The Witch Hunters
Planet of Giants
|Dates||Oct. 31, 1964 -
Nov. 14, 1964
With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written by Louis Marks. Script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield (and Douglas Camfield in episode 4).
Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and crew are reduced to the size of one inch as they return to Earth, where an insecticide is killing everything that moves.|
"It's all so ridiculous..!" by Nick Waghorn 4/8/98
Planet of Giants is sparsely commented on, but when it does come up it is usually paired with the phrase "unrepresentative of the series."
Surely Doctor Who's appeal lies in its flexible format, not in its conventions. By the same reasoning Season Twenty-Six could be considered "unrepresentative of the series", as it features no TARDIS interior scenes. Just because Planet of Giants doesn't have slobbering monsters or men twirling moustaches sinisterly doesn't mean it isn't Doctor Who.
Onto the story though. As plots go, this one's fairly standard, but buoyed up by the fact that the TARDIS crew really must use their brains, not physical strength. A core element of Doctor Who, accentuated well by the plot device of being only an inch high. There is also a good understanding of the difficulties of being so small, even down to communication problems. Nothing is conveniently "forgotten" by the writer, giving the story much scientific credibility. Despite all this though, it seems well that the story was truncated to three episodes -- a lot of the cast's time is spent treading water during the last half of episode two.
An interesting facet of the script is that it still nobly combines entertainment with education, (i.e. Ian's description of worker ant's reactions) a remainder of the original concept of Doctor Who.
Hartnell's Doctor continues to be occasionally brusque but there are signs that he is softening. The performance is skilfully brought off. William Russell's Ian is also well played, with an intensity that convinces, and flashes of inspiration. Carole Ann Ford is constant as Susan -- this isn't her best performance. The same, sadly, can be said for Jacqueline Hill's Barbara: despite the story concentrating on her, she seems slightly melodramatic. However in general, the regulars perform with a conviction that gives a sense of real threat despite the situation's absurdity.
The supporting cast is similarly varied. Farrow is averagely played, making some minor fluffs. Alan Tilvern as Forester, conversely, is wonderful, a villain as smooth as glass and as oily as, well, oil. He can sometimes be muted though. Smithers is an interesting character displaying a rare joy: believable motivation and depth, rather than being a stereotypical "baddie".
Technically the sets are brilliant, and the giant-size props are fun, adding a great deal of believability to the story. Also the giant insects are well realised - there's actually a giant fly that's a hundred times better than the one in The Green Death. Some nice direction gives the end result an almost cinematic quality, though it's occasionally undermined by poor editing. Particularly good is a shot showing the words "about one inch high" printed on the packet behind the shrunken travellers when they've just realised their predicament. The musical score is almost comedic, using percussion well, and some great, sinister violin slides.
Planet of Giants is not as good as its individual parts, and lacks sufficient pace, which is a shame. Having said that, it's still worth a look. 7/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/11/98
Planet of Giants seems at first glance to be an unusual story to open a season with, but this underrated tale actually makes a pleasant change to either historical or monster stories. Given the small cast, the story comes across very well indeed, being a mixture of tense drama and mystery.
The four regulars are excellent here, with Jacqueline Hill`s Barbara again being put through the wringer, as she falls foul of the insecticide. This subplot in itself is an interesting idea in theory, if less than convincing in practice, due largely to the supporting cast, who just seem to be going through the motions.
Fortunately, however, the fate of the four time travellers is believably conveyed and interesting enough to hold the viewers attention throughout. Special mention should however go to the stars of this particular tale, designer Ray Cusick`s superb, giant set pieces, which given the budget was quite an accomplishment on its own.
Not the worst story by any means, if somewhat unrepresentative of Doctor Who as a whole.
Well, You Know What They Say About Small Packages... by Peter Niemeyer 15/2/01
This was another wow! I was surprised at how much I thuroughly enjoyed this story.
First off, I felt the concept was original. Okay, we have certainly had people-shrunk-down stories in modern sci-fi. But it hasn't been so often incorporated into sci fi/exploration serials. I enjoyed seeing the travellers, who typically have to deal with past cultures or alien societies, trying to negotiate their way around a laboratory drain pipe. This is also one of the few "sideways" trips the TARDIS has taken. (The only other instances that come to mind are The Space Museum, The Celestial Toymaker, The Mind Robber, and Inferno.)
Secondly, big kudos to the sets. If not for the fact that this was in black and white, this easily could have been an episode from "Land of the Giants", and it was done many years before that series. I was also looking for them to make some sort of error in scale (such as Ian carrying an object which really would have been much bigger or smaller if they were an inch tall), and I couldn't find any.
I also think the story was nicely paced at three episodes. During part three, there is a scene where Ian is reacting incredulously to Barbara, and it is only in later discussion that it becomes apparent she has suggested they remain and expose the threat of DN6, even at the risk of her own life. This was the only place where I felt the editing was funny. But given the nice pace of the story. I'll forgive this minor goof.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: I would have had the travellers' actions more directly cause the arrest of Forrester. The primary reason the policeman goes to the laboratory is the switchboard operator's suspicions, and these were caused by Forrester himself, not the TARDIS crew. Although the TARDIS crew does survive, they didn't really prevent the release of DN6, and in that sense they weren't as heroic as they could have been.
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The way in which the normal-sized humans had no direct interaction with the TARDIS crew. I enjoyed watching these two storylines which were very clearly related but ultimately never intersected with one another.
Poorly paced but enjoyable by Tim Roll-Pickering 27/9/01
After a year's worth of stories in which the Doctor has tried to return Ian and Barbara he finally succeeds in Planet of the Giants, successfully piloting the TARDIS to Britain in the 1960s. Unfortunately something goes wrong during the materialisation and so the TARDIS and its four inhabitants are all reduced in size.
One of the most puzzling aspects of Planet of Giants is the fact that at no point do either Ian or Barbara acknowledge the fact that they have arrived home. Considering how much they have hoped for this throughout the course of the first season this is an immense and inexplicable oversight.
With hindsight Plant of Giants is extremely atypical of contemporary Earth based stories, even once one has got round the minuscule factor. The storyline involving Farrow, Forrester, Smithers and DN6 has some interesting ideas about the dangers of insecticides and the priorities of businesses - highly topical today - but isn't really developed very well and has a number of scenes that seem to serve little more purpose than to announce to the viewer that the regulars are in for trouble. The coincidence of the telephone operator being married to the local policeman who just happens to reach the farm house at the right moment is hard to take. All in all this part of the storyline is underdeveloped with none of the cast standing out at all.
By contrast the other side of the story involving the Doctor and his companions as they discover where they are and then seek to return to the TARDIS is the bright side of the story. Given the severe limitations of television technology at the time it is a wonder that such convincing sets could be produced and there are some good shots involving giant photo blowups that help to link the worlds of large and small. One interesting feature is that in the final episode, Crisis, the time travellers doesn't immediately depart for the the Ship but instead seek to understand about the insecticide and raise attention about it. This shows the development of motivations stronger than a desire to simply continue wandering.
The design work is very strong with wonderful touches such as the moving fly that encounters Ian and Barbara. Everything seems to be the right scale and there is good continuity between the normal size and enlarged sets right down to the placement of a cork near the sink.
Crisis has been clearly edited and at times seems a little confused since some of the dropped material would almost certainly explain how several characters have moved location and why scenes exist such as Smithers examining the garden to see the effects of DN6. Whilst the slow pace of the first two episodes suggests that the story would have become tedious had it remained in the fourth episode it is a trapping of the time that the entire serial could not be reedited into three episodes and thus preserved some of the more vital points of the story.
At three parts Planet of Giants just manages to avoid outstaying its welcome but because two episodes have been compiled into one it is poorly paced. However it shows advantages of a three part format and it is a mystery as to why no further three part stories were produced for over twenty years. Although it has several flaws it is worth watching and deserves to be released on video as soon as possible. 6/10
A Review by Alan Thomas 8/8/02
Planet Of Giants is a bit of an oddball story when you consider its genesis. It began life as a storyline that was considered to begin the series. But when it eventually got the go-ahead, it was shortened from four episodes to three. As a result of its somewhat twisty little history, Planet Of Giants suffers slightly.
We begin with a very simple opening scene in the TARDIS, and, again, something is wrong. The ship lands, and the travellers can't understand what's happened. It seems fairly obvious to the viewers, but this doesn't detract in any way from the superb and very impressive sets. The scale is wonderfully accurate.
Planet Of Giants allows Jacqueline Hill to shine yet again in a very intense performance. We know that she's been infected, but will the travellers find this out? Carole Ann Ford, on the other hand, gives her least impressive performance of all. She screams, whines, states the blatantly obvious and just irritates. William Russell's performance is dependable and William Hartnell is also very good.
Now we come to the protagonists. This is the weakest part of the story as their background lacks nuance and understanding. Smithers is out of place simply because an effort is made to flesh him out and make him 3D. This sadly falls very flat due to the contrast with Forrester. He is very 1D and almost completely obsessed with his DN6 experiments. There is no motivation for his character, and he comes as across as the William Hartnell era equivalent of Zaroff (but still nowhere near as bad). His murder of Farrow seems far too cold and his simply pathetic idea of mimicking him on the phone is unbelievable. We are led to believe that this is a very intelligent man who worked on the design of a very powerful and revolutionary insecticide and yet he comes up with a very weak escape plot. Bert and Hilda Rowse are oddly shoe-horned into the story. They seem to be there simply to provide a resolution, because the travellers are not capable of this on their own.
It would indeed be quite interesting to see the excised sequences but I understand that they no longer exist. It seems painfully obvious that the third episode has been edited. One second the travellers say "Let's go there" and a second later they've got there, no questions asked.
Planet Of Giants manages to keep the viewer entertained because of wanting to know the resolution of the story. Also, Jacqueline Hill's performance and her subsequent subplot are very interesting and show real character development. The sets also add to the interest, particularly the fly that confronts Barbara and the giant plughole in the sink. The story can really be seen as a way to whet the appetite of the audience before the following Dalek epic. But it is also a story that is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had Planet Of Giants taken place instead of The Web Planet, a lot more time and effort would have made it a better story. 7/10
Up the Garden Path by Andrew Wixon 15/11/02
It goes without saying that Planet of Giants is a bit of an oddball, one of those hard-to-classify stories from the days when the show wasn't quite sure what it was yet. Certainly it doesn't feel distinctively DW-ish, and indeed in many ways it more closely resembles episodes of other fantasy TV shows - in particular Land of the Giants (obviously) and The Avengers (particularly the episodes Silent Dust and Mission: Highly Improbable).
But it's very watchable - partly because it is superficially so uncharacteristic. I say superficially because in one way at least this is archetypal DW. One of the series' key tricks has been the way it has been able to find menace in the everyday (a useful ability given that everyday items are generally cheaper) - in shop-window dummies and dolls, most famously, but also in the many stories where unearthly menaces are disguised as ordinary human beings. And, let's not forget, that the embodiment of evil as far as the series is concerned resembles nothing so much as a strange amalgam of toaster, electric fire, egg whisk and sink plunger - the domestic writ psychotic. Planet of Giants takes this idea to an extreme, finding peril in entirely mundane drainpipes, house-cats, briefcases and so on.
It's a simple idea but one that's well executed - the re-editing of the final episodes makes for a rather choppy and stilted conclusion, but the rest of it is fine, if perhaps slightly too talky. The outsized props are impressive, and the fly still looks startlingly convincing even today. Not the kind of territory the series could really explore too much, but inventive and entertaining nevertheless. And, obviously, a key inspiration for The Simpsons (money-crazed maniac with effete sidekick called Smithers). No? Oh, well, suit yourselves...
What a glorious start for the second year! An essay on sarcasm by David Massingham 5/1/03
Doctor Who's second season begins in a rather under-whelming manner with Planet of Giants, an adventure which takes the old cliche of shrinking the leads to within an inch of their original height. I'll mention straight up that this premise does absolutely nothing for me, so when I was going into Planet of Giants I didn't expect much. Unfortunately, my prognosis was more or less on target.
There are plenty of things wrong with this story, but I'll start with the positives. Most notably, the set work. BBC's designers really pulled out all the stops, and stretched that little budget as far as they could. The result is a strongly realised world, so much so that even a modern day viewer can't really complain about the giant matchboxes, telephones, etc. The production really only falls down when it comes to the giant backdrops used in an attempt to convince us that Ian is standing in front of a dead body, or the crew are passing a collection of test tubes. This said, given the huge constraints placed on the production team in terms of time and money, this story looks pretty impressive.
Less impressive is the acting. None of the guest cast really makes any mark, with the chap playing Farrow utterly failing to convince. Forester gets the job done as a black-hat, I suppose, but he is hardly inspiring. Unfortunately the regulars aren't all on form either. Personally, I haven't come to expect much from Carol Ann Ford (she isn't that bad, actually), but I expect at least a strong showing from the other three performers. Billy Hartnell is generally kept to sidelines, and he plays his scenes with his customary aplomb (particularly the final scene in the TARDIS). William Russell is slightly off as Ian, but still gives a solid performance.
Jacqueline Hill is, unfortunately, pretty terrible. To be fair, she is given some real dross to work with -- Barbara decides it is a good idea not to inform anyone she has come into contact with the insecticide, paving the way for some of the most frustrating scenes I've watching in Doctor Who. I mean, Barbara can be fiercely independent and stubborn -- these are traits that have made her more engaging in the past season. Her independent streak has never blurred into stupidity before, however. In Planet of Giants, the character comes across as a spoilt and stubborn teenager determined to solve all her problems on her own even if they are too big for her. Hill's performance seems to focus on all the melodramatic aspects of the material, and the entire plot-line leaves the viewer feeling closer to irritated that the presumably intended emotion of excitement. An ill-advised plot-line at best.
Before closing, I simply must mention Dudley Simpson's wildly inappropriate score. A melodramatic affair, which seems to build in momentum in sections which aren't at all exciting. This score is simultaneously one of the best and worst parts of this story -- inappropriate, yet superficially fun and bouncy, even when it shouldn't be. I suppose it helps to liven up some of the duller patches of the story.
All up, Planet of Giants is a bit of lumberous affair. Between silly over-the-top scenes, uneven pacing, limp guest characters, and the deeply flawed central premise, it all falls pretty flat. Still, it is quite short, and has brief sections of superficially exciting television, so it isn't a complete disaster. It's not far off, though.
5.5 out of 10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 31/5/04
When science fiction encyclopaedias label Doctor Who as a sci-fi show, I grumble a little. It is probably predominantly that, but DW should never be classified or placed in one particular genre. Here's another fine example of how it mixed things up, and told stories of all kinds of genre. We are in Land of the Giants here, Honey I Shrunk The Kids - that kind of story. It is a way of telling a story that most main fantasy programmes have used, but rarely to more earthy effect than Doctor Who.
This is a story about pesticides, and their danger to the undergrowth. It's also a story about the TARDIS crew being shrunk to the size of a worm. Let's face it, it's not the first thing that comes to mind when you are trying to think of a way to stretch the DW format. But I would rather have this kind of stretching of the formula over the hard sci-fi stance that tries quite often.
The best thing about this story is the Sets. Everyday things like plugholes, matchboxes and seeds look excellent as 100 times their size. The set designers must have had a great time doing this, and it was probably a nice change over the "please create a computer console for the year 2500" kind of memos. This was something they knew, but all the same the attention to detail is a real credit to the mastery of these people.
The reproduction of insects at human-size is pretty good too. The convenient plot device of the DN6 killing all insects means we don't get to meet too many of these creepy crawlies, but what we see is okay. This garden could very well be the most sedate and dead of any in the world though, I should imagine! I am always astounded at just how much life lives in the most obscure of places.
This story is quite a good example of the fantastic on our doorstep. The whole 3 parts are set in a house and a garden. Due to the TARDIS crew's size this admittedly is a bigger area than usual - but much is made of the wondrous on our doorstep. There is unfortunately too some pretty boring stuff that you could also relate to suburban life in general.
All the story about pesticides, and the ruthless killing to protect the DN6 formula is dull in the extreme. This was clearly a concern of the time, and like The Avengers it's an attempt to put social comment into the programme. But things have to be interesting, for goodness sakes! The conversation between Forrester and Farrow is one of the dullest scenes in all DW. Whenever the story went to the DN6 saga I instinctively switched off, my attention waned and I began to look through old DWMs for some interest there (plenty to be had there for sure!).
Alternatively the material that involved the Doctor and his travelling companions had the adverse affect. Down went the Mag, and my attention didn't deviate from the screen. Much has been made of this original line-up. William Hartnell does blunder his lines at times, Susan will make a crisis out of any situation. Ian and Barbara are a touch too dramatic at times. But there is something rather endearing about this foursome. They are the closest DW has ever got to having a family on board. The Grandfather, Dad, Mum and Daughter. It worked very well, and is a team I am very fond of.
Planet of the Giants is a strange Doctor Who story. It shows a desire to try different types of stories, but ultimately now it can be seen as a bit of an aberration. The mixing of Avengers and Land of the Giants was strange. Thankfully it was a side path that the production crew didn't go down again. On it's own it's not too bad, but not at all representative of the series as a whole. 6/10
Honey I Shrank The TARDIS Crew by Michael Bayliss 22/8/12
This is a story where the protagonists shrink, a genre for which today's audience would find itself spoilt for alternatives ('Honey I Shrank The Kids', for example, whilst obviously offering better special effects, also has an arguably better plot and better acting). However, for its era and budget, Planet of Giants pulls off its premise surprisingly well. The sets, both outside and inside the lab, are convincing and maintain a sense of scale that is consistent between the microscopic and macroscopic points of view (only the scene with the regulars standing in front of a blown up portrait of the dead man pushes credibility too far). It is very interesting to watch the regulars interact with the world in miniature and there persists a strong visually active element to the story that many of the Hartnell era stories lack. The animated fly is also a joy to watch, very convincing for the time and still appears horrific; it is miles above the fly in The Green Death, even without the benefits of CSO.
For the purposes of the budget, however, it is just as well that most of the rest of the insects are dead and therefore immobile. Smart move, but then a reason must be given as to why they are all dead. The plotting to account for this is unfortunately where the story falls short, although ironically to today's audience the storyline involving insecticide conspiracies holds more relevance now in our Monsanto-dominated world than perhaps the story did on transmission. Doesn't make it any less rubbish though, with all its petty, small-time villainy and character stereotypes competing for the wooden spoon worst actor award.
At the end of the day, this is perhaps classic Doctor Who's only example where the modern day Earth scenes are less convincing than the artificially created set pieces.
Shrunk and Extended by Yeaton Clifton 23/12/12
I was looking forward to seeing Planet of Giants for the first time (the DVD just reached the United States this week and I had not previously seen this serial), and I was looking forward to seeing the promised interviews with Verity Lambert and Carol Anne Ford, which were to be included on the DVD. However, I had very low expectations for the reconstruction of episodes three and four, as a special feature. The original episodes three and four were cut to one episode to make the story move faster and reduce the violence (a cat was killed by pesticides). It seemed to me that instead of creating an extra episode cut from Planet of Giants, they should do something such as cutting The Web Planet to be one episode shorter, or cutting two episodes from The Space Museum. Cutting to The Chase: it ought to be at least three episodes shorter (or did I mean five?). I love season two, but many of its stories just seem too long. I did like the extended version better than the broadcast version, because it made the story about being shrunk to the size of an insect a pivotal moment in the Doctor's life, and I love that kind of story.
The basic premise of the story is that because of space pressure (meaning so much generic technobabble), the TARDIS crew has landed in England in the twentieth century but have been reduce to the size of insects. By the time they realize what has happened, they are, as usual, having trouble getting back to the TARDIS. They also realize that they are in the vicinity of a murderer, and it turns out that this murderer's devious plans include selling an insecticide that could devastate Earth's ecological system. Barbara has gotten a bit of this deadly chemical on her hand and will die soon if she cannot be returned to the TARDIS and have her size restored (shrinking the deadly effects of the chemical to nothing). What is great about the reconstruction is that it makes very clear that for the first time the Doctor is more concerned about saving the planet than saving himself and his friends. Obviously, the diminutive heroes find a way to alert the authorities to the eco-atrocities which are hatching in the house, and find their way back to the TARDIS. The Earth is safe for one week, until the next episode, when it is overrun by Daleks.
I like the expanded version because of what it adds in terms of character development, but it is unusual looking. The scene where the cat dies is created using CGI that does not look realistic. The dialog is supplied presumably from the script by surviving cast members (Carol Anne Ford and William Russell) with new actors hired to play the parts whose original actors are now deceased (most of the cast). The visuals are dubbed over images obviously repeated from elsewhere in the story, and this is odd-looking. Add to this, while given the date of production the overall visuals are very good, they are not that good compared to modern television. In short, this strange story is told in a strange-looking way. But it still out shines the visual effects of some classic Who stories like The Web Planet and The Green Death (I love both stories, but not for the effects). The reconstruction does look unreal, but realism never included people being shrunk to size of ants or spaceships that are bigger on the inside than outside. So I am willing to accept it as it is.
The story is several firsts other than the first time the Doctor shrank (cf. The Invisible Enemy and The Armageddon Factor). The fourth episode, which was cut down in broadcast version, was the first episode of Who directed by Douglas Camfield. The story was the first to use incidental music by Dudley Simpson. It was the first Doctor Who mad-scientist story set in the twentieth century (nearly two years ahead of The War Machines), and the first Doctor Who ecological parable. Surprisingly, it does not resemble The War Machines or The Green Death or The Armageddon Factor or any of the other stories that seem to contain elements from Planet of Giants. It stands out, as unusual as The Deadly Assassin, The Gunfighters or Blink. If all these stories were typical of the series, the series would not be Doctor Who. Like the other stories mentioned, Planet of Giants is interesting partly because it is different.
Aside from the reconstruction itself, there is a brief making of the reconstruction where Russell and Ford explain that they are delighted to be making Doctor Who again after all these years, and producer Ian Levine gets to say he is ecstatic to work with his heroes (I assume Ford and Russell). Suddenly Susan is an interview with Ford taken from a 2003 special called The Doctor Who Story (never aired in North America). Ford's description of the show focuses on her frustration with the way her character worked out (a screaming teenager was not what she desired), but she also shares her admiration for the young Lambert, working in man's world. The Lambert Tapes is an interview with the show's original producer taken from the same broadcast (Lambert now being deceased). There is a decent commentary. There are plans for the sets. There is the usual photo gallery and Radio Times Listings (the two things I never bother to look at). All told, the extras are first class.
It took courage to decide to reconstruct the missing episode, and a number of reviews have panned 2 Entertain for their decision. I think it's a great DVD, and I commend them on taking a chance.
Planet of Giants (as first broadcast): 6.5/10.
The entire DVD: 8/10.
The DVD is recommended to Sally Sparrow. (It's for deep people).
A Review by Paul Williams 13/2/19
There is little to commend Planet of Giants. Reducing the TARDIS crew to an inch in height rendered them incapable of interacting with the other characters. Their questions about the morality of killing garden creatures might have resonated if addressed to the perpetrators. Instead, heroes and villains never meet, and the latter are defeated by incompetence, not intervention.
The plot, such as it is, involves a businessman, Forrester, marketing a deadly insecticide, DN6. A government scientist, Farrow, realises the danger and decides to confront Forester. He is murdered, and Forester attempts to cover his tracks whilst proceeding with the release of DN6. Although the miniaturised crew try to alert the authorities, it is Forester's impersonation of Farrow that raises the suspicion of the local telephone operation whose husband happens to be a policeman.
It all seems silly and pointless unless you've read Silent Spring.
Rachel Carson's book, published two years before Planet of Giants, spoke about a deadly insecticide, DDT, and criticised both the manufacturers of insecticide and the gullible government officials who accepted their claims. Now imagine Carson as Farrow, the ignored voice of science and Forester as the industry. The regular cast are the general public, who see that something is wrong in their natural environment but are powerless to stop it. Many scenes and even the episode titles have a double meaning. Dangerous Journey is the progress of Earth towards environmental catastrophe and Crisis is the present day. There was hope of averting that disaster, with Barbara being cured and the constable arriving. Today those hopes are gone because the world's insect population has fallen by 80% in the last two decades.
Does this make Planet of Giants a hidden classic? On the contrary, it is the worst story of the nine so far. Television must entertain and engage its audience. This cannot engage its own characters.
Suffering Through Ecological Failure by Matthew Kresal 16/10/20
"When did Doctor Who start caring about the environment?"
As I write these words, it's been just a couple of weeks since Orphan 55 aired as part of Modern Doctor Who's twelfth series. It was an episode that instantly divided fan opinions over its ecological message and, in particular, how on the nose it was. Which makes returning to Planet of Giants all the more interesting. The opening story of Classic Who's second season shows that the series has been doing this sort of thing for a long time now.
The story opens with the Doctor once more trying to get Ian and Barbara back home to the 1960s. This time, he succeeds, but, of course, there's a catch. Thanks to the TARDIS malfunctioning, they've all been shrunk to roughly an inch in size. Exploring their surroundings, they face giant insects and earthworms. All of which are, every one of them, dead.
Why? Because the house of the garden they've landed in is home to a laboratory experimenting with a new and dangerous pesticide. One that a government scientist is determined to stop, and which a businessman is even more set to make a fortune off of, resulting in murder. It's here that the serial takes on its ecological bent, with a collision between science and business, greed over safety, and the threat of potential disaster if the insecticide gets put to wide-scale use. These are big ideas for what is notionally family viewing on a Saturday afternoon.
Which makes it a shame that Planet of Giants doesn't really work.
Part of that is down to execution. The idea of a shrunk TARDIS crew had been an idea for the very first serial, set around Coal Hill School, only for An Unearthly Child to take its place when it was determined to be impractical to realize. A year on, it clearly still was, with things looking more akin to a stage play than a TV show, even by the standards of the time. Things sink off into black a little too often, grass that's a painted backdrop, and efforts to replicate everyday items at large scale (like the briefcase) reveal they're anything but those items. True, there are effective moments, especially in the opening episode, but it never quite works, even by 1964 standards.
It also doesn't help that writer Louis Marks never gets the two plot lines to gel. True, our characters only get into the lab because of the murderer and cause his eventual exposure, but that doesn't mean they work together. Indeed, they could be separate plotlines until the very end, and even that tying together comes across awkwardly. That's without even mentioning the dialogue which, when it comes to the murder mystery plotline, is functional at best. As for the dialogue around the ecological element: if you thought Orphan 55 was on the nose, you should listen to some of the lines Marks writes here. It's difficult to believe that this script came from the same writer who gave us Day of the Daleks and The Masque of Mandragora in later years.
Just as fatal is the fact that the story has a complete lack of pace. Need proof? What we have today as the third episode isn't the original third episode. Instead, on the order of someone who'd lost patience with the story, it's made up of what should have been episodes three and four. Thanks to Ian Levine and the DVD release, we now have a reconstruction of the missing scenes, which weaves in and around broadcast scenes. And are we missing much? Not particularly, as reinstating the material shows that what we're missing merely existed to get another episode out of a story whose plot was already thin and beyond breaking point.
Ultimately, Planet of Giants tries as a story but never quite works. It's ambitious to a fault, an effort at style over substance where neither one works despite the efforts of all involved. It's a failure, albeit a noble one, and one which set the stage for stories like those of Malcolm Hulke, or The Green Death, and even the recent Orphan 55.
So, when did Doctor Who start caring about the environment? Back in the autumn of 1964. And it's been doing so ever since, often better than it did back then.