A Dimensional Analysis

Review of Planet of Giants (#9)
DVD Release Date: 11 Sep 12
Original Air Date: 31 Oct - 14 Nov 1964
Doctor/Companion: One, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, Susan Foreman
Stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford
Preceding Story: The Reign of Terror (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)
Succeeding Story: The Dalek Invasion of Earth (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this story. It's not one that shows up on the common Best Of or Worst Of lists, so I didn't really have much in the way of preconceived notions, but I guess I was prepared to be underwhelmed. It was quite a nice surprise, then, that I found it so engaging.

Let me start with a bit of history. Apparently, the idea that eventually became Planet of Giants - that is, that the crew would be miniaturized, but on present-day Earth - was at one point intended to be the series pilot, rather than An Unearthly Child. Further, it was scripted - and shot - in four parts, but the Head of Serials didn't like it as a four-parter, and so the final two episodes were edited together into one, which is how it was transmitted (this all becomes particularly relevant when we come to the extras).

As a result, there are pieces that don't quite make perfect sense, but overall it hangs together quite well, and manages to combine early environmentalism with murder/intrigue and a science fiction twist (since our heroes are roughly the size of "an inch"). I suspect that when it first went out, the audiences would have been pleasantly surprised by the revelation that a mishap on landing had shrunk the TARDIS and all its occupants that way. It plays pretty well, even when you know what's coming. In retrospect, though, I think it's better that it got shunted to the second season, so the audience was familiar with the TARDIS's usual workings before throwing in this new dimension.

Part of what I like here is that it's another example of the original crew getting on terribly well. In the first episode, after the TARDIS has landed, One - whom many dismiss as a grumpy old cuss (and not completely erroneously) - shows that said grumpiness is just a reaction to stress (something I've noticed in Six, as well). As the crisis unfolded, he'd kind of bitten Barbara's head off, but once the immediate danger had passed, he approached her apologetically: "Oh, my dear Barbara. Was I rude to you just now? If so, I'm so sorry, I... I always forget the niceties under pressure." Showing the depth of their mutual affection, her easy reply is simply, "There's nothing to forgive." Moments like these show me that those who dismiss Hartnell's Doctor are missing something wonderful.

As for the story, it still works nearly fifty years later. There's a social responsibility v. personal gain plot (in the "normal" world) that's given an immediacy by the way it affects our shrunken heroes. There are some pretty good cliffhangers, some clever uses of the particular environment, and some rather cliché lack of communication moments that move the plot forward. The only real bone I had to pick was with the way sound supposedly worked differently in the normal and miniaturized reference frames. But it made for a workable plot, so I'm willing to overlook it. Not too shabby for a 50-year-old script!

DVD Extras (highlights)
Episodes 3 and 4 Reconstruction
Since they still had the original scripts, it was not a huge stretch to reconstruct what the second half of Planet of Giants would have been like, had it survived in its original form. Using existing clips, new voiceovers, and a couple bits of animation to fill in the gaps, the transmitted third episode is stretched back to two. The fourth episode, in particular, adds back in some explanatory material that was cut so that the plot flows a bit more smoothly, filling in a couple of minor plot holes. The replacement voice actors are quite good, too!
Rediscovering The Urge to Live
It turns out that not only are two of the four lead actors for this serial dead, but so are the writer, the director, and all of the supporting cast. Thus, instead of a "making of," we have a "remaking of," which follows the decision and some of the creative process behind the episode 3/4 reconstruction (see above). Behind-the-scenes footage of the voiceover recordings is pretty cool. It's fun to see William Russell and Carole Ann Ford work with the impersonators of their format costars.

Suddenly Susan
We've seen clips from the 2003 piece The Story of Doctor Who as extras before, and I'm sure we'll see them again. This extra includes the interview of Carole Ann Ford. I was pleased to see that she was somewhat unimpressed with the character Susan became, too. It makes me feel less bad about not liking Susan as much as I want to like her.
 
The Lambert Tapes - The Doctor
Another refugee from The Story of Doctor Who, these clips explore original producer Verity Lambert's memories of her time with the show. It's hard to believe they could make it on just £2000 per episode! I particularly enjoyed her views on the other Doctors who came after Hartnell.

I'd have no problem showing this story to a complete Doctor Who n00b. While it may not be particularly representative of the show as a whole, it's quite watchable and keeps all four lead characters relatable. I'll happily watch it again some rainy afternoon.

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Comments

I love this story. I like the evocative picture it paints of UK life at the time with, for example, a village telephone exchange. I remember when I first saw this being impressed with the alien characterisation of the Doctor, whom, IIRC was not sure about some of the earth fauna in episode 1.

Miniaturisation may be a SciFi cliche but I reckon they handled it very well in this story and I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that the story still works some 50 years later. A solid 7.5/10 for me

By Wholahoop (not verified)
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