Planet of the Spiders

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(Doctor Who Story No. 74, starring Jon Pertwee)
  • written by Robert Sloman
  • produced and directed by Barry Letts
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: While the Doctor investigates untapped mental powers that lie dormant inside every human being, Mike Yates discovers that some members of the meditation sanctuary he has joined are invoking darker powers during their secret sessions. Why has the Doctor's blue crystal from Metebelis Three suddenly become the center of a web of psychic intrigue? What is the true extent of its powers? The Doctor soon has his hands full trying to free the societies of two planets from the oppression of giant spiders....

DVD Extras (on 2 discs no less) include:

  • Audio commentary by Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier),
    producer/director Barry Letts, and script editor Terrance Dicks.
  • "The Final Curtain" making-of / era retrospective featurette (38 min.) with Franklin, Letts, Dicks, the late Jon Pertwee (The Doctor),
    designer Rochelle Selwyn, visual effects assistant Mat Irvine, and fan Mark Gatiss.
  • "Directing Who" interview with producer Barry Letts documenting his directing work. (15 min.)
  • Now & Then location featurette (7 min.)
  • Retrospective interview of actor John Kane (Tommy) (13 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • "Planet of the Spiders" Omnibus Edition (65 minutes, unrestored)
  • Omnibus trailer (2 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)


Lastly we come to the ambitious, somewhat under-achieving finale for the Pertwee/Letts/Dicks era. It would be easy to start into a long list of its technical and artistic faults, but like "The Evil of the Daleks" (story no. 36) in trying to give the viewers so much, many of its offerings end up hitting the mark, keeping it interesting and even profound on subsequent viewings.


Deviations from Formula

This is Robert Sloman's last script for Doctor Who, and he has a well established formula he usually starts off with. This time, however, he stretches and rearranges it - perhaps not actually to best effect. To avoid spoilers, we'll save the detailed dissection of plot structure for the in-depth analysis version of this review.

The story does showcase a major chase sequence, including tons of location footage of strange new vehicles that blew the budget on the story. But despite all the movement and stunts in the visuals, the pace is rather slow. Thankfully though, the folly of it all actually fits the philosophical style of the rest of the story.

This is a point where a musician can step up to the plate and deliver something unusually bold and memorable, a point where, on the silent copy of this story I was stuck with for a few years, I had dubbed on a lot of fast-paced and lively music. Dudley Simpson's score remains boring during this sequence, continuing to rely on a cheesy synth effect that whines up and down for the Spiders here as all throughout the score, which is pretty irritating and not much more inventive than playing the notes for the last story's ice-wind effect on new instrumentation. One easy, simple remedy might have been to pull out the variation on UNIT's theme backing Liz Shaw's car chase from "The Ambassadors of Death" (story no. 53) - it would have been very thematically appropriate and more supportive of the required mood of the sequence. Or a recurrence of Bessie's theme could have been a good idea. Alas, no such indulgence here.

Interestingly, the surprise reveal of a suite of music cues from Part 2 of this story indicates that the music was built up in layers. Presented on the CD are chiefly the portions played on real orchestral instruments, which are fairly satisfying. The whiny, cheesy synth effects were patched on over top for the TV broadcast version, but thankfully do not appear at all in the CD track. This makes a nice improvement on the music, and increases the repeat-listening value of the CD. Excellent!

A suite of music from "Planet of the Spiders" Part 2
lasting (2:44) was released on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)

More info


Misfocused Main Conflict

Sarah, Mike Yates, and Lupton continue to be the central exploring characters, while the Doctor struggles to keep up with them. John Dearth's Lupton in particular gets the focus of many chunks of screen time to himself, which at least nicely reveals the motivation at the heart of his character.

By contrast, the Doctor gives us some disappointing character dynamics in the middle of the story, while set design becomes a particular let-down in many areas. It's not until very late in the story that the Doctor can finally come to true grips with the issues of real importance to the story.

Some of the action is unbearably limited and poor, barely hanging on to the bare necessities of visual literacy just to let the audience know what is happening. One good thing about the action is that it often utilizes a very tangible superimposed video effect which seems to line up with the footage really well all the time. The sound effect is a bit too high-pitched to carry enough power to suit my tastes, but it still works well enough.

Very strange story structures still abound between episode five's lead up to the cliffhanger, and episode six's lengthy re-edited reprise. In some ways, for many reasons including required timings, it has to be a little weird in the end. Then again, look at the noticeably short episode timings in "The Mind Robber" (story no. 45), "The Leisure Hive" (story no. 110), and indeed much of season eighteen, and you may wonder why Barry Letts didn't let a shorter episode go by here or there. I will simply suggest two things that work better for me.... but only in the in-depth analysis version of the review, of course.


Returning to a Proper Focus for the Final Episode

Hopefully the middle portions of the adventure have been a bit of fun, combining typical Doctor Who racing through cheap corridor sets and funny superimposition and CSO effects with Pertwee era triumphs like gadgets and vehicles and Terry Walsh stunt fights, not to mention the typical Pertwee era faults such as padded dialogue, prisoner dynamic delay tactics, a hint of doomsaying, and the one and only Man of Sleep. But both the beginning and ending sections of the tale deal more readily and successfully with the heart of this story - an exploration of a few common truths about mental power, and ultimately a hero's solution to the attempted subjugation of the mind.

Pertwee's Doctor is now firmly re-established as the main character of the story, and our main character is gently prodded by his old mentor to face his own issues and confront the crisis properly.

The character of Tommy actually turns out to be one of the story's critical assets. I don't know why Sloman later felt that Tommy's character was a mistake. I was never tempted to laugh at him, but rather, thanks to a solid performance from John Kane, I find myself empathizing with him. (Perhaps the music I added to my dubbed version helps too.)

The dynamics of the story's conclusion work far better here than in Sloman's other scripts. For once, some of his favourite themes are used in the right story. The final scenes work well, and the drama is spot on. The story's structure, bizarre as it may have been at times, still manages to build up to this moment excellently.

Regeneration itself is explained in this final episode better than in any other spot in Doctor Who, so even completely new viewers are suitably prepped. It even manages to offer an explanation for the rather bizarre regeneration in "Logopolis" (story no. 116).


Sure, lots of things could have been better with this story. But the story's got heart too, and intends to show the Doctor's faults as well as his strengths, bring them into balance, and make you nostalgic for it all. I think it achieves that, and manages to be both dramatically moving and fun. What can I say, but that I'm a fan of the series, and of this story as well. In the end, it's thumbs up from me.



Season Eleven Rankings:

Best Story:

  1. The Time Warrior
  2. The Monster of Peladon
  3. Planet of the Spiders
  4. Invasion of the Dinosaurs
  5. Death to the Daleks

Best Writer:

  1. Robert Holmes
  2. Brian Hayles
  3. Robert Sloman
  4. Malcolm Hulke
  5. Terry Nation

Best Director:

  1. Alan Bromly
  2. Lennie Mayne
  3. Michael Briant
  4. Barry Letts
  5. Paddy Russell

Best Music:

  • "Florana"
  • Death to the Daleks
  • The Monster of Peladon
  • Planet of the Spiders
  • The Time Warrior
  • the rest of Invasion of the Dinosaurs



This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Robot"



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