Timestamp #74: Planet of the Spiders

Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders
(6 episodes, s11e21-e26, 1974)

Timestamp 074 Planet of the Spiders

 

I don’t like spiders. I’ll try not to let that color my commentary.

Mike Yates, who we haven’t seen since his betrayal of UNIT and the Doctor, is recuperating at a Buddhist meditation center led by a man named K’anpo and his assistant, Cho Je. He finds a secret group in the basement that may be up to no good, so he calls Sarah Jane and they investigate matters. On the way back to the center, Sarah Jane is convinced of the fascinating tale when they get run off the road by an imaginary tractor. The leader of the secret group, Mr. Lupton, meets the cinematic standard of a villain since he physically abuses and bullies Tom, a man with a mental disability.

The Doctor is at a comedy show of some sort with the Brigadier. He’s there to see a psychic, Professor Herbert Clegg, who he invites to UNIT. Clegg is a very powerful clairvoyant, and he submits to some experiments to determine his full strength. One, for example, summons experiences from the sonic screwdriver and displays them on a monitor. During this evaluation, a package arrives from Jo Grant containing the crystal from Metebilis III, which is an odd way to re-gift a wedding present. Professor Clegg has a violent psychic reaction to the crystal, resulting in a fatal fear-induced heart attack. Simultaneously, Lupton’s group summons an intelligent and powerful spider from another dimension, and that spider merges with Lupton’s body. Sarah Jane and Yates witness this event, and she returns to UNIT and relays the tale to the Doctor.

The Doctor gazes into the crystal, sees the hermit who lived behind his childhood home, and relays the story to the Brigadier. Meanwhile, Lupton is driven by the spider to seek the crystal at UNIT HQ. He forces his way in and steals the crystal, which prompts an extensive chase. Lupton steals the Whomobile, so Sgt. Benton, Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier follow in Bessie, while the Doctor provides air support in a small, one-man helicopter. After the whole group breaks some local speed laws, a police officer joins the chase in a moment of levity. After they all stop at an airport, Lupton steals the helicopter, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane continue pursuit in the Whomobile, which (conveniently) can now fly. The ground chase gives way to a water chase involving a hovercraft and a speedboat, which results in a several rather obvious reveals of the Jon Pertwee’s stunt double. When the Doctor finally catches up to the speedboat, Lupton has vanished.

Take a moment and catch your breath.

Lupton apparates back to the retreat and is seen by Tommy, who only has eyes for the crystal and covets it for his collection of “pretties.” As the Doctor and Sarah Jane track Lupton back to the retreat, the Lupton-Spider calls home to the spider community on Metebilis III and conspires to take over Earth. The spider attempts to coerce Lupton through telepathic pain, but Lupton levels up and reverses the effect on the spider. Meanwhile, Tommy steals the crystal and hides it in his cupboard under the stairs.

I found the fact that he lives under the stairs to be quite interesting. It’s part of the Madwoman in the Attic trope, where the socially undesirable member of the house is locked away from public view to save face. In some cases, this person ends up being the hero of the story of a fulcrum to pivot the plot and enable the hero to save the day. Three of my favorite examples are Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scorpius in Farscape, and Harry Potter in the franchise of the same name.

Tommy takes Sarah Jane to look at the crystal, but Sarah Jane overhears Lupton and follows him to the basement. She asks Tommy to relay her plans to Yates and watches Lupton apparate to Metebilis III. She inadvertently follows him and gets captured by a group of humans who are subjects to the queen spider and her society of Eight Legs. The queen just happens to visit the village and Sarah Jane is discovered. The Doctor gives chase in the TARDIS and arrives just as the queen discovers Sarah Jane. The Doctor gets into a fight with the queen’s human guards, and is eventually incapacitated and left for dead as the queen and her retinue depart. During the fracas, Sarah Jane hides in the crowd.

Back on Earth, Tommy gets into an altercation with Lupton’s comrades. He returns to his cupboard and gazes into the crystal, which heals his brain. On Metebilis III, Lupton realizes that he is a only a cog in the overall Eight Leg machine designed to overthrow the queen. Sarah Jane retrieves a machine from the TARDIS to help heal the Doctor, but she is captured by the Eight Legs. One of the indentured humans uses the machine to help the Doctor as Sarah Jane learns the history of Metebilis III from a fellow captive named Sabor. The humans are descendants of a crashed spaceship, and the Eight Legs are spiders that were on the ship and were mutated by the crystals.

The Doctor investigates different types of stones around the human village and finds one that negates the energy attacks of the Eight Legs followers. He infiltrates the spider fortress and is captured, but escapes using techniques learned from Harry Houdini. As the Doctor makes his way to the lair of the Great One, the supreme spider, the queen takes Sarah Jane and confides in her that the queen wants peace with humanity. Sarah Jane agrees to get the crystal if the humans are all released.

The Doctor reaches the lair of the Great One, but she warns him not to go any further due to intense radiation. She wants the crystal, the last perfect crystal of power, but the Doctor doesn’t yield. The Great One telepathically forces the Doctor to march about like a tin soldier (to music very reminiscent of the march of the Cybermen), before releasing him so he can retrieve the crystal. He escapes with Sarah Jane, who has apparently learned how to apparate from the queen, and they return to Earth.

Lupton’s followers open the gateway to the spiders, who transport to Earth. The spiders attack Cho Je and Yate, and then possess the followers. They then attack the Doctor and Sarah Jane, who are saved by Tommy before being taken to K’anpo. During their discussion, K’anpo is very impressed with the Doctor’s knowledge of Tibetan customs, and the Doctor feels that K’anpo is familiar to him.

In the interim, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy, and they fire on him with their Force lightning energy beams. At this point, it’s painfully obvious how much padding this serial has. The recaps in each episode are pretty long, but the last one is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back with significant re-editing to reveal things that would have spoiled the cliffhanger. I’m sure it was different back in 1974 when the break between episodes was a whole week, but when they’re watched back-to-back, the extensive recaps become painful. Regardless, this whole serial could be cut down into three or four episodes instead of six.

Anyway, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy because Tommy delivered it to K’anpo. At this point, we find out that Sarah Jane is under the control of the queen, who has tricked her to retrieve the crystal. K’anpo and the Doctor free her with the crystal, and the queen dies as she apparates back to Metebilis III. In a twist, K’anpo is revealed as the hermit from the Doctor’s childhood. He is a Time Lord as well, but chose not to follow the path of others like the Doctor, having regenerated and left Gallifrey to live in Tibet. Cho Je is merely a projection of K’anpo’s mind.

Here we are with some important mythology points: We learn the name for regeneration, as well as getting another reference to the Doctor stealing the TARDIS and running from Gallifrey.

The Doctor communes with K’anpo and realizes that he must take the crystal to the Great One. His greed for knowledge and his theft of the crystal set all of this in motion, and only he can stop it by facing his fears.

Outside, Tommy is resisting the spider lightning, so Lupton’s followers channel power from the spider council on Metebilis III and use it to attack Tommy. He resists the first blast, and Yates dives in to take the second. The followers burst into K’anpo’s chambers just as the hermit tells the Doctor how to apparate. The followers shoot K’anpo before running for the basement, but the Doctor is too quick for them. He returns to Metebilis III, but is betrayed by the villagers who are under the influence of the spider council. The Doctor easily convinces the council that he will return the crystal to the Great One alone, and they allow him to leave. Afterward, the Eight Legs kill Lupton for his insolence.

Back on Earth, Yates and Tommy have (conveniently) survived, the former being protected by his compassion, and the latter by his innocence. Given that the same blasts force K’anpo to regenerate into Cho Je, I think that Yates and Tommy should have died. It certainly would have given Yates a bit of redemption after his betrayal.

The Doctor enters the lair of the Great One, who desires the perfect crystal to complete a telepathic weapon that will saturate the universe with her mind. She takes the crystal and puts it in place, but the device overloads and destroys her and the Eight Legs civilization. The Doctor escapes, but is weakened from the large dose of radiation he absorbed.

Three weeks later, the Doctor is still missing. As the Brigadier and Sarah Jane discuss the Doctor’s absence, the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor falls out of the TARDIS, just as he did when he first arrived, after being lost in the time vortex. He has received a fatal dose of radiation and is dying. He says his goodbyes to Sarah Jane, and then regenerates.

Tucked into his farewells is the phrase “Where there’s life, there is hope,” which comes from the Roman play Heauton Timorumenos, but also has roots all over mythology. It’s a universal theme, and very relevant to the character of the Doctor, a being who brings hope everywhere he goes spanning lifetime after lifetime.

Overall, I had a hard time with this story. If it were presented on its own, I’d score it as a 2. It’s far too spread out and padded, especially in the recaps, but it gains some salvation in the ties into the franchise’s mythology, especially for reaching into our hero’s childhood once again. Adding a point for those ties and another for the regeneration handicap, and this one comes to a total of 4, but I still think that it’s a pretty bad way for the Third Doctor to end his era.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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Timestamp #64: The Time Monster

Doctor Who: The Time Monster
(6 episodes, s09e21-e26, 1972)

Timestamp 064 The Time Monster

 

The Doctor has some weird dreams.

Foreshadowing events to come over the next three hours, he has a nightmare about the Master and trident-shaped crystal, which is (1) a bit on the nose symbolically since it comes from Atlantis, and (2) exactly what the Master happens to be holding in his guise of a science professor. Of course, this is the third time Doctor Who has tapped on the Atlantis mythos, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The Doctor is concerned about his nightmare, and he tells the Brigadier (who has been laying low since the Daleks waged gorilla on guerilla warfare) to alert UNIT to be on the lookout for the Master. The Brigadier does so sarcastically, and then reminds the Doctor that UNIT is obligated to attend the demonstration of TOMTIT – a project that demonstrates Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time and the Master’s desire to spell something silly – but since the Doctor and Jo are waiting for the Master to strike and Captain Yates has the duty, poor Sergeant Benton is ordered to cancel his leave and join the Brigadier at the Newton Institute.

What the Doctor doesn’t realize is that leave is one of the most precious commodities in the world to an enlisted man. I’m not saying that he should watch his back from this point forward, but maybe he should start carrying a rear-view mirror everywhere he goes.

Instead of requisitioning a rear-view mirror, the Doctor builds a time sensor – a TARDIS “sniffer-outer” – that starts going ballistic when the TOMTIT scientists start a rehearsal of the experiment. That Master gets angry that the team started early, but Dr. Ruth Ingram points out that the experiment overloaded its circuits during the teleportation, and the Master determines that the crystal is drawing energy from outside time itself. He decides to skip the traditional post-demonstration wine-and-dine when he sees UNIT arrive for the show.

The Doctor and Jo track the source of the temporal readings in Bessie, which now has a Super Pursuit Mode sans absurd transforming sentient Trans-Am, and we also start seeing the depths of the Doctor’s obsession with Venus. He has programmed the time sensor to read in Venusian miles, requiring a conversion table for each calculation. The sensor spikes as the Master, cleverly disguised in a radiation suit, begins the experiment which turns out to be a front to summon a being called Kronos.

The experiment creates bubbles of time dilation, and when the Doctor arrives, he is slowed down and Jo is frozen. Stuart, the research assistant, has aged sixty years due to radiation exposure as his own personal temporal reference has been accelerated. Dr. Ingram – call her Ruth – mentions Professor Thascalos, and the Doctor’s mastery of Greek uncovers the Master’s identity. The Brigadier orders support troops, the Doctor’s TARDIS, and an evacuation of non-essential personnel from the Institute, and the Doctor investigates the crystal at the heart of TOMTIT. Kronos is a fearsome member of the Chronovore race who live outside of and eat time, and the mythology is an interpretation of actual events. The crystal is the same one that summoned Kronos to Atlantis thousands of years ago, and the rest of it is located in the Vault of Poseidon, deep in the legendary city thousands of years in the past.

The Master’s TARDIS is disguised as a computer in the laboratory, and to get to it, he tricks Benton into leaving the laboratory. Benton sees through the ruse, but gets knocked out upon ambushing the Master. The Master summons an Atlantean priest named Krasis, and the priest possesses a holy seal that contains the secret of summoning Kronos. With all the keys in place, the Master summons Kronos. The mighty creature eats the institute’s director as Stuart de-ages and the Brigadier, Benton, and Ruth get trapped by the temporal field. Kronos proves to be uncontrollable, and the Master returns it to the crystal.

The Doctor makes a temporal jamming device, but it doesn’t last long. As Captain Yates and UNIT arrive, the Master summons opposition from the past in the form of a medieval knight, a squad of Roundheads, and a V1 bomb. The V1 takes out the convoy but everyone is okay, and as Ruth, Stuart, and Benton go to the lab to take on the Master, the Doctor and Jo take to the TARDIS.

The TARDIS has a new desktop – the wash basin roundels are a nice touch – and the Doctor develops a plan to materialize his TARDIS inside the Master’s TARDIS. This concept of a TARDIS inside a TARDIS boggles the mind, but it’s possible. Really tricky, but possible. If the calculations aren’t precise, a time ram will occur that will annihilate both of them.

Jo’s bravery and spunk motivate the Doctor, and the TARDIS lands. The two are linked as the Master’s TARDIS appears to materialize inside the Doctor’s. When he leaves, his TARDIS is inside the Master’s. They leave the Master’s and emerge into the Doctor’s. They are both inside each other, creating a time loop.

When the UNIT troops arrive – Krasis’s temporal ignorance is a fantastic alarm system – and the Master extends a time field to prevent them from interfering. The duo take off for Atlantis, and since the TARDISes are linked, the Doctor and Jo go with him. Meanwhile, Ruth, Stuart, and Benton are trapped in the lab, and they work to deactivate the time field and rescue the Brigadier’s squad. The plan backfires, and Benton gets turned into a baby.

After a sequence that helps develop the franchise’s basis for the TARDIS’s telepathy and language interpretation skills, the Doctor is forced to leave his TARDIS to confront the Master. The Master summons Kronos, which eats the Doctor (setting him adrift in the time vortex) before returning to the crystal. The Master then ejects the Doctor’s TARDIS into the time vortex. After the turbulence, Jo comes to and hears several whispers from the Doctor, but a single, strong voice comes through clearly via the TARDIS. The TARDIS and the Doctor work with Jo to rescue the Time Lord before setting course for Atlantis.

In the legendary lost city, King Dalios holds court, and rabble-rouser Hippias wishes for a return to the glory during the era of Kronos. Dalios attempts to dissuade them, but the Master interrupts him with a grand entry and claims to be an envoy of the gods. When Krasis claims to have seen Kronos, Dalios takes him and the Master into private conference. The Doctor arrives shortly thereafter, and Krasis attempts to kill him but Hippias intervenes. The Doctor and Jo are taken to Dalios instead.

The Master is dismissed after failing to place Dalios under his thrall, and he’s surprised to see the Doctor alive. The Doctor and “Jo Jo Grant” meet with Dalios, and the king sends Jo to meet with his queen, Galleia. Later on, Galleia meets with the Master, who offers him the crystal. Jo attempts to inform the king and the Doctor, but she is turned away. She pursues Hippias, who is tasked with retrieving the crystal for Galleia, but is captured by Krasis and locked in with the crystal’s guardian, the Minotaur.

The Doctor finds out about Jo and goes after her. Hippias tries to save Jo, but the Minotaur kills him, and the Doctor does his best olé by bullfighting the guardian into a wall. As the wall crumbles, the crystal chamber is exposed, and Krasis takes the Doctor and Jo to see the king. Unfortunately, the king has been deposed thanks to Galleia and replaced by the Master. He imprisons the Doctor and Jo, and after the Doctor relates a tale about the blackest day of his life. Behind his home on a mountain was a hermit (a monk, but not The Monk) who spent half his life under a tree. The hermit listened to the Doctor’s woes, and then pointed to a flower, which presented the Doctor a new perspective on life. Afterward, Dalios is imprisoned in the same cell, shares his vision of the Doctor saving Atlantis, and then dies.

Later on, Galleia addresses Atlantis and presents the Master as king, and he offers to summon Kronos. The Doctor reveals to Galleia that Dalios is dead, and she turns on the Master. Kronos is summoned and the Master orders it to destroy Atlantis. The Master escapes with the crystal, but Jo pursues him into his TARDIS. The Doctor chases after them in his TARDIS and threatens the Master with a time ram. The Master calls the Doctor’s bluff, and Jo initiates the time ram, catapulting both TARDISes into a featureless place. They are greeted by Kronos, who was released when the TARDISes collided. She grants the Doctor and Jo a reward for their assistance, and they ask to be returned home. She intends to keep the Master in torment and punishment, but the Doctor asks for leniency. Of course, the Master takes the opportunity to escape.

With the universe saved once again, the Doctor and Jo return to Cambridge as the time field is released and the TOMTIT device explodes. Everything is back to normal, the Brigadier acts as comic relief, and Benton returns to adult form in his vintage birthday suit.

The Doctor might really want to consider that rear view mirror.

This was a pretty good serial, but not quite up to the bar set by the rest of the season. It was certainly fun, but it’s kind of hard to follow The Mutants.

I appreciated that the writers hung a lampshade on the TOMTIT acronym: Almost every time it was mentioned, one of the companions would do a double take, and it’s understandable. The device looks nothing like a small bird or a biplane, and between this and the rather unfortunate shape of the time sensor, I think the creative team was having some fun with this one.

I also liked the symmetry of the Master and the Doctor simultaneously working the overload problem in separate locations. These frenemies (hey, the word’s been around since the 1950s) are really not that different if you strip away their motivations, and if the Master could get over his self-sabotaging need to have his plans overpower him, he’d be nearly unstoppable. I also liked how the Master didn’t engage the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit when he traveled to Atlantis. It added to the shock and awe of seeing a foreign object materialize from thin air.

I enjoyed the humor behind the Doctor showing up the Brigadier and his disdain of Bessie with the car’s super drive. I also liked seeing Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse in something other than Star Wars.

Overall, this was a great story that was perhaps a bit long, and even judged on its own merits is the weakest part of an otherwise spectacular season.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Ninth Series Summary

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.