Doctor Who #381: Planet of the Spiders Part 4

"Oh dear, this is getting monotonous."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 25 1974.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane is cocooned by the spiders, the Doctor makes a miraculous recovery after being zapped, and we learn the secret origin of the Eight-Legs.

REVIEW: The quote above is one of those unfortunate pieces of dialog that seems to comment on the production rather than the situation, though to be fair, things are starting to move again after a couple of padding-heavy episodes. The pacing is certainly better as we cut from the Doctor to Sarah Jane to Mike Yates and the events at the meditation center. However, each plot thread does have problems. For example, while the Doctor might actually die a couple episodes early - the original audience might have believed he was in real jeopardy - he is saved by a magical machine we've never seen before, found in a satchel in the TARDIS. That same machine is later used to analyze rocks and then as a shield against the servitor's electrical blasts. We've stopped trying. This goes far beyond any sonic ex machinae the show's produced since. Things are happening because they must, and rationale can suck it. At least the revived Doctor gets to have moments of cool, such as walking away from adversaries as if he was always meant to be there, or eagerly eating his breakfast confident that Sarah's coming to no harm. Is he on top of things, or has his brush with death unhinged him?

We finally learn where the spiders came from, and they came from Earth. Crawling out of the colonist ship's wreckage, they nested with Metebelis crystals which quickly mutated and expanded their bodies and minds. It doesn't explain their huge towers (the humans certainly don't seem to have the technology required to build them), but it's an interesting wrinkle. The info-dump is given some lift again with editing, as both the Doctor and Sarah Jane are told the tale at the same time. Less interesting is the rivalry between brothers that exists on the rebel side, and between sisters on the spiders' side, which could have been pulled out of a Terry Nation script. In with the humans, there's a hint that the younger brother was only reminding the older of his responsibilities, but the scene isn't sure-footed enough to make that clear. In with the spiders, Lupton's threats come to naught when the Queen simply chooses to ignore him for now, and later arrest him for a traitor. It comes off as anti-climax, though I suppose I should praise its unpredictability. (And besides, I hate Lupton. Eat him, already.)

Back on Earth, Lupton's group panics and fears police investigation, but what could the coppers find anyway? A suspicious mandala in the basement? It's not like they can link them to Sarah Jane's disappearance, or Lupton's. They're only having these little meetings to give Yates something to eavesdrop on (the knock he later gets on the head is one of the series' least convincing in recent memory though). But then there's Tommy, who shows up and because his reading skills aren't too advanced, missed the Do Not Disturb sign on their door. As it turns out, the real function of the scene is to send Tommy to concentrate on his children's books. And when he concentrates, he activates the crystal, and can suddenly read faster and better. He's the empty man of zen fables who finds enlightenment without seeking it. It remains to be seen how far he'll advance by the next episode, but this is the stuff I find myself most looking forward to. Not more of the escape and capture cycle the Doctor meta-textually complains about.

THEORIES: So ok, ARE Metebelis spiders related to the time beetle from Turn Left? Visually, sure. Both are giant bugs that attach themselves to your back and which are mostly invisible to others. But could there be an actual link? As the spiders originated on Earth, and spiders and beetles aren't closely related anyway, I can't see a direct link. However, there are clues that point to the time beetle potentially being related to Metebelis crystals. First, the time beetle is labeled as one of the Trickster's Brigade, which implies it is an individual, not a species. How did it get its particular powers? How about the same way the Eight-Legs did, from exposure to the psychic influences of the crystals? You'll also note that it works with a fortune teller, one with actual powers of post and precognition. Is SHE using a crystal as a focus for her psychic powers? Finally, the beetle's boss, the Trickster, is going after the Doctor AND Sarah Jane, the two people who interfered with the spiders' plans in this particular adventure. So is the Trickster himself related to Metebelis 3? Does the Brigade have its origins on the planet? Was the Trickster's mind and powers "expanded" by Metebelis crystals which somehow informed him of the Doctor's existence? Could the Trickster even have started out as a servitor of the spiders? Was Earth the only world they contacted? We don't have answers to these questions, but the fact we can ask them seems to point to a connection.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The plot is still rather naff, but at least it's moving again. The Doctor's cool, the spiders' story is coming together, and the Buddhist themes are coming to the fore in Tommy.


Anonymous said...

I've always liked the scene where Tommy's brain levels up: it very much sold me with Tommy's growing excitement, delight, and curiosity as suddenly he possessed faculties he'd never even imagined. Well done, guys!

Also, I'm glad he got the rhyme wrong on "The Tyger" (if you want "eye" to rhyme with "symmetry", you need Blake's accent). If he'd gotten it right it would have been a bit much.

"Pretty! ... No, it's beautiful".

The only other thing to mention is that the spiders are apparently Catholic:


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