Doctor Who: Planet Of The Spiders – DVD review
The Third Doctor bows out
Release Date: 18 April 2011
1974 * PG * 148 minutes * £19.99
Director: Barry Letts
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, John Dearth
This six-parter draws the Jon Pertwee era to an end with a mix of the fresh and the hokey, as writer/director/producer Barry Letts grasps the opportunity to indulge both his own, more cerebral interests and those of his action-loving departing star. The result is a Zen Buddhist parable that also includes a preposterous 12-minute-long hovercraft/gyroplane/speedboat/flying car chase!
Setting much of the story at a meditation centre is an interesting move (although it rather beggars belief that the villain of the piece would think a retreat run by some Tibetan monks would be a likely place to go to achieve power…), and the story cleverly uses its creepy giant “Eight-legs” as symbols of rampant egotism; a Flowers For Algernon-style subplot is also quite effective.
Unfortunately, once we get to the spiders’ home planet there’s a lot of rather trad “oppressed peasants revolt” run-around, with the likes of Gareth Hunt struggling to look dignified in sheepskin tops, but it’s fascinating to see a dash of Eastern philosophy stirred into the usual recipe.
The commentary is suffused with sadness, since it includes Barry Letts and Nicholas “The Brigadier” Courtney, both sadly no longer with us. A retrospective Making Of (38 minutes) neatly mixes facts and anecdotes with fannish reminiscences of watching the show air by new series scribe Mark Gatiss. You also get interviews with guest star John Kane (Tommy), who has a great anecdote about staying in character for the taxi ride to TV centre, and Barry Letts (about directing Who), a now-and-then feature on the locations, a Wogan clip, the usual text commentary and Radio Times PDFs, and, for completeness’ sake, an omnibus repeat edit of the story which you will never, ever watch…