The TARDIS doors open while the ship is still in flight by accident. Although they have arrived back on Earth in the 1960s, a time they have been trying to return to since they all met, the travellers soon realise that something is very wrong. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan discover that they have all be reduced in size and the world they are now exploring has dangers at every turn…


Planet of Giants

31ST OCTOBER 1964 - 14TH NOVEMBER 1964









Originally recorded as the penultimate serial of Doctor Who’s first season, Planet of Giants was held over to open the series’ second run, beginning a tradition that would run throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. This premise had been in the pipeline ever since the series’ inception a year earlier, but due to its extensive visual effects requirements, C E Webber’s submission was shelved. Louis Marks ended up reworking Webber’s ‘miniscule’ idea into the three-part ecological murder mystery that eventually aired in the autumn of 1964, and the result is one of my favourite William Hartnell stories. Whether the story’s long incubation contributed to its charm or not I don’t know, but it seems that a year’s hands-on experience producing Doctor Who certainly lent Verity Lambert and her production team the confidence that they needed to tackle such an ambitious project.


For a low-budget serial that aired in the mid-60s, the production values of Planet of Giants are out of this world. Monochrome may be quite forgiving, but even so directors Mervyn Pinfield and Douglas Camfield have managed to pull off some wonderful visual effects here. The clever use of scale models and camera trickery really helps to convey the difference in size between the real world and our miniaturised time travellers, and it doesn’t look cheap and nasty like the chroma-key catastrophes that would later plague many colour Who serials.



Even more important than the visuals though is the story itself. Marks’ first Doctor Who script manages to strike just the right balance between spectacle and education. Ian and Barbara are at their school teacher best, each educating the audience about pesticides as they flee from monstrous moggies and lurk above kitchen sinks. Forester is the first real 20th century villain that the Doctor and his friends have ever come up against - just a man; someone out to make a buck and damn the environment. In a sense, he’s a much more disturbing antagonist than a Dalek or a Voord because he’s closer to home. This element of familiarity is one of Planet of Giants’ greatest strengths, and is something that would become a staple of the series later on, particularly in the mostly-Earthbound Jon Pertwee era as well as in the next serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This story takes everyday things like a man in a suit, an insect, a cat and a plughole and turns them into the stuff of nightmares. Think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but in black and white - and good.


However, Planet of Giants does have one flaw, although it isn’t one that can be blamed on its writer, cast or crew. At the eleventh hour, Donald Wilson, then-head of the BBC’s script department, decided to cut the serial down from four episodes to three. This resulted in the hasty compression of the last two episodes into the aptly-named “Crisis”, which for all its lure doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. Fortunately the serial’s DVD release has taken steps towards filling the gaping chasms in the plot through its innovative reconstruction of the excised material - whilst the disc still presents “Crisis” as it aired, albeit duly cleaned-up, viewers can also elect to watch a fifty-odd minute reconstruction of how Planet of Giants’ final two episodes had originally been envisaged.


Above: The CG cat of the DVD's expanded “Crisis”


“Crisis” and “The Urge to Live” fuse newly-recorded audio and CG animation with existing shots from elsewhere in the story to create the missing scenes. Directed by Ian Levine, the dialogue sees both William Russell and Carole Ann Ford reprise their roles as Ian and Susan respectively, with John Guilor providing an incredibly convincing first Doctor and 2|entertain golden boy Toby Hadoke giving voice to the story’s villain. Katherine Mount isn’t quite as persuasive in her Jacqueline Hill impersonation though, and it has to be said that – particularly if you aren’t used to watching recons – the first few minutes are likely to come as quite a shock to the system. Lip-synch problems are neatly obviated for the most part through the clever recycling of shots that don’t show the actors’ mouths, but when they do present they can be very jarring. The CG animation, as ever, is neither too basic to impress nor so flashy that it sits ill, but it is still immediately apparent to a discerning viewer what material is from the original source and what has been shoe-horned in. That cat is just too damned sleek. However, given that the budget wasn’t there to completely animate the missing material (and should have been spent reanimating bona fide lost episodes even had it been), I really have to take my hat off to all those involved. The drawn-out episodes may not be smooth, but they offer us a welcome glimpse of what might have been, fleshing out some sadly-stunted characters and bridging a few infuriating logical leaps.


Above: John Guilor and Katherine Mount joint the original Doctor Who cast


The DVD also includes a ten-minute featurette, Rediscovering the Urge to Live, which takes a brief look at the making of the reconstruction, as well as the rationale behind it. However, with the two of the serial’s stars; its writer; directors; producer; and entire guest cast now dead, the disc doesn’t include the customary retrospective ‘making of’ documentary, and even the commentary is aberrantly starless. 2|entertain therefore delve once more into the Beeb’s bank of interviews filmed in 2003 for The Story of the Doctor Who, offering us fifteen minutes apiece from Carole Ann Ford and Verity Lambert. The former is presented as Suddenly Susan, and sees the Doctor’s granddaughter discuss each of her televised stories in turn. The latter is entitled The Lambert Tapes – The Doctor, and sees the series’ inaugural producer tackle topics as sundry as ‘The Doctor’; ‘Susan’; ‘Budget’; and ‘Fear’. Documentary veterans will find little that’s new here, but it’s nonetheless nice to have these interviews presented in full, particularly given the dearth of feasible extras for this release.


To this day, Planet of Giants remains one of my favourite first Doctor serials, and its DVD has now proven every bit as innovative as the original production. A step off the beaten track this one may be, but welcomely so.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2012


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.






What’s fascinating about Planet of Giants is how modern it all feels, especially in its opening episode. The serial throws instant mysteries at the audience, with the scanner exploding suddenly screen and the TARDIS doors terrifyingly opening during materialisation. William Hartnell’s urgent performance suggests that both of these events are potentially cataclysmic. However, the big surprise of the story – i.e. that our heroes are only one inch tall – isn’t given away as the TARDIS materialises between crazy paving slabs. Furthermore, how the story cuts between the two sets of regulars explaining the plot gets the idea across in a quickly-cut and interesting way. If a modern episode were to feature any of these elements, I wouldn’t be at all shocked.


What I adore about Planet of Giants is that it brazenly tries to pull off a concept that requires a hundred times the budget and almost - almost - pulls it off. The ambition that Doctor Who’s second season exhibits is rarely matched. Planet of Giants offers the viewer a frightening world of giant earthworms, ants and flies. A world where even the most harmless of insects can turn out to be threat. It’s a joy to see the regulars coming across mundane objects like matchsticks, a briefcase and wheat but blown up to giant proportions. Writer Louis Marks really put some thought into telling his story from one inch high, adding some lovely touches such as a gunshot sounding like an almighty explosion, a corroded drain pipe managing to be a means of escape, and the voices down the other end of a telephone sounding like a dull roar.



More than that, the budget stretching sets make a real effort to sell the crazy idea with a particularly impressive plughole and scientific pad and a not quite so successful, but still visually arresting, blow-up picture of a corpse that Ian walks across in awe. The cliffhanger to the first episode is delightfully odd; the hungry eyes of a cat licking its lips as it eyes up dinner in the shape of our heroes… We certainly wouldn’t see a cliffhanging moment this surreal again until the TARDIS would blow up in space in The Mind Robber. The travellers stumble across all manner of dead insects, all impressively realised. The wasp hitting the ground and dying is a startling moment, and after experiencing so many dead creatures it comes as a real shock as the camera pulls back from Barbara and a fly twitches and buzzes behind her. I would faint too!



The story contains a strong ecological message, years before the lecturing Pertwee era. The horror of a pesticide that kills every life form it comes into contact with is really driven home when Barbara is infected and almost dies as a result. However, these scenes are the weakest of the story as it is blatantly obvious that Barbara has been in contact with DN6 but it takes her friends an age to catch on. Still, you can rely on Jackie Hill to present the gravity of the situation - her rant at Ian when he almost touches her infected handkerchief is terribly effective. What’s more, you have got to love a story that gives the Doctor the chance to save his companions life by making her grow. It’s such an obvious idea that the insecticide would be practically harmless as soon as Barbara had returned to her normal size, but it’s no less clever for it.


Furthermore, there is a feeling of closeness amongst the regulars here that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Gone is the bossy, violent, thoughtless Doctor who was ready to chuck Ian and Barbara out of the TARDIS at the end of the last season, and in steps a quick-witted and thoughtful old goat who genuinely cares for his companions. It’s very sweet when the Doctor appears hurt that he might have insulted Barbara in the first episode. Whilst she still has a few moments of shrillness, Susan approaches this story as a bit of an adventuress rather than a victim, and for once she actually seems to enjoy the madness of their life. Ian has a few moments of doziness as he wonders why Barbara is so upset, but more than makes up for it by his reaction to her decision to foil the plot even at the risk of her life. We would see the two of them get closer and closer throughout this season before they leave together, and Ian is certainly exhibiting more feeling than a friend would here.



It’s odd to think that this is first story besides the pilot to be set in the show’s present, and that the first characters we would meet from the 1960s beyond the two schoolteachers are the rather wooden Forester and Farrow. To be honest, the secondary plot of the production of DN6, Farrow’s murder, and the travellers’ attempts to point the finger and save the wildlife of Britain is secondary to the rather more urgent thrill of the miniscule TARDIS crew. As a thriller, it’s extremely slow-paced with some hilariously dated investigation by the Hilda the telephone operator. Compared to Ian being tossed about in a briefcase, Susan attempting to strike a giant match, the Doctor being drowned in a plug hole, and Barbara coming face to face with a giant fly, it all seems rather humdrum. Fortunately these scenes only intrude a couple of times during each episode so that Marks can concentrate on the fun stuff.


I always thought Planet of Giants was a low-key season opener, but watching it again I found it to be rather attention grabbing and stylish. It’s another intriguing way to tell a Who story in a time when there was no such thing as a formula, another way of stepping sideways in time, and it certainly makes for a highly unusual and highly entertaining adventure.


Copyright © Joe Ford 2010


Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

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