Now available on DVD is the second season premiere of the classic Doctor Who, originally airing in the fall of 1964. Entitled Planet of Giants, the story finds the Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), and Ian (William Russell) finally making it back to 1960s Earth. There’s just one caveat: they’ve all been shrunk to only 1″ tall.
Yes, Planet of Giants is the inspiration for several stories that came after it in film culture, including the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Our heroes encounter giant bugs and have trouble even getting around. Short distances become long journeys. They’re even too small to make themselves heard by normal sized humans.
Of course, Planet of the Giants is not just about how the Doctor and his companions get around while being tiny. There is a murder that must be uncovered, as well. A man named Farrow (Frank Crawshaw) has invented a very deadly insect spray. Too deadly, it turns out (is there such a thing?). When Farrow tries to cancel the project, he is killed by Forester (Alan Tilvern, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), a guy who stands to profit greatly from the poison.
There isn’t much the Doctor and his friends can do in their current state to stop Forester, or expose his heinous acts. Luckily, they aren’t alone in their suspicions. A telephone operator named Hilda (Rosemary Johnson) notices something funny going on, and tells her cop husband, Bert (Fred Ferris). Forester’s assistant, Smithers (Reginald Barratt) also grows wary of his boss.
On a side note, might this Smithers be the inspiration for the sidekick to evil boss Mr. Burns on The Simpsons?
Planet of the Giants does show its lack of budget or special effects technology more than many Doctor Who serials, having to rely heavily on visual tricks for its premise. The story is definitely ambitious for the resources of the time, and while it might have been slightly better made in a later era, Who should be applauded for taking on such a task.
Most of the writing is very well done, as usual. There is only one thing that bugs me, and that is how can someone be healed from an illness just by growing in size? Is the TARDIS technology really so good that it can enlarge people, but keep microscopic things inside the body tiny?
While presented as three episodes on television, Planet of the Giants was originally written and filmed in four parts. Much of what was cut were scenes for Hilda and Bert. Unfortunately, someone at the studio didn’t like the lack of focus on the show’s leads during that time, and so ordered episodes three and four to be edited down to a single half hour combined. The lack of insight into supporting character development is regrettable. This DVD attempts to correct that injustice, offering both episodes in full, recreated using new animation and dialogue. Eight minutes of a look behind the scenes at this process is included. For that alone, this DVD set is well worth fans’ time.
There are also a lot of other features. The expected audio commentary is this time handled by Clive Doig, a vision mixer, Sonia Markham, make-up supervisor, David Tilley, floor assistant, and Brian Hodgson, special sounds creator. The discussion is moderated by Mark Ayres. There are also the typical photo gallery and PDF materials.
The set includes two interviews. One shows Carole Ann Ford in 2003 making a Doctor Who documentary. The other is Verity Lambert, from the same documentary. These aren’t really fresh, but they are nice to have included if one hasn’t seen them before.
Interestingly, there is also an Arabic audio option.
Despite Planet of Giants being made in the mid-’60s, the picture and sound has been restored pretty well for the digital era. It’s far from perfect, of course, but it’s better than many black and white releases from the same time frame. Taking into account the BBC’s lack of preservation efforts in that decade, it’s really remarkable that we get a quality this good.
Check out Doctor Who Planet of Giants, available now.