When the Docbacks first started, I mentioned that we’d occasionally revisit episodes I’ve already written about. The thought was that some of the stories I’d be covering would eventually be reissued - be they newly restored iterations, or as part of a Special Edition DVD, etc. This has already happened once - with The Sensorites (Hartnell, Story #7). In that case, my initial review of The Sensorites was via a decidedly inadequate DVD rip - so we touched base with the title once more when its very nicely restored DVD was finally issued many months later. And now the same dynamic has unfolded again with Planet of Giants, originally transmitted October/November 1964.
The recently issued Planet of Giants DVD (available HERE in the US and HERE in the UK) offers the amazing restoration one would expect from BBC’s super-fantabulous team - it’s an extremely safe bet that this episode has never looked, or sounded, as good as it does here. As such, I’m going to jump up on my soapbox yet again and revisit a notion I touched on in my original review (re-printed below).
In genertal, I am a proponent of well-considered, affectionately approached ‘Special Editions’ which offer modernized visual effects (a la the wonderful Day of the Daleks - Pertwee, Story #60)...presuming the original version is fully cleaned up and remains available as well...but I do think this approach should be used sparingly and strategically. Based on the work evidenced in Day of the Daleks, I’d say one strong contender for such enhancement and embiggening would be The Keys of Marinus (Hartnell, Story #5). Another would certainly be Planet of Giants.
While we may never see a Planet of Giants sporting such technical tweaking, beholding this story with its newly bestowed level of visual robustness practically begs for such an updating to take place. What the show makers have already achieved here on an astonishingly small budget - and with heinously inadequate time and resources - is often rather breathtaking.
Conjuring the same work, augmented and improved with modern technology, is a compelling, almost painfully desirable prospect. Although Planet has not been (and likely won’t be - if I had to guess) spiffed up with new effects work, we do get something equally compelling here instead. This story was originally conceived and shot as four episodes - but The Powers That Be demanded its compression into three installments.
A Special Features option on this new DVD offers a meticulous reconstruction of those final two episodes as originally conceived...providing a sense of how this story might’ve played in a non abbreviated form. This is done by using a large amount of repurposed/existing footage, a smidgen of CG material, and some new audio (performers were called in to imitate no longer available actors, William Russell and Carol Ann Ford re-recorded lost dialogue - reprising their Ian and Susan roles, etc.)
The result? There are times when the effort is unintentionally comical (dubbing which doesn’t come remotely close to matching the mouth movements on-screen, a conspicuously concentrated effort to avoid showing speaking actors for the same reason ,etc.). HOWEVER, on more than a few occasions, the team successfully blurs the lines between the episode as broadcast and this re-constructed form. In one or two sequences, it’s difficult to know where the ‘transmitted’ version stopped and the ‘recon’ version began (I made a point of guessing about this during two specific scenes, and was wrong in both instances). Despite its overall unevenness, successfully perpetuating such trickery is no small accomplishment - and the recon team deserves a big Geekly hug for not only attempting such an undertaking, but pulling it off in a way that...,while admittedly imperfect...is enjoyable, not embarrassing, and even agreeably confounding. This is a kind of magic unto itself.
When all is said and done, the added material often slows down a story whose pacing was already challenged to begin with, and doesn’t do a great deal to broaden the scope of the tale past resonance which already existed. Except in one case...
Planet’s decidedly Green Agenda is amped up a bit in the reconstruction, evidenced by an expanded sequence featuring the Doctor’s steadfast determination and stop the spread of the pesticide which is threatening our heroes, and the environment at large. This sense of a larger ecosystem being threatened adds considerable breadth to the crisis at hand. The pesticide threat becomes a bigger, more obviously global consideration (whereas the abbreviated version was a bit more vague about the substance’s potential, large-scale threat), and represents the most unfortunate and damaging of the trims made when the story went from four eps to three. It’s nice to see this material back in play here, as these moments in particular help the audience find better footing with why they should care about what’s happening on screen. Especially in light of these tweaks, Planet emerges as a story which would still feel highly relevant today.
With so much time and effort and affection being lavished on Planet of Giants, the answer to one fateful question still remains hazy at best. HOW did your heroes shrink, and HOW do they return to normal size again? Pondering such matters about a show in which normal science is regularly thrown out the window is probably an irrelevant waste of time - but it’s a quandary which at least has to be noted.
In the end, however, why our heroes shrink doesn’t really matter as much as the journey they experience while they’re small. While Planet of Giants is sometimes a bit laborious for its own good, it’s a lot of fun when all is said and done. And, in the end, that makes it bigger than a great many shows on any number of series.
Episode 3 & 4 Reconstruction (52:38)
Rediscovering The Urge to Live (8:29)
Insight into the above-mentioned reconstruction from...
-- Ian Levine (director)
-- William Russell (companion Ian Chesterton)
-- Carole Ann Ford (companion/Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman)
-- Ed Sradling (DVD Feature Producer)
-- Toby Hadoke (Forester in reconstruction material)
-- John Guilor (the Doctor in reconstruction material)
-- Paul Johns (Smithers in reconstruction material)
Explains key impetuses for this reconstruction.
1) A fascination with the story on the whole, given that a variation of it was originally intended to represent DOCTOR WHO’s first-ever episode (instead of An Unearthly Child - Hartnell, Story #1. Apparently, in the originally conceived series opener version, the TARDIS would’ve materialized shrunken in a schoolyard)...
...and 2) an inordinate number of the story’s original makers have since passed away, leaving the DVD Extras team with precious few interviewees. Thus, this restoration takes the place of a standard ‘Making of...’
Suddenly Susan (15:19)
In a 2003 interview, Carole Ann Ford discusses her time as Susan Foreman - companion and ‘granddaughter’ to William Hartnell’s first Doctor.
“Unfortunately, my part was toned down a hell of a lot because, originally, she was going to be tremendously athletic. You know, sort of a la AVENGERS. And, at the time, I was a dancer and a acrobat and I could have done all these things really very well indeed. That didn’t happen. And she was going to be very stylistic. She was going to have an amazing wardrobe, and that didn’t happen. She was going to be extraordinarily intelligent and have telepathic communication, at least with her grandfather and possibly with some of the aliens. Well, that only happened in one story, the Sensorite story.”
-- an assessment of her experiences with William Hartnell...
-- talks about the standard prep process for shooting an episode...
-- discusses producer Verity Lambert...
-- ...dealing with fame
-- ...Marco Polo (Hartnell, Story # 4) (her favorite lost episode)
-- being freaked out by the disembodied brains-in-a-case in The Keys of Marinus (Hartnell, Story #5)
-- Planet of the Giants
-- she speaks of leaving the role behind due to under-development, and the departure of her character.
The Lambert Tapes (14:01)
A 2003 interview in which Lambert...
“I wanted the Doctor to have two sides to his personality - or more if possible. But mainly to be able to be authoritative, but at the same time kindly, also unpredictable and perhaps uncontrolled in certain ways. I suppose, in a way, the Doctor was almost a grown-up child...”
-- discusses Susan (addresses some of the concerns mentioned above)...
-- discusses budget (£2000 a half hour - for actors, effects, etc)...
-- addresses criticism that the show was too scary for kids...
-- talks of conceiving the show’s iconic theme and developing the visuals which accompanied it...
-- assesses DOCTOR WHO after her involvement...
Photo Gallery (3:23)
Coming Soon (1:10)
A trailer for Vengeance on Varos (C. Baker, Story #138) - released as a restored DVD concurrently with Planet.
-- Radio Times Listings
-- Prop Design Plans
HERE'S MY ORIGINAL PLANET OF GIANTS WRITE-UP FROM 11 NOVEMBER, 2011
"PLANET OF GIANTS"
"Just forget how absurd things are..."
- Ian Chesterton - "Dangerous Journey" - "PLANET OF GIANTS" PART 2
The TARDIS' standard de-materialization goes dangerously wrong when the vessel's doors open during the process. A subsequent "overloading of the scanner circuits" further implies that something is very wrong with the ship, although The Doctor remains cagey about what exactly happened and why. Mysteries are further compounded when exploration outside of the TARDIS reveals a world of giant worms and oversized ants - all dead. A ginormous matchstick and matchbox lead to a grim and inescapable conclusion: The Doctor and companions Ian (William Russell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) are actually undersized visitors to a normal Earth, where our leads become threatened by plans of a man named Forester (Alan Tilvern). He wants to generate a powerful and dangerous insecticide called DN6 - an environmentally dubious construct whose effects now imperil Barbara...
"Planet of Giants" is a fun but ultimately frothy tale which is filled with clever and smart elements throughout. While contributing little to overrall DOCTOR WHO lore, the story takes on greater resonance when approaching it from a technical perspective. For better or worse, "Planet of Giants" feels like the story in which DOCTOR WHO's "game" was upped considerably. The effects work here is ambitious and, while admittedly wobbly, much of it is more complex than anything we'd seen on the show thus far.
A few music cues here are noticeably embiggened in size and are bold in application - previous DWs felt humble and sparse in this regard. While never close to attaining the lofty levels current WHO composer Murray Gold would eventually reach, one or two passages here offer the first subtle hints at how grand a DW score could someday become. There's also one moment of exceptionally nice editing in "Planet of Giants"- it's somewhat hard to explain in writing but, essentially, it involves our heroes hearing a murder without knowing it (due to sound differentials brought about by their miniaturization).
Indeed, the script's treatment of the mechanics of miniaturization - and how difficult it would be for miniaturized beings to impact our "real" (bigger to them) world - is, on the whole, more well-considered than one would often find in shrinking tales of this ilk. Affecting changes to real-world objects is a daunting proposition at best for our travelers, and issues like the perception of sound play and its relative-to-size wavelengths plays a critical role in the story's overall plot. For example, our tiny people can not be heard by the considerably larger "real" world because their voices are too diminutive, and normal world sounds are dramatically accentuated when heard by our leads. I.e. a gunshot sounds like an "ancient cannon," doors closing like thunder, etc.
"PoG" can be a tad plodding at times, but it's never the atomic stinkbomb we got with "The Sensorites," or as energetically misguided as "The Reign of Terror" which followed it (both preceded this).
Ironically, the episode's most bewildering shortcoming directly pertains to the story's chief gag. Scripter Louis Marks (who would later write the tremendsouly entertaining "Day of the Daleks" for DW) addresses the ins and outs of shrinkification admirably and often carefully, but seems satisfied to rely on a Deus ex machina for both his tale's causative crisis (how the TARDIS and it's crew are shrunk to begin with) as well as how they are eventually re-enlarged. There's little or no explanation for either, not even a desperate stab in the dark. Which is agreeably fanciful to be sure, but also a tad conspicuous considering how much attention is given to other elements of the story.
There's a surprising (but welcome) concern for ecology running beneath the surface of this adventure - the ironically named Forester's pesticide is clearly spun as a dangerous "big bad" which must not be deployed, and the effects of such pesticides on the biosphere play a critical role in the narrative. A tip of the hat to Marks for allowing our heroes to have their own adventures in miniature while the larger-than-life humans around them scheme and toil and struggle and betray - inadvertently impacting out shrunken heroes (who they're never once aware of) while our leads are generally helpless to influence humanity in return. A wicked parable for the relationship between ancient Greek/Roman Gods and humans...by turning humans into Gods while smaller, unseen life is endangered by our actions and inaction. This move brings something of a classic mythological context to the proceedings, and transforms "Planet of Giants" into a saga that's a bit less frivolous than it might otherwise have been.
Fun, interesting, sometimes inspired, and never too heavy on the subtext I note above, "Planet of Giants" (another fun twist of phrase considering who the "Giants" are, and are not) is not yet available on DVD - but VHS of the episode can be found HERE in the U.S. and HERE in the U.K. A DVD of this episode is almost certainly forthcoming; this would be a very nice candidate for the kind of "Special Edition" (reworking of visual effects, editorial tightening, etc.) we recently say with "Day of the Daleks" I should think. To be clear, I haven't heard that such an undertaking is actually underway. I'm just sayin'...
A huge thanks once again to Docbacker Bytor for setting me up with the video files.
[Season / Series Seven Docbacks - MOST RECENT DOCBACK IS HIGHLIGHTED]
[SEASON / SERIES SIX DOCBACKS]
"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)
[RETRO-WHO DOCBACKS ]
"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)
"The Daleks" (Story #2)
"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)
"Marco Polo" (Story #4)
"The Keys of Marinus" (Story #5)
"The Aztecs" (Story #6)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7 - full DVD release)
"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9)
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)
"The Rescue" (Story #11)
"The Romans" (Story #12)
"The Crusade" (Story #14)
"The Space Museum" (Story #15)
"The Chase" (Story #16)
"The Time Meddler" (Story #17)
"Galaxy 4" (Story #18)
"Mission to the Unkonwn" (Story #19)
"The Myth Makers" (Story #20)
"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)
"The Tomb of the Cybermen" (Story #37)
"The Mind Robber" (Story #45)
"The Krotons" (Story #47)
"The Seeds of Death" (Story #48)
"Spearhead from Space" (Story #51)
"The Abassadors of Death" (Story #53)
"The Colony in Space" (Story #58)
"The Daemons" (Story #59)
"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition
"The Three Doctors" (Story #65)
"Carnival of Monsters" (Story #66)
"Death to the Daleks" (Story #72)
"The Robots of Death" (Story #90)
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)
"The Sun Makers" (Story #95)
"The City of Death" (Story #105)
"Nightmare of Eden" (Story #107)
"Kinda" (Story #118)
"Snakedance" (Story #125)
"The Five Doctors" (Story #129)
"The Awakening" (Story #131)
"Frontios" (Story #132)
"Resurrection of the Daleks" (Story #134)
"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136)
"Vengeance on Varos" (Story #138)
"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)
"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits
"Dragonfire" (Story #147)
"The Happiness Patrol" (Story #149)
"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (Story #151)
"Doctor Who: The Movie" (aka TVM) - McGann)
Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)
"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)
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