Doctor Who: Planet of Giants (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros review the final complete William Hartnell story on DVD
Initially intended to be the first ever story, Planet of Giants sees our intrepid heroes touch down on a world where they are much lower down on the food chain, and everything else of huge proportions. Aside from being on guard against the onslaught of huge domestic animals, the TARDIS crew find themselves against a backdrop of industrial espionage as an new pesticide is about to be tested, and could spell certain doom for them all. Getting out alive from this one might well be a tall order…
Choppy waters were being sailed behind the scenes, as there was a lot of dealing going on during the writing period of Planet of Giants, with various contracts being up for review, and given that Carole Ann Ford was due to leave during the second story of the new run, all of the main cast were now expendable. With Jacqueline Hill and William Russell asking for more money and Hartnell further guarantees, BBC bigwigs Elwyn Jones (Head of Series) and Donald Baverstock (Chief of Series) made sweeping suggestions which would have seen either the two companions replaced with cheaper actors or the show starting afresh with a completely new line-up of thespians! With fears that it would all go tits-up with such drastic changes, Verity Lambert was able to get Hill and Russell their pay-rise and Hartnell his guarantee that the show would run for another six months. Few would agree that to agree to anything else might have been as disastrous as the commissioning of It’s a Royal Knockout.
OK, most reading will have already seen it, but we’ll issue a “spoilers” warning regardless. They have had a bit of a cock-up when coming into land, and they have all been reduced to the size of the average Daily Mail readers‘ penis, and that’s pretty small. When the gang turn inch-high private eyes to find out what happened, not only do the horrors of not an English country garden stand in their way of getting onto the Black Hole at Alton Towers, but there is skulduggery and murder afoot. Forester, an enterprising fellow, wants to get his the new pesticide on the market to halt starvation from blight, but his potentially dangerous chemical is questioned by conscience-driven scientist Farrow, and the business-end of the gun is the only way to keep his mouth shut. Can fellow chemist Smithers put the pieces together and stop Forester in time? Can the TARDIS gang survive the horrors of a giant sink and humungous cat? Will they be able to use a giant phone to alert the two locals at the exchange? Now read on!
Yes, of course they do, otherwise there would have been nothing for Michael Grade to vent his frustration on over not having as much charisma as his uncle. Planet of Giants was famously turned into a three-part story when the final two episodes were cut together for the purposes of tightening the piece, a bold choice made even more surprising for one made comparatively early on in the life of a successful show. During the eighties and nineties, the concept of the “bottle-show” was a permanent fixture in television, where an additional edition was created from existing material to keep it going a little longer at minimal cost, but for a ratings-winner like Doctor Who to do the exact opposite is almost mind-blowing. We are of the opinion that it was the right thing to do at the time, as the show was still at a formative stage, and it needed to keep moving to maintain suspense, although the nixed material certainly gave it greater depth and character.
The deftness of Louis Marks’ script shines when dealing with its secondary characters, all perfectly conforming to the needs of the story, be it adding light relief to a potentially dark tale or hitting the right tone at the correct time. Farrow, Forester and Smithers all play their parts well, providing villainy, skulduggery and an element of the goodness lurking within humanity, but are not allowed to become the main focus. Special mention must go to the The Rowses, those dedicated members of the community who - through splitting duties at the telephone exchange and the local police force - end up saving the day whilst being utterly charming, written as though combining styles of Mike Leigh and Kurosawa, and brought to effervescent life by Rosemary Johnson and Fred Ferris, armed with a chemistry every bit as infectious as DN6. The concept of a miniature odyssey through our own world is one which audiences could latch onto quite easily, if not entirely relate to, and can be looked upon as brilliant. The main cast look almost relieved to finally be having an environment they can directly relate to, rather than the remotest regions of Krispaketan Five or whatever, so their thespian training can be properly utilised, not to mention having excellent sets/props to bounce off of rather than having to rely on their imagination…again. Giant ants, laboratory lab-taps, sinks, phones, anaconda-like earthworms - everything is just perfect in execution, and makes Planet of Giants something rather special.
Refusing to go the pure-adventure route of pure adventure envisioned by CE Webber, Louis Marks decided to give it a topical slant with a central element to the script being the deadly nature of pesticides and the unscrupulous conduct of those around it to get dangerous chemicals through despite valid cause for concern. DN6 is clearly an allegory about DDT, the controversial spray from the sixties, so bad that Joni Mitchell wrote it into her classic song Big Yellow Taxi, and to make kids aware of such things can only help to create a well-balanced, informed individual. Does the possibility of saving millions from starvation mitigate the potential to kill some of those it might help? Does the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? The thought of families debating this after watching Planet of Giants is one which should make Doctor Who fans ecstatic.
The two-tier system of plotting is a perfect example of where Doctor Who really gets it right, especially as the both are given almost as much importance, regardless of one consisting entirely of supporting characters. Contrasting the deadly nature of the mundane world when micro-sized is a stroke of genius, and the double-dealing/espionage strand perfectly counter-balances the overtly fantastique elements. The instance of Farrow being shot is a real jolt, and gets the audience to appropriately dislike Forrester in a way which is a model of economical writing. They know that he’s a baddie, and the DN6 formula he’s trying to get approved will see his personal gain come at the cost of human lives. We noted with amusement that like having Forester pull out what looks like a Berretta follows the pattern of so many sixties British shows, where there was a desperate need to Americanise them, and one of the easiest was to give characters guns, with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) being a prime example.
Although the first two episodes were well-directed by Mervyn Pinfield, the amalgamated final two parts of Planet of Giants saw the first of many assignments for new director Douglas Camfield, and proves his worth with a solid piece of work, going on to become one of the most consistent of those sitting in the big chair. With characters being so small, he puts the correct emphasis on them to prevent the larger elements from being distracting to the more human plight, but allowing enough scope and spectacle to keep it the concept and excellent production design impressive. It’s in this respect that he does a very good job at wringing the dramatics out of the premise, with characters appropriately lamenting their situation and wrestling with the problems they face. Whilst marvelling at the effort which went into building the laboratory set and the huge porcelain basin, other directors might have focused too much on it, but the debut director avoids it becoming a kitchen sink drama in the most literal sense. An impressive debut for sure. Ironically, Camfield’s first story on the show shared similar drastic/shady environmental themes as his final outing, The Seeds of Doom. It’s a shame that after finishing his last story, he re-enacted some of the lyrics of California Dreamin’ and swore an oath to God not to make another one.
There are certain instances where the initial target audience is plainly evident, particularly when certain pieces of dialogue can be easily ridiculed by following them to their logical conclusion, are accidentally let loose. Within close proximity to the body of the late Mr Farrow, Ian poses a question which he should probably given more thought to before asking. "What’s that smell, Doctor?” as you expect the reply to be something like: “Ah, my boy, you’ve never been around a giant when they’ve voided their bowels before…” Needing no imagination is when the gang discover the lifeless body of an oversized insect, Ian noting that it‘s: “…as stiff as a poker. It’s a fantastic size…” This almost predates the Troughton/Hines tradition of the “Look at the size of that, Doctor!” When Forester sneers that he will: “…never allow the word ‘can’t’ to exist”, we are with him on that as it’s disgraceful that such a horrible word has become so prevalent in modern society!
Being aficionados of Edward D Wood Jr, the line: “He’s been shot, murdered…” had us and will have countless other Plan 9 From Outer Space fans yelling: “…and somebody’s responsible” at the screen. Sniggering aside, these instances firmly showcase the gap between adults and kids more than most other stores in the first year, as Planet of Giants features the first contemporary human/human murder in Doctor Who, and the image of Farrow’s frozen expression as our heroes walk past is genuinely startling. Speaking of things being easy to read things into, when Ian & Barbara discover a pile of wheat, covered in “sticky stuff”. It makes you wonder if this was the origins of the Sugar Puffs cross-promotion from Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD. Still, exposure to both substances have serious knock-on effects when it comes to health.
Herein lies one of Bill Hartnell‘s most charismatic performances on the show, aided by a few instances in the script where a more human side of this is evident. At an early time of crisis, Barbara doesn‘t help the situation and raises the ire of The Doctor, causing him to snap at her they way Hartnell probably did to those around him towards the end of his time on the show. When calm is restored, he offers a rare apology to her, sincerely saying: “Oh, my dear Barbara, was I rude to you just now? I always forget the niceties under pressure. Please forgive me.” When confronted by dead insects of a size which might prove deadly to them, the Timelord mourns for it: “The destruction of a life-force is frightful”, nicely reinforcing his respect for all beings. Is this really the same man prepared to bash in the head of one of the tribe in An Unearthly Child? Not 100,000 BC. The first caption said “An Unearthly Child”, as did the cover of the book. So there. As sweet as he can be, there are times where you really have to worry about The Doctor. Not satisfied with starting an inter-tribal war though a pack of matches during caveman times, he seems to derive pleasure from the licking and scorching of flames wherever he goes. He manages to angle starting a fire as part of the grand escape plan in Planet of Giants, where the man is positively gleeful when he’s about to set off an explosion with the equivalent force of a 1000lb bomb; “There’s nothing like a good fire, is there?” he twitters, practically rubbing his crotch with excitement. We have to remember that this is the man who would go on to burn Rome to the ground only a few months later, and we have our suspicions that The Doctor became a renegade when his tendencies for pyromania saw him burn down Borusa’s garden shed…
The accident at the start of the episode must have shaved a few IQ points off of our heroes, as it’s a mystery why they take so long to realise the concept of miniaturisation, given that the TARDIS crew have encountered so many things more complex and bizarre than being smaller than everything else around them. William Russell plays the material as given, as is just as charismatic as ever, but he comes of the worst for not noticing what’s going on around them. The BBC budget clearly didn’t stretch to creating a neon sign to point Ian in the right direction, so they painted up one for Night Scented Stock instead. Even a teacher of his intelligence doesn’t put it all together? If he had seen a giant packet of Gold Block and an appropriately-sized pipe to accompany it, Ian might have pieced it all together a lot sooner.
Speaking of teachers having a thickhead-day, for some odd reason, this is the story where it really became apparent to us that one particular companion was much more of a fox than the plain-Jane generally pigeon-holes as. Jacqueline Hill is often depicted as frumpy, joyless and every bit the stuffy authority figure her character as encapsulated in her character’s bio, but a few well-timed faints and fireman’s lifts later, there can be no doubt that the late Ms Hill had a really nice arse on her. We are well aware that there are certain sensitive souls out there who would rather have all the girls walk around dressed in burlap sacks, but we are only too happy to extol the physical virtues of a woman always playing second-fiddle to either Susan or Vicki. Planet of Giants has the entire TARDIS crew working together as a unified team, and it’s a damn shame that Barbara lets the side down by touching the poison, probably a result of that temporary special-needs field which engulfed then when exposed to the Time Vortex. In spite of such slips, it’s all a welcome relief from the usual pattern which dictates that they will get split up, at least one will get captured and Bill Hartnell will piss off on holiday for a week.
Allowed more time to spend under threatening circumstances with Bill Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford gets time to bond with her onscreen grandfather one last time before heading off for pastures new, and it certainly brought up our opinion of the character because of it. Given how Susan shat a brick when confronted by the corpse of a dead ant the size of a cat, it’s a damned good job she left before The Web Planet, as the thought of her screaming throughout six episodes doesn’t bear thinking about. Ian is quick to spot that there are is a veritable trail of insets which have mysteriously popped their clogs, and we really were hoping that he would point out every one of them as he went along, sounding like the theme to The Pink Panther: “Dead ant…dead ant. Dead ant, dead ant, dead ant, dead ant…dead ant…”. The scale of the problem gets bigger when they discover a huge dead bee, as we all know that their destruction could be the start of a cataclysmic series of ecological events which might signal the end of mankind. Still, as long as it isn’t a Russell T Davies-inspired giant wasp…
Whilst there are those content to write off Planet of Giants as a concept in search of a story, there are few able to deny that it comes complete with one of the most iconic endings to an episode. Our micro-sized adventurers are just beginning to adapt to the huge world around them, only to be confronted by the paralysing sight of a giant cat, the obviously evil nature of felines proportionally increased. While the threat really comes to very little (as did most of the cliff-hangers) it was still a great way to make the mundane something very unsettling, much as the Troughton era did through putting Yeti into the Underground, etc. You have to wonder if writers on Star Trek has seen anything related to it when they came up with the script for the episode Catspaw. It’s a pity that the last two episodes of Planet of Giants were mucked about with, as you would have seen said gatto die from DN6 poisoning, but many folk who despise the four-legged fiends probably feel the same way. To us, the seminal eighties’ 101 Uses of a Dead Cat books weren’t so much an amusing read as an instructional manual…
Certain elements in the story betray that this tale came during the early part of the run, as there are numerous instances where educational content comes to the fore. Whilst not the history lesson it often was, the use of science is perfectly worked into the plot. We get how acoustics operate courtesy of the amplification of voices in the sink, along with the concept of relative size and its relation to sound in an everyday environment. The solution to the main conundrum of Barbara slowly dying is solved by deducing that they can beat the poison by returning her to normal size, leaving the toxin at its original scale, not to mention the gang working out the component parts of the DN6 formula, all using the principled of science to win through. Ian keeps his end through the low-tech but ingenious use of holding up a handkerchief to check for breathing on body of the recently deceased Farrow. Speaking of such corpses, the character of Smithers comes out with a surprising amount of forensic detail for the era, which might not impress those brought up on a diet of CSI: Clacton or whatever, but this was pretty groundbreaking at the time, especially on a family show like Doctor Who.
Putting aside the rather shoddy miniature of the TARDIS, the combination of concept, music and photography combine to create a really nice reveal of the of front lawn, literally expanding the concept space and giving the kids in the audience something to really scramble their minds with. Adults would have twigged the concept long before, but hopefully they kept quiet so as not to spoil it for them. You are left wondering if the TARDIS crew might have picked up on their predicament if they had landed in a rougher area of the UK, rather than a quaint country garden. Imagine it: touching down on the streets of Dartford as something catches The Doctor‘s eye and his razor-sharp mind makes a brilliant deduction: “I have a feeling we’re on the planet Manussa. There are legends of The Mara, a colossal snake-like being of immense power which can destroy entire civilisations. Look here! The Mara has recently undergone its seasonal shedding, as there an entire discarded skin. It must have been torn off during some great battle with the natives, as there is some of the Mara’s venom in the end of…nope, we’ve all been shrunk to micro-size and we’re on Earth. FOR CHRISSAKE - DON’T TOUCH IT!”
Planet of Giants is an involving adventure with a surprisingly piquant environmental thread to the writing and balances out realism with whimsy to good effect. All this is with good use of dramatic music running through it, particularly when disaster is seemingly averted in the TARDIS at the start of tale, Planet of Giants saw the first of many welcome contributions from Dudley Simpson, being one the most reliable contributors in any capacity to the show, and particularly engaging for us this time around as some of his compositions sound like off-cuts from George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It has enough to engage younger audiences on a derring-do basis, and adults will be able to debate the green-ist politics interlaced into the plot. About the only area we could find real fault with was how they really missed a trick when it came to working the audience into a frenzy for the next story: with the Daleks hotter than a rolling dice, you would have thought that they would have given a brief flash of them on the monitor at the end, just to get audiences practically wetting themselves for next Saturday to come.
With a fun tale well told, and some VERY special extras waiting to be discovered, how does the whole thing look and sound? Let’s switch on the Time and Space Visualiser to find out…
When Planet of Giants was released on VHS back in 2002, it was the first story to use the VidFIRE process, but many an eyebrow was raised when it failed to have a simultaneous DVD issue. Time has played into the hands of the fans, as the process seems to have been refined in the last ten years, with things receiving a nice boost from the video edition. Generated from 16mm prints of the three episodes, they look rather nice, with first two coming off a hair better owing to the third being recorded off of a 35mm print as opposed to the original videotapes. The results are rather nice, and a world away from anything seen on UK Gold all those years ago - we’ve all bought them from vendors at collectors marts - and the DVD is certainly a step up from the VHS edition, giving a pleasing experience when watching. The episodes are never going to be anything near the ones where the original tapes survived, but look better than they have any right to, given the BBC’s appalling mistreatment of them. The Restoration Team get to take a bow for a second time with the DVD of Planet of Giants.
The sound is par for the course with the film-based black and white stories from the original run, and all major problems have been either minimised or entirely neutralised as much as the material will allow. Every Hartnell fluff is clearly audible, and each scream from Susan is still enough to make you lob something heavy at the screen, so we’ll let is pass with flying colours.
Audio Commentary: Vision Mixer Clive Doig, Special Sound man Brian Hodgson, Make-up Supervisor Sonia Markham and Floor Assistant David Tilley make up the members of the production crew for this audio commentary, moderated by all-round good egg, Mark Ayres. It's a pity that none of the surviving cast members aren't involved with this commentary, as it would have been nice to hear them talk at length about the problems posed during the production of Planet of Giants. William Russell and Carol Anne Ford are still around and their participation is always most welcome - they obviously had their reasons (namely that their recollections of this story are virtually non-existent) but we'll move on and concentrate on those who ARE on this track.
Clive Doig is best known to us as being the producer of bizarre eighties children's television show, Jigsaw (which featured future Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy as one of the O-Men), but he has now become an important voice amongst the ever-diminishing group of production people from Doctor Who's first decade.
One of the problems faced here is that during the commentary on the first episode, it is admitted that there are almost no sounds from the Radiophonic Workshop, thereby eliminating the principle need for Brian Hodgeson to be there and it is also pointed out by Sonia Markham herself that barring some dirt on faces, there is little in the way of make-up for this story. Whilst these factors may be true, the stories and anecdotes that everyone mentions about their time on Doctor Who in general more than make up for specific recollections about this particular story. Markham gets to point out something that had flitted across the minds of many Doctor Who fans - "the big worry... was always Bill Hartnell's wig. It was the big worry for any close-ups; whether the hair-lace would show, whether it would start coming unstuck" - we're assuming that with that last bit, she was still talking about Hartnell's wig and not the actor himself? Speaking of sixties Doctor Who hair-helmets a-popping, remember the spectacular moment shortly into Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD when dear old Peter Cushing’s wig yawns as he speaks during a close-up?
There are many kind comments about the elaborate sets and oversized props designed by Raymond P Cusick, along with numerous observations about how the lighting really adds to the verisimilitude. Clive Doig and Sonia Markham are both asked by Mark Ayres about William Hartnell and his almost legendary irascible nature and they both mention that there was tremendous pressure put upon him; he was nervous about getting his lines out in the correct order, about hitting his marks and getting stage direction right and all this was made even worse by only having one day to film each episodes and it had to be done almost as-live. Ayres adds a somewhat melancholy, sobering tone when he notes that Hartnell was only 56 at the time Planet of Giants was filmed, a mere five years older than Ayres was during the recording of this audio commentary.
During episode three (it should be pointed out that the audio commentary does NOT extend to the reconstructed episodes), the differences between the directorial styles of Louis Marks and Douglas Camfield are noted, with Camfield's more cinematic take being favoured, especially when it comes to the use of close-ups. All-in-all, this is a pleasant and entertaining commentary - those fans who might be initially disappointed that there are no cast members participating should give it a whirl and they just be be pleasantly surprised by how engaging this one is.
Crisis and The Urge to Live - Reconstructed: As mentioned in the main body of the review, Planet of Giants was originally a four-part story, until Head of Serials at the BBC, Donald Wilson requested that it be compressed into a three-parters. What is presented here is an attempt to show the viewer what the story would have been like in its original four part form. Using footage that was present in the final episode, coupled with newly-recorded dialogue from the original scripts, animation and some clever re-usage of existing footage, this is about as close to viewing the two episodes as originally intended.
It's great to hear William Russell and Carole Ann Ford reprising their roles and Ian and Susan, with both of them sounding a little older, but just as committed to the parts as they were nearly half a century ago, with Russell being particularly good at recreating his role considering he is now in his late eighties and not suffering the same problem that befell Eli Wallach when it came to dubbing some of the missing scenes for the special edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly a number of years back (i.e., sounding most certainly older and struggling to reach the same level of intensity in terms of performance) - both Ms Ford and Mr Russell are STILL Susan and Ian.
The interesting problem facing the producers of this project was that as well as William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill being long-dead, all of the guest cast had also passed away. Of the cast members brought in to voice the parts for those actors who have passed into the great time vortex, the stand-out has to be John Guilor, who gives a performance so exact that you would swear that you were listening to Hartnell himself, but more in him in the featurette below. Katherine Mount does a damn good impersonation of Jacqueline Hill, too, bringing that wonderful combination of well-spoken curiosity and weariness that the late Ms Hill infused into the character. Life-long Doctor Who enthusiast, audio commentary moderator, author of Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf and general loquacious scamp, Toby Hadoke, provides is among those who contribute vocally to this reconstruction and very good he is, too.
The best way of describing to Doctor Who fans the differences between the cut-and-shut Crisis that went out and the reconstructed Crisis and The Urge to Live is that you have the same feeling when you have just watched the abridged official reconstruction of The Ice Warriors episodes two and three and then hearing the complete audio versions. The shortened versions give you the essential story, but all of the little character moments have been lost and what you ended up with was something that seemed rushed and shorn of charm or poignancy. Where episodes three and four suffered was in the interplay between telephone operator Hilda (Rosemary Johnson) and her husband, Bert (Fred Harris), the local police constable; their scenes add much-needed levity and help to ground and unreal situation into reality, by having a husband and wife who bicker like normal people punctuating the oversized adventures of the TARDIS crew. Some plot-holes that might not have been immediately apparent in the amalgamated final part that was originally broadcast are filled in the reconstructed episodes that also create a more rounded story. The overall effect is like watching a director's cut of a film, where sometimes great chunks have been reinstated, or just little bits of dialogue have been put back in and Planet of Giants is all the better for it.
The mix of methods used in recreating the story are ingeniously mixed, with new CGI materials being used sparingly and existing footage being reused with new dialogue dubbed over it. A certain degree of mileage is gained out of the close-up of Forester speaking on the telephone, as his mouth is obscured and came in handy for having him on-screen and delivering a large amount of newly-recorded dialogue.
For those expecting the results to be flawless, they will be disappointed, but as director of these recons, Ian Levine, essentially explains, if you are prepared to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, you'll love them. We certainly did; this is something very special and you have to doff your Astrakhan hat to those involved with this uber-recon.
Rediscovering The Urge to Live: This short featurette looks at the effort that went into bringing you the reconstructed episodes of this story. It may only be eight minutes in length, but the sheer joy that comes from watching it cannot be measured on any equipment known to human science, it has an outline of the project and footage of the surviving cast members in the studio alongside the artists who recreate the speaking roles of those no longer able to participate. It's great to see Carole Ann Ford and William Russell interviewed together, as we suspect it might be the last opportunity for them to appear together on camera - both Ford and Russell are genuinely surprised and delighted at the amount of effort that has gone into recreating episodes three and four of Planet of Giants. It's also nice to see Ian Levine interviewed, as his passion for Doctor Who is undeniable and his contribution toward the preservation of the show's history is invaluable; DVD producer Ed Stradling pops up to explain just why Mr Levine was asked to participate in this project, mentioning that he had previously helmed impressive efforts in recording dialogue for missing material with surviving cast members and replacement voice-artists - one project in particular was not mentioned by name, but any Doctor Who fan worth his or her salt will know precisely which project that would be...
The most jaw-dropping moment comes when John Guilor, who had been brought in to voice the First Doctor opens his mouth in character - it is quite simply, the most astonishing impersonation of William Hartnell we've ever heard. It's pretty easy to ape Hartnell's delivery - just speaking very quickly, mangle the odd word and say "hmm" quite often, but to be able to get every single nuance, right down to the correct amount of sibilance on every 's' sounds is nothing short of breathtaking. Quite simply, it IS Hartnell. You also get to see footage of Ford and Russell, along with Guilor (wearing a football shirt with 'Hartnell 1' on the back) and Katherine Mount, doubling for the late Jacqueline Hill, all sitting around the table reading their lines and it's almost eerie hearing Carol and Russ speaking their lines and then having Hartnell responding to them, not to mention giving invaluable advice as to how Hartnell would deliver lines in certain ways. Aside from the reconstructions of the episodes themselves, this is the standout extra on this disc, as it shows that level of love and dedication that Doctor Who fans have to the show is unmatched in the history of television.
Doctor Who Stories - Suddenly Susan: Seeing as we are now nearing the end of the run of Doctor Who titles on DVD, the availability of archive material obviously diminishes, so in order to make the most of what it available, more off-cuts from the 2003 documentary, The Story of Doctor Who, are being employed; the advantage of this material is that some of it is more candid than the stuff that appeared in the finished show (Fraser Hines talking about Patrick Troughton’s complicated personal life included on The Krotons was pretty eye-opening). What is presented here runs for about quarter of an hour and features actress Carole Ann Ford talking about her time as the mysterious Susan Forman. We have never encountered Ms Ford in the flesh, but there are those who aren’t exactly enamoured of the actress – an old friend of ours (who is also a Doctor Who fan), once ran into her and later referred to her as "the worst human being I ever met"; it’s certainly true that everyone can have off-days, so maybe that’s what happened with that old friend of ours – who knows?
Moving on, what is presented here is a bright and breezy whizz though Ms Ford's personal recollections of her time on Doctor Who, with many amusing anecdotes and observations, opening with a rundown of things that Ford was promised were going to happen with her character but strangely didn't (be tremendously athletic, have a fabulous wardrobe, be extraordinarily intelligent, etc) and eventually moving on to her thoughts on particular stories and her relationship with William Hartnell (it would appear that she was about the only one of her fellow actors who was able to stand up to Hartnell and put him in his place if he offended her). Ford speaks very warmly of Verity Lambert and gives her own opinion on just how tough it must have been for a young female producer to have such a demanding production on her shoulders. Planet of Giants is eventually mentioned, but - as has already been said in this review - she remembers very little of it outside of the super-sized props.
Ford comes across as cheerful and genial in this 2003 interview and it's great fun to sit through; this featurette is punctuated by snatches of the composition by guitar group, John Smith and the Common Men, as heard in An Unearthly Child. This is a fun way to spend fifteen minutes and you will want to watch all of the end credits, as it ends on Ford doing a distinctly dodgy vocalisation of the sounds of the TARDIS - don't say we didn't warn you...
The Lambert Tapes: Producer Verity Lambert was the driving force behind Doctor Who during the early Hartnell years. Though Sydney Newman essentially commissioned the show, it was Lambert (being one of the earliest female producers at the BBC and coupled with her youth - she was in her late twenties when she joined the BBC in 1962) who handled the hands-on production of Doctor Who, developing a reputation for being full of energy and being able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Though Lambert passed away in 2007 at the age of 71, her thoughts on Doctor Who are still around for fans of the show to enjoy and what is presented here is around quarter of an hour of Ms Lambert talking about The Doctor, both in terms of the character and about the actor who played him. It's fairly safe to assume that these are called The Lambert tapes because they come in a fairly unedited form, complete with off-camera questions being asked. It's not as rough as it seems, as images are dropped into the CSO background, along with images appearing on-screen to give the whole thing a little more dynamism.
Verity Lambert has often said that she always viewed the character of The Doctor as being an antiestablishment figure and has said more than once that she only considered Hartnell's portrayal as being the only one to fit into that category and she speaks about this matter in this interview. Lambert also speaks of Hartnell's successors and paints most of them in fairly muted colours, with the only actor (in her eyes) to come close to replicating what she felt Billy brought to the part was Tom Baker - we suspect that the odd bit of editing was required when Ms Lambert ran through the list of subsequent Doctors. Each subject addressed in this featurette has an appropriate chapter card and there are numerous interesting insights into the show's early years, including Lambert mentioning that Sydney Newman hated the theme and the title sequence to Doctor Who, but later sheepishly admitting to Lambert that he was wrong. The documentary ends with Ms Lambert's thought on the return of Doctor Who and even mentions Russell T Davies by name - it's a touching piece that must have filled her with a sense of pride that a television programme from forty years ago was coming back with a safe pair of hands on the wheel.
Though Lambert was a very successful producer after leaving Doctor Who, with Minder being a good example of her talents, the show about a wanderer in space and time will always be the one she is most remembered for and this reasonably candid interview allows you into some of the more candid thoughts of a woman who was not only the mother of Doctor Who, but also something of a trailblazer in terms of women in television.
Production Subtitles: It wouldn't be a Doctor Who DVD release without them, but your indispensable guide to the ins and outs of a Silurian's rectum is presented here for your visual delectation and cerebral digestion.
It's always fascinating to see what dialogue got the chop between script and screen; the missing lines are presented here and offer a little additional texture to the script, including a more detailed explanation as to why the TARDIS doors opened whilst in transit, which resulted in the predicament The Doctor and his companions found themselves in. You also get to find out that when Ian first comes across a giant matchbox, he thinks it's some sort of elaborate advertising stunt. The production subtitles also explain what is quite possibly Planet of Giant's biggest and most baffling plot-hole, that of Ian suddenly being reunited with the others after being accidentally scooped up in a discarded matchbox for a while.
What is impressive about this particular set of production subtitles is that it presents a lot of fascinating information relating to real-life events that are key to the story and really serve to broaden the knowledge of anyone who chooses to view them. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, The Silent Spring (which was strongly opposed to the use of insecticide DDT) is frequently referred to in this info-text and helps to impress upon the reader just how much of an ethical hot topic the potentially catastrophic results of using dubious chemical pesticides on human (or even animal) food crops was at the time.
It is fairly well known that producer Sydney Newman was very taken with idea of reducing the TARDIS crew in size and having an adventure; this is also detailed in the info-text, as it outlines some of the original plans for the story (C.E. Webber's The Giants), along with some of the main set-pieces included for that particular story and also highlights how the two story ideas differed, including mentioning the original character names for Ian and Barbara – Cliff and Lola, in case you didn’t know.
Continuing the trend of finally crediting the uncredited performers and production staff who work on particular Doctor Who stores, the production subtitles - in a nice, and well-researched touch - also credit those who worked on the original four-part story but were squeezed out when the latter episodes were truncated to one. These particular production subtitles were written by Matthew Kilburn and we send him our personal thanks for putting together something that can seem like a thankless job. Good on ya!
Arabic Dialogue: Yes, folks! Included for your edification is the Arabic dub of Planet of Giants. Back in the dim, distant past, it was not uncommon of the Beeb to sell Doctor Who to all sorts of exotic, far-flung places and the main result of this (apart from being an obvious money-spinner for the BBC), was that it resulted in the return of numerous episodes of the show being returned after the BBC had junked their own copies. The most amusing aspect of this alternative soundtrack is that at the start of every episode, when the title of the show appears, an enthusiastic Middle-Eastern voiceover can be heard exclaiming “ Doctor Who!” – that title translates pretty well into Arabic, we must say. All of the dubbed voices of the main cast seem to fit reasonably well, apart from Hartnell, who sounds somewhat younger than he looks - but then again, Hartnell always was younger than he looked in Doctor Who.
Photo Gallery: Though somewhat shorter than the average photo gallery, you are still presented with nearly three and a half minutes' worth of images, with the usual mixture of official stills and behind-the-scenes pictures. Many of the snaps shown here concentrate on the elaborate oversized sets, which helped out in the reconstruction of episodes three and four. As though no tapes of Dudley Simpson's debut score for Planet of Giants no longer exist, those splendid chaps at the Doctor Who Restoration Team have come up with a cool substitute - two pieces of library music recorded by Dudley Simpson ( Once Upon a Summer and Lazy Tropical Waters) play over the images - thanks to the lovely Mark Ayres for this clarification!
Coming Soon Trailer: What is regarded by many as Colin Baker’s finest hour is coming back to DVD in a special edition! Vengeance on Varos sees the introduction of the thoroughly slimy Sil to unsuspecting viewers and also has Doctor Who pre-empting the horrors of modern reality television. Oh, the trailer’s cracking, too!
PDF Materials: Aside from the usual (and most welcome) Radio Times listings, which detail the story events and cast from all three episodes, you also get a letter from a viewer (in verse, no less!) asking where Doctor Who had gone (it was on something of a break), and there is a nice picture of William Hartnell in a classic pose, along with a fairly big article about the return of the show, giving a potted history of Doctor Who up until that point and also giving hints as to what was going to happen when it returned to scare the living shit out of kids across the land. This article also comes complete with several nice pictures from some of the early Hartnell stories.
Rounding out the PDF materials is a nice little addition - some of Ray Cusick's design plans; you can see Mr C's designs for the huge laboratory sink set, the outsize briefcase set and the giant telephone set. There are fascinating sketches and handwritten notes on them all that make you appreciate the amount of work that was put into the production design on this story, not to mention that in terms of extras, they threw in everything including the laboratory sink for this one! Great stuff, guys.
Planet of Giants is a fun Hartnell adventure, with something to keep all ages engaged, not to mention giving parents and kids themes to talk about during and afterwards - this is the essence of Doctor Who, where young minds can be expanded as they are learning things. The entire cast are enjoying their work, to the point where the supporting players are just as prominent and entertaining as the regulars. The sets/props are amazing, it discovered two new important talents behind the scenes and throws some unexpectedly dark elements into the mix. The DVD looks very nice, and the extras are the most lovingly produced yet, taking the time and expense to bring back what was once lost - the reconstructions of episodes three and four are required viewing by absolutely everyone!
If you want an entertaining watch, accompanied by extras which give you an even greater appreciation of the main feature, then nothing else even comes close to the package offered here. Should future Doctor Who DVDs even come close to being this incredible, it will be standing on the shoulders of Planet of Giants.
Recommended without question.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 20th August 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Arabic
Extras: Audio Commentary, Reconstructed Episodes 3 & 4, Rediscovering the Urge to Live, Suddenly Susan, The Lambert Tapes - The Doctor, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitles, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Louis Marks & Douglas Camfield
Cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford
Length: 73 minutes
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