Doctor Who
Planet of Giants

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Video
BBCV 7263
Certificate: U
Available now

When the TARDIS doors accidentally open at the critical moment of materialisation, the crew are reduced to minuscule size. Innocuous creatures and objects, such as a domestic cat, a kitchen sink - and a potent new pesticide called DN6 - become deadly threats...

When Doctor Who was originally conceived, the intention was to tell three distinct kinds of story. Historical stories would send the TARDIS crew back in time to teach viewers about human history. Futuristic stories would send them forward in time to analyse scientific wonders. The third type of story was the least well defined - these would send the crew "sideways" into "other dimensions". The lack of clarity in this definition meant that this type of story was dropped from the show's guidelines soon after this dimension-related serial was produced (although The Celestial Toymaker, The Mind Robber, Inferno and Enlightenment are all strong contenders for the category).

Given the gimmick of the time-travellers being reduced to the height of an inch, the story's setting needed to be relatively straightforward. Hence the TARDIS materialises in contemporary England for the first time since the series began almost a year earlier. The basic plot concerns a corrupt businessman (played by Alan Tilvern) who resorts to murder in order to silence a damning government report about a devastating pesticide he plans to market. The ecological message that pervades Louis Marks' script is even evident in the villain's name: Forester.

This relatively mundane situation would not normally pose much of a challenge to the TARDIS crew, but at one inch in height even a walk up a garden path becomes a major hike, and on the way they are menaced by a number of "giant" creatures. Barring a few optical effects that lack depth and realism, the scaled-up sets and props - designed by Raymond Cusick - are truly magnificent, especially the fly that is encountered by Ian and Barbara.

The last two episodes of what began life as a four-part story were infamously edited down to one at the behest of producer Verity Lambert, thereby reducing this serial to three episodes. However, the third part doesn't seem particularly rushed. In fact, the only evidence of editing is the apparent jump in the passage of time for the TARDIS crew about halfway through the episode.

Aside from that, the only factor that might impede your enjoyment (or possibly heighten it!) is the performance of Frank Crawshaw as the government minister Farrow. His teeth whistle whenever he pronounces "S" sounds, which is unfortunate given the number of times he has to say "DN6"!

The BBC's restoration team have made a lovely job of cleaning up the old telecine prints of these episodes. By means of a new computerised process, they have even managed to restore the fluidity of movement and impression of depth of the original videotape recordings, something that had been diminished by the telecine transfer. It's a subtle difference, yet it somehow brings the first two episodes "to life". The process has not been applied to the final episode, on the grounds that this instalment was originally broadcast from telecine anyway (hmm... I'm not convinced about the validity of that argument).

This is an unusual story for sure, but also one of the best Hartnell adventures available on video.

Richard McGinlay

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