Dr Who: Planet of the Spiders

Monday, 25 July 2011 08:59

Doctor Who history is a long and winding road, full of coincidences. “Planet of the Spiders” is one of those major milestones of the series, marking the final story of the Jon Pertwee era, and in the last seconds we see the first glimpse of Tom Baker taking on the role. The late Elisabeth Sladen become one of only a few companion characters who bridged eras by staying with the series, and as Sarah Jane Smith became immortal, the character even getting her own series.

This story came out in its latest version for the home market on 18 April 2011, the day before Elisabeth’s death. The fact that she was ill had been a closely guarded secret; no-one ever guessed anything was wrong, and plans for more episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures were well advanced.  Of course, there was no way that series could survive without her – recasting was completely out of the question: Elisabeth Sladen WAS Sarah Jane Smith.

Doctor Who - Planet of the Spiders Double DVDThis two disc set therefore takes on an added poignancy, given the regeneration that takes place at its conclusion, that the show will go on. And so, to the plot. What begins as innocuous research into Extra Sensory Perception turns into a deadly mind battle, with terrifying spiders from the planet Metebelis Three pitted against The Doctor, his friends and Time Lord K'Anpo.

At a Tibetan-style spiritual retreat deep in rural England, a clandestine circle of chanting brethren unknowingly call upon the evil powers of the rulers of Metebelis, whose quest for the perfect blue crystal leads them straight to the Doctor. He must travel to the alien planet to meet the ‘Great One’, merciless ruler of her spiders and their human slaves, who plans to take over Earth.

The future of the entire universe is in the Doctor's hands, but if he is to face the fear the ‘Great One’ sees in his mind, then he must face the certainty of total destruction. Could this be the Time Lord's final moments?

This is an epic story, a fitting finale for the end of an era. The only downside is that the spiders themselves simply don’t convince – although I recall at the time, as a nine year-old, them being convincing enough for that age group! There’s enough atmosphere and convincing characterisations to hold the tale together, despite the shortcomings of the giant arachnids.

I last saw Lis at our 2006 Cult TV Festival. She’d been a regular supporter of our events in the 1990s, and had been a delight at that time. Something was very amiss in 2006, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Needless to say I can’t help thinking, in retrospect, that her illness had been diagnosed by that time. From what others have said, she was the consummate professional right up until the end, which only makes me think that her guard was down with me at that weekend, in Hemsby, on England’s east coast.

We’ve said it many times before, but the one thing that can never be erased are the memories, especially when they are preserved on film. There was a lot of Elisabeth Sladen in Sarah Jane Smith, and this is a story which showcases her character to its best advantage.

DVD extras in this set include the following:

  • Commentary with Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney and Richard Franklin, producer and director Barry Letts, and script editor Terrance Dicks.
  • “The Final Curtain” – five years after its re-invention in colour and its rise to massive popularity, it was time for Doctor Who’s charismatic lead actor Jon Pertwee to move on… and with him the production team that had guided the show throughout that period. This documentary looks at the background to the Third Doctor’s swansong. With actors Jon Pertwee and Richard Franklin, producer / director Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, designer Rochelle Selwyn, visual effects assistant Mat Irvine and actor and author Mark Gatiss. Narrated by Glen Allen.
  •  “John Kane Remembers…” – actor John Kane memorably played the gentle, slow-witted Tommy, reborn through the power of the Metebelis crystal. An accomplished writer and series creator, Kane now lives in France, from where he looks back on his memories of the story.
  • “Directing Who with Barry Letts” – Barry Letts was perhaps most famous as producer of Doctor Who, but he was also responsible for directing some of the show’s best-loved stories. Barry looks back on his career as a director in this documentary.
  • “Now & Then” – the latest instalment in our ongoing series takes a trip back to some of the locations used during production of the story.
  • “Planet of the Spiders - Omnibus Edition” – the full-length omnibus edit of the story, presented totally unrestored.
  • Omnibus Trailer
  • Photo Gallery - production, design and publicity photos from the story.
  • Radio Times Listings in Adobe PDF format.
  • Coming Soon - a trailer for a forthcoming DVD release.
  • Programme subtitles.
  • Subtitle Production Notes.

As usual, this is a superb range of extras which do justice to the story and its significance. The fact we also get to hear Lis on the commentary for it, alongside the also much-missed Brigadier, Nicholas Courtney, also cranks up the added value within this release.

“Planet of the Spiders” is out now, with a running time of 360 minutes approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RRP of £20.42, or secure it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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