Day three / Regeneration three in the Regeneration Marathon, and as you’d expect, it’s the Third Doctor’s time to go! (That actually won’t be as predictable later, sadly…) Planet of the Spiders is an odd story, a six-parter that’s equal parts weird Bond chase scenes, equal parts alien spider creatures enslaving an alien race… and that’s not even mentioning Tibetan Time Lords or a remorseful Mike Yates! Let’s take a look at Jon Pertwee’s send off, then, shall we?
The blue crystal that the Doctor took from Metebelis III in a previous adventure is desperately sought by the Eight Legs, a race of mutated spiders, as the final element in their plan for universal domination. With help from an old mentor, the Doctor realises the only way to foil the plot is to make the ultimate sacrifice. The Doctor must risk death to return to the cave of the Great One and save the universe.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The classic giant spider on Sarah’s back scene! I knew about this long before I first saw this serial!
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) – Despite having all of time and space at his disposal, The Doctor still finds himself drawn to modern day Earth and his UNIT friends, though it’s safe to say this may be one day he’d wish he stayed in the TARDIS for…
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) – Sarah, still a journalist at heart, sees these trips back to Earth as a chance to get a new scoop before being once again whisked away into space and time, though her story this day may be more than she bargained for…
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – Head of UNIT’s London branch, the Brigadier surprisingly has little to do here, with most of the “action” taking place on an alien planet. That being said, he at least gets a good chase out of it!
Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) – Mike Yates, striped of his rank due to a moment of weakness in joining a rather crazy bunch of scientists in returning the Earth to a point where no humans existed (… safe to say he got off lightly…) Mike Yates begins to look into a mysterious group of people at K’anpo Rimpoche’s Meditation Centre…
Sgt. Benton (John Levene) – Sgt. Benton is a regular with UNIT, and … well, doesn’t do a lot here, but he’s still a loyal and dependable (as well as really pleasant) soldier when he is!
Lupton (John Dearth) – After being made redundant, Lupton looked for revenge and the power to do so, and after a time meditating at K’anpo Rimpoche’s Meditation Centre he was contacted by an alien race who had the power to give him everything he wanted…
K’anpo Rimpoche (George Cormack / Kevin Lindsay) – A Time Lord who has come to Earth as a type of retirement, living as a Buddhist monk and later opening a Meditation Centre for Earthlings in need. K’anpo is a very powerful Time Lord, and an old mentor of The Doctor.
Tommy (John Kane) – A simple-minded man who works as a handyman for K’anpo’s Buddhist Meditation Centre. His simple mind may be key is surviving the coming crisis…
The Eight Legs (Various) – The Eight Legs are an off-shoot of Earth Spiders that grew in size and mental ability due to being stranded on Metebelis III and gaining power from the planet’s blue crystals. They now enslave the human inhabitants of the planet and wish to do the same to the rest of the universe…
Plus many more!
Honest question: could this look any more like old fashioned sci-fi?
There is a lot to like about Planet of the Spiders, but what comes to mind straight away is the cast. The regulars, especially The Doctor, Sarah Jane and (semi-regular) Mike Yates all had good roles in the story. The Doctor’s seemingly innocent plucking of a crystal ends up nearly killing the people he loves and indeed causing great calamity across the universe, so despite best efforts to avoid his death, he walks heroically towards it, knowing it was merely him making good on his mistake. His final scene is among the best regeneration scenes, with “A tear, Sarah Jane?” being among the most poignant and memorable final lines.
Sarah is at her journalist best here, a thing that gets lost in her admittedly more iconic time with the next incarnation. There is something pleasingly comic book-y about her sneaking through a window to get a look at this news story as the risk of her life, only for her to need rescuing from the “hero” of the piece (yeah, it’s old fashioned now, but I don’t mind it here). As for Mike Yates, recovering from his mental downfall from earlier in the season, trying to do good and help himself move on, that was a great idea. It’s a very happy moment when The Doctor re-acknowledges him as a friend towards the end… although given what he was a party to, I still think he got off a bit too lightly…
The new cast is on form too, from Lupton, the disgruntled ex-employee willing to do anything for revenge and to regain his position, to the Eight Legs, the old spooky voiced enemies that direct people from afar rather than get their hands (or multiple feet, I guess) dirty themselves. Sure, they look … well, crap, even for the time period (this was the same season that had the great Linx Sontaran costume…) but they still come across as villains, so that’s alright. Tommy, the slow-witted innocent man who ends up gaining great intelligence through the Metebelis crystals is a heart-warming side-story as well.
Let’s not forget K’anpo, the first non-Doctor Time Lord to regenerate, not to mention the first character to use the world to describe the transformation. He was a good mentor-type character and added just that little bit more to The Doctor as a character by giving him someone he looks up to and who had a profound effect on him when he was young (a period in his life we still know little about, which is good for a show over 50 years old…)
The Brigadier didn’t get to do much, but I’ll always love his contribution to the final regeneration scene. His line about saying “one time, I didn’t see him for months; what’s more, when he did turn up, he had a new face” when Sarah was worrying about his three-week absence, and his reaction of “here we go again…” when it happens are great, and possibly for one final time firmly cements the Brig as one of the Doctor’s oldest and closest friends.
A lot of people rag on the early episodes of the serial, especially Episode 2 which is nearly entirely based around a single chase between The Doctor, UNIT and Lupton. This chase is bonkers, and includes cars, boats, helicopters, the “Whomobile” and, of course, Bessie. It’s a strange attempt to Bond-ize Doctor Who while at the same time is every bit as crazy as the show always had been, so it comes off as good fun to me.
Under the right lighting and angle, they don’t look that bad….
As you can probably tell by the fact that most of the “good” is character-based, I don’t rate the actual storyline that highly. When it breaks from Earth and goes to Metebelis III the story begins to drag, with the poor human slaves all being either just bad at acting or just not very interesting to watch. We get more looks at the spiders physically rather than verbally, which doesn’t serve them well, and generally it just becomes dull. It saves itself with the final part, but, especially as it was the last hurrah for the Third Doctor, I would have preferred one last Earth-based UNIT story…
I liked the idea of linking Regeneration to Buddhism, makes sense when you think about it, but they definitely went overboard with the idea here. It’s not so much cleverly hinted at as it is shovelled down your throat, which like I said, is a shame because it was a clever idea.
Beyond the first appearance of the Fourth Doctor, the story (as mentioned) is the first time regeneration is given a name and explained in any way (though the 13 body limit isn’t added to canon until later).
The Eight Legs reappear in the Eighth Doctor two-part audio story “The Eight Truths / Worldwide Web”. The Eleventh Doctor retrieves a Metebelis III crystal in the TV story “Hide”.
Planet of the Spiders is an odd one. It has great characters in it, some great acting (and some very bad acting as well, to be fair) and some good UNIT-based moments, as well as nailing the actual regeneration scene perfectly. At the same time is had really bad, even for the time, special effects and some really dull off-world parts that slow the story down to a crawl. Overall though, I feel the good outweighs the bad, and I do enjoy sticking this story on.