Sunday, June 22, 2014

Planet of Giants - "You don't know anything! All you care about is how much money you can make."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Planet of Giants - Details

Season 2, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #9) | Previous - Next | Index

Ian comes face-to-giant-face with a corpse.
Image via BBC Press Room
This is going to be a short write-up -- as befits a story that was chopped down to a 3-parter to solve some pacing issues. What we get on the screen is actually better than you might expect, but it's an odd story for Doctor Who, one which feels like a case of  "let's make one where they shrink because that's what sci-fi shows and movies do regularly" more than it does a story that fits into a vision for a show that's going to be going strong into into its 51st year.

I expect someone debating whether to check this one is going to wonder if it looks passable (it does), if it's aged well (well-ish), and if it's too silly to enjoy sober (borderline). It's worth a watch. Heck, it's a complete Hartnell era story and it's short enough, at three episodes, it's not going to be slog you need to gear up to endure now matter how intolerant you might be of miniaturization f/x on a small budget. Some of it looks quite lovely. They did a bang-up job on the sink the Doctor and Susan manage to access from an outside drainpipe, for example. The fly is impressive as well. The attempts to project an image behind the actors to suggest scenery work rather less well. And scale, as with virtually every show that's done smaller or bigger than normal things, proves problematic to keep consistent.

The tipping factor, for me in recommending this, is it's a bit deeper than you might expect thematically -- that's the influence of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring --  and has resonances with "Tomb of the Cybermen" that, to my mind, are a better reason to watch than the giant matchbox and the Adventure in the Sink. It's not exactly a deep examination, but it does reflect a concern about the combination of Capitalism and Science operating in tandem without proper ethical consideration. Capitalism has a greed problem, and Science -- even when pursued for noble aims (here to eliminate hunger) -- has a "we just made something that would be really dangerous in the wrong hands" problem. If the risk those two problems pose isn't mitigated by the exercise of morality, the human race risks bringing a lot of suffering down itself.

If this story dealt with that theme on a somewhat more advanced level, it'd be a marvel. As it is, the scientist seems remarkably blinkered for someone otherwise so intelligent, and the businessman even more sociopathic than ... well, actually not that much more so than a Dick Cheney, for example. But, I digress ...

The shortcomings of those cartoon villains could've been overcome if the Doctor and the companions were at the top of their game, but they're really not here. Ian is so oblivious to Barbara's poisoning he's pure buffoon. Barbara's stoic suffering seems unnecessary. Susan is irritating when she's not merely unremarkable. The Doctor is fine, but lumbered with some of the kludgier dialogue, like when he offers an explanation for the TARDIS doors opening unexpectedly: "The space pressure was far too great whilst we were materialising. The strange thing is that we all came out of it unscathed. It's most puzzling. It's a big mystery, my boy." They're not unscathed, they're an inch tall and they just don't know it yet, so this is supposed to be the Doctor recognizing something must be wrong and sowing the seeds for showing us how insightful he is, but he doesn't figure it out when they come across a giant earthworm. He does figure it out all and come with a plan to bring about a resolution. And what a marvelously anarchic plan it is. His excitement in the execution of it is another character trait that will resonate later; it's a bit of pyromania that foreshadows his apparent delight at Rome's burning.

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