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Thoughts on “Planet of Giants”

I was finally able to get ahold of one of few Hartnell stories I haven’t seen, “Planet of Giants.”  It is the first story of the second season (the ninth overall).It, of course, features William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions are Susan, Barbara, and Ian.

Susan and Ian encounter a gigantic ant.

Susan and Ian encounter a gigantic ant.

The story begins with the TARDIS having problems as it materializes.  At one point, the doors even begin to open and Susan, Barbara, and Ian must force them closed.  The Doctor feels that something is wrong, but he can find no evidence of anything, except that his scanner seems to explode when he tries to turn it on.

The travelers exit the TARDIS and find themselves in a strange world, surrounded by what appears to be concrete.  THey split up, with Barbara and the Doctor going in one direction and Ian and Susan going in the other.  Both groups figure out what has happened when they encounter dead insects of extremely large size (an earthworm for the Doctor and Barbara, ants for Ian and Susan). They are,in fact, on earth (and back to the modern-day, it would seem), but they have been miniaturized.

They have materialized just outside of a lab where a new pesticide is being tested, which accounts for all of the insects they find being dead.  Just as they arrived, there was a confrontation between the investor behind the insecticide and the government scientist working who has to decided if the insecticide will go into production.  The scientist has decided the insecticide is too deadly because it kills all insects, not just the pests. He tells this to the investor, who shoots the man before he can share his findings with the minister. The travelers now have two problems.  They must figure out how to become their old size again and they must find a way to stop the insecticide from being used.

A further problem that arises is that Barbara unwittingly touches a grain with the insecticide on it.  Due to her small size, it begins to affect her, although she tries to hide what has happened from her companions.  This makes it even more imperative that the travelers make it back to the TARDIS and find a way to reverse what has happened to them.

This story is unusual in that it is only three episodes long.  It was recorded as a four-part story, but in the editing room, parts three and four were combined into one.  It is also unusual in that it is a very science oriented episode.  The story focuses on the dangers of killing all insect life and the negative effect the insecticide will have on the planet. The writer of this episode, Louis Marks, said that the inspiration behind this story was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  This episode also gave Ian a chance to show off more of his science knowledge.

Ants seemed to be a big theme in the second season.  The travelers encounter what they think are giant ants in this story, then meet the Zarbi on  “The Web Planet” who are essentially giant ants.  Finally, Ian is almost devoured by ants in “The Crusade.”  Barbara and Ian must’ve grown tired of being menaced by ants.

In terms of character development, this story is right before Susan’s final story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” She is much more adult in this story then she was in some of the previous stories.  She doesn’t get hysterical and is a contributing member of the group.  This being fairly early in Hartnell’s tenure, he is not the one with all the answers, but he does have most of them at this point.  He does, however, manage to figure out how to change the group back to their normal sizes, and he is far more active in this story than in most (the travelers are constantly having to climb objects, although there are often clever cuts when it is the Doctor’s turn to climb). Still it is Ian who figures out how to start the fire that ultimately stops the investor from killing again.

The story gives Barbara an interesting subplot as she tries to hide her weakening condition from her companions.  She continues to push herself physically and doesn’t want anyone to worry about her when they have bigger problems with which to deal (no pun intended). Jacqueline Hill does a great job of portraying both Barbara’s strength and her fear as she feels the effects of the insecticide.

Barbara meets a gigantic fly.

Barbara meets a gigantic fly.

This episode was also very clever in the way it handled the miniaturization.  By having all of the insect life killed by the insecticide, they only needed a few models of insects that didn’t have to move.  The sets are very sparse, with just a few oversized objects to convey where they are and show how small they are.  The travelers never actually interact with the normal sized people, there only direct encounter with another living creature being the cat who watches them for a short time.  It was a great way to convey that the travelers were dealing with enormous objects without having to have big budget special effects.

Overall, in case you hadn’t already figured it out, I quite enjoyed this story.  I found the story to be engaging and clever. Even though it was teaching a bit of ecology, I never felt that it got preachy (like some later episodes did).  I’d love to see the cut footage, but it was discarded.  I’m not sure if it would’ve added to the story though, since it felt to me like the perfect length for the story.  I guess I’ll have to read the novelization to see what I think.

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