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Planet of Giants

Production Code: J

First Transmitted

Planet of Giants - 31/10/1964 17:15

Dangerous Journey - 07/11/1964 17:15

Crisis - 14/11/1964 17:15

Plot

The main doors of the TARDIS open of their own accord just before it materialises, causing it to run out of control. On emerging, the travellers discover that the ship has been reduced in size and they are now only about an inch tall.

In this miniaturised state, they stumble across a plot by a ruthless businessman, Forester, and his misguided scientist colleague, Smithers, to launch a new insecticide named DN6 - a product so destructive that it would kill not only those insects harmful to agriculture but also those vital to it.

Forester is even willing to commit murder to ensure the success of his business, as civil servant Arnold Farrow discovers to his cost.

The criminals are eventually brought to justice when the Doctor and his friends - hampered by the fact that Barbara has herself been made ill by the insecticide - tamper with the telephone in Smithers' laboratory, thus fuelling the suspicions of the local exchange operator, Hilda Rowse, who sends her police constable husband Bert to investigate.

Episode Endings

Farrow has been shot by Forester and the miniaturised time travellers investigate the body. Suddenly Susan realises that they are being intently watched by a giant black cat.

Smithers goes into the laboratory to wash his hands, unaware that the Doctor and Susan are hiding in the water outlet from the sink. As a helpless Ian and Barbara watch, he fills the sink with water, washes, and then pulls out the plug.

With everything returned to normal, the Doctor checks the newly repaired scanner screen for their next destination. It shows only interference. The ship starts to materialise and the Doctor hopes to discover its latest arrival point.

Roots

Gulliver's Travels.

The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (the ecological menace of insecticide).

Dixon of Dock Green (the murder sub-plot).

Dialogue Triumphs

Forester : "Do you know why I'm a success, Mr Farrow? Because I've never allowed the word "can't" to exist."

Continuity

Susan again says 'TARDIS' as opposed to 'the TARDIS'. The machine's fault locator (The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction) is seen again. The Doctor has never been to Africa.

QV

Shrinking

Location

England, post World War II.

Untelevised

Susan and the Doctor were present during a Zeppelin air raid [in World War I].

Trivia

There is no noise either inside or outside the TARDIS as it arrives at the start of the story and leaves at the end.

This is the first instance of Dudley Simpson providing incidental music for the series. Simpson would continue to work on Doctor Who periodically until the end of the seventeenth season in 1979.

Fred Ferris, who played policeman Bert Rowse, was a popular Liverpudlian comedian.

Technobabble

The TARDIS doors open in flight which has the effect of miniaturising the occupants, the Doctor explaining 'the space pressure was far too great'.

Goofs

At the end of episode two, when the sink is emptied, the plug is placed on the bench. In the reprise for episode three, the plug is put back in the sink (thus enabling the miniature travellers to escape).

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Bert Rowse - Fred Ferris

Farrow - Frank Crawshaw

Forester - Alan Tilvern

Hilda Rowse - Rosemary Johnson

Smithers - Reginald Barratt

Crew

Director - Mervyn Pinfield

Director - Douglas Camfield

Assistant Floor Manager - Val McCrimmon

Assistant Floor Manager - Dawn Robertson

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Raymond P Cusick

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jill Summers

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Morman Stewart

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - Alan Fogg

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Louis Marks

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'I wonder what sort of a world could produce an insect that size?' Four years before Land of the Giants, Doctor Who did it for about a tenth of the price. A strange mix of ecological SF and 'cops and gangsters', this is good fun, if a little unrepresentative of the series.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

It is rather puzzling now to note the apparent determination of Doctor Who's creators to feature a story in which the time travellers find themselves in a miniaturised state. It had at first been intended that the series should actually be launched with an adventure of this type, C E Webber's The Giants. When that had fallen through, the idea had been passed on to freelance writer Robert Gould. Then, when that too had come to nothing, the project had finally been assigned to another freelancer, Louis Marks.

While stories involving giants and people being reduced in size have long been a staple ingredient of popular fiction - incidents in Gulliver's Travels and fifties sci-fi films like The Incredible Shrinking Man come immediately to mind in this context - it is difficult to understand exactly why the Doctor Who team considered it so essential that the series should explore this territory. Nevertheless, this much-desired adventure eventually turned up at the start of the second season, with only a six week gap following the conclusion of The Reign of Terror.

The element that Marks brought to the mix was the idea of an indiscriminately destructive insecticide, for which he drew inspiration from environmentalist Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring. This was the first time that Doctor Who had dealt with an ecological theme, but would be by no means the last.

The most immediately striking aspect of the story is its sets. Considering the limited budget that he had to work with - as always - Raymond P Cusick's incredible scaled-up versions of a laboratory bench and a sink are astonishingly convincing, as are his 'patio cracks' complete with ants' eggs and dead earthworm. The 'live' giant fly that causes Barbara to faint in shock is also worthy of special mention. This is an incredible construction and looks totally realistic, rubbing its mandibles together and swivelling its head. 'A masterpiece of visual effects,' commented Paul Mount in Doctor Who - An Adventure in Space and Time in 1981.

The limited studio space available to accommodate the deliberately outsized sets must have presented considerable problems for principal director Mervyn Pinfield. Some of these he was unable to solve - for example, Susan apparently fails to see the bulk of the ants eggs, even though they are within touching distance, until she has stood up and stepped over to them - but for the most part one can only admire the way in which this technically demanding story is realised on screen. Indeed, Mount went so far as to suggest that 'visually Planet of Giants is faultless, with all director Mervyn Pinfield's considerable camera expertise coming into play admirably.' The BBC's Audience Research Report on the first episode was similarly full of praise for 'the special effects and "props" which, according to most... "really made it look as if [the travellers] were only inches high".'

Jacqueline Hill gets another chance to shine in this story as Barbara becomes infected with the insecticide. The urgency of getting her back to the TARDIS is heightened by her insistence to her friends that she is okay - the viewer knows that she is not, and this adds to the drama. William Hartnell and William Russell are also superb in this story, although Carole Ann Ford's performance as Susan is rather less impressive.

The other characters, unfortunately, are a pretty grim lot. Farrow and Forester are two dimensional and wooden, and Smithers seems totally out of place. Bert and Hilda Rowse give the impression of having wandered in by mistake from the set of Dixon of Dock Green.

The plot itself is also one of the weakest featured in the series up to this point. Smithers seems genuinely surprised when he realises that DN6 is lethal to all life, and yet every impression is given that he developed and helped to test it. Forester kills Farrow to ensure that he can profit from the chemical (and would clearly be quite happy to kill Smithers as well), and yet seems unconcerned as to who will make and distribute the stuff. There is very little substance to the drama here; and, as the TARDIS crew never interact with the other characters (the Doctor points out that the 'giants' will be unable to hear them as their voices will be on a different wavelength - although paradoxically he later suggests using the telephone to try to call for help), it all makes for fairly dull viewing.

One can only wonder just how much more the action would have dragged had the story not been edited down from four episodes to three, as much of the deleted material - including some additional sequences with Hilda and Bert in the post office in which further 'clues' were heavy-handedly brought to light, and scenes showing the travellers escaping down the drain-pipe after engineering the explosion of a can of insecticide at the story's climax - was unnecessary and frankly rather tedious.

Given the story's shortcomings it is perhaps surprising to note that the BBC's Audience Research Report indicated a generally positive response to the series' return from viewers at the time: 'There can be no doubt that the sample at large welcomed the re-appearance of the Doctor Who series and were well satisfied... Of course the whole thing was all great nonsense, viewers would insist, but at the same time they had to admit that they quite enjoyed the adventures of Doctor Who and his companions of the TARDIS, preposterous though they might be. And certainly the situation on this occasion, with the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara reduced to Lilliputian proportions, offered ample opportunities for intriguing events, and thrills and excitements to come. True, just one or two declared they "had no time" for this "far fetched" nonsense, but though some were inclined to react with a somewhat amused condescension, most were firm Doctor Who addicts and very pleased to embark on yet another of what promised to be a very exciting science-fiction adventure.'

Paul Mount's summation is arguably rather nearer the mark: 'Planet of Giants is something of a curate's egg in that the aspects of it which worked did so quite brilliantly, but other facets which did not work quite plainly failed... [It] is probably the first major chink in the otherwise unflawed armour of Doctor Who at the time.'

< The Reign of TerrorFirst DoctorThe Dalek Invasion of Earth >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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