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2x1. Planet of Giants
Writer: Louis Marks
Directors: Douglas Camfield & Mervyn Pinfield
Script Editor: David Whitaker
Producers: Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis: The Doctor and his companions find themselves shrunk to the size of insects by the sudden increase in pressure when the TARDIS doors open before the ship can properly materialize. They land on Earth and are threatened by natural dangers as well as the schemes of a murderous businessman
who wants to conceal the dangerous effects of his new pesticide VN6.

Review: "Planet of Giants" is in some ways the toughest kind of episode to review. It's almost uniformly average, with few exceptional moments and equally few glaring flaws. At the level of its fairly modest ambitions, it basically works, and I'm not sure what I'd suggest to improve the story, but it didn't capture my attention like "The Aztecs" or even "Inside the Spaceship" did.

These early Doctor Who episodes have done a pretty good job of showing the TARDIS crew solving problems without resorting to brute force. While there was some action and violence in "The Daleks" and "The Keys of Marinus," the emphasis was still on the way they used their brains to handle tough situations, and "Planet of Giants" takes that to its logical extreme by rendering them almost entirely incapable of using physical force against the various dangers they encounter. Not all of their efforts are successful -- they labor at great length to make a telephone call only to find that the person at the other end can't hear them -- but they're adept enough to escape with their lives and intelligent enough to figure out what's going on with DN6 based on the evidence of the dead insects, the scientific documentation they come across, and the body of the murdered Mr. Farrow. The four of them are also at their most comfortable with each others' company that we've seen so far, as there is no trace of the animosity and mistrust that the Doctor had displayed towards Ian and Barbara in some of the first season episodes.

Two elements of the story do stand out from the rest. The first is the character of Dr. Smithers, whose name it is impossible to hear without laughing in the post-Simpsons era but who makes for a refreshingly conflicted antagonist. He participates in Forester's scheme, but reluctantly, and only because he's unaware of Farrow's true findings about DN6 and still believes it can be used to prevent starvation deaths. Since the TARDIS crew never really interact with the other human characters, Smithers forms a nice contrast to the truly selfish and ruthless Forester. The second is the specifics of the plot itself, which seems to reflect the concerns of an earlier phase of the environmental movement before issues like global warming and ozone depletion became more prominent. Writer Louis Marks was reportedly inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which was published only two years earlier, and "Planet of Giants" acquires a certain historical significance as a result. If nothing else, it's worth a look for anyone studying the ways in which environmentalist concerns have been portrayed in popular entertainment.

One area in which the serial feels a bit "off" is in its handling of Barbara and her poisoning by DN6. It's not at all clear to me why she chooses to hide this from the others, and it's equally unclear why none of them realize that this is the reason for her strange behavior and unexplained fatigue when the Doctor has warned them all that they could be in danger from the pesticide. I also didn't think much of the Doctor's eventual "solution" to their predicament, which is to try to lure the authorities to the house by starting a fire. First of all, it doesn't really work: though they manage to burn Forester's face and prevent him from potentially killing Smithers, nothing actually catches fire, and Forester is only caught because the suspicious telephone operator had sent her policeman husband over to investigate. Second of all, I realize that they were running out of time to save Barbara, but isn't this kind of irresponsible? They had no idea how big the house was or who else might be there, and starting a fire could just as easily have killed everyone and destroyed the evidence of what Forester and Smithers were doing. And come to think of it, why couldn't they go back to the TARDIS, cure Barbara, and then return to the house to try to stop Forester? They still would have faced danger given their size, of course, but it actually seems like the less risky of their options.

Still, whatever its merits and faults, "Planet of Giants" is not a story that leaves much of an impression either way. It's mildly interesting for its environmental theme and for the three-episode format that would not be used again until the Sylvester McCoy era (though it was originally filmed as a four-parter, with the last two episodes condensed at Verity Lambert's order). Otherwise, it can safely be filed away under "Competent but Forgettable."

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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