5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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PLANET OF THE SPIDERS
"Oh, dear. This is getting monotonous."
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
A regeneration story's always a big deal. Done well, it gives us a sense of leavetaking, provides an insight into the Doctor and celebrates an era. And it packs a more powerful emotional punch than any other DW story. On these criteria, Planet of the Spiders succeeds surprisingly well, since it captures both the best and worst of the Pertwee era.
Without doubt, there's an awful lot wrong with this adventure. The CSO is horrendous. The acting, in parts, is horrendouser. (Whoever cast Jenny Laird must have been on drugs.) There are great swathes of scenes, particularly in the meditation centre, which are so boring they make your brain melt. And it's crammed with stuff that doesn't actually need to be there.
The first episode's particularly guilty of this. The Doctor and the Brigadier go to a show. Quite funny, but so what? They meet someone with ESP, who promptly dies. What's he doing in it at all? The story finally creaks into action with some long-winded stuff about the crystal (referred to as a sapphire in The Green Death, but never mind) which the Doctor appropriated on Metebelis 3 and inexplicably gave Jo as a wedding present. (We were puzzled as to why he would have given her something so dangerous, but when we saw what it did to Tommy, we got the point. Why she took it up the Amazon, though, not to mention why she waved it around in front of the "natives", is another matter altogether.)
Meanwhile, Mike Yates suspects there's something dodgy going on at a meditation centre. Why did he think there was a problem? And why, for God's sake, did the spiders get in touch with this particular group of men? It's not like they had the crystal or anything. Furthermore, the nasty meditators try and stop Mike and Sarah Jane by conjuring up an apparition, yet we never see this power again. While we're on the subject of Mike, his redemption might fit the Buddhist theme, but isn't it a bit surprising that Sarah Jane in particular is so ready to forgive him, given that the last time she saw him he was plotting to kill her? Call us vengeful, but we wouldn't exactly be waving him a cheery hello. He did a bad, bad thing, after all, and just because he was sorry afterwards doesn't let him off as far as we're concerned. They locked the Master up supposedly for life for similar attempted crimes, after all, and just because Mike's ends were more benign than the Master's doesn't justify his means.
Planet Of The Spiders's first two episodes trundle on drearily, with any glimmerings of plot submerged beneath a torrent of Pertwee-indulgent action scenes, including a ghastly shot of the Whomobile flying that reminds us of a very, very bad Disney movie. Then the scene shifts to Metebelis 3, which is somewhat of a mixed blessing. At least it's something different to look at, but oh, dear. The sets are a crime. The humans are devoid of a single spark of originality. And the spiders' human guards look like refugees from a dodgy gay nightclub. Sarah is convinced the Doctor's dead, which adds up to to least three times in two adventures and neatly spikes the guns of the No-He-Really-Is-This-Time ending. Meanwhile, things go on, and on and on and on, at the meditation centre. We can't tell you exactly what happened because we were napping, but we do remember wondering why if Tommy's so innocent, how come he stole the crystal?
Secondary characters in this are, with a few exceptions, bad, dull or both. Nick Courtney is badly served by a script that makes him look like a cretin (never heard of ESP until the Doctor told him?), although his contribution is a valuable part of the regeneration scene. Lupton is uninterestingly evil, with the usual snoresome plan to take over the universe, as is the Great One. The other meditators are interchangeable. Tommy is well acted, but we resent having our heartstrings tugged quite so blatantly. Cho-Je is a disappointing caricature with a horrible ah-so accent. The spiders make pretty dull villains, with nothing to distinguish them from any other tyrannical megalomaniac. The one bright light is the character of K'anpo (the impressive King Dalios from Time Monster), who makes a charming renegade Time Lord and adds a great deal of depth to the story.
However, five severely flawed episodes are made up for by the dazzling sixth episode which on an emotional level delivers everything it should. For perhaps the first time, we see the Third Doctor vulnerable, and it gives us a whole new way of looking at his character. We also love the way that this most heroic of Doctors doesn't go out on an act of selfless nobility, but instead as a result of atoning for a mistake. We know about his faults, from greed to arrogance, because we've seen them, but this is our first inkling that the Doctor is well aware of them too. It makes for a tremendously moving exit. Pertwee does an astonishing job in this episode: the scene where he tells the spiders he's giving the crystal back to the Great One is incredible, particularly his expression when the spiders say that it's good he will die.
Looking at this adventure, we wonder whether Jon Pertwee or the production team really understood the power of what they had created. The adventure is full of (in intention, at least) impressive action scenes with no emotional resonance at all, yet at the heart of the story are some emotional truths which deeply engage the audience. It's a shame that for so much of this story they're swamped by meaningless toing and froing, but at least in the last episode they manage to shine through and give the Third Doctor the send-off he deserves.
MORAL: People who live in blue boxes shouldn't steal stones.
We love the way Mike Yates in first discovering the meditators stumbles into a spiderweb in the doorway.
BUT DON'T MAKE A HABIT OF IT
It's sweet the way the Doctor calls the Brigadier, for the first time, Alistair.
POST TRAUMATIC DRESS DISORDER
In the fine old tradition of UNIT soldiers off duty, Mike Yates' outfits in this are absolutely vomitous.
The sonic screwdriver the Professor uses to visualise the Drashigs isn't the same one the Doctor used then.
AND FOR MY NEXT TRICK
When the first guy zapped by the spider falls to the ground, despite being dead he manages to neatly break his fall by catching himself on his hands.
Sergeant Benton is utterly adorable in this, beaming when Jo refers to him in her letter and later volunteering on the grounds that he's expendable.
Sarah Jane marvels at the fact that she's discussing stuff about strange planets, which is pretty odd considering she's just been to Peladon.
CANíT CATCH ME
We see Lupton setting off towards the autogyro, then they cut to him in it. This handily fudges how he manages to get to it across an open carpark only feet away from where the Doctor at al are standing without them seeing him.
YOU'LL THINK OF SOMETHING
The spider tells Lupton to lull the Doctor's suspicions. After stealing the crystal, leading the Doctor in a chase halfway across the UK and then disappearing into thin air, how is he going to do that, exactly?
Tommy attempting to give Sarah the crystal and her not listening is the kind of annoying plot device that makes us throw sharp objects at the screen.
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE
This adventure really underlines the Doctor's attachment to Earth, since he says on Metebelis 3 that he comes from Earth and says later that he programmed the TARDIS to take him home. Quite a contrast to most of the other Doctors.
MASTER OF DISGUISE
The spider guards think that Sarah has vanished when all she's done is put on a headscarf!
FOUR LEGS BAAAAD
If spiders are eight-legs and humans are two-legs, why are sheep sheep?
THERE'S NOTHING ONLY ABOUT BEING A HUMAN
Sarah Jane and the Doctor swapping appalling puns in the larder shows how she treats him as an equal - very different from the way Jo treats him as a deity.
IT'S ONLY POLITE
In the fight Gareth Hunt has with the spider guard, the guard, supposedly throwing him, puts him down on the floor very carefully.
HE MEANT WELL
It's ironic that K'anpo praises Mike Yates for his compassion, given that previously he had so little compassion that he was happy to consign the entire population to nonexistence.
They go out of their way to signpost the Doctor's regeneration, even to the extent of having a practice run with K'anpo and then having Cho-Je explain what's going to happen in words of one syllable. Why, we wonder? Worried, amidst complaints about the violence, that the kiddies would be traumatised if they didn't realise he was coming back?
OUR MONEY'S ON CREASING HIS TROUSERS
Okay, call us moronic, but what is the Doctor's greatest fear? Did we miss something?
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US