‘PLANET OF THE SPIDERS’
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The Final Curtain
They did giant maggots in ‘The Green Death’. Now it’s giant spiders in ‘Planet of the Spiders’!
This is the last ‘Doctor Who’ story to feature Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. I purchased ‘Planet of the Spiders’ on DVD in 2011, not long after the sad news of Elisabeth Sladen’s death in April. I enjoyed this story, as it is a fitting farewell for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor who played the role for 5 years.
‘Planet of the Spiders’ is a six-part adventure by Robert Sloman (and Barry Letts). The story was also directed by Barry Letts, producer of the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’. This is a very fitting achievement for him to have written, produced and directed a ‘Doctor Who’ story at the same time.
The story was released on a 2-disc DVD set with the story on Disc 1 and special features on Disc 2. I’m glad I had this story on DVD. It helped to nurse the loss of Lis Sladen’s death and commemorate her as Sarah Jane Smith with Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier who also sadly passed away in that year.
As I said, Jon Pertwee had been playing the Doctor for 5 years. It was a happy period featuring a family of memorable, loveable characters including the Doctor, Jo Grant and the U.N.I.T. family of the Brigadier, Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton. Even Roger Delgado’s Master made that era joyous.
But as with all good things, they come to an end. Katy Manning as Jo Grant had left the ‘Doctor Who’ series in ‘The Green Death’ and sadly Roger Delgado had been killed whilst the series was being made. This dampened Jon Pertwee’s enthusiasm since he felt his ‘family’ wasn’t the same anymore.
So with a heavy heart, Jon Pertwee decided to bow out after playing the Doctor for so long and made Season 11 his last season on the TV series. At the same time, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks also decided to leave after working on the TV show for so long as Jon Pertwee.
But what kind of finale could the production team deliver to end Jon Pertwee’s era of ‘Doctor Who’? Beforehand, another climactic story was in the process of being made featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor fighting against Roger Delgado’s Master. It was abandoned due to Roger Delgado’s tragic death.
Eventually, producer Barry Letts devised a story with Robert Sloman that was heavily influenced by his beliefs in Buddhism. Now I can’t claim to understand Buddhism fully since I’m a Christian and I don’t study other religions. But it was very fascinating to see Barry Letts’ views depicted in this story.
The story takes place at a Buddhist mediation centre in rural England. Mike Yates discovers something odd happening as some cronies organised by a man called Lupton conduct underhand ritual ceremonies. These ceremonies involve incantations to summon giant spiders in the basement.
This leads the Doctor with his companion Sarah Jane Smith to Metabellis III, a planet which he visited before. The giant spiders now rule Metabellis III and want the great blue crystal the Doctor had stolen from the planet in ‘The Green Death’. Will the Doctor return the crystal back to these spiders?
There is a lot of Buddhist references featured, as the story also follows up on a reference the Doctor made in ‘The Time Monster’ when he talked about his old hermit teacher friend that was mainly inspired by Buddhism. The story also handles the Doctor’s deficiencies as a result of his actions here.
I like how this story rounds up on what happened in previous stories like ‘The Time Monster’ and ‘The Green Death’. This is especially when the Doctor revisits Metabellis III, a planet he always wanted to visit and how stealing a blue sapphire crystal can cause a lot of trouble with giant spiders.
The blue crystal gets sent back to the Doctor and U.N.I.T. by Jo Grant, now Jo Jones married to Clifford Jones from ‘The Green Death’. It’s a shame we don’t get to see Katy Manning make a return appearance as Jo in this ‘Doctor Who’ story, as it would have been fitting for Jon Pertwee’s last story.
Jon Pertwee is very good as the Doctor in this adventure. I like how Jon balances the humour, the elegance and the seriousness in his performance. He also embraces the action-adventure aspects of his Doctor, considering this is his last story and he gets to plenty of things as well as Venusian akido.
It was fun to see that chase scene of our heroes after Lupton, allowing Jon Pertwee to drive vehicles like Bessie; the Whomobile; a gyrocopter and a speedboat. It also makes no sense, considering Lupton could have escaped easily with the spider on his back. But it was Jon Pertwee’s last TV story.
The Doctor’s intelligence and inventiveness gets explored in this adventure as well as his heroism. It was interesting how Jon Pertwee’s Doctor’s fear and greed gets addressed. Fear is something Jon’s Doctor’s not normally accustomed to. He has to face it and to defeat the Great One on Metabellis III.
Elisabeth Sladen is lovely as Sarah Jane Smith. Lis Sladen and Jon Pertwee worked well together in the time they spent in Season 11. It would’ve been nice to have seen more of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Sarah Jane in the TV series, even though it doesn’t match to Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane.
In this story, Sarah Jane gets teleported to Metabellis III by accident and ends up having a spider on her back. This inspired Donna Noble with the Time Beetle on her back in ‘Turn Left’. I like how the Doctor and K’anpo helped Sarah Jane through her struggle to get rid of the giant spider off her back.
Nicholas Courtney returns as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in this story. I enjoyed seeing the Brigadier in this. He doesn’t have a major part to play in the story, but he does provide the comic relief as well as help the Doctor in chasing after Lupton who stole the blue crystal from U.N.I.T. HQ.
I was pleased to see the Brigadier appear in the last episode of this story when the Doctor returns home and dies before he regenerates. It was fitting to have the Brigadier in this story, since he was there from the beginning of the Jon Pertwee era and gets to see the Doctor’s regeneration himself.
Richard Franklin returns as Mike Yates in this story. This story happens at an interesting stage for Mike, as he’s now discharged from U.N.I.T. following the events of ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’. Mike’s now at the Buddhist meditation centre in order to recover and rethink his life after being discharged.
But Mike’s search for meditation gets spoiled when he finds something odd about Lupton and his gang. He reports it to the Doctor and U.N.I.T. It doesn’t get him back into U.N.I.T. and be a captain again, but it does redeem him. I’m glad Mike appeared in this final story with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor.
John Levene returns as Sergeant Benton in this story. I’m also glad Benton appears in this final story with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, as he’s become a huge part of the U.N.I.T. family over the years. Like the Brigadier, he doesn’t play a major role in the story as he also provides the comic relief and help out.
Benton delivers the letter sent by Jo from the Amazon to the Doctor and the Brigadier and I laughed when the Doctor complimented Benton about his coffee-making, getting the Brigadier annoyed. Benton also takes part in the action when he, the Doctor, Sarah Jane and the Brigadier chase Lupton.
The guest cast is very good and features actors who have appeared in previous Jon Pertwee stories. There’s John Dearth as the villainous Lupton. John Dearth previously voiced the BOSS computer in ‘The Green Death’. It was great to see him in the flesh and gripping how he worked with the spiders.
Lupton’s gang include Christopher Burgess (from ‘Terror of the Autons’) as Barnes; Andrew Staines (also from ‘Terror of the Autons’) as Keaver; Terence Lodge (from ‘Carnival of Monsters’) as Moss and Carl Forgione as Land. These four men soon get taken over with having giant spiders on their backs.
The story also features John Kane as Tommy. John Kane would later become the writer of the BBC sitcom series, ‘Terry and June’. I like Tommy as a character. He started off as being a simple-minded handyman at the mediation centre who had the mind of a child yet was kind-hearted and innocent.
That kind-heartedness and innocence protected Tommy when he looked into the blue crystal halfway through the story. Soon he became intelligent and began to read and talk ‘normally’ like other people. It was amazing how Tommy was unaffected when Lupton’s gang were attacking him.
There’s also George Cormack (who was in ‘The Time Monster’) as K’anpo, the Abbot of the meditation centre and the Doctor’s former hermit teacher friend. And there’s Kevin Lindsay (who played Linx the Sontaran in ‘The Time Warrior’ as Cho-Je, who has a strong connection with K’anpo.
There’s Cyril Shaps (who I’ve seen in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Them’ and other ‘Doctor Who’s) as Professor Clegg. There’s Geoffrey Morris as Sabor; Ralph Arliss as Tuar; Gareth Hunt as Arak; Jenny Liard as Neska; Joanna Monro as Rega and Walter Randall and Max Faulkner as the Guard Captains.
The giant spiders are pretty impressive in this story. Yeah, I know they had problems behind-the-scenes with making them work and they sometimes looked unconvincing on screen. But all things considered, I found the giant spiders pretty good especially when they latched onto people’s backs.
The voices for these giant spiders are female. They’re done by Ysanne Churchman (who voiced Alpha Centuari in ‘The Curse of Peladon’ and ‘The Monster of Peladon’); Kismet Delgado (wife of Roger Delgado) and Maureen Morris. The spider voices were pretty unnerving when they spoke out loud.
Something I want to point out here. The planet Metabellis III in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ looks very different to the one in ‘The Green Death’. In ‘The Green Death’, the planet was hostile and full of strange, vicious creatures. This version of Metabellis III in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ seems to be tamer.
I’m not sure why Metabellis III changed so much and looked different in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ compared to ‘The Green Death’. But then again, we weren’t on Metabellis III for that long in that story and it was years in the future by this point. I did enjoy the history of the ‘Eight Legs’ in this tale.
In the last episode, the Doctor comes face to face with the Great One…who must be Shelob from ‘The Return of the King’! 😀 I found that climactic scene dramatic, especially as the Doctor appears scared when he confronts the Great One. The Great One gets defeated once the crystal is returned.
The last scene where the Doctor returns home to U.N.I.T. HQ and collapses to the floor with Sarah Jane and the Brigadier beside him as he dies was touching. Sarah Jane sheds tears and begs the Doctor not to die. I found myself in tears watching that scene especially as Jon Pertwee said his lines.
In the end, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor dies. But of course it’s not over yet, as K’napo now in Cho-Je form helps to ‘push’ the Doctor’s regenerative process and Sarah Jane and the Brigadier witness the transformation themselves. Thus Jon Pertwee’s Doctor fades away and he now becomes Tom Baker!
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s a commentary with Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy! There’s a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘Mannequin Mania’ DVD box set including ‘Spearhead From Space’ with Jon Pertwee and Caroline John and ‘Terror of the Autons’ with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning.
On Disc 2, there’s ‘The Final Curtain’ making-of documentary with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There’s also the ‘John Kane Remembers…’ interview; the ‘Directing Who with Barry Letts’ interview and the ‘Now & Then’ featurette which looks into the locations of ‘Planet of the Spiders’.
There’s also the ‘Planet of the Spiders’ Omnibus Edition with the Omnibus trailer. There’s also a photo gallery of the story and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story.
‘Planet of the Spiders’ is a fitting end to the Jon Pertwee of ‘Doctor Who’. I enjoyed this story when I watched it on DVD and found it an intriguing experience to see how 5 years of a magical era of the TV show came to an end. It ends on a heartfelt note for all concerned who’d participated in the era.
Jon Pertwee’s Doctor won millions of hearts and I enjoyed his era very much as it’s full of earthbound adventures and outer-space adventures. His Doctor of elegance and action adventure helped to keep the show going during the early 70s and I am pleased that it was very successful era.
‘Planet of the Spiders’ rating – 9/10
‘TOMORROW’S TIMES – THE THIRD DOCTOR’
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‘Tomorrow’s Times – The Third Doctor’ is currently available on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD.
‘Tomorrow’s Times – The Third Doctor’ is presented by Peter Purves, who played Steven Taylor in ‘Doctor Who’ with William Hartnell. I enjoyed seeing Peter Purves presenting this edition of ‘Tomorrow’s Times’ and he was a ‘Blue Peter’ presenter himself. I’ve also met Peter Purves in real-life.
With ‘Tomorrow’s Times – The Third Doctor’, I enjoyed how the newspaper critics and reviewers remarked on how different the tone of the show was with it being earthbound instead of being fantasy-space adventures. There were also comments on violence levels escalating in the early 1970s.
I enjoyed how Caroline John who played Liz Shaw was interviewed during the making of ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ and how she avoided revealing any spoilers to her son on what happened in the story. I’m disappointed Katy Manning didn’t get mentioned much for this ‘Tomorrow’s Times’ edition.
It was interesting to hear William Hartnell being interviewed about violence in ‘Doctor Who’ and how he comments the show not being a kids’ show anymore since he made it and that he doesn’t watch it anymore. Quite a contrast to Jon Pertwee who says his young son loves the show, despite the violence.
I found it funny when Peter Purves pointed out that he wasn’t invited to the 10th anniversary party for ‘Doctor Who’ at the BBC in the news coverage of it. The feature ends with the casting of Tom Baker as the new Doctor and how newspaper critics and reviewers were very sad about Jon Pertwee leaving.
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