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Doctor Who: Planet of Giants

Well, I rather like this new wallpaper, but...
Or, “Honey, I Shrunk the TARDIS!”

Season 2, Serial J

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) and Carole Ann Ford (Susan)
Written by Louis Marks
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield (eps 1 & 2) and Douglas Camfield (ep. 3)
Produced by Verity Lambert

Episodes and Broadcast Dates:
  • Planet of Giants – 31 October 1964
  • Dangerous Journey – 7 November 1964
  • Crisis – 14 November 1964

Note: a fourth episode was filmed, titled “The Urge to Live,” but at the request of the BBC the third and fourth episodes were heavily edited into a single episode, titled “Crisis,” prior to broadcast. Although Pinfield directed “Crisis” and Camfield directed “Urge,” Camfield received sole credit for the broadcast episode. The shooting scripts exist for both episodes as filmed, but no excised footage survived.

Plot Summary

The TARDIS doors open prior to materialization, and the scanner short-circuits. They try to make sense of the world around them, finding large dead insects, and realize they’re on modern day Earth, but because of the open TARDIS doors, they’ve been reduced to less than an inch in height, and they’re walking between the flagstones outside of a country house. Because they are small, their perception of time is much faster than the real world, so they are unable to hear the words spoken by two men outside the house, but they do see one pull out a gun and kill the other. The murderer, Forester, is a businessman attempting to get approval of an insecticide, DN6, but civil servant Arthur Farrow refuses, to his peril.

They escape a housecat, and Ian and Barbara dive into Forester’s briefcase that is scooped up and brought into the house. The Doctor and Susan shimmy up a drain to get into the house to find them. Barbara, meanwhile, is feeling quite unwell. Our heroes piece together what is going on, and realize what Farrow knew, that DN6 is toxic to every living thing. Barbara is getting progressively worse, and she admits that she had earlier touched a seed that was coated with DN6, and her life is in danger. They manage to lift the phone off the hook, alerting the attention of the local telephone operator, Hilda, but they are unable to communicate.

Hilda calls back to check that everything is alright, but Forester’s impersonation of Farrow doesn’t fool her. Our heroes manage to turn on the gas tap, light a match, and ignite a can of DN6, which explodes in Forester’s face as Hilda’s husband, the local police constable, arrives. Once our heroes are safely back in the TARDIS and restored to normal size, Barbara quickly recovers since the amount of poison in her bloodstream is now negligible.

Analysis and Notes and Stuff

"I'll be meeting your cousins on Vortis in a few months..."

Poor Ian and Barbara! They want so badly to return to their own time, and they finally get back to contemporary Earth and don’t even get to enjoy it. But that’s par for the course in the B&W era; whenever the TARDIS did make it back to Earth in the present, it was always a sign that someone was leaving or joining the crew.

"Planet of Giants" has a unique distinction: it was initially filmed as a four-parter, and the production team was rather dissatisfied with the slow pacing. BBC Head of Serials Donald Wilson mandated that the third and fourth episodes be edited together, which I imagine at the time must have been quite irregular for that amount of post-production editing. And sadly, all that excised footage is gone. The DVD release, however, has a special feature where William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, and some sound-alike actors (the other principals and guests, sadly, are now deceased) performed the dialogue from the missing material, which was edited in with still images to re-create the best approximation of what the original episodes would have been.

When the series was first in development, the concept of the main characters being miniaturized, thereby creating peril in the mundane, was one of the first storylines to be discussed. Perhaps it took a year for the concept to be realized onscreen due to the production team’s concern about how to bring it to life. I for one am glad they waited, because visually, it’s one of the era’s most ambitious and effectively realized stories. The first cliffhanger, pitting the TARDIS crew against an enormous kitty, is rather radical and startlingly original.

Also, the villain is original as well; apart from the TARDIS and its crew being shrunk, there’s no science fiction element to this story at all. The villain isn’t a mad scientist, merely a ruthless businessman bent on profiting from manufacturing and marketing a dangerous chemical, and won’t stop at murder to get his way; heck, it’s practically a Pertwee story! The casting of the villain is intriguing too; Forester could’ve been cast as a suave, dashing, deep-voiced and charismatic rogue, but instead they cast a very average-looking and rather rat-faced actor (no insult intended, Alan Tilvern!).

Also worthy of note is how rural this story is. Set in a country house, in a small village that still had a local telephone operator who knew everyone in town - indeed, it is mainly because of this that the baddies’ plot is foiled. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s married to the town cop. These are two sweet country folk you probably did not want to cross!

I haven’t mentioned the other principal guest character, Smithers the cringing chemist, because he really doesn’t add much to the plot. He created DN6, knows that it’s too poisonous, but is too weak-willed to oppose his boss, Forester, and primarily exists to be his sounding board.

Ultimately, the BBC knew what they were doing when they ordered the editing. Aside from the striking visuals, there are aspects of the story that really drag. Barbara should’ve dropped dead, and having even another episode to drag it out would have been ludicrous. The dialogue can get very tedious, and the presence of the deleted material gives us more appreciation for how much more so it would’ve been. That said, though the deleted material didn’t add anything to the plot, it did give Smithers more of a backstory. The crew shouting into the phone was kinda laughable. Plot holes and discontinuity abound; yeah, keep track of the sink plug, and just how did they get off the lab table and back to the TARDIS anyway? Did they ride the cat?


This was technically the first story of season two, although both this and the following story were all filmed as part of the first production block. The concept of "seasons" or "series" didn't mean the same thing as it does today, when we only get thirteen episodes per series and might have up to a year between them. For its first six seasons, Doctor Who was always in production. The principal cast worked essentially full-time, year-round. In order to get a vacation during filming, the actors would have to negotiate a week or two off, and the writers would have to adjust the script accordingly so that particular character wasn't in that episode, or could have their scenes pre-filmed. For the viewers, there was only a six-week break between seasons one and two.

Haven't I Seen You...

"Who are you calling rat-faced, John?"

Alan Tilvern (Forester) had a long career in TV and film, most notably as R.K. Maroon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Rating: 2 ½ out of four exploding cans of DN6.
John Geoffrion balances a career in hospital fundraising with semi-pro theatre gigs, and watches way too much Doctor Who and Britcoms in between. He'll create an author page after he puts up a few more reviews.

1 comment:

  1. I too love some of the sets and props here. The sink scene is especially well done. Even at 3 episodes, it does feel a bit off, so at 4 it would have overstayed its welcome significantly.

    Still, like you point out John, it has some interesting ideas, but it just doesn't work out all that well. While I agree that Barbara probably would have died from the toxin, I'm glad she didn't!


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