Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Planet of Giants"

Aired Oct 31 - Nov 14, 1964

Episode 1 – Planet of Giants
Episode 2 – Dangerous Journey
Episode 3 – Crisis

Story 9

Written by Louis Marks
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield 
(Episodes 1 & 2) 

& Douglas Camfield (Episode 3)

Synopsis

While landing, the TARDIS experiences a serious malfunction that causes the outer doors to open during materialization. When the travellers exit the ship, they find themselves in a bizarre and alien landscape whereupon they encounter a giant earthworm and giant ant, both of which are dead. They soon come to the realization that they have landed on Earth in 1963, but have been shrunk to just millimetres in size.

They learn of a plot by an unethical businessman, Forester, to launch a massively powerful insecticide call DN6. Though it is effective, it's so lethal that it would kill not only pests, but also insects and creatures vital to a healthy environment. Forester, willing to stop at nothing to ensure the success of his business, even commits murder to further his scheme.

After Barbara falls ill due to exposure to DN6, the Doctor and his friends race to expose Forester's plot and return to normal size. Too small to make themselves heard, the Doctor has them tamper with the telephone in the laboratory, arousing the suspicions of phone operator Hilda Rowse, who sends her husband Bert, the local police constable, to investigate.


The travellers manage to return to the TARDIS and to normal size, whereupon the tiny amount of DN6 in Barbara's system dissipates harmlessly.



Analysis

Planet of Giants is an odd story to open the second season of Doctor Who. After all, it's a fairly inconsequential story. After the TARDIS crew is shrunk, they play almost no role in resolving the main conflict. Indeed, the threat at the heart of the matter is relatively minor compared to the ones usually faced by the Doctor. Honestly, are we to believe that only one scientist would ever review this insecticide before unleashing it all over the planet?

Another reason this story feels so slight is the length. This was originally scripted and shot as a four-parter. However, upon review it was felt that there wasn't enough story to justify the four parts, and they hastily edited the last two episodes down into one. The result is rather odd. We have two episodes that are paced in a leisurely way, and a final episode that is so rushed as to feel disjointed.

The main thing Planet of Giants has going for it are the effects, something not often said about Doctor Who. They are impressive not so much for their realism as for their audacity. Director Mervyn Pinfield was not only the associate producer of the series, he was also an innovative director when it came to visual effects. There are many moments that astound with how good they look. The large scale models and sets all look great, especially the lab sink. And the use of photos blown up to huge scale and either projected or hung in the studio in front of tiny cast members is an ingenious technique.

It's a story that is in no way representative of the series as it was now establishing itself, and it is certainly slight, but it does have much to enjoy.

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