Planet Of The Giants is an anomaly in the Doctor Who canon. Series creator Sydney Newman had originally envisaged a TARDIS that would place our heroes into “unusual physical states” as well as taking them backwards and forwards in time. This story, which originally opened the show’s second season, was the only one which ever made use of that concept, and it already looked massively out of place.
The TARDIS malfunctions; everyone is shrunk down to about one inch tall and – well, that’s it, basically.
There’s a pathetic Fifties B-movie sub-plot about an evil businessman who will stop at nothing to get a dangerous new insecticide on the market, which is obviously only there to give the TARDIS crew a reason to run from set-piece to set-piece. But the set-pieces are very good indeed: Ian gets trapped in a matchbox; the Doctor and Susan nearly get washed down a plughole; Barbara is menaced by a giant fly. We aren’t looking at ‘special effects’ – the production team physically built giant sinks and telephones. The fly is obviously a puppet, but it’s still one of best-realised creatures in the whole of the black-and-white era.
However silly the story gets – and it gets very silly indeed – William Russell (Ian) and Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) continue to treat it seriously. At one point Barbara gets insecticide on her hands, falls ill and won’t tell anyone – and the two of them act just as hard as if they were doing Shakespeare. Sadly, Hartnell plays the Doctor as a funny uncle rather than a scary old man, and is mostly just annoying.
Episode one will make you scream at the characters – they encounter giant ants, giant worms and giant telegraph poles (Ian theorises they’re in a museum full of giant replicas of small objects), but it’s good fun – a charming reminder of an era when you didn’t know what the TARDIS was going to throw at you next.