Aired 31 October – 14 November 1964
‘Planet of Giants’ is a bit of an anomaly, kicking off Doctor Who‘s second series with a rare story that focuses on relative dimensions rather than time travel. Notably, this was supposed to be the first adventure after events in the pilot episode, but behind-the-scenes issues kept it from ever manifesting until much later. While the end result is certainly still not perfect, suffering from strange choices in editing, it’s still very much a unique story in the programme’s run, one that sees the crew miniaturized as the TARDIS technology go wrong.
Of course, it takes time for the Doctor and his companions to realize the truth of their situation as they first come upon giant dead insects before coming upon towering versions of everyday items such as matchbooks, and it’s perfectly fitting that the First Doctor recklessly heads out to explore their surroundings without a second thought. There’s a wonderful moment of realization when the camera pans out of the canyon in which they find themselves to reveal a typical English house with stone walkway, giving a sense of scope to proceedings. The prospect of returning to normal size is quickly dropped, however, as Ian is separated from the group and the mystery of the dead man on the porch takes over.
What surprisingly follows is a story of corporate greed after an in-development insecticide proves too effective. Facing the prospect of losing profits, a ruthless businessman and an optimistic scientist agree to cover up the data and the businessman’s murder of the government official in order to get the insecticide to market. Quite why the government official was testing the product at his own home remains unanswered. Because of the narrative editing that switches between the miniaturized and normal worlds, the entire story is clear to viewers much sooner than it is to the TARDIS team who cannot pick up the frequencies of the people above them. Because of the edits involved in condensing a planned four-episode story into a three-episode slot, however, there are some gaping plot holes that are never adequately explained, and the deeper motivations and thoughts of the characters are sadly omitted. At the same time, there’s clearly the intent for this story to discuss environmental impact, but that message never fully comes to fruition.
Unfortunately, there’s no real menace or memorable scenes in ‘Planet of Giants,’ partly because the villains and heroes never directly interact and partly because most of the animals they come across are already dead and so pose no threat. Likewise, Barbara’s insistence on keeping her own poisoning a secret undermines any potential sense of urgency. Still, Jacqueline Hill does an admirable job in portraying a strong woman slowly succumbing to the effects of the poison. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the grand character development moment for the Doctor in which he steps out of the shadows- content to observe and to not interfere- and into the forefront as he demands that they take action to stop the insecticide and those involved with it. This is a monumental step forward for the character and completely changes how future stories could play out with the Doctor ready and willing to intervene if necessary.
Despite the apparent edits and cuts, ‘Planet of Giants’ is still a rather slow piece, comprised primarily of characters standing and talking with little action and no inherent danger. The props and set design are uniformly strong, but ultimately this is a story that will be remembered more for its unique premise and its handling of the dimensional aspect of the TARDIS as well as a brave step forward for the Doctor.