12 February 2020: Can You Hear Me review added.
5 February 2020: Praxeus review added.
29 January 2020: Fugitive Of The Judoon review added.
22 January 2020: Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror review added.
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PLANET OF GIANTS
"I've wedged a matchbox against a knothole."
It's often said that Planet Of Giants isn't representative of Doctor Who. Whatever that means. After all, in a show that's included stuff from Autons to Axons, from historical to hysterical (and all the other alliterative phrases you can think of), "representative"'s a bit of a fuzzy concept.
Nevertheless, we can see what they mean. It's not the standard TARDIS/Doctor/crew axis: they're all correct and present. Nor is it the landing somewhere and getting into trouble part, because that's business as usual too.
It's two things, really. The first is the unusual three-part format: Planet Of Giants wasn't considered exciting enough as a season opener, so they squashed the last two parts into one. It seriously shows - there are unexplained jumps in the action and weird character reactions, and the stately pace of the first two episodes lurches into a (comparatively) dizzy whirl. It's a shame they didn't re-edit the whole three to spread it all out a bit more: the pace would have been more even and the story less jerky.
The thing, though, that really sets Planet Of Giants apart is the dislocation between the TARDIS crew and everybody else. The usual blending with the locals thing is completely missing: there's no interaction at all between our gallant heroes and the guest characters. Not a word. Not a syllable. Not a wave across the set. Nothing.
And that's what feels so weird. When we cut away from the TARDIS crew to eavesdrop on Farrow, Forester et al, it feels as if we've been dropped into another programme altogether. Particularly when Forester starts waving a gun around in a distinctly non-British and unsporting manner, it all feels pretty surreal. We're used to getting in and mixing it with the native inhabitants, and the way this story keeps them at arm's length definitely sets it apart.
That's not to say it doesn't work. In fact, the TARDIS crew's isolation gives the story a real edge. We particularly like the way they've gone to such trouble to be scientifically accurate, pointing out that the teensies wouldn't be able to hear the biggies and vice versa, and paying scrupulous attention to scale.
They've also thought about the most likely consequences of the situation, with the TARDIS crew realistically saying that even if they did manage to attract somebody's attention they'd only end up stuck on a pin under a microscope. Given the number of Doctor Who stories that blithely ignore the laws of physics (which, as we all know, ye canna change), not to mention the number of stories where the locals barely raise an eyebrow at the fact that time travellers have just landed in their midst, we think it's a refreshing change.
And while it's obviously (big surprise) done on the cheap, there are lots of places where it looks simply awesome. Props like the plug and chain work brilliantly and add bundles of atmosphere.
We also love the fact that it's different. Crazed megalomaniacs bent on taking over the universe can get a bit samey after a while, so we really like the stories that shift your head sideways.
Unfortunately, though, there's some stuff that really lets Planet Of Giants down. While we like the idea of a proto-ecological theme, the Farrow/Forester/Smithers bit's horribly stilted and comes across as a feeble and unsuccessful stab at noir. Farrow's acting's just plain terrible, while Forester is way too one-dimensional as the Evil Capitalist. (Not to mention galactically stupid. A hankie over the mouthpiece? Yeah, that'll work.) And the whole telephonist-who-just-happens-to-be-married-to-a-policeman thing's far too handy a plot contrivance. And why is Smithers so astonished at the way DN6 kills everything in sight when he's been testing it for eighteen months?
There's also the fact that despite all the rushing about with matches, the TARDIS crew don't actually have any effect at all on the insecticide plot: the policeman arrives because of the suspicious phone call, not because of our four firebugs. Oops. If they had managed to set the place alight, chances are the evil miscreants would have got out at top speed and avoided detection altogether. We're not sure, either, exactly what the policeman arriving achieves. Presumably Forester and possibly Smithers ended up clapped into jail, but they weren't the only ones involved. Since Forester-as-Farrow had already given the plan the go-ahead, they're probably manufacturing DN6 even as we speak.
Then there are the super-annoying plot problems with the TARDIS lot. We're not at all surprised that Ian wasn't listening when Barbara spelt out that she'd touched the seeds - she's only a girl, so how could what she says matter? But why, for God's sake, does she then keep it quiet that she's been poisoned? There's no reason for this whatsoever except to ramp up the dramatic tension. And you think Ian'd learn, after the problems caused by the matchbox, not to run into portable objects. Then there's the phone thing. They go to endless lengths to explain there's no way they can be heard by normal-sized humans, then decide to have a crack at ringing the police anyway. It doesn't work. Duh!
It's a terrific story for the Doctor. We love the way he seesaws between irritability and affability, and we particularly like his frustration with Ian and Barbara's technological backwardness at the beginning. Ian's as bossy as usual, and Susan's just as hysterical. While Barbara gets to do the dramatic floppy poisoned bit, it's undercut by the stupidity of her keeping it to herself, and her injuring her ankle, asking Ian questions as if he's some sort of omniscient deity just because he's a man and hiding her face in Ian's shoulder when the cat's after them brings us out in hives. She can't even put her foot on the plug chain without Ian having to help her.
It's certainly got its faults. But for its sheer novelty value, it's well worth a look.
MORAL: Don't kill things. It's bound to go wrong.
LET ME EXPLAIN
There's some very nice direction when the TARDIS crew are in the "maze". The tight shots keep everything all mysterious, and we love the well arty (and economical) cutting between the two pairs of characters as the Doctor and Susan work out what's happened.
SOD THIS. WHO FANCIES A SANDWICH?
"So no eating or drinking until we've done our very best to find Ian." Personally, we wouldn't blame them if they weren't in a hurry to find him, but it does seem like a strange thing to say. They're not about to spread out a picnic, are they?
THE FLOWER SCENE
Even though the stuck-togetherness is obvious, the shots where Ian walks in front of Farrow's corpse are wonderfully horrific. Do we spot a Hitchcock influence?
Close your eyes with a cat about to make a snack of you? Thanks for the advice, but we don't think so.
SANITISED FOR YOUR PROTECTION
"And that chemical smell means it's germ-free." How the hell does he work that out?
We're impressed by the Doctor's athletic ability - he might look a bit tired after his climb up the pipe, but given that it's the equivalent of climbing a minimum of ten or eleven storeys, it's a pretty amazing effort. And he manages to shin down again with only one hand, since he's clutching the seed with the other.
Why are the Doctor and Susan perching right on the edge of the plughole? It's a long way down.
ON SECOND THOUGHTS
In the most obvious plot goof of the whole story, at the end of Episode Two Smithers puts the plug next to the taps, whereas at the beginning of Episode Three he drops it back in the sink.
ALAS POOR YORICK
Why do Ian and Barbara assume the other two are dead without even trying to call out to them?
WE CAN ONLY DREAM
Wouldn't the lit match have roasted Ian alive? Or the very least taken his eyebrows off?