Planet of the Spiders
|Planet of the Spiders|
|Air date||4 May - 8 June 1974|
|Written by||Robert Sloman|
|Directed by||Barry Letts|
|The Monster of Peladon||Robot|
Planet of the Splinkers is the fifth and final story of the 11th season of the British science fiction programme Doctor Who, which was written by some bloke named “Robert’s Slow, Man” and broadcast across the nation’s Image Reproduction Integrating Systems (IRISes) in 1974. It was Jon Pertwood's last serial as the Quatermass Doctor, and was Tom Baker’s first appearance as the Napping Doctor, although his name wasn’t listed in the credits yet. The story makes one last round of all the greatest hits and most annoying tics of Purtwest’s tenure, the most egregious being that it’s six episodes long.
But wait there’s more! So much more of the deepest lore in fact that we’d best get it all out of the way so I don’t have to stop to explain something every thirty seconds. So: It’s also the first time the programme called replacing its main star "regeneration,” The Brigadier's future wife Doris and the Doctor’s future imbecile Harry Sullivan both get namechecked, it’s the second and last appearance of the Whomobile, Mike Yates’ last canon appearance until he’s an illusion in The Five Doctors and just sad to see in Dimensions in Time(that one’s super-canon though),The Master’s widow Kismet Delgado gets to pretend she’s a spider, it rips off bits from both a James Bond and a Quatermass film that both came out in 1967 and a book called Flowers for Algernon from 1966(I guess the show as like seven years behind the times or something), Rusty later rips off the spider-on-their-back thing for NuWho, parts of this and the following episode Robot (Tomtom Baker’s first episode as the Proctor) were recorded at the same time so both Jon Pertwee and Baker were literally the Doctor at the same time (it’s a paradox ha ha!), and an idiot reads William Blake’s The Tyger (hi Phil!). I also found this sentence on Wikipedia which sort of sums it all up for me: "Pertwee didn't announce his retirement until after his request for a raise was denied in December 1973."
Inevitable Fan Controversy
Then-current bouncing ball of quirkiness Matt Smith gave a shout out the planet “Metebelis III” in the 2019 episode Hide (which could rightly also be called Love and Monsters, if you think about it), but pronounced the planet’s name differently than Pertwee had when they made this story over three hundred years previously. In this story, the Doctor pronounces it “die-ah-BEE-tis,” whilst Smith later had it “meh-teb-eh-liss”. Word has it that he pronounced it the Purtwhee way during filming, but changed to the latter form during re-taping of dialogue (a common film making technique used to cover for shoddy recording made on set, in hopes of disguising the sound of cocaine being snorted or, more frequently, the occasional audible sob an actor might let slip in a moment of weakness and realization). “True Fans” raked Smiff over the burning coals of nerd rage and one online poll even showed 81% of fans held the opinion that this was somehow important to anything ever, including Doctor Who. Sigh.
Pertwee’s Doctor can clearly be seen traversing the time vortex without his Tardis during the opening “howl around.” A nearly-hippy Mike Yates sees a cow and everyone but the Doctor and the Brig laughs. Then we cut back to Yates within a second, as if this story had been edited during the Davison run, randomly cutting back and forth between scenes that have barely started, much less finished. I guess this ADHD editing has been a problem at the BBC for decades, “Yates at house / Doctor and Brig bored by a bellydancer / Yates in house.”
Yates investigates chanting inside said house and here just within two minutes, Barry Lettsknot wastes no time by shoving in some of his buddhist ideas; if only more of the script had moved so quickly! Yates sees the chanting guys make a CSO glow effect on their Monopoly then drops his shoe running away. The Doctor and the Brig unenthusiastically applaud; well, actually the Brig was enjoying the belly dancer (who is never actually shown, curse the luck). The Doctor came (ha ha) to see the mind-reader act and so of course we cut back to the cultists whose chanting Yates mucked up. They figure out pretty easily who it was because Yates is terrible.
Back at UNIT, the Doctor has changed from his maroon outfit into a black one for some reason so that he and the Brig can talk to the mind reader (who’s bow tie would make Matt Smith envious) but the guy’s not sure why he’s come, ha ha. He nearly trips up over the word “perspicacious” and admits his stage act is just a trick, but the Doctor wants to check out the guy’s ESP which he’s actually been trying to hide, like this is the X-Men or something. The mind reader demonstrates his powers but can’t keep it up, ha ha! These double entendres are practically writing themselves, it’s like an episode of Archer. “Phrasing!”
One of the cultists trades buddhist bromides with a painfully white guy pretending to be Asian, and mentions that Sarah Jane is on her way. Yates picks her up at the Mortimer train station and she asks “what’s it all about? In reply Yates grabs his stick, I mean his car’s stick shift and zooms away with her. A couple of cultists bicker, then are rude to Tommy the idiot who looks first like Harry Sullivan then Moffat, a bit. Yates info dumps all over Sarah Jane, intercut with some more chanting, then almost hits a tractor that isn’t there. The Doctor hooks up the mind reader to some sciency stuff and the guy sees the Doctor setting fire to some puppets (we saw that footage too in Carbohydrates Of Monsters). The Asian white guy spews some more Buddhism and even Sarah Jane looks bored. Benton thinks the Doctor is a hairdresser and to be fair, he does look the part doesn’t he? Jo, who left the programme citing sexual exhaustion and her new relationship with a Dalek, has sent the Doctor his blue crystal from Metebelis 3. Yates and Sarah spy on a meditation group dozing through this episode (which at the eighteen minute mark has yet to connect its different plot lines), then are vaguely menaced by a couple of cultists, one whom reminds me Sir David Attenborough, if he were sorta creepy and evil (and bickering-prone).
Jo’s letter says she’s hunting for some mushrooms on Amazon (I’ve checked, they don’t sell them). Before the Doctor can even finish reading the damned letter, we cut back to Sarah Jane and Yates sneaking back into the house and meeting Tommy the idiot whom Sarah distracts with a pretty thing and a shameless display of feminine wiles. They sneak into the basement then hide when the cultists show up and start, sigh, chanting again; I swear, this first episode isn’t even over yet and I’ve heard enough chanting to last me for the next two Doctors. While the Doctor tries to finish reading the letter already, the cultists chant more and the mind reader dies in a scene pretty clearly stolen both in look and sound design from the Quatermass And The Pit film made in 1967, seven years previous to this story. Then a big, cheap, quivering spider puppet appears on the cultists’ Monopoly board.
The spider puppet kills one of the fleeing cultists with an electrical bolt, offers Sir David power, jumps on his back, then disappears. The Doctor and the Brig watch the dead mind reader guy’s recorded thoughts and see some silly footage of SPIDERS! The Doctor admits he’s responsible for the mind reader guy’s death and tries out the system-thing himself with the crystal, while Yates sends Sarah to fetch the Doctor and UNIT. Sir David has an imaginary friend on his back now who tells him the cultists are stupid, then info dumps a bit. The Doctor wakes up and starts telling some lame story about some old guy he knew who lived behind his house when he was growing up, and Tommy tries to get Yates into bed with threats of physical violence, so Yates distracts him with a pretty thing and a shameless display of feminine wiles. Then Sir David shows up and also tries to get Yates into bed. Seriously though why? He’s not like a real hottie or anything.
Sarah, who has also apparently changed outfits, tells the Doctor what she saw and makes about as much sense as the script itself but less so, which is probably why the Doctor’s not really listening to her. In a shot to remind us all of of of the existence of Bessie and the Whomobile (more on them later), Sir David is suddenly at UNIT HQ where he simply asks for directions to the Doctor, then kills the yabo who gave them to him. Some info dumping later, Sir David also zaps Benton who surprisingly doesn’t die. “You know, this is barmy!” - Sarah Jane Smith
The crystal vanishes, teleported into Sir David’s hand. Benton has just regained his feet and Sir David punches him, instead of using the electro-zap power, for some reason - great idea, Sir David spider-carrier, now they know it was you! The Brig is a terrible shot as Sir David steals the Whomobile, so the Doctor tells the Brig to stop shooting because he might damage the car, ha ha!
The rest of the episode is eleven minutes of chase scenes featuring Bessie, a flying Whomobile (that’s clearly reflecting the yellow CSO screen), one of those little mini-copters James Bond flew in You Only Live Twice back in 1967 (also just seven years before this story was broadcast), a comedy constable and a humorous hobo, a motorboat and hovercraft - and that was a pretty ridiculous sentence to have to write. It’s just the worst kind of self indulgent padding that ends when the Doctor finds out Sir David has teleported away anyway thanks to spider magic. The whole thing could have been avoided by having Benton say “He got away sir!” after Sir David gut-punched him. On the other hand, by the time that hovercraft comes in, and you’ve rolled your eyes for like the seventeenth time… it’s almost fun. Joan Pantweak’s going to be gone soon anyway, so let him have his fun I guess.
Sweaty Sir David has a fever dream about an info dumping spider council and takes a nap whilst his spider friend unconvincingly goes for a stroll. The white Asian guy misses the spider puppet that clearly in his line of vision whilst covering for Sir David while the Doctor asks about his crystal.
Sir Davis details his grievances with capitalism, washes his hands and face, allowing Tommy to steal the crystal. The spider comes back to prep Sir David to lie to the Doctor, then mentally tortures him like this!, jso Sir David mentally tortures it right back. Then they bicker. Coming to an understanding, they discover the crystal’s not under this book or in the pages of that one either. The Doctor bravely battles against the white Asian guy’s metaphors to speak with Sir David whilst Tommy lures Sarah away. Sir David decided to bluff to the spider queen (oh yeah, the spiders have a queen I guess, like bees or something?) that he still has the crystal. Tommy tries to give Sarah the crystal but she somehow doesn’t see it in the box inches from her face, then follows Sir David to the cellar, sending Tommy to find Yates and tell him where she went. Sarah watches Sir David chant and Tommy tells Yates and the Doctor.
Sir David teleports to Metebelis Three (either a bad model or a photograph of Utah; what is it this show has with Utah?), then Sarah also ends up going there too in a fairly decent quick-surprise scene, although Sir David doesn’t see her for some reason. He walks off and Sarah is captured by someone human. The Doctor can go to Metebelis III because he “hardwired it into the [Tardis’] program,” apparently not knowing the difference between hardware and software, and cryptically hints that the Tardis is alive. Sounds to me as if he’s just making shit up here.
Sarah is taken to speak to a guy with a fake beard who looks like Michael Palin’s “It’s!” guy from Monty Python. “Spiders” is a forbidden word. They try to throw her over a balcony then bicker; just another group of ‘bickering semi-primitive humans’, I think one of the characters is even listed in the credits as “Bickering Guy #2.” Everyone here came from Earth on a ship years ago or something, but they all hide when the spider queen shows up. Michael Palin bickers with the spider queen, then they capture Sarah. The Doctor steps out of his Tardis right in the middle of this, gets a decent fight scene with some of that good ol’ Venusian akido while Sarah escapes, then gets spider-ray zapped by one of the spider-serving humans. The other humans here.
The spider queen leaves and takes Michael Palin back to spider city, which sort of looks like volcanoes. The Doctor isn’t dead. The remaining cultists bicker, then find Tommy at the door, who decides to do some reading. Sarah agonizes over the dying Doctor. Sir David and his spider pal sit in on the spider council and sort of work in their bluff amongst some bickering. Tommy pulls out the crystal and tries to read a kiddie book, then passes out. Sarah is falling asleep, me too ha ha! Tommy wakes up and can read fast now, unlike the pace of the script. The Doctor sleeps through some bickering then asks Sarah to get a machine from the Tardis. Sarah gets it but leaves it on the ground when Sir David captures her, so after some more bickering, one of the humans gets it. The Doctor apparently zaps his time dick with it? It’s really hard to tell. Tommy reads Blake’s The Tyger then steals some more books to pad out the story with. Sara is thrown into the web room with a spider and a wrapped-up Michael Palin. The cultists bicker some more, “what’s the point?! You’re saying the same thing over and over again!” Tell me about it.
Yates brazenly misses the cultist hiding behind the door who knocks him out. The sun is up on Metebelis 3 and so is the Doctor, but Sarah’s all webbed up now as a spider snack. The Doctor starts some cross-cutting info dumping between him and the humans and Sarah with Michael Palin. The Doctor asks for some stones and Yates wakes up bound and gagged up on a bed, man he was popular this episode! The Doctor tries some stones with his machine that revived him and decides we’re really getting somewhere when his machine scares the humans. I wish I felt the same about the script. Quick as a wink, the Doctor’s in the spider city where he sees Sir David get arrested before he gets caught himself, losing his machine, then says “this is getting monotonous.” Yes, yes it is. Sarah resignedly say “Oh Doctor!” helplessly when she realizes he’s a prisoner too - what a cliffhanger!
Sir David and his spider friend bicker with the spider council so the queen’s going to go speak with “the great one” herself; by the way, “the great one” is not something anybody ever calls this story like they do The Caves Of Androzani. Now the Doctor’s all webbed up too, so he and Sarah make some dumb puns to pad the story. He’s about to tell her and Michael Palin about the plan the humans have to attack when guards interrupt them to take Sarah.
One of the semi-primitive humans has an itchy back during what would ostensibly be an otherwise important speech given by someone else the camera refuses to focus on instead, they strap rocks to their heads and head out to attack the spiders. The Doctor tells Michael Palin to shut up and then escapes the webs. Sarah has a pointless chat with the spider queen who’s probably trying to trick her, telling Sarah she’ll help the Doctor and her return to Earth, which it turns is exactly what was happening. Yates offers to help the cultists get their chant-link back for Sarah’s benefit, and they agree, somehow knowing she went to Metebelis Three even though they wasn’t there when it happened. Sir David bickers with the spider council.
Super Tommy is reading more, can’t figure out what’s happened and is about to go find Yates when he flashes back in a silly manner to some previous scenes, so he rehides the crystal and goes looking for the white Asian guy. The Doctor hears the disembodied voice of the great one tell him to get the crystal from Earth and bring it back. The cultists are opening the portal for spider invaders but don’t realize it. The white Asian guy also tells Tommy to get the crystal then interrupts the cultists and gets zapped by a spider; Yates too, so Tommy flees to tell some guy we’ve not seen yet called Camp-Out or something.
The Doctor meets up with Sarah who teleports him to the Tardis (which he overlooks for some reason) and all the cultists with spiders on their backs hide as the Tardis reappears back on Earth. They try to zap him but he uses one of the magic stones to defend himself, and Tommy helps them escape. He takes them to the Cain-Po, who’s another old guy with a beard, and the Doctor speaks Tibetan (he speaks everything). Cant-Poo asks the Doctor to tell him a story and the Doctor thinks he’s met this old dude before. The cultists, in a rather padded scene, all zap Super Tommy for another stellar cliff hanger!
Part Six (thank god)
This last part spends the first two minutes repeating the previous scene with the Doctor, then appears to fast forward to the cultists after they zapped Super Tommy, who’s somehow escaped and they’re trying to find him instead of getting into the room, which is why they were zapping him in the first place. This confusing stretch of scenes will make sense in a moment, sad, sad sense.. So with some spider psychic help they go looking for the crystal rather than, oh, I dunno, teleporting it to them like Sir David did back in part two? Turns out this confused part was actually bad editing, they’ve only now escaped the basement, in a scene that we did not actually see last episode. Confused? So was I, and it gets worse.
The Doctor talks whilst Sarah looks all weird and spooky because I bet you already know why, and the Kang-Po guy has the crystal. Sarah has a spider puppet on her back! Then oh hell, the cultists face off against Super tommy again, using the exact same footage we saw at the end of last episode! Who was editing this mess?! It’s awful. Sarah is the queen, no she is free and the spider queen drops off her back and fades away. Super Tommy can’t be zapped, “we’re not getting anywhere!” “I agree.” “And I.” “And I.” “And I.” And me too, christ! Kill this Doctor and let’s get on to “all teeth and curls” in Robot already!
The Doctor takes the blame for the whole thing (rightly so) and recognizes Kung-Pow as his friend who lived behind his house on a hill when he was growing up (out back of the barn one supposes). King-Oh says he’s regenerated, and then explains the concept to the audience because they’ve never used this word before. Hey, it was a long time ago, simply ages, back when it was just “this guy’s getting boring, let’s hire someone else.” Also, it turns out the white Asian guy is a projection of the Camp-Or for… reasons? I guess not all Timelords have that power or I don’t know, just roll with it, we’re nearly at the end anyway.
The spider council buzzes like bees sending more power to zap Super Tommy. Clamp-O asks us to forgive a cliche which I won’t. I think Sarah blows a line with “but you told me if you go back, the cave of crystal would destroy you!” “Cave of crystal”? Did she mean the cave of crystals? The cave of the crystal? Anyway, after five long years of six parters, Venusian akido, velvet jackets, and bouffant hairdos, the Doctor has to go.
The cultists again try to zap-kill Super Tommy but Yates gets in the way and drops; I guess Super Tommy just stood there and waited whilst they channeled power from the spider council or something. Klang-Gor teleports the Doctor to the Tardis then gets zapped, and the Doctor jumps through the already open door of the Tardis and pops off to Metebelis III; good thing the spiders didn’t just walk in and take the Tardis or anything earlier as that door was left open, right? The Doctor meets up with some of the humans whose attack was successful (but then how was the spider council around the channel power?) and they show him to “the cave of crystal,” so I guess Sarah didn’t blow her line after all. The projection-white Asian guy, who hasn’t vanished when the Trans-O guy has been zapped for some reason, says Yates aint dead and he needs to be taken to the Flamp-O. The Doctor finds out the humans’ attack did fail despite the magic stones and they’re slaves now who’ve taken him to the spider council - so I got that wrong too. I guess I should just shut up and stop asking questions, which is admittedly the only way to watch Doctor Who.
The spider council praises the great one some, then say they’re glad to see this Doctor die (too). Sir David starts ranting about spiders and they kill him (finally). Yates is fine but Pimp-O dies and the white Asian guy fades away (finally). Then Sampo regenerates into… the white Asian guy! It’s The Watcher thing all over again. Well, “for the first time” I guess. The Doctor finally sees the great one and - surprise! - it another spider puppet made to look bigger with CSO. She asks for the Doctor to give it to her, she thirsts for it, she aches for it. “Phrasing!”
Something about using the crystal to increase her brain makes the great one die. The spider council is reduced to a pile of spider puppets, the humans are free and the spiders fall dead off the cultists’ backs. The Doctor, not looking all that much like someone who’s dying, takes his time getting back into the Tardis and then some mountain, presumably the one the great one was in although we’ve never seen it previously, explodes and listlessly crumbles into itself, much like this story.
Back at UNIT, Sarah smells the Doctor's coat and tells the Brig that the Doctor’s been gone three weeks; try a whole year without any new episodes, Sarah, we’re ready to smell his coat too. The Brig drops another hint about the Doctor changing his face, and just as Sarah says they’ll never see him again, the Tardis pops in like it was a cue or something. The Doctor, his immaculately coiffed Mrs. Slocum hair mussed for once, steps out and falls over. He gets in a couple of good lines then sleeps right through his regeneration into Tomb Breaker, who also can’t be bothered to wake up for his first scene. The white Asian guy, I mean Camp-O teleported in to explain to everyone what regeneration was one more time too.
At the start of the show, they get a fake magician with psychic powers who dresses like a combination of the first three doctors to come in and get his brain melted by the crystal because the Doctor was too caught up in his own bullshit to realize the guy was dying. BRAVO SLOMAN. Or maybe LETTS.
The crystal's really not as important as it's made out to be.
We also get to meet the mysterious hermit the Doctor told us about a few times. Maybe? And he also uses a psychic projection to create his future self to help him regenerate, just like the Watcher. Maybe?
Good thing the next story is so much better, huh?