Sunday, 5 July 2009

Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders

Part One
“Ah! Doing a bit of hairdressing on the side?”

We start with an unexpected sight- Mike Yates may no longer be part of UNIT, but he’s back. It’s also unusual, and refreshing, to see the Doctor and the Brig watching some kind of variety show, even if it’s not entirely recreational.

Yates has infiltrated himself into a hippyish group of Buddhists whose general appearance is absolutely as ‘70s as it’s possible to get. Clothes, hair, moustaches: all look like something from a contemporary parody of the decade, but there they are.

It’s great to see Cyril Shaps again, playing another nervous character, this time someone with psychic powers. We hear than the Brig has been involved with someone called Doris, and get to see some clips from Carnival of Monsters, something which is always to be welcomed. It’s also nice to get a letter from Jo telling us how she’s been getting on. She’s returned that blue crystal, though, for reasons which seem ominous.

We get an interesting speech from the lama, Cho-Je , about becoming a “new man" only to realise you’ve “never existed”. It’s almost as if something’s being foreshadowed in Buddhist terms. I wonder what?

Suddenly Cyril Shaps is dead- and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s pretty much entirely the Doctor’s fault, collateral damage from his desire to satisfy his curiosity. Again, foreshadowing.

It’s a great big spider…

Part Two

“Of course we’re flying!”

Spiders which jump on your back, turn invisible yet exert control… a brilliant idea, and one I’m sure we won’t ever be seeing again in the future, such as, for example, in thirty-four years time.

This is actually the last full on UNIT episode of the Pertwee years, and although there’s no real marking of this fact it’s not a bad way to go. The Brig’s hair may be a bit long (I’m one to talk, mind…) but there’s some good stuff, especially a nice line from Benton about how “I’m expendable and you’re not.” And the Brig’s on the phone to a medical officer called “Sullivan”- who he?

We get another mention of the Doctor’s hermit guru from halfway up that mountain, again foreshadowing later events. But basically this is a chase, involving land, sea, air, Bessie and the Doctor’s fantastic flying new car. And I like it- it’s fun, it’s appropriate as a celebration, so who cares if the plot is not advanced one iota, especially as Lupton just teleports away at the end?

Oh, and towards the end, we get our final comedy tramp of the Pertwee era. Not that there were really all that many of them in the end.

Part Three

“You are cleverer than the Two-Legs on Metebelis 3!”

Now there are loads of spiders, and after last week’s high jinks the plot is heating up. We get to hear enough of Lupton’s history to establish that he’s a nutter. I love the scene where both he and the spider attack each others’ minds in turn.

It’s a shock when Sarah is suddenly transported to Metebelis 3, the fabled planet which has been gradually seeded, Bad Wolf style, throughout the last couple of years. Things have changed since the Doctor was last here in The Green Death- it’s now inhabited by human colonists with Mummerset accents who are under the tyrannical rule of the mysterious spiders. Sarah’s quite extraordinarily brave at being suddenly transported to another planet and a bit of extreme peril- she’s quite clearly great by this point.

Interesting to have the Doctor explain to Yates something that’s always bugged me a bit- how come the TARDIS always lands at the right place on a given planet?

Part Four

“Oh dear. This is getting monotonous.”

The above quote most definitely does not sum up my feelings on this story- I think it’s great so far!

We get some nicely and economically sketched details of society on Metebelis 3. It may be a fairly generic Doctor Who trope, a society oppressed by monstrous rulers, but it’s only a minor subplot here. Incidentally, the Metebelis 3 colonists look every bit as uber-70s as the Buddhist group on Earth.

Tommy has a good look at the crystal and goes all Flowers For Algernon, a subtle hint of what’s happened to the spiders on Metebelis 3- they’re Earth spiders made larger and cleverer by the crystals, a big plot bombshell- and just how significant the crystal will turn out to be.

Sarah risks her life for the Doctor by going to get the machine for him, while the Doctor suddenly looks very old whilst lying there. Still, once cured he briefly reverts to some of the old Season Eight style rudeness by loudly waking his hosts at the crack of dawn.

The Doctor gets straight to work. This is good stuff!

Part Five

“Much as I admire your stoic acceptance of the inevitable, I’d appreciate it if you’d shut up for a moment.”

This is a very long reprise indeed, but the effect is that both Sarah and the Doctor end up in the “web”, waiting to be eaten. The Doctor escapes, but his confrontation with the Great One- all the more effective for being unseen- is deeply effective as the Doctor himself is clearly very frightened indeed. The story’s themes are starting to come together nicely; the Great One says to the Doctor “You are proud, little man.”

There’s a nice bit with our heroes about to leave Metebelis 3, as the Doctor briefly panics that he’s lost the key only for Sarah to calmly reveal that she has it. There’s also a nice touch with Tommy; Sarah suggests he might be “normal”, and he replies “I sincerely hope not.”

And then the crux of the whole story arrives as the Doctor and Sarah finally meet the mysterious K’anpo. (Incidentally, for future reference, the Doctor speaks fluent Tibetan.) It becomes clear that the Doctor is the cause of everything that’s going wrong, just because he found that crystal on Metebelis 3: “Found?” “Well, perhaps ‘stole’ might be a better word.”

Part Six

“Not all spiders sit on the back.”

Not only is the reprise very long, it also has scenes fitted around it which weren’t there last episode, which is sort of cheating. But it’s exciting stuff from beginning to end, one of the finest individual episodes yet. K’anpo reveals who he really is- the old Time Lord hermit who tutored the Doctor all those years ago. It seems he’s “regenerated” (the first use of the word- it gave me a thrill!) and that Cho-Je doesn’t technically exist at all but is some kind of avatar, some kind of “projection” of his next life. I’m sure there are Buddhist allusions here that I’m not getting, but it’s cool nonetheless.

The Doctor must face his fear and atone for what he’s done. There a real sense of inevitable doom as he sets off for Metebelis 3. Meanwhile, K’anpo is hurt after being attacked, and “regenerates” into Cho-Je. Cool!

The Great One is huge, and looks very impressive indeed. She’s overreached herself though, and the crystal is too much for her, just as K’anpo thought it would be. All the spiders are killed, but the Doctor’s been fatally affected by the radiation…

UNIT HQ. Three months later, and the TARDIS has finally brought the Doctor “home”- it’s fitting that this Doctor, having got over his exile, is now ready to admit just how attached he’s become to this one place and time. K’anpo gives the process a push and the Doctor’s face change. It may not be that visually impressive, but in context it’s a huge dramatic moment. Wow.

Well, that was great. I’m sure most of the Buddhist stuff went over my head, but it was a perfect framework for this Doctor’s swansong in a story which was truly about him as a character. 5/5.

The season as a whole scores 4.2/5, giving it fourth place so far. It’s been a season of four 5/5s and one 1/5, a strange combination!

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