Doctor Who #383: Planet of the Spiders Part 6

"A tear, Sarah Jane?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.8 1974.

IN THIS ONE... K'anpo is a Time Lord and sends the Doctor back to Metebelis 3 to confront the giant spider at the cost of his life. Pertwee regenerates into Baker.

REVIEW: Everything your remember from this story is probably in this episode - the Great One, the spider on Sarah's back, the K'anpo business, and of course, the Doctor's regeneration. Who historians should note that this is the first actual mention of regeneration in the series, K'anpo and the Doctor both shedding one of their lives amidst explanations for the audience. Hartnell's was played as a mystery, possibly a power of the TARDIS'. Troughton's was played as forced plastic surgery. So those explanations were quite necessary, even if the program had chosen to ignore the fact it probably had a very different audience than those who might have caught the tail end of The Tenth Planet 8 years before. Without this lore-building which we now accept as given, one might have chalked it up to the Buddhist trappings of this story, a renewal of self effected by the "magic" of K'anpo and Cho-je. This is, after all, an episode where Mike Yates survives lethal psychic bolts thanks to his compassion, and Tommy is shielded by innocence. Where a giant spider plans to expand its mind to infinity by resonating crystals (how 70s New Age!) and take control of the universe. And where K'anpo, a Time Lord like the Doctor, has powers never seen before or again in the species - projection of a second self (indeed, of his next regeneration), precognition, teleportation, and "boosting" the Doctor's regeneration energy. The suggestion is that with discipline, Time Lords can access a variety of psychic abilities, though in reality, it's all just part of the "magical" approach to events in the story.

In that context, the story's plotting problems are softened. The Doctor doesn't really need to go back and confront the Great One, not logically. But thematically, he must. It's his hero's journey, and he must purge his sin, the "greed for knowledge" that made him bring the crystal to Earth in the first place. If he hadn't interfered, the Great One would have blown itself up ages ago. That it happens now instead means we get our requisite end-of-serial UNIT-era explosion, but otherwise, it's just the Doctor paying a toll. His sacrifice isn't needless, but it is a personal choice to move on to the next life. Not a suicide, perhaps, but an execution. K'anpo as life guide is the element that takes the darkness out of that concept and turns it into an achievement, a step in the right direction for the Doctor's soul. Other plot problems aren't so softened, however. Putting the Spider Queen on Sarah Jane's back is a good, if foreseeable, twist, but they don't really do anything with it. All the Queen managed to do was get back to Earth and then get killed(?) by the crystal. Then back on Metebelis 3, there she is again, or a new queen - I told you, I can't tell them apart - killing Lupton off finally, his use to the plot long since expired, and giving the Doctor exactly what he wants. I find it all tedious because everyone's just doing what the script tells them to, their only motivation.

As does the TARDIS, unless we accept that there's something very special indeed about Sarah Jane Smith that it would, after getting lost for weeks in the vortex, materialize just as Sarah visits UNIT HQ for one last, longing look. It's the second time the blue box has found Sarah in space and time with such exactitude, so there's probably truth in that. Regardless, this is where you want the Doctor to die and be reborn, with his family (aww, where's Benton?). It's the touching scene (with the experienced Brigadier there for comic relief) that you've probably seen several times out of context. The emotions work, even though the appearance of K'anpo is a bit bizarre unless you've watched the entire episode (still don't need the whole story though). Are K'anpo's words about our willingness to be dominated what triggers a more Bohemian streak in the Doctor that is to come? Was the abbot guiding the Doctor away from his dependence on Earth and UNIT? Clearly, the Doctor's guru was pushing him to leave Gallifrey even in his youth (and did so himself).

VERSIONS: The Target novelization includes a prologue that features Jo Grant, but omits references to Harry Sullivan (changing his name to Sweetman), and the key scene of the Great One sensing fear in the Doctor's mind from Part 5. Lupton gets a more gruesome death as well (yay!). The DVD includes an omnibus presentation (unrestored, but no great difference) edited down to 105 minutes from the story's 150 (most of those 45 minutes are opening and credits sequences and reprises, but among the trims, a night at the theater, some of the cocooned gallows humor, some of the conspirators' moments, and criminally, Tommy reading Blake). It's a chance to see how many of us first experienced these stories on PBS (though it was actually edited by Barry Letts for transmission before the next season started).

REWATCHABILITY: High - You could skip most of the story and still get what's happening with this episode alone, and it does contain historically and emotionally important moments.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The charming visit with the UNIT family in Part 1, and the Doctor's touching death in Part 6, drive up the score on what is otherwise a real mess of a story, haphazardly plotted and frequently badly acted. Watched as a whole, the padding becomes overlong sequences, but not the only piece of the story you would have watched that day/week, so is less detrimental to it. Still, Pertwee deserved a tighter script to go out on (it's about right for Yates though).

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tommy and Yates resisting psychic attacks ... reminds me of how that Daemon was destroyed by Jo's love when he was feeding. It's almost a point of consistency, where you can't be harmed psychically unless you provide the vulnerability.

Gonna miss Pertwee; even with weak padded stories, I got more enjoyment out of him than probably the next five Doctors put together. Most likely a failing on my part, but in any event that's where I land.

Siskoid said...

You'll note that The Daemons also written by Sloman and Letts.

We were all big Pertwee fans at home, and my sister never really liked any other Doctor, switching off when Baker came on board. I've liked every Doctor at some point, but with the ones that lasted longest (Pertwee, Baker and Tennant), I've noticed a definite drop-off in my interest towards the end. The actor and production get fatigued, repetitive and indulgent, and it's happened over the course of this last season of the UNIT era. The one bright spot is Lis Sladen who is, in fact, new to the program and continuing on.

snell said...

"And where K'anpo, a Time Lord like the Doctor, has powers never seen before or again in the species - projection of a second self (indeed, of his next regeneration)..."

Objection! Certainly the "Watcher" in Logopolis would qualify as a projection of his next regeneration, and was almost certainly a direct reference to Planet Of Spiders!

As to the padding, we should note that this season was the beginning of the end for the "6-parter." Henceforth, there would be no more than one per series, and that usually the season-ender...

Siskoid said...

Perhaps I went to far in saying "never". The Watcher is a very bizarre version of this idea however, and part of why Logopolis annoys me so much. But I'm getting ahead of myself ;).

Anonymous said...

And don't forget about The Valeyard as well! Who knows if they'll revisit this soon after the 12th.

Siskoid said...

I dearly hope not. It's continuity that doesn't need to be addressed AFAIC.

snell said...

Oh, the Valeyard's easy. He is the Doctor, but he isn't evil...when he see the story from his perspective, we'll learn that all of his actions were really for the good, but he had to pretend to be evil to keep [REDACTED] from interfering...

Siskoid said...

I treat it even more easily than that. He's an alternate future version of the Doctor that never comes into being after the events of this story because the Doctor knows better than to become him.

There are others in the books, like Merlin, so why not. It's no different than Heroes logic, or the X-Men's Days of Futures Past, etc. Future you visits the past, erases his own timeline, stuck in the present, dies or is wiped from history before your eyes. To me the Valeyard arc has closure and need not be revisited.

Anonymous said...

But it's not just any old future, it's HIS future! That means that just knowing about the Valeyard means the Valeyard will have to come into existence.

Eh, whatever. It could be the Valeyard is an impostor.

Siskoid said...

No more than Days of Future Past's Kate Pryde HAD to happen. Or older Amy Pond in The Girl Who Waited.

snell said...

Ahh, but that's assuming the Valeyard was actually the Doctor's future, and not his past...you see, this is why they don't let me write Doctor Who...

 

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