Reviewed by John Hussey
Season 1 of Doctor Who got the show off to a rather good start, whilst Season 2 pushed the ambitions and quality of the production to new heights. Sadly “Planet of Giants” wasn’t quite the best serial to begin this brand-new era.
Continuing on from the end of “Prisoners of Conciergerie”, which saw Season 1 conclude with the TARDIS crew becoming involved within the dark events of the Reign of Terror, The First Doctor tries to move the TARDIS to its next destination. However, things go terribly wrong as the Console doors mysteriously open. This leads to The First Doctor becoming quite worried whilst his human companions show their confusion due to not understanding the consequences of the dimensions being broken down.
Despite The First Doctor’s rudeness in his moment of panic, he quickly apologises to Ian and Barbara (further showing his evolution from being a selfish and grumpy old man in “An Unearthly Child” to a more kind-hearted gentlemen). Upon venturing outside of the TARDIS they discover a strange world which feels slightly familiar despite its alien feel. It’s very quickly revealed, after The First Doctor and Barbara encounter an enormous earth-worm whilst Ian and Susan discover a giant ant, that the TARDIS crew have shrunk.
Doctor Who becomes Honey I Shrunk the Kids decades before it was created and tells the intriguing tale of the characters tackling a world from the perspective of an ant-sized person. Things that felt redundant, or easily accessible before now prove to be a challenging obstacle. Not to mention that their size means that they are more vulnerable. The cliff-hanger of “Planet of Giants” even depicts a cat being a looming threat as it stares over the TARDIS crew, believing them to be a toy for its own amusement.
The narrative was made deeper by the inclusion of a human villain in the form of businessman Forester. Despite his stereotypical nature Forester proves to be a despicable and manipulative specimen as he attempts to get his own way and ensure that his investment is seen through to further his financial status. This revolves around an insect repellent called DN6 but what is made clear early on is its dangerous effectiveness, resulting in the death of every insect that comes into contact with it.
DN6 has the ability to destroy every insect lifeform on the planet, ultimately causing a disruption to the eco-system. Forester isn’t the slightest bit bothered by this outcome and only cares about the profit. In order to maintain his riches Forester murders a government scientist, Farrow, who attempts to stop the product from being distributed. It then becomes a game of Forrester trying to manipulate events in order to make out that Farrow died of natural causes whilst rewriting his report to ensure that DN6 is still manufactured.
“Dangerous Journey” pushes the serial further by having DN6 become another deadly danger for the TARDIS crew to face. Barbara comes into contact with the repellent and starts to become ill. Though it does become rather silly as the narrative goes on as she refuses to inform this piece of information to her fellow travelling companions and gradually gets worse and worse, to the point that she may die. Whether it be stubbornness or just not wanting a fuss from The First Doctor, Ian and Susan, Barbara proved to be a massive idiot within this serial as she put herself in needless danger.
I have to give credit once again to the production team for their hard-work in trying to convey the oversized world around the TARDIS crew. Despite the limitations they still managed to convincingly have the characters interact with larger versions of everyday objects and appliances. The only time it felt off was when the actors performed in front of obvious green-screen in order to show themselves standing in front of full-sized characters and objects.
However, despite “Planet of Giants” having some good ideas it still manages to fall flat. One of the main reasons is the serial itself is devoid of life and feels rather bland throughout. It lacks ambition even though the narrative is about the TARDIS crew being shrunk to the size of an ant. It definitely feels like a filler story whilst the audience await for a better one within the consecutive serial. I guess it’s one of those moments where the idea seemed better on paper as the execution of this particular serial lacks the inventiveness of previous stories.
Another major problem is that it was originally intended to be a four-part serial but was re-edited as a three-part serial. Episode 3 (“Crisis”) and Episode 4 (“The Urge to Live”) where spliced together to move the conclusion along at a faster pace. The result brings about a rushed ending where the narrative is hindered by scenes being shortened down, or simply skipped over. “Crisis” ultimately doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as you can clearly tell the narrative is rushing itself and merely concentrating on the important scenes, cutting between fade-outs as the narrative tries to fill in the gaps with rushed dialogue.
Forrester’s storyline definitely becomes confusing, particularly with his assistant Smithers who suddenly (without any real character motivation) changes his tune and turns against Forrester despite having no reason to in either “Planet of Giants” or “Dangerous Journey” due to his own selfless need of getting DN6 off the ground. It’s clear the serial has skimmed over important details which would’ve explained why this moment happened, further explaining the downfall of the greedy, and insane businessman.
Another aspect is how characters Hilda and Bert began to suspect something was wrong and ultimately decided to investigate, thereby ending with Forrester’s arrest. Looking up on “Planet of Giants” I discovered the original version of “Crisis” was meant to concentrate mostly on Hilda and Bert, which would’ve filled in the obvious gaps within the story. Though its easy to see why this idea was cut because it does sound rather boring, especially when you consider the main characters would lose the focus.
This serial would’ve benefitted from better ideas and suggestions during the pre-production stage. Had “Planet of Giants” originally been constructed as a three-part serial then maybe “Crisis” would’ve been better paced and coherent. As it stands the serial falls apart during the third act as you desperately try to keep up with all the cutaways, jumps, and continuity errors caused because of the splicing process. The serial also suffers from being bland in its storytelling and not knowing what it wanted to focus its narrative on. Perhaps it needed to be more simplistic or just simply have a better structure.
Luckily writer Louis Marks would get many chances to redeem himself within the future and Season 2 wouldn’t stay stale for long as the following serial brought about the return of a familiar foe, one that was quickly rising in popularity and unknowingly becoming a vital aspect to the science-fiction programme.