Saturday 3 December 2011

376 Planet of the Spiders Part One

EPISODE: Planet of the Spiders Part One
TRANSMITTED: 04 May 1974
WRITER: Robert Sloman (and Barry Letts - Uncredited)
DIRECTOR: Barry Letts
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Planet of the Spiders
Episode Format: 625 video

Welcome to the final Third Doctor/Jon Pertwee story.

Mike Yates walks in the peaceful gardens of a rural Buddhist retreat. The Doctor & Brigadier have gone to the theatre to see Professor Hubert Clegg a renowned psychic. Yates finds a group of men chanting in a basement and witnesses something begin to materialise on their prayer mat before he accidentally gives himself away. Clegg comes to UNIT HQ to see the Doctor who has deduced he has real psychic powers and wants some aid into the ESP research he's doing. Mike calls Sarah Jane Smith for help, but Lupton, another resident at the retreat, objects to the journalist's presence to one of the monks, Cho-Je. Returning to his friends in the cellar Lupton they use their powers to force a tractor to nearly collide with Yates' car bringing Sarah to the monastery. Clegg demonstrates his powers using a tea tray, then the Brigadier's watch, a gift from a lady friend and then the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Finally Clegg hold a package that has just arrived for the Doctor, which contains the Blue crystal he gave Jo for her wedding present. Sarah meets Lupton and is intimidated by him. Jo has returned the crystal because the locals they have been working with belive it brings bad luck. Sarah befriends the Tommy, a retreat resident with a learning difficulty, allowing her & Mike to spy on Lupton's meditation session in the cellar. As they start to chant the Metebelis crystal begins to glow killing Clegg and creating a psychic disturbance in the Doctor's lab. Sarah & Mike witness a giant spider materialising on the prayer mat.....

That's a cracking first episode with plenty of mystery and some nice continuity to previous stories: Mike's taken himself off somewhere to sort his head out and Jo, not knowing what's happened in her absence, has included his name on the envelope for the crystal. I do wonder why Mike called Sarah. Yes, as he says, he did pull a gun on the Doctor, Brigadier & Sergeant Benton last time they met but he and Sarah barely know each other. Surely th Doctor would be a much more suitable person to call?

Doctor Who hasn't done a lot with telepaths and psychic powers till now. We hinted that Susan might have powers a few times, most prominantly in the Sensorites. I think this is one of the last times the subject is aproached in the series but the Doctor's hints that it's a latent gift in all mankind were picked up and expanded on by the Doctor Who New Adventures authors especially in the Psi Powers storyline. It's amusing here watching the Brigadier squirm as Doris gets mentioned. We know not what service he performed for her in Brighton but many years later, in Battlefield, we find he's married to a Doris who I think we can assume is the same person. In the same sequence the fork bending line is a joke at the expense of Yuri Geller who was just coming to prominance with a stage trick of bending cuttlery with the power of his mind!

More than anything else this story is one man's vision. All of the tales credited to Roger Sloman are co-written with Barry Letts, but he's also in the director's chair this time as well as producing. For this story he places his Buddhist beliefs to the forefront both in the Earth setting of a Buddhist monnestary and the overall theme of the tale. So given that it's Pertwee's last story and his natural tendency to cast actors he's familiar with Barry Letts raids the credits list for the last five years of Doctor Who when casting this story. Kevin Lindsay, playing Monk Cho Je, had got on very well with Pertwee when he played the Sontaran Linx in The Time Warrior and was an obvious choice for a return invite. He'll be back shortly as Styre/The Marshal in The Sontaran Experiment. Professor Clegg is Cyril Shaps who we saw in The Tomb of the Cybermen as the nervous John Viner and The Ambassadors of Death as the nervous Dr. Lennox. He's got one more Who role to come as the Archimandrite in The Androids of Tara.
Lead human villain Lupton is played by John Dearth, who was the voice of BOSS in the Green Death. Lupton's little gang is almost all Letts favourite actors: lead henchman Barnes is Christopher Burgess who was Swann in The Enemy of the World and Professor George Philips in Terror of the Autons, both directed by Barry Letts. Terence Lodge, playing Moss, was previously Medok in The Macra Terror and recently Orum in Barry Lett's last Doctor Who directing job, Carnival of Monster. Andrew Staines, here playing Keaver however has a full house of Letts productions so far to his name having appeared in The Enemy of the World (as Sergeant to Benik), Terror of the Autons (as Goodge), and Carnival of Monsters (as the Captain). The exception to the rule here is Land, played by Carl Forgione making his first Who appearance. He'll memorably return as Nimrod in Ghost Light.

The locations used in this episode include Motimer Station, where filming had to be timed around the two trains per hour that served the station, situated on the line from Reading to Basingstoke. Both Tidmarsh Lane, where the Tractor incident was staged, and Tidmarsh Manor, serving as the meditation centre, are found in Tilehurst about eight miles away to the north east of Reading.

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