Planet of the Spiders
|(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.)
In-Depth Analysis Review
by Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for
those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read
the Buyers' Guide version instead.
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. The Doctor's initial
distraction is developed enough to occupy all of Pertwee's episode
one screen time and give the Brigadier and Sgt. Benton something
to do in the script. Meanwhile it's left up to Mike Yates and
Sarah to investigate the main antagonists for the story. The formulaic
relationship between these two strands is made clear when Sarah
finally has her first scene with the Doctor in episode two, where
he is as distracted as ever.
Then commences the usual chase designed to bring the Doctor to
the scene of all the action. Episode two's portion of this chase
is all the location footage of strange new vehicles that blew the
budget on the story. Despite all the movement and stunts in the
visuals, the pace is rather slow - no critical story points are made.
All you can do is sit back and enjoy the parade of vehicles and
muse on the folly of all the energy that the Doctor is wasting,
which is something that actually fits philosophically in a
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 -
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)
Misfocused Main Conflict
If we were strictly following the Sloman formula, the Doctor
should now be at the scene of the action ready to tackle the
complexities of the characters and issues at hand at the beginning
of episode three. In actual fact, the chase has not ended; it has
merely changed venues from vehicles to padded dialogue. Sarah,
Mike Yates, and Lupton continue to be the central exploring characters,
while the Doctor merely does a lame job of trying to keep up with
Episode three really does belong to John Dearth's Lupton
in particular, as the script focuses in on him single-mindedly.
He successfully finishes his action bit, sets some elaborate
plans for bluffing and stalling in motion, narrates enough of his
backstory to give us the motivation at the heart of his character,
transmigrates himself to a new planet, and generally gets far more
screen time than anybody else.
By contrast, the Doctor does diddly-squat upon arriving in Cho-Je's
mellow wallpaper house. By the time he's figured out what's going on,
everyone else has gone to Metebelis Three ahead of him. It's up
to Sarah to encounter the villagers of that planet, make first
contact, learn of their problems, and try to help. When the Doctor
finally shows up, he turns into the
Man of Sleep almost immediately
and will spend the bulk of episode four unconscious, semi-conscious,
and accused of being lazy, while Sarah is left to blubber over him in
scene after scene. As I've said before, this should be saved for
episode six, because.... Ever hear of the little girl that cried
Finally the Doctor gets to make his own unique contribution to
the overthrowing of oppression: finding an immunity to the Spiders'
usual attacks. He sets off on what should be the start of a good
stretch of exploration and confrontation, but director Barry Letts
couldn't even manage the cheap CSO around the entrance to the Spiders'
citadel, and so the story ends up with even less action and exploration.
What we are left with
is a very bare and very bright collection of straight white walls,
as far from my imagination of a cavern of spider tunnels as one
can possibly get, and pretty boring at that.
Cheesy bad dialogue dominates his all-too-brief first confrontation
with Lupton and anyway is a complete distraction from the issues that
set them against each other in the first place. Then the Doctor,
Sarah, and Sabor are stuck in the prisoner dynamic again. This sequence
earns a few points for having a uniquely arachnid flavour in its
entrappings, but it loses points for being used to postpone a good
confrontation between the Doctor and the spider council that Lupton
is in league with.
Action proceeds on two fronts: villagers attack the spider
citadel on Metebelis Three, while spiders invade Earth to take over
Lupton's group and go on a rampage to find the crystal. Once again
the Metebelis 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. Most of the action here and throughout the
story is also rendered impotent by the over-use of teleportation, which,
in every case, shows Sloman reaching for a different means of allowing
a character to perform it. One good thing about the action is that
the lightning bolts are a very tangible visual effect, and seem 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.
Then there's the first scene in the cave of the Great One. It
is so obviously lacking a shot of the Doctor's point of view, as he
first talks to the Great One without being able to see her. So what
can he see? Barry Letts denies us the POV. Maybe the budget had run
out, but there is some lovely footage from an earlier Pertwee story,
"The Mutants" (story no. 63),
of a vast underground cavern with a tunnel tantalizingly
leading off around a corner, complete with lines of energy crackling all
around to visually represent the radiation that is destined to do the
Doctor in in the end. The shot works perfectly as the Doctor's POV.
As I've said before, if you can't complete the visual or musical
literacy of a piece with new material, it's advantageous to dig into
one's archives creatively.
It's not until the Doctor comes face to face with the Abbot
Kan'po Rinpoche that the chase begun in episode two finally comes
to its real end, and the Doctor can finally come to true grips with
the issues of real importance to the story.
Editing the Final Cliffhanger
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, even though they may well throw the timings out
too far. The scene where Barnes' gang breaks free into the hall
and decides how best to chase after the Doctor and get the crystal....
Currently this scene only exists in episode six, but I think it
works best in episode five only. Mr. Moss looks kind of silly
being disciplined by an intangible voice, as do his partners talking
about seeing the magic crystal with their eyes closed, particularly
if you've just started to watch episode six cold, and this is your
first impression of the adversaries that Jon Pertwee's Doctor will
face in his final moments. However, stuck in at the tail end of
all of episode five's running about, with the masterful splitscreen
shot of spiders disappearing into the gang's backs while they squirm
still fresh in a viewer's memory, Mr. Moss's disciplining is far
more palatable and flows more smoothly with the narrative.
Second change: Anticipation has been building towards someone
getting to talk to the Abbot, and of seeing him for the first time
on screen. Let the anticipation continue throughout the episode
five cliffhanger. Show Tommy leading the Doctor and Sarah to the
Abbot's door and going in, but nothing of the Abbot or his room.
Cut to the disciplining of Mr. Moss instead, and focus on Barnes'
gang's desire to get there and find the crystal. Then they come
running around the corner to the Abbot's door, and find Tommy blocking
their way. We the audience know the Doctor and Sarah are in there
with the Abbot, but Tommy's blocking our way too, and we don't see
anything of what's going on in there. Now the cliffhanger doesn't
need to rely solely on the threat of the spidergang zapping Tommy,
which has lost most of its potency after watching Tommy already
survive unscathed through so many identically realised blasts. Now
we have another reason for wanting to see episode six: we KNOW we'll
finally get to see the Abbot, just as the Doctor is doing. All of
the Abbot's scenes are intact in episode six the way it is, so there's
no need of any of them to be in episode five. Episode Six starts
wonderfully the way it is, opening with a shot of the Abbot meditating,
a repeat of the Doctor, Sarah, and Tommy coming around the corridor,
and the Abbot welcoming them in, beginning their conversation.
Returning to a Proper Focus for the Final Episode
Hopefully parts two through five 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 episodes one and six deal more readily and successfully with
the heart of this story - an exploration of a few common truths
about mental power for
episode one (the distraction proves ultimately more interesting
than the scene of the main action in this story), and ultimately
a hero's solution to the attempted subjugation of the mind.
Pertwee's talk with the Abbot is the first truly fulfilling
scene he's had since he left his lab and began the chase, with the
possible exception of his finding the stones for the villagers
in episode four and learning their backstory. The folly of all that
running about is put into its true perspective as well. 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 examine his own faults and issues, to take the log out of his
own eye before attempting to remove the speck in his neighbours'.
And philosophically, we see something completely opposite to
Malcolm Hulke's ending in
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" (story no. 71): The villains
have a truly flawed masterplan, and all one need do to defeat them is
to let them carry it out. They do themselves in.
Was the Doctor wrong to have taken the crystal in the first
place? Would the spiders have fried themselves far earlier if that
one crystal had remained on Metebelis III during the time of their
arrival? Well, one good thing has come of the Doctor's actions
this story, apart from all the benefits already realised in
"The Green Death" (story no. 69).
Tommy gets a clear lift up for a better life
thanks to the crystal's presence, and that goes a long way to making
the Doctor's "Robin-Hood"-like dealings with the crystal worthwhile.
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.)
Sacrifice becomes the general thrust of the story's conclusion,
and it works far better here than in Sloman's other scripts. Stevens'
sacrifice at the end of "The Green Death" was rather an arbitrary
contrivance, while Jo's sacrifices in
"The Daemons" (story no. 59) and
"The Time Monster" (story no. 64)
took away from the Doctor's heroics and were themselves
annulled. But here, the sacrifice is the Doctor's and his alone.
He is successfully isolated for this purpose, and his sacrifice
is very real. The Pertwee Doctor truly dies for it, and no matter
how many other Doctors the world sees, there will never be another
quite like his. For once, this particular Sloman dynamic is used
in the right story.
Sarah's got some blubbering to do at the end, and it is
finally appropriate. Even with too much recent blubbering working
towards eventual audience disbelief, these final scenes still 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 has been 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),
for what is the Watcher if not the
fourth Doctor's unconsciously controlled "Cho-Je" projection, who would
look like Peter Davison if only he could consciously "wake-up"?
Sure, lots of things could have been better with this story.
Sabor might not have let the door swing open far enough open to
reveal his son to everyone outside just when he's trying to hide him
instead. The spiders might have had a real web-in-cavern set to
live in that would better hide the puppet rods used to manipulate
them. And perhaps the climactic confrontation could have done with
less of a prolonged shrill rant from the Great One, some radiation
sparks as good as those in "The Mutants" to show the effect that
damages all the Doctor's cells, and some more intercuts in the editing
to add personal danger to the final destruction of the mountain,
instead of showing the Doctor safely in the TARDIS before the first
rock blast. (Remember, Pertwee's Doctor isn't supposed to survive it
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:
- The Time Warrior
- The Monster of Peladon
- Planet of the Spiders
- Invasion of the Dinosaurs
- Death to the Daleks
- Robert Holmes
- Brian Hayles
- Robert Sloman
- Malcolm Hulke
- Terry Nation
- Alan Bromly
- Lennie Mayne
- Michael Briant
- Barry Letts
- Paddy Russell
- 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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