The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are shrunk to an inch in height due to a malfunction in the TARDIS. Now they must try and get back to the TARDIS while avoiding all manner of insects and animals.
A word of advice for anyone new to Classic Who; if you are watching the stories out of order, never leave the clunkers for the end of the run. I speak from personal experience on this as, after collecting the VHS and DVD’s for over 25 years, “Planet Of Giants” was one of three stories that I had never seen until it’s DVD release (the other two being “The Reign Of Terror” and “The Sensorites”). Sadly, it didn’t end my run of stories with a bang, more of a limp towards the finish line.
The TARDIS malfunctions, causing the doors to open while mid-landing and the scanner to break. While exploring the new world they have landed in, it dawns on The Doctor and company that they are in fact back on Earth, but they’ve been shrunk to an inch in height. Avoiding the dangers of insects and cats gives the TARDIS crew enough to worry about, but then they stumble upon the murder of a scientist named Farrow. While they explore his lab in their miniature form, Barbara ends up being poisoned by DN6, an insecticide that is powerful enough to not only kill insects but all animals if exposed to a sufficient quantity. The crew now have to not only warn the authorities of this danger but also get back to the TARDIS to find a cure before Barbara pegs it. But what of Farrow’s murderer, Forester? His plans are to make sure that DN6 passes at any cost, having murdered Farrow and making sure that Smithers does not change his mind about DN6. With the interference of the TARDIS crew and a telephone, the authorities eventually catch Forester and Smithers and the crew manage to escape back to the TARDIS and restore themselves to normal size.
Sounds like an interesting story on paper, right? But the problem is that, in reality, “Planet Of Giants” just isn’t that interesting. Now before I get lynched by a super team-up between the Hartnell fans and the Adric fanboys who I’ve so frequently angered, allow me to explain why the story isn’t interesting. The idea of the TARDIS and its crew shrinking to an inch in height was not a new one. C.E. Webber wrote a story that was intended to be the very first story of Doctor Who and it featured the crew being shrunk to 1/16th of their size by way of a micro reducer on-board the TARDIS. They would then be left to explore the world in a reduced size. This idea was canned and we were left with “An Unearthly Child” as our opening introduction to The Doctor. The idea would be toyed with again though, with Robert Gould asked to come up with a shrunken TARDIS crew story. Again, the idea was dropped. By the time we got a story about the TARDIS crew being shrunk it was in a story by Louis Marks, with his version having the crew shrunk via a fault on the TARDIS and therefore a new means of peril added to the original idea, with the added murder of the scientist as the secondary plot.
It’s all this extra bulk in Marks’ story that makes “Planet Of Giants” seem far too long, even though it’s actually only three episodes. It had been intended to be a four part story until Donald Wilson, then BBC Head of Serials, felt it did not work as a four parter and requested it be edited down to a three part story. Even after this change, he felt that “Planet Of Giants” wasn’t a strong enough story to open the second season of the show and had wanted “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” to be used as the opener instead. Wilson’s issue with “Planet Of Giants” was likely the same as mine; neither the main story or the sub plot is gripping enough to keep your attention. Both story lines are kept apart from each other except for the moment with the phone and makeshift bomb. Our heroes do not really interact with the secondary storyline; all they really do is cause the policeman to come to the house due to the suspicions of his wife over the telephone being left off the hook.
The story is lacking in anything that captures the viewers imagination. This is no fault of the TARDIS crew, who by now all four of them have got to a point where not only do they know how their characters work with each other, they are also familiar enough to everyone at home in how they have grown over the past season. But they alone cannot carry what little story there is here. When it comes to the additional cast, to be honest with you, the best one of them is the cat at the end of episode one. Alan Tilvern (Forester), Frank Crashaw (Farrow) and Reginald Barratt (Smithers) are the principle three actors we see in this story, but none of them carries enough gravitas to colour me interested in the storyline of their characters. And considering how the TARDIS crew storyline isn’t exactly gripping, that doesn’t leave “Planet Of Giants” with much to recommend it. It’s a hard slog to watch. The complete lack of interaction between the two plots also reduces the peril, especially when compared with such series as Land Of The Giants.
In reality you could cut down “Planet Of Giants” into a two part story and remove the Forester/Smithers/Farrow sub plot altogether. By having just a scientist’s lab with chemicals that would normally be safe to people of normal size, yet deadly to our shrunken heroes, the element of suspense can still be achieved. Perhaps with the inclusion of just one full sized person, whose only role would be that of allowing our heroes to be placed in danger in the first place or of studying our pint-sized TARDIS crew, this story could have been much more of an enjoyable experience.
“Planet Of Giants” has some interesting ideas but they are, sadly, not enough to carry the story for the full three episodes. This results in it feeling longer than some of the six part stories that were in the previous season. As it stands, it’s a poor opening for Classic Who’s second season. A lacklustre 4/10.
Written and edited by Alexander James Wilkinson