Making The Everyday Sinister
Planet of Giants is an unusual story for 1960’s Doctor Who. After numerous adventures in space and time in the TARDIS, the Doctor’s school teacher friends Ian and Barbara are still determined to get back home to Earth and their own time. And what happens when they finally get there, the teachers discover that they have been shrunk to an just inch of there normal size. They then have to save the world by stopping a ruthless businessman, Forester, from putting into production a lethal insecticide that not only kills insects harmful to agriculture, but also those vital to it. A feat that were they not one inch tall might have been somewhat of a challenge. Rather unusually for this time on the show it’s an Earth story, it’s not saving another planet or changing the past it’s a contemporary, homegrown problem.
|Jacqueline Hill (Barbara).|
The way the miniaturisation is handled and the sets and the props are wonderful and very impressive for their time. But the real achievement of Planet of Giants is it’s penchant of making the everyday sinister; something that Doctor Who always has and still does very well. There’s a wonderful cliffhanger, where we simply see water draining down a plug hole. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you realise the Doctor and Susan just went down there it becomes The Terrifying Sink of Doom! Fortunately the pair escape when they discover The Overflow Pipe of Freedom. The script is well crafted and works very well and all of our heroes are on top form.
Planet of Giants obviously owes to the 1955 novel The Borrowers and even more so to The Incredible Shrinking Man. The story was originally planned as the very first in the First Season, but it was shelved due to concerns that apparently giant insects would fall under the ‘bug eyed monster’ heading, of which original series mastermind Sydney Newman was determined to steer clear. With new ideals at the helm, Planet of Giants finally appeared as the first story of the Second Season of Doctor Who. Quite literally it isn’t a big story, but it’s certainly an impressive and enjoyable one that really stands the test of time.
|Planet of Giants inspiration: “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”|
Extra Features/Value Added Material:
Maybe it’s just because it’s one of the last stories that I can now replace my dilapidated VHS with a shiny, new DVD, but Planet of Giants‘ Digitally remastered picture and sound quality are particularly noticeable and impressive.
|Carole Ann Ford (Susan) and William Russell (Ian Chesterton).|
None of the original cast are present for the Commentary as most are unfortunately no longer with us, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. This commentary, which includes vision mixer Clive Doig, special sounds creator Brian Hodgson, make-up supervisor Sonia Markham and floor assistant David Tilley with moderation by Mark Ayres gives an unusual insight into the production side of early Doctor Who. Planet of Giants is a perfect choice for such insight, with it’s incredibly brave and ambitious production designs and effects.
Originally shot as a four-part story, the final two episodes of Planet of Giants were edited into a single episode for transmission. Using the original scripts, newly recorded dialogue and animation Reconstructions of Episodes 3 and 4 have been created to give viewers an idea of how the original four-part version might have appeared. The big question with this one: Is it worth reconstructing Episodes 3 and 4 of Planet of Giants? The answer: Not really. BBC Head of Series in the early 60’s, Donald Wilson’s decision to amalgamate the last two episodes into one was the right one; it certainly makes a much stronger story as a three-parter.
The reconstructions of Episodes 3 and 4 are ultimately hit and miss. The new animations and some of the voice work are impressive; particularly the CGI Cat and the voice work of Katherine Mount as Barbara, John Guilor as the Doctor and Toby Hadoke as Forester. However with it’s obvious dubbing, at times the reconstruction comes across as comical. It was clearly put together as ‘a bit of fun’ but as the main boast of the DVD’s VAM I expected more. The idea is good in theory and I certainly champion anyone striving to complete Doctor Who by filling in its gaps, but it feels like BBC Worldwide are scraping the bottom of the ‘special feature’ barrel a little with this one; it’s basically an unnessessary venture.
Rediscovering The Urge To Live, the reconstruction’s making-of, is more interesting and engaging than the actual recon. It’s great to see the team behind the recon, both original cast and talented voice mimics taking real enjoyment from their work.
In Suddenly Susan Carole Ann Ford talks about her role as the Doctor’s Granddaughter, Susan. It’s marginally engaging, but doesn’t particularly offer us any particulars we haven’t gleaned from elsewhere.
The Lambert Tapes – The Doctor is apparently the second part of an interview with the late, great and original producer of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert. Presumably the first part of this interview will be featured on a future release, possibly The Reign of Terror DVD. The interview offers a pleasant insight into Lamberts involvement with the creation of the now legendary programme.
The Prop Design Plans (DVD-ROM only) and Photo Gallery offer a further in-depth look into the design and development of this particularly ambitious and challenging production as do the Production Information Subtitles, which never fail to educate and impress me.
The DVD also includes: Radio Times Listings (DVD-ROM), Programme Subtitles, a Coming Soon Trailer for the Vengeance of Varos Special Edition and the rather hilarious Optional Arabic Language Mono Audio Track.
Overall, Planet of Giants is a particularly strong and accessible representation of a story of it’s time, but with none of the already small guest cast, writer or director still alive, and the memories of William Russell and Carole Ann Ford “a little hazy on this one,” there just isn’t much scope for extra features.
Extra Features: 1/5
Planet of Giants is released on DVD in the UK on 20th August, in Australia on 5th September and in the US on 11th September.