Doctor Who #382: Planet of the Spiders Part 5

"The recognition of friends is not always easy."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.1 1974.

IN THIS ONE... Escape from the Spider Planet! Sarah makes a deal with the Queen. The Great One toys with the Doctor. Mike Yates summons arachnid invaders by mistake. And we finally meet the abbot.

REVIEW: Almost covered up by the dubious acting of Jenny Laird as Neska and John Dearth as Lupton, is the fact the Doctor has been undergoing a change in personality for the past few stories. Maybe it's the freedom to travel, or his loss of Jo that's the cause, but lately, he's been flippant, distracted, even disconnected from his emotions and from his humanity. In short, he's acting like other Doctors. Is he evolving into the 4th Doctor before he even has a chance to regenerate? Or should we be getting the sense that neither the production nor Pertwee care as much as they used to? His jokes reach new levels of lameness with his forgetting Houdini's name in an effort to get the kids to shout at the telly. At least Sarah Jane has a spider-shaped reason for acting a bit off (shhh, we're not supposed to know that yet). After all, the spiders themselves aren't very good "actresses" and their actions aren't very clearly motivated - they certainly think more like humans than arachnids - that's when I can even tell which one of them is supposed to be speaking. Even the Great One (sight if which is withheld) has that same shrill voice.

The exception to this Dearth of proper acting/motivation (yes, I went there) is Tommy, whose awakening intelligence is played logically and sensitively. Though he can read and process much better, he finds he doesn't quite have the vocabulary he needs. Of course he doesn't! And though they stress his flashbacks a bit too hard (is there an echo in here?), we're still very much engaged in the action as he puts 2 and 2 together. Tommy might even have developed some kind of psychic ability, judging from his imperviousness to spider hosts' electric blasts. He's the only one I care about, which very nearly includes Sarah, the Doctor and Mike "unconscious again" Yates.

It's really too bad I have so many problems with the plot and the acting, because the TEXT has some delightful mirroring effects in it. When the Doctor meets K'ampo, he admits to having stolen, not "found", the blue crystal. Change the word "crystal" for "box" instead, and you get a different, but just as true, confession. K'ampo appears to know the Doctor, though the latter can't quite place him, even if he's obviously an image of the wise hermit in the mountains of Gallifrey who taught him to look at daisies in a new way. And that enlightened way of seeing where the simplest thing is new and spectacular, evoking Tommy's own perception, is reversed by Cho-je's line "When everything is new, can anything be a surprise?" The zen wordplay, and it's apparent connections with the Doctor's cycle of death and rebirth, would be fertile ground for a review if that ground wasn't full of weeds that need to be violently pulled out.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The scenes with Tommy and K'ampo save the day, as far as I'm concerned.

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