Monday, 3 September 2012


Little heroics from the original Doctor Who (William Hartnell) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) in the new DVD  release: PLANET OF GIANTS. Images: BBC.


Starring William Hartnell

Written by Louis Marks
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield and Douglas Camfield


Reviewed by Scott Weller

A corrupt businessman and a misled scientist involved in murder, linked to the creation of a powerful new and potentially life extinguishing insecticide - DN6, must be stopped by a now miniaturised DOCTOR WHO in the form of his original and series defining first incarnation- the stern but playful figure of William Hartnell- alongside his trusted “family” of companions, all of whom are trapped in a universe of small wonders made terrifyingly large in the latest Earthbound adventure from the shows very early monochrome era: PLANET OF GIANTS, available on DVD from BBC CONSUMER PRODUCTS.

Writer Louis Marks, a friend to the series who would contribute several further inventive tales in its colour years, concocts an intriguing story concept and an intelligent script which still retains a potent sense of relevancy in today's continuing industrialised world, though realized in a way that, by today's production standards, may be considered a little slow (interestingly, even at the time it was made, BBC higher ups noticed this factor about the production and demanded that its original third and fourth episodes be truncated into a tighter and ultimately more effective finale). Generally, though, and to its credit, PLANET typifies the kind of clever and memorable plot fusing- here, the pesticide chemical threat linked to the always novel and enjoyable concept of miniaturisation- recognized and enjoyed by Classic WHO fans over the years. In fact, in another time and place the ecological dangers showcased in the story might have been right up the street of behind the scenes duo Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks when conjuring up the seventies era of the show with the flamboyant Jon Pertwee, and the notable ecological phase his Time Lord era went through under their helmsman ship.

With its big bearing title, the all-important visuals for this story remain the most fondly remembered element of the tale. Overall, despite a limited production budget and a few annoying talky moments that refer to important scenes that have to occur off-screen, most of the big small world is impressive, brought to directorial life by directors Mervyn Pinfield and skilled rising WHO star Douglas Camfield, alongside some ingenious production design and sleight of hand trickery from Raymond P. Cusick, away from his iconic duties as the visual, if not fully credited, creator of the Daleks, including excellent photo blow-ups, sets and props like a briefcase, sink hole, and an impressive fly: all part and parcel of the miniaturised environs that the Doctor and his companions are trapped in. There’s also some basic but efficient optical tricks where even the standard domesticated cat gets to shows its dominant predatory roots.

Up and down the plughole for the Doctor and Susan.

No longer the crotchety, aggressive and even prepared to kill alien figure of the series earliest episodes, big-wigged Hartnell’s interpretation of the Time Lord by Season Two, though still commanding, shows him as a more age-defying, sometimes bumbling mad professor type with a zest for knowledge and exploration. He’s now a much more accessible figure for young children to follow and admire, clearly enjoying his camaraderie and friendship with his fellow actors as his on-screen travelling companions through time and inner, and outer, space. In this journey he has fine support from redoubtable English Secondary School (when that term actually meant something!) teachers Ian Chesterton (or is that Chesterman, Cheeseman, etc.…Hartnell’s Doctor either deliberately or accidentally never got it right. Make your pick with each story!) and Barbara Wright, played with charm by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, plus the squeaky, very early sixties teeny-bop enthusiasm of his Grand-daughter, as personified by cute Carole Ann Ford.

Once considered as the launch story for the entire series back in 1963 (before the Tribe of Gum and their quest for fire eventually came along to replace it), PLANET OF GIANTS proves itself as a fun novelty for early WHO, eventually finding its rightful place as a quirky opening to its second confident year instead, and a fine lead-in to the next Earthbound adventure at a time when the series was no longer threatened with extermination by then snooty BBC executives, thanks to the arrival of Terry Nation’s Daleks, who would do their own kind of on-screen exterminating capable of sending the series to the top of the TV ratings charts of the time, and about to do it all over again with their second ambitious appearance: THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH!

Looking into the face of death...

Bringing these classic episodes to DVD has been no mean feat for the dedicated and still truly unsung heroes of the Restoration Team. Their VidFire transfer for PLANET is another consistent and notable example of their work, with Episode Two being a particular stand out quality-wise. On the extras side, with so few of the cast and crew still alive to talk about the making of this particular story, it’s left to the production notes and interesting audio commentary from a team of seasoned classic B/W WHO era veterans (including key sound designer Brian Hodgson, Make-up Supervisor Sonia Markham and Vision Mixer Clive Doig) to fill in for its absence.

Small world no longer for our TARDIS team...

Making this release a special edition is the behind the scenes teams ambitious recreation of the story’s original third and fourth episodes (the last part titled The Urge to Live), brought to life by dedicated DVD range documentary producer Ed Stradling and directed by WHO super-fan Ian Levine, using re-cut existing footage, some occasional CGI and new voice recordings from surviving companions (Carole Ann Ford and William Russell once more playing Susan and Ian), as well as other actors standing in for the cast (including a notable John Guilor mimicking Hartnell). It’s an interesting oddity that’s good for completeism, but that’s about it, really. The original truncated episode still works a lot better-tighter and more focused- and that historical decision to lose the last episode remains the right one in my book. An interesting little featurette about the restoration teams work- Rediscovering ‘The Urge to Live’ - is also included.

Susan and Ian (William Russell) encounter a now giant ant!

Of the Hartnell period in general, there’s a detailed and informative talk with the shows first and innovative late producer, Verity Lambert, taken from the BBC’s 2003 made THE STORY OF DOCTOR WHO documentary. Sections of an interview from that same programme, linked to First Doctor era companion Carole Ann Ford, are also present in Doctor Who Stories: Suddenly Susan, where she recalls how her character was toned down from its original conception, much to her chagrin, and how the production team ultimately made Susan a less interesting, if more accessible, role for children’s viewers.

Finally, there’s a brief photo gallery (mostly on the episodes sets and props - a real shame that no on-set colour photos were taken...), Radio Times clippings and design blueprint PDFs, and a very good Coming Soon trailer that sends us back into colour with the equally colourful persona and costume of Sixth Doctor incumbent Colin Baker, for his upcoming special edition of the prison planet nightmare drama, VENGEANCE ON VAROS.

So, all-in-all, an interesting and compact little (excuse the pun) tale that’s worth adding to your collection, as well as completing the surviving full stories in existence run of stories from the Hartnell era on DVD. Sorry Irwin Allen and your colourful and glossy LAND OF THE GIANTS series, DOCTOR WHO beat you to it by five years!

KOOL TV overall rating (story and extras): 3.5 out of 5

Get PLANET OF GIANTS here: Doctor Who - Planet of Giants [DVD] [1964]: William Hartnell: Film & TV

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