‘The Planet of the Giants’
Written by Louis Marx, directed by Mervyn Pinfield and Douglas Camfield
Transmitted: 31 October – 14 November, 1964
A man is murdered to cover the secrets of a pesticide and its deadly side effects. The TARDIS malfunctions and becomes miniaturized in the middle of the situation. If the dangers of a country garden and common kitchen fail to kill the travelers, the deadly DN6 could spell certain doom for not just them but all of humanity. The Doctor and his friends must use all of their cunning to expose the conspiracy surrounding the pesticide and survive the experience of being shrunken in size.
An unusual tale at the time, Planet of the Giants is a clever story told on two levels; one in which two men endeavor to cover up a murder and forge certification for a deadly pesticide and the other in which our heroes survive a bizarre experience. The two threads meet in the conclusion as the Doctor and friends become instrumental in the exposure of the plot, and also manage to restore themselves to their proper size. Its part Incredible Shrinking Man, part suspenseful eco-thriller.
The story deals with the nefarious dealings of industrialist Farrow and his attempts to force his pesticide DN6 through to the market. When a government representative makes it plain that he intends to squash his plans, Farrow murders him and entraps his business partner Smithers in the act. The murder is witnessed, in a fashion, by the reduced TARDIS crew, who perceive the attack as a cannon explosion. They also encounter a number of indications of the full power of DN6 as they travel through the garden and find it all but lifeless.
The Planet of the Giants has much in common with The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a cautionary tale spotlighting the dangers of DDT. It also has a genesis tracking back to the seminal days of Doctor Who. When Doctor Who was in its earliest stages, the first adventure was to revolve around the time/space travelers being shrunken, after a brief encounter in Totter’s Lane. The craft was to have malfunctioned and placed the crew at the mercy of everyday pests as the struggled to cross through a conventional home. When this was judged as far too costly, the idea was shelved, but it would return a year later.
The story goes that script editor David Whitaker was taken with the idea of shrinking the Doctor and tried to reintroduce the concept several times. The end result from Louis Marks was not just a science fantasy, but also functioned on a much more sophisticated level, displaying the dangers of DN6 visually as the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan fought off insurmountable odds only to be almost done in by a man made threat. The very real danger that was posed by industrialists looking to make a fortune at the expense of the health of the planet and its people is well represented here.
In 1964, the program was on the edge of cancellation or some other drastic action as Carole Ann Ford had decided to leave and the three remaining cast members were making demands. The Beeb was considering the possibility that they were all replaceable, but lucky for us all producer Verity Lambert succeeded in charting the course to a successful second series. What was intended as a four parter was reduced at the last minute to three parts with episodes three and four heavily edited down to one. However, that situation has since been rectified.
Released on DVD this year, The Planet of the Giants received the five-star treatment. Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell were joined by Katherine Mount as Jacqueline Hill and John Guilor who practically raises William Hartnell’s voice from the grave! The missing third episode is recreated using stills, footage from the program and computer generated imagery. It’s very strange, but an audacious attempt to do something new. Directed by Doctor Who enthusiast Ian Levine, it is a very special feature that adds a certain amount of luster to the program.
The Planet of the Giants is often overlooked by fans (including yours truly) which is frankly a crime as it is a smart adventure story with an important message. It’s rare that Doctor Who can be so relevant and entertaining at the same time while also innovative in television techniques and storytelling.
A rare gem, The Planet of the Giants is well worth a second look.