Doctor Who (Classic): S02E01 “Planet of Giants”

Season 2
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield (1,2), Douglas Camfield (3)
Written by Louis Marks

Welcome to Season 2 of Doctor Who with a look at a serial so dull they had to reedit the last two episodes into one in a vain attempt to improve it but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Starting off, there’s not much in the way of differences to Season 1 and it feels premature to even call it a new season. The cast is the same, the people behind the show are the same, the script is a reworked version of what was intended to be the first serial (following up the first episode of “An Unearthly Child”), it was produced as part of the first season and the first episode of this serial wound up airing only a month and a half after the last episode of Season 1 aired.

While it was clearly intended to be a recurring concept (see the RD for Relative Dimensions in TARDIS which isn’t just there because TIS is a lousy name for a ship), the idea of shrinking the TARDIS and everything inside was to my knowledge never used again (though shrinking the interior or exterior was later used in episodes such as “The Time Meddler” and “Flatline” respectively). Practically, there is not much of a reason for them to use this functionality and here it only happens as a fault with the TARDIS. In addition, there’s only so many times you can do a riff on the The Incredible Shrinking Man and even “Into the Dalek” (and “The Invisible Enemy” which I’ve never seen”) just used a shrinking ray for their riffs on “Fantastic Voyage”. Also the ability to make yourself bigger, which aside from dealing with the many consequences of the square-cube law, would just make certain problems a bit too easy to deal with (not that a scene featuring a blown up version of The Doctor fighting a giant kaiju wouldn’t be fantastic) so the ability just seems to have been basically discarded as a possibility.

This is also the first episode to take pace in the present day (and in present day England to boot). While a common occurrence later on, the nature of Ian and Barbara’s “joining” of The Doctor’s party basically rendered similar episodes impossible until they left. Even with them having grown closer, their regret at a potential departure expressed in “The Reign of Terror”, and a general reduction in talk of getting home, both Ian and Barbara have lives that they were plucked from against their will and lack the eagerness to travel and autonomy in make that decision for themselves.

While other Doctor Who episodes before and after have tried to deliver a message, few before this are as on the nose as the ecological message here inspired by the then recent popularity of the book Silent Spring. The main story concerns a powerful pesticide which kill not only harmful, but also helpful insects and other wildlife (an actual problem in the development of pesticides) and the attempts of a one man to get it to market. The most interesting part of this story is that the villainous motivation is just preventing himself from going broke if his product is banned (not even just losing money but ruined). Even if their success (and the extent to which they try) varies, Doctor Who has tried to create more nuanced villains then simply wanting power or for pure evil. I mean the developer is pretty unrepentantly evil murdering a man to keep his report secret (since in sci-fi stories it is possible for only one person to be involved in the testing of a substance and not have told anyone about the results before coming to the person who stands to be most negatively affected by the decision) and the fact that he proceeded with the pesticides production without waiting for results to come in (which feels more irresponsible in business practice than anything else), but at least they gave him a believable motivation. His scientist partner however is doing it out of a desire to not let people starve with crops going to waste and is merely mislead into thinking that there is nothing wrong with his product making him only crime covering up the murder of a man he though was killing people out of spite by not approving it. They may not be all that original or interesting, but I appreciate the effort.

Of course, the problem with this story is how detached it is from The Doctor and his companions plot. The pesticides may be acting as a ticking clock for Barbara and to a lesser extent everyone else while the movements of the regular sized people occasionally cause problems, but the only impact The Doctor makes on the main plot is lifting up the receiver (which only helped because the main villain decided to be an idiot calling from his home phone to impersonate someone else) and creating a small distraction at the end (which hardly matters since the police officer had already arrived). Instead the story feels like an attempt to jam a well-meaning message into an unrelated story. The threats on their life feel minor (everything is already dead by the time they arrive) and far apart leaving the story to drag in between and never pick up. This leaves us with two weak stories, the dull “B” movie thriller and the half-hearted “shrinking man” thing, awkwardly combined and failing to come together as a whole.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations

– Despite how few changes were made behind the scenes, this is the first serial which Dudley Simpson served as composer (not that each episode has much in the way of score) and he would go on to perform the score for more episodes than anyone else.
– This episode was not the first to have The Doctor mention that it was impossible for anything to get into or out of the TARDIS (“The Edge of Destruction”).
– The whole pesticide being harmful to humans may be true, but it is pretty silly to pretend that something that causes illness in miniaturized people would necessarily be significant enough to affect humans (as proven by Barbara healing by just returning to normal size) which kindof lessons the environmental message.
– “You keep away from it” *Ian then proceeds to stick his face right into the pesticide he just identified and sniffs*. It’s nice to see someone other than Susan picking up the old idiot ball.
– Ain’t it like a woman to faint at the sight of a large fly which is sitting still and not even vaguely menacing her? I just love when Ian’s patronizing remarks to women wind up actually being “true”.
– There exists a reconstructed version of the last two episodes (instead of the combined 1) but no way am I subjecting myself to that since there’s no evidence it improves the story.
– This week in cliffhangers: With the viewscreen still broken, The Doctor is unable to tell for certain where they are landed but hey at least they are normal sized. Pretty lackluster here.

Next Up: The Daleks return in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” on Friday