Planet of Giants (or, “Honey I Shrunk the TARDIS”) is the first story of the second season of Doctor Who which ran from 1964 to 1965. It’s led off by a concept that seems somewhat quite common today. Let’s face it, compared to the story that follows (Dalek Invasion of Earth), Planet of Giants is a low-key story.
But that’s OK, as I tend to like stories that are somewhat lower in scale, provided it’s executed well.
This is a story concept that has been done many times over the years on several shows (including in several later Doctor Who serials). That’s “shrink the main characters down to a tiny size and watch them deal with their new environment”. This story predates one of the more famous examples, Fantastic Voyage, though.
A story such as this relies heavily on both special effects and acting performances. On both accounts, this story came across quite well, at least with the series regulars. Some of the other supporting characters weren’t handled nearly as well, but the TARDIS crew was quite well acted, mostly. The one exception to this was Susan. At the time of her departure, Carole Ann Ford had complained that her character had de-evolved into just a stock screaming girl, and that’s quite visible here. More than once, her reaction to things was to scream “Grandfather!” and get frozen in place. Outside of these, even she was well handled, I thought.
But it’s obvious in this story why she was dissatisfied with her role. Still, that issue aside, I thought the series regulars handled things quite well. Hartnell was quite strong, giving a well acted performance ranging from giddiness to deadly serious to concerned and a few places in-between. Jacqueline Hill spent most of the story acting sick, and being scared that she was going to die after touching some pesticide meant for ants and bugs. Oddly enough her character handled it quite casually – she knew she had the stuff on her, but told nobody, and then proceeded to touch most everyone throughout the story. William Russell handled things well, being the “action man” of the piece – including a comical scene where he was to have been inside a briefcase being carried. The shot of him being buffeted from side to side inside the briefcase was one that brought mild chuckles, but I thought still worked.
The special effects were done quite good, too, considering this is 1964. If this story was done in 2012, everything would be top notch CGI and all that, but it’s not, this was 48 years ago or so, and even factoring that in, I thought it mostly came over quite well. The sets with giant locations (a sink, giant matchboxes, and the miniature TARDIS landing inside a grassy patch in a yard), were all executed quite well. Not everything is perfect though – as the scenes where the crew are supposed to walk in front of a dead guy attest to. That bit had just a giant picture put up on the wall of one of the dead characters lying there. Bit naff that one was, but it’s forgivable, given the general success of the special effects of this story.
More than once, her reaction to things was to scream “Grandfather!” and get frozen in place.
This story was originally conceived and filmed as a four part story, yet the version that was broadcast was only three. Legend has it that show creator and then Head of Drama Sydney Wilson saw the four parter, and wanted it cut down to three, because episodes three and four (Crisis and The Urge to Live) were more focused on the non Tardis crew characters, which, let’s face it – aren’t that great. The two characters around the house that were the bulk of the “large” humans in this story kind of reminded me of the characters of Weismuller & Hawk from 1987′s Delta & The Bannerman story for some reason. Not bad, but not really great, either.
It also seems apparent watching it again why these episodes were ordered to be edited together into a single episode. It did make for some odd pacing in the final episode three (also called Crisis), though. There were a few moments that made me go, “Hey wait – what?” Not enough to make it totally disjointed, but it’s obvious the pacing in episode three wasn’t what it was in episode two (Dangerous Journey). When this is released on DVD later this summer, there will be an attempted “reconstruction” of the four episode format, as none of the filmed materials remain beyond what was used in the final episode three. That will be interesting to see.
Speaking of focusing and characters.. This story is unique in that the TARDIS crew are not the only characters in the story, but they never directly interact with anyone else except each other. Oh, they can see them, they can hear them, but there’s never any direct interaction. The closest I can think of to this later on would be 1985′s Revelation of the Daleks where it took 50% of the story before the Doctor & Peri met anyone else. Hartnell’s own The Space Museum had this kind of feel, too. It made for an interesting take on the narrative, where the TARDIS crew could observe the characters, be influenced by them, but never directly interact. I kind of liked that. Heck, it took about half of episode one (Planet of Giants) before the time travellers crew even realized what had happened to them. Watching them explore the environment early one was a nice treat, since we don’t get to see them just explore like that, they mostly react to danger. The majority of the hazards to the crew were based on this environment.
The cliffhangers were mostly environmental in nature. The first one had the TARDIS crew threatened by a cat, and the other one led you to believe that the Doctor & Susan were drowned by someone unplugging a stopper in the sink. In fact, watching them interact with the environment was the biggest joy for me in this story. It’s one I hope the modern series does, although it might be perceived as too corny to do with the Eleventh Doctor now.
A few random bits about the TARDIS. This story features the first appearance of a warning klaxon. Later on, this became the Cloister Bell in Logopolis, the Fourth Doctor’s final adventure, but this early on that hadn’t been developed yet. It also was the first time the doors opened in flight. Nowadays it’s a pretty common thing, but back then it was seen as a great danger to the crew. When it did happen, the reaction was inconsistent. This story it shrunk the crew. The next time I recalled it happening was in Troughton’s Enemy of the World where it sucked Salamander out of the TARDIS and into space – almost taking the crew as well.
The larger part of the story was a story about pesticide, and had a handful of characters, that well, felt like they were there just to move objects around for the Doctor and his friends crew to find and use. It wasn’t that strong, and it wasn’t terribly well acted, either. Not a ton to write about there, the real joy for me was the relationship between the time travellers.
When I sat down to watch this story for the Kasterborous review, I hadn’t watched it in years. Memory said I enjoyed it, but given I hadn’t seen it in ages, I couldn’t remember a ton of details. Glad I was given this one to review, I really enjoyed it. When it comes out on DVD later this summer, check it out – a classic, well-produced Hartnell story.