Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Story 74 - Planet of the Spiders

In which the Doctor receives an unexpected package from the Amazon region, whilst Sarah pays a visit to Mike Yates, who is staying at a Buddhist meditation centre in the English countryside. He had gone there to sort out his life after his dismissal from UNIT. He has become suspicious of the activities of a man named Lupton and his clique. He wants Sarah to investigate. The Doctor is conducting ESP experiments with a man named Clegg. He successfully identifies the package as containing the blue crystal from Metebelis III, which the Doctor had given to Jo as a wedding present. Jo has been forced to return it as it has been disturbing their native guides. Mike and Sarah see Lupton and his friends summon up a gigantic spider in a ceremony in the cellars of the centre. At the same moment, miles away at UNIT HQ, Clegg dies whilst gazing into the crystal. He was attached to a machine that captures mental images, and the Doctor and Brigadier see the image of spiders. The spider in the meditation centre latches itself onto Lupton's back and becomes invisible. It tunes itself into his mind. It has been sent from Metebelis III to seize the crystal.

As Sarah informs the Doctor of the events at the meditation centre, Lupton arrives at UNIT HQ and steals the crystal. He makes off in the Doctor's new vehicle. The Doctor and Sarah give chase, utilising a variety of modes of transport. The spider helps Lupton escape by transporting him back to the centre. A young man with learning difficulties - Tommy - steals the crystal. Lupton and the spider are summoned back to Metebelis. Sarah is accidentally transported with them. The Doctor follows in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, the crystal causes Tommy's intellect to grow rapidly. The Doctor is blasted unconscious by the Queen Spider's guards. As he lies comatose in a village full of human slave workers, Sarah is captured by Lupton and taken to the spiders. The Doctor recovers, thanks to a stone which counteracts the spiders' energy. From a young rebel named Arak he learns about this community. A colony ship from Earth crashed here many years ago. Some common spiders escaped from the wreck and made their home in the Blue Mountains. Radiation from the crystals found here mutated them in both size and intelligence, and they enslaved the colonists. The Doctor realises that he must have visited the planet and taken his crystal long before the colonists arrived.

The Queen Spider's position is threatened by the one attached to Lupton. She decides to pretend to help Sarah - getting her and the Doctor back to Earth, as the spiders now know Lupton didn't bring the crystal with him. The Doctor finds himself in the cavern of the Great One, the true ruler of the spiders. He finds himself powerless against its mental energies. Sarah takes him back to the TARDIS and they return to Earth. Other spiders follow them, attaching themselves to Lupton's friends. Mike and the Tibetan monk Cho-Je are blasted unconscious. Tommy holds off the possessed humans whilst the Doctor and Sarah visit K'anpo - the Tibetan master. The Doctor recognises him as a fellow Time Lord - an old hermit who acted as his guru and mentor. The Queen Spider possessing Sarah is exposed and destroyed. K'anpo convinces the Doctor to take the crystal back to Metebelis III and return it to the Great One - even though the radiation in her cave will destroy him. K'anpo is blasted by spider energy and dies. Cho-Je materialises and is revealed to be a projection of the old Time Lord. K'anpo regenerates - taking on the younger monk's appearance.

On Metebelis, the spiders destroy Lupton when he challenges them. The Doctor meets the Great One and discovers that it is vast in size. It needs his crystal to complete a web that will allow it to exert its mind over the whole Universe. It is quite insane. He hands over the crystal. The power is too much for the Great One and she is destroyed - killing all the other spiders as they are psychically linked to it. The human colonists are freed. Back at UNIT HQ some weeks later, Sarah visits to see if the Doctor has returned. The TARDIS materialises and the Doctor stumbles out, collapsing onto the floor of his lab. He is dying. K'anpo appears, and informs the Brigadier and Sarah that he will give the regeneration process a bit of a push. The Doctor regenerates into a younger, dark haired man...

This six part adventure was written by Robert Sloman, and was broadcast between 4th May and 8th June, 1974. As with his previous stories for the series, Sloman was actually partnered, uncredited, by producer Barry Letts. Letts also directed this adventure.
The story marks the end of Season Eleven, and the Pertwee era. It is also the last story to be script edited by  Terrance Dicks.
Had Roger Delgado not been killed in a road accident, this story would have seen a final battle between the Doctor and the Master, in which the evil Time Lord would have sacrificed himself to save the Doctor - possibly revealed as his half-brother. (The rumour that Lupton simply replaced the Master is untrue. "The Final Game" would have been an entirely different story).
The giant maggots of the previous year had proved popular with the audience, so it was only natural that spiders would make for a good monster. Visual effects devised a number of prop spiders controlled by different means. The Great One was intended to be a big hairy creature, but Letts vetoed it as too scary, and the Queen Spider was reused. Matt Irvine built a clockwork one, which was nicknamed "Boris" by the crew (from a song by, appropriately enough, The Who).
Knowing that Pertwee was more upset about his departure than he was letting on, Letts went out of his way to indulge his star. Part two comprises an extended chase sequence using a range of vehicles - "Bessie, the "Whomobile", speedboats, mini-hovercraft and a gyro-copter.

A number of actors who had previously worked with Pertwee were also brought back - John Dearth (Lupton) had provided the voice for BOSS in the previous season finale; Kevin Lindsay (Cho-Je) had been the Sontaran Linx; three of Lupton's clique (Terrence Lodge, Christopher Burgess and Andrew Staines) had appeared in other Third Doctor stories. K'anpo (George Cormack) had been King Dalios in The Time Monster. Clegg is Cyril Shaps (The Ambassadors of Death).
Stuart Fell, Pat Gorman and Terry Walsh all get to show their faces. Pertwee's friend Walter Randall plays one of the spiders' guards.
The spiders are voiced by Ysanne Churchman (Alpha Centauri), and Kismet Delgado (Roger's widow).
And, of course, it is a UNIT story. Richard Franklin is brought back to bring Mike Yates' story arc to a conclusion. The Brigadier gets to witness a regeneration (his final line a Nick Courtney addition).
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. As Mike and Sarah watch, Lupton and his friends appear to summon up a giant spider...
  2. The Doctor leaps onto Lupton's speedboat - only to find his quarry has vanished into thin air...
  3. The Doctor has followed Sarah to Metebelis III. He is attacked by the Queen Spider's guards, who blast him with lethal energy bolts...
  4. Sarah is cocooned in the spider larder. The Doctor arrives - but he is also a prisoner...
  5. As the Doctor and Sarah consult K'anpo, Tommy holds back Lupton's friends - who blast him with their energy bolts...
  6. The Doctor regenerates with the help of K'anpo. "Well, here we go again..." groans the Brigadier.

Overall, not a bad send-off for the Third Doctor. It can feel like a bit of a Pertwee greatest hits. Things flag a little once on Metebelis III with a bit of capture-escape padding. Part two is one overly indulgent chase sequence, but we can forgive it as it is a farewell gift for the leading man. As an arachnophobe, I find the monsters effectively unsettling.
Things you might like to know:
  • You wouldn't have noticed it much when watching this episodically at the time, but VHS and DVD watching shows up rather strange re-editing for the cliffhanger resolution at the beginning of part six - with extra material held over from part five inserted.
  • This is the first time that the term "regeneration" is used in the programme, in relation to the Doctor changing his form.
  • Tom Baker gets no credit for his brief appearance.
  • We get a mention of a friend of the Brigadier's - Doris - who he seems a little reluctant to talk about. It is to be assumed that she is a girlfriend, as he wouldn't act this way if it were his wife. He does marry her in the end, as seen in Battlefield
  • John Kane, who plays Tommy, was a successful TV writer (including for the archetypal sitcom Terry and June).
  • The mother of Arak (a pre-New Avengers Gareth Hunt) is Neska - played by Jenny Laird. She gives one of the most wooden performances in the history of the programme. Bizarrely, she had an acting prize named after her at RADA. One of its winners was a certain Richard Franklin.
  • Despite all the trouble this one causes him, the Doctor has another Metebelis crystal in the recent story Hide. He has forgotten how to pronounce the planet's name in the interim...
  • The Great One imitates Sarah singing the children's song "Pop Goes The Weasel". This has nothing to do with exploding mustela nivalis. Rather, a weasel is slang for a tailor's iron, and to pop means to pawn - so it's a song about impoverished Victorian workers.

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