Doctor Who: Planet Of Giants REVIEW

Carole Ann Ford and William Russell in Doctor Who's "Planet Of Giants"

"Blimey, you wouldn't want a bunch of them in your pants, would you?"


Release Date: 20 August 2012
1964 | PG | 74 minutes | £19.99
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Directors: Mervyn Pinfield, Douglas Camfield
Cast:William Hartnell, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford

They lied. There are no giants in “Planet Of Giants”. It’s just Earth. Instead, the TARDIS crew have been shrunk by technobabble to mere inches high, and thrust into the dullest episode of The Avengers ever.

Though this First Doctor story’s set in (then) contemporary Britain, neither Ian or Barbara – the Doctor’s reluctant companions, who just want to return home – remark on the irony that they’re home, but in no fit state to take advantage of the situation. It’s an odd omission in a story that seems to exist in an alternative reality bubble, not quite in synch with the main show.

The first adventure of the second season, “Planet Of Giants” feels very different to the stories surrounding it. The TARDIS crew never interact with the “giant” guest stars, who are involved in their own plot full of industrial legerdemain, murder and comedy cops. It all revolves around an insecticide clearly based on DDT that could end up killing a lot more than just insects. Handily, this means that none of the giant creepy-crawly props created for the episode need to be animated; the nearest you get is a dead bee being lobbed onto the set by some stage hands.

There are some creditable discussions about how ecosystems can be destroyed which harken back to Who’s early intention to educate as well as inform. The TARDIS crew also use intelligence, ingenuity and simple science to get themselves out of problems. (Interestingly, a story with a similar concept – about the TARDIS crew being shrunk – was at one point going to be the show’s first ever story. So much does “Planet Of Giants” resemble the template of the show Who was supposed to be before the Daleks hijacked it, it’s tempting to assume that “Giants” is that unused pilot given a dust down. However, documents on the BBC website suggest that, initial concept aside, they were very different beasts indeed.)

Despite all that, it’s undeniably slow, talky and lacking in excitement. The four leads seem to lack the warm chemistry that they’d built up the previous year, with Barbara coming across as uncharacteristically thick. A nosy switchboard operator and her dullard cop husband have a couple of good lines, but their Ealing comedy dialogue never disguises the fact that they’re little more than padding and plot contrivance combined.

Meanwhile, composer Dudley Simpson seems to be having fun all by himself in a corner somewhere, randomly banging things with furious gusto, seemingly oblivious to the events on screen. Whether someone’s making a phone call or falling down a plughole, there’s Dudley with his machine-gun bongos and police siren trumpets producing a sound experimental jazz musicians would find a little too avant garde. His score’s actually brilliantly bonkers, and landed him a long-running, recurring role in the musical history of Doctor Who.

On the production side, “Planet Of Giants” has some impressive moments. Some of the sets are very ingenious and the giant (dead) insects look great. But overall, this is a story with big ideas, but little ambition.

Extras:

Here’s something a bit original and different. “Planet Of Giants” was originally shot as a four-parter, but the last two episodes were edited down into one after the BBC Head Of Drama at the time, Sydney Newman, decided that the well-padded story needed tightening up.

Now those last two episodes have been recreated, based on the original scripts, using a bunch of vocal impersonators (including regular commentary moderator Toby Hadoke), surviving cast members William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, some CGI inserts and redubbed footage from elsewhere in the episode. The result is variable, and occasionally distractingly laughable (especially a CGI cat and the repeated use of the same mouth-cropping close-ups). But considering the resources available, it’s a worthwhile attempt, and an intriguing taste of what might have been. The vocal performances are astoundingly good – unless you’re listening hyper-critically, the matches are excellent. And we include William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in that praise; they manage to sound just like they did 50 years ago, which can’t be easy. Sadly, the main thing this exercise proves is that Sydney Newman was right all along…

Other extras include a documentary on the reconstruction (eight minutes) and interviews with Carole Ann Ford (16 minutes) and producer Verity Lambert (14 minutes), both repurposed from 2003 documentary The Story Of Doctor Who.

There’s also a rather stilted commentary with a number of the tech crew – including special sound man Brian Hodgson, who didn’t actually work on the episode (all the sound effects were from stock) and seems rather bemused to have been invited to contribute, plus the usual text commentary, gallery and Radio Times listings.

Dave Golder

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