not mention it, getting progressively more ill and instead urge Ian and the Doctor that they must pit their witsagainst Forrester, find out exactly what’s in DN6 and look to find a cure there and then. She chose the latter. Each time she mentions this ludicrous plan, Ian rather sharply and understandably shoots her down and makes her feel small (b’doom tch) by saying words to the effect of “Why would we waste our time on that you daft bint”. Only when she actually collapses does she admit what she’s done. But then, presumably to spite Ian further, she decides that she’d rather stay there and die trying to stop the production of DN6 than get back to the ship. Only, it isn’t made all that clear because I think they may have cut an important scene out where she makes that decision.
It’s Clearly the 1960s – Why don’t Ian or Barbara even suggest that the Doctor tries to find a way to make them full sized again while also keeping them in the same place, because they are clearly in ‘present day’ Earth.
- The ‘Take The Gun Out Of The Pocket And Put It Back In Again’ Shot: By no means is this unique to Doctor Who, but why is it that when someone thinks they may have to kill someone, their thought process involves taking the gun out of their pocket, showing it to camera, putting it back into their pocket again and then following after the person they intend to shoot. Lazy writing.
- And Whatever You Do, Don’t Look Into the Cats Eyes: Is what the Doctor says while standing staring directly into its eyes.
As you can see, a lot doesn’t make sense, but it’s so stupid that it’s amusing.
Moving on from the bad, a lot of credit must be given to the design team on this story because the sets are fantastic. Apart from the corks, the scale of everything is about right. It looks amazing – especially once they get inside. I’d personally give extra credit for the scene in the sink. Knowing how small the studios and bulky the cameras were, to achieve the shot of the Doctor and Susan being viewed from above in the sink is very well done. Bravo to the director.
Also, I like the cliffhangers. Part 1 ends with the travellers being stared down by a cat and part two ends with the immortal line “Barbara! He’s standing at the sink. I can see him standing at the sink. He’s turned the tap on!!”followed by a
shot of a man washing his hands and then taking the plug out of the plughole. Ah, the dangers of being small.
And what would have been the cliffhanger for part 3 had it been a four-parter? I imagine it was exactly half way through the episode where Barbara collapses and Susan says “Grandfather, we can do something can’t we”
Should You Watch Planet of the Giants?
All in all, it’s a bit of a nothing story. The gimmick is fine but the plot is drab. Thankfully, it’s saved by some wonderful set design and a lot of inadvertently stupid things happening in the plot..
So don’t go into this expecting a great story, but if you approach it with the right mindset and take it as lightly as it deserves to be taken, then you’ll take something from it.