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24 September 2014

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Planet of the Spiders

Production Code: ZZZ

First Transmitted

1 - 04/05/1974 17:45

2 - 11/05/1974 17:40

3 - 18/05/1974 17:40

4 - 25/05/1974 17:30

5 - 01/06/1974 17:35

6 - 08/06/1974 17:35


Sarah is invited by Mike Yates to visit him at a Buddhist meditation centre where he has been staying. A group of people there, led by a man named Lupton, are misusing the meditation rituals in order to make contact with powerful alien forces, which manifest themselves as a giant spider. The spider is an emissary from the ruling council on the planet Metebelis 3, sent to recover the blue crystal that the Doctor previously found there and that has now been returned to him by Jo.

The Doctor and Sarah journey to Metebelis 3 and aid its human colonists in an attempt to overthrow the 'eight legs'. They then return to Earth in the TARDIS. The Doctor recognises the meditation centre abbot K'anpo as his former Time Lord guru and, at his prompting, returns to Metebelis 3, where the humans' revolt has ultimately failed. He demands an audience with the Great One - a huge mutated spider revered by the others - and offers her the crystal.

The Great One uses it to complete a crystal lattice, which she believes will increase her mental powers to infinity. Instead, the rising power kills her. The other spiders also die as their mountain explodes. K'anpo has meanwhile been killed while protecting Yates from an attack by the spider-controlled residents of the meditation centre, only to be reborn in the form of his assistant Cho-je - his own future self.

Some weeks later, the Doctor is brought back to UNIT HQ by the TARDIS, having been fatally affected by the radiation in the Great One's cave. K'anpo appears and, with his help, the Doctor regenerates.

Episode Endings

Mike Yates and Sarah watch from hiding as the meditation centre residents, seated around a mandala, chant the Tibetan 'jewel of the lotus' mantra. Suddenly a giant spider appears on the mandala.

Lupton flees in a speedboat and the Doctor gives chase in a one-man hovercraft. The hovercraft finally draws level and the Doctor jumps across into the speedboat. When he looks round, however, Lupton has vanished.

On Metebelis 3, the Doctor gets into a fight with the Queen spider's guards. The Guard Captain fires a blast of energy from his fingertips and the Doctor collapses to the ground just outside the TARDIS.

Sarah is lying cocooned in the spiders' larder. The Doctor appears in the doorway, but Sarah's initial relief turns quickly to disappointment when she sees guards behind him and realises that he too is a prisoner.

The Doctor and Sarah talk with K'anpo while, outside the room, the meditation centre handyman Tommy tries to prevent the spider-controlled residents Barnes, Keaver, Land and Moss from entering. They blast him with energy from their fingertips.

As Sarah and the Brigadier look on, the Doctor regenerates.


Tommy reads Blake's The Tyger.

Flowers for Algernon.

Planet of the Apes.

Arthurian myths.

Buddhist texts.

Animal Farm (Two Legs bad, Eight Legs good).

Live and Let Die (the chase sequence).

The Exorcist.

Quatermass and the Pit.

The spider imitates Sarah by singing 'Half a pound of tuppenny rice'.

K'Anpo sending the Doctor to face his worst fears is reminiscent of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Dialogue Triumphs

Sarah Jane Smith : "You're just like everybody else."

Tommy : "I sincerely hope not."

K'anpo : "We are all apt to submit ourselves to domination... Not all spiders sit on the back."

Cho-je : "The old man must die, and the new man will discover to his inexpressible joy that he has never existed."

The Great One : "You see this web of crystal above my head? It reproduces the pattern of my brain. One perfect crystal and it will be complete. That is the perfect crystal I need!'"

Double Entendre

"I can't keep it up!"


ESP lies dormant in most Homo sapiens. Sarah has worked for Metropolitan magazine (selling articles to someone called Percy).

The Brigadier's watch was given to him 11 years ago in Brighton by Doris (a 'young lady') as a mark of gratitude for something that the Brigadier is anxious to leave unspecified (see Battlefield). The Brigadier phones Sullivan, the UNIT Medical Officer (see Robot). They're in yet another UNIT HQ.

When the Doctor was a 'young man' he spent a lot of time with an old hermit who lived 'halfway up a mountain just behind our house' (see The Time Monster). This Time Lord regenerated and came to Earth as the Abbot K'Anpo Rinpoche. As his next regeneration approaches he is helped by a projection from his future form, Cho je (see Logopolis). The Doctor is familiar with Tibetan customs (see The Abominable Snowmen).

The Doctor is absolutely sure of the TARDIS reaching Metebelis 3 (he's 'wired the coordinates into the programmer'), but he leaves the precise landing site to the TARDIS. Thankfully, it lands exactly where Sarah is. The TARDIS key is shown as being a medallion. The TARDIS eventually brings the Doctor back from Metebelis 3 after (from the Brigadier and Sarah's point of view) three weeks.

The spiders of Metebelis 3 come from a period after the Doctor's previous visit (see The Green Death) when an Earth craft of colonists and explorers came out of 'time jump' [probably another term for hyperspace] and crashed on the planet. Exposure to the blue crystals mutated the arachnids accidentally brought on the ship, and the Eight Legs enslaved the Two Legs.

433 years after the crash the spiders planned to invade Earth, their 'rightful home'. To do this they needed the crystal stolen by the Doctor, which was a perfect example of its type [enabling them to travel through time and space].




A theatre, a Buddhist retreat in Mortimer, Berkshire, UNIT HQ in March or April 1973.

Metebelis 3 (some time in the future).



The Doctor is a good friend of Harry Houdini's.


The spiders' method of taking over humans is by leaping on their backs and remaining there, invisibly, while they exert telepathic control.

There is the second and final appearance of the Whomobile.

Gareth Hunt, later to become one of the stars of The New Avengers and of a popular series of coffee commercials, plays Arak.

The cliffhanger to Part Five is re-edited when reprised at the beginning of Part Six, with a significant amount of extra material inserted.

The term 'regeneration' is used for the first time, to describe the process by way of which Time Lords take on a new body when their old one wears out.

John Kane, who played Tommy in this story, also worked as a television writer, including on the sitcom Terry and June.


Roger Delgado's Master was originally to have been written out in Planet of the Spiders, and after the actor's death the story was revised to incorporate Lupton in place of the Master. (If Delgado had not died it is likely that he would have been written out in the final story of season eleven - the production team had it in mind that the Master would sacrifice his life in order to save the Doctor's and thus achieve a kind of redemption - but this idea, provisionally entitled The Final Game and also intended to be written by Robert Sloman and an uncredited Barry Letts, was never developed further and Planet of the Spiders was a completely different story.)


If the spider is on Lupton's back in episode two, why isn't it squashed when he sits in the various vehicles?

During this epic chase, why doesn't Lupton simply disappear as he does at the climax?

The Doctor's flying car is a different colour in the studio (gold rather than silver).

This isn't the same sonic screwdriver as in Carnival of Monsters, so why does Clegg associate it with Drashigs?

Fashion Victim

Mike's tweedy fashions are horrible.

The spiders' guards have flares.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Jon Pertwee

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Mike Yates - Richard Franklin

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

Sergeant Benton - John Levene

Arak - Gareth Hunt

Barnes - Christopher Burgess

Cho-je - Kevin Lindsay

Guard Captain - Walter Randall

Guard Captain - Max Faulkner

Hopkins - Michael Pinder

K'anpo - George Cormack

Keaver - Andrew Staines

Land - Carl Forgione

Lupton - John Dearth

Man with boat - Terry Walsh

Moss - Terence Lodge

Neska - Jenny Laird

Policeman - Chubby Oates

Professor Clegg - Cyril Shaps

Rega - Joanna Monro

Sabor - Geoffrey Morris

Soldier - Pat Gorman

Spider Voice - Ysanne Churchman

Spider Voice - Kismet Delgado

Spider Voice - Maureen Morris

Tommy - John Kane

Tramp - Stuart Fell

Tuar - Ralph Arliss


Director - Barry Letts

Assistant Floor Manager - Graeme Harper

Costumes - L Rowland Warne

Designer - Rochelle Selwyn

Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton

Film Editor - Bob Rymer

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Deanne Turner

Producer - Barry Letts

Production Assistant - Marion McDougall

Production Unit Manager - George Gallacio

Script Editor - Terrance Dicks

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Ralph Walton

Studio Sound - John Holmes

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

Visual Effects - Bernard Wilkie

Writer - Robert Sloman

Writer - Barry Letts Barry Letts received no credit on screen in view of the fact that he was producer of the series.

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Oh dear, this is getting monotonous...' Grotesquely over padded and stuck with bad CSO, Planet of the Spiders is not the celebration of an era that it should have been. Buddhist dialogue and a vast sub-Bondian chase self-indulgently replace the plot. The regulars come across well, but the 'Two Legs' are clichés with West Country accents.

The ending almost atones for this: 'I had to face my fear, Sarah... That was more important than just going on living... A tear, Sarah Jane? Don't cry. While there's life there's... Hope...'

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Doctor Who's writers over the years seem to have been somewhat fixated on the idea of presenting giant-sized creepy-crawlies. Planet of the Spiders takes this to the ultimate extreme with its artificially enlarged talking spiders with delusions of grandeur, and the viewer is called upon to do even more than usual in the way of suspension of disbelief. The realisation of the spiders is admittedly sound - their voices are particularly memorable - and the story caused something of a stir at the time of its original transmission, with accusations being made in the press that it was too horrific.

Even so, it is hard to imagine that anyone but the most arachnaphobic could be truly scared of these 'eight legs' (as they like to be known); and certainly as far as the Great One is concerned it is a pity that the rather more realistic model originally prepared by the Visual Effects Department was vetoed by producer Barry Letts.

Perhaps the best aspect of Planet of the Spiders is its characterisation of Mike Yates, having retreated to a Buddhist meditation centre to reevaluate his life following his rather ignominious parting from UNIT at the end of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. It is rare indeed for a genre series like Doctor Who to afford one of its regulars this sort of significant character development, and all concerned deserve to be congratulated on such a thoughtful and well worked out departure from the norm.

Another point in the story's favour is that it not only draws on the overt trappings of Buddhism - such as the meditation rituals and the 'jewel of the lotus' mantra (om mane padme hum) - to enhance its atmosphere but also takes that philosophy as the whole basis of its plot, making it in effect a Buddhist parable. This is both appropriate and subtly done, being obvious to those with a knowledge of Buddhism but unobtrusive to those with no such interest.

'The Doctor's ego is... out of control,' observed Paul Cornell in DWB No. 88, dated April 1991, 'ignoring Sarah, getting Professor Clegg killed in his dilettante psychic experiments ("my greed for knowledge"), and basically displaying all the paternalistic traits that so annoy modern viewers. That he is to be criticised for this, and killed for it, is surely a huge testament to Letts' helmsmanship of the show. The Doctor's disquiet before K'anpo is a revealing moment that shows that even he has a monkey (or a spider) on his back. Even the Doctor must submit to his own principles.'

These virtues apart, it is difficult to find much to praise in Planet of the Spiders, and one can only assume that it was a case of initial over-enthusiasm when Keith Miller wrote in DWFC Magazine Number 20, dated June/July 1974: 'This story was fantastic! It brimmed over with emotion, sadness and adventure.'

Geraint Jones was rather nearer the mark in his assessment in Doctor Who - An Adventure in Space and Time in 1987: 'There was far too much padding and repetitive to-ing and fro-ing to make the script and production a tight one; had the story been told in four episodes, it would undoubtedly have ensured a far more satisfactory swansong for Pertwee's Doctor. Good indications of the quality of drama in an episodic serial are surely the episode cliffhangers. Apart from the regeneration scene which closed the story... not one of the others in Planet of the Spiders was particularly exciting or audience-grabbing. Rather than thundering towards a climax, every episode gave the impression that it was slowly but surely running out of steam.'

Given that it was included solely in order to afford Jon Pertwee a final opportunity to indulge his passion for different forms of transport, it is hardly surprising that the lengthy chase scene in Part Two seems self-indulgent and pointless (although still not as bad as the totally gratuitous one in Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part Five).

More regrettable still is that the characterisation of the Brigadier reaches its absolute nadir in this story - the culmination of a slow but steady decline over the previous three years. The shrewd, no-nonsense professional soldier of season seven has by this point been reduced almost to the level of a buffoon. His casual manner, near shoulder-length hair, failure to comprehend even the simplest of scientific concepts and almost total reliance on the Doctor to tell him what to do make it impossible to believe in him as a realistic character; and the writers' continual poking of fun at him, such as in the scene where he suggests that a belly-dancer's movements could be adapted as exercises for his men and the one where he becomes embarrassed at the revelation of a 'dirty weekend' spent in Brighton, serves only to make him seem a pompous idiot.

The best of the story's guest characters is Tommy, who is initially mentally retarded but subsequently cured by the Doctor's blue crystal - a transformation sensitively portrayed by actor John Kane. John Dearth's Lupton, Kevin Lindsay's Cho-je and George Cormack's K'anpo are also worthy of special mention. Lupton's human cronies are rather nondescript, however, and the humanoid inhabitants of Metebelis 3 are a singularly dull bunch. Jenny Laird's performance as Neska is particularly noteworthy, being one of the most cringe-inducingly awful ever seen in the series.

The BBC's Audience Research Report on the story's concluding instalment suggests that contemporary viewers were none too impressed: 'The conclusion of Planet of the Spiders... met with a tolerant rather than enthusiastic response from most of the adult viewers who constituted the sample audience. However, a minority of about one in three found it very enjoyable. The "death" of Doctor Who in the shape of Jon Pertwee - the most likeable and subtle Doctor so far, according to a few long-term viewers - was greeted with some regret; nevertheless, several said they liked the flexibility of the Time Lord concept... and felt that the "translation" was neatly effected in this episode. The acting and production were generally commended, although some viewers thought the minor roles were sometimes stiffly or hammily performed, or the giant spiders in this story (perhaps mercifully) less life-like than some monsters the series had created.' Children in the BBC's sample were, as always, far more positive, their views being neatly exemplified by the one who said: 'Exciting, frightening, a must every Saturday. When will it come back, Mum?'

Nevertheless, there is no escaping the conclusion that Planet of the Spiders makes for a disappointing end to the third Doctor's era.

< The Monster of PeladonThird DoctorRobot >

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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