Oh, please don’t keep talking on the twentieth century level. I’m talking about time travel!
Having escaped the French Revolution with his head (if not his fancy hat), the Doctor tries yet again to get Barbara and Ian back to the twentieth century. Given that they’re so close, just a few hundred years off, he attempts to “sidestep” into the 1960s with a simple frequency change on the TARDIS controls. And it works! They’re in England even. Of course, they’re about an inch high when they leave the ship, starting the second season of Doctor Who on the “Planet of Giants” (Story Production Code J), but hey, it’s a start.
Because the TARDIS door opens mysteriously upon materialization—a time Susan declares “the most dangerous moment” in the operation of the TARDIS—the “space pressure” exerted upon the TARDIS at this point shrinks the Doctor and his three companions, a fact they finally realize when they confront giant ants and earthworms and matchboxes.
The travellers split up upon arrival, with Barbara and the Doctor going one way and Ian and Susan the other. This particular grouping allows both Susan and the Doctor independently to come to the realization that they have landed on Earth in a shrunken form.
Indeed, this story presents Susan as a canny and calm time traveller, piecing together clues about their predicament, showing knowledge of TARDIS operations, clambering up corroded drain pipes, striking oversized matches, and even reminiscing with her grandfather about that time they suffered through a World War I zeppelin air raid together.
Until, of course, she screams and screams when she sees the dead giant ant and the not-dead giant cat. In her defense, it is a very giant cat.
All the dead insects (plus a dead human) point to foul play, and here the story goes in a new direction for the series: the Doctor investigates rather than running back to the TARDIS. Once they have been re-united (albeit inside a sink in a laboratory), our intrepid infinitesimals come to the realization that a very powerful insecticide has been unleashed in the area, a poison confirmed to be exceptionally long lasting as soon as the Doctor, who reveals himself to be well versed in organic chemistry, takes a look at the formula on a giant notepad.
The final episode of this three part story revolves around their attempts to summon police to the laboratory, which they do, though perhaps the lion’s share of the credit belongs to a suspicious switchboard operator who notifies the local constable after the evil industrialist who wants to mass produce the insecticide tries to pass himself off as a government scientist in a phone call. Don’t mess with the switchboard operator . . .
Still, the Doctor has finally taken a stand and didn’t return to the TARDIS as soon as all the travellers were accounted for. All well and good, except for the minor matter of Barbara slowly dying from contact with the insecticide. The one time the Doctor probably should run back to the TARDIS, they all decide to stay and fight, the ailing Barbara included. The thought process behind this decision is not elaborated upon, perhaps because the story was originally a four part story, cut to three for pacing reasons per Howe and Walker’s Doctor Who: The Television Companion.
This decision to intervene marks a signal change regardless of its internal logic. The Doctor is willing to act out of principle rather than expediency, a change in approach that opens up many more story possibilities than the quickly aging “Dude, where’s my TARDIS?” narratives from the first season. When, where, and how the Doctor intervenes will, in stories to come, begin to define just who the Doctor really is.
Once more, the word “companion” absents itself from the dialogue, understandable given that the four travellers speak only to each other in this story. Much of the dialogue is superfluous anyway—”Planet of Giants” is a visual episode, and the scenes with the travellers with oversized props work quite effectively even as the superimposed shots of the actors in front of photographs lack depth and life. In particular, Ian bouncing around the inside of a matchbox that has been picked up works delightfully. This story has a simple “grab” for the audience and provides a nice introduction to season two.
Not that the BBC needed to worry about keeping its audience for the next story. It’s all about the Daleks, after all . . .
(Screengrabs courtesy of Père Ubu via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.)
(Previous Episode: The Reign of Terror)
(Next Episode: The Dalek Invasion of Earth)
Post 9 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project