It’s the end of an era for both viewers and Jon Pertwee in the latest Doctor Who DVD release, Planet of the Spiders taking the Third Doctor across the universe as he tries to right a wrong after his actions have great consequences for the Earth and his own mortality.
As the Doctor investigates ESP with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), at the same time as the disgraced Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) looks into strange goings on at a Buddhist meditation centre in deepest England, an artefact from the Time Lord’s past reappears: a blue Metebelis crystal first seen in The Green Death.
The crystal’s original owners, a group of deadly spiders from Metebelis III, have a plan to take over Earth by using mind control, forcing the Doctor and Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) to travel to the planet with the intention of brokering peace between the spiders and humanity.
As with all good adventures, things don’t go quite according to plan, leaving fans to watch as time runs out for the Doctor as his eight legged foes.
Stuffed with car/Whomobile chases, fight sequences, alien planets, evil spiders and a dose of science vs religion, Planet of the Spiders is, at first glance, a fitting swan song for the dandiest of Doctors. While Spiders may not reach the dizzy heights of Peter Davison’s final story, it does give him a stronger farewell than poor old Colin Baker enjoyed.
Pertwee is on decent form throughout, even if the Doctor is beaten up, kidnapped or rendered comatose a little too often in a story that should have seen him firing on all cylinders.
The decision to return to the character of Mike Yates is a welcome one, showing some maturity for the series when it would have been easy to simply move on and forget. His redemption just about makes up for the treatment of the UNIT family, the Brigadier relegated to the sidelines too often and his military skills ignored.
Where the story falls down badly is in the depiction of the spiders and their Earth-bound lackeys, the eight legged foes never the most convincing of enemies. The idea of the spiders attaching themselves to the back of their victim is sound enough, but watching them in their lair or facing up to their rather hapless minions on Earth does show their limitations.
There’s also the iffy CSO, the system generating the scenery that sits behind many scenes. With actors’ hair frizzing and an odd depth-of-field to some shots, viewers would be forgiven for being distracted from the story itself.
While it may be hard to view Planet of the Spiders as a glorious celebration of the Third Doctor and his tenure, and one wonders what might have resulted from the planned Master vs Doctor finale that was scrapped following Roger Delgado’s death, this should still satisfy those who miss the frilly jacketed hero and his era.
It’s also worth saying that the episodes look quite stunning, restored and rejuvenated for the benefit of new fangled TV sets which show up the flaws so easily.
Thankfully the extras of this two disc set make up for any perceived failings of the actual story to give the Third Doctor a fitting send off.
First up we have the commentary, a banter-heavy affair featuring the late Barry Letts and Nicholas Courtney alongside Terrance Dicks, Elisabeth Sladen and Richard Franklin. There’s much love for the series, Pertwee and everyone involved, with Dicks providing much of the self-deprecating humour and Letts pointing out the flaws. The recent death of Courtney makes this all the more poignant and it’s good to hear him on form.
The main documentary is The Final Curtain, a look back at five years of mainly Earth-bound Who which saw a great many changes in the series, both in front of and behind the camera. With contributions from most of those who were there, including archive footage of Pertwee and Letts, it might lack some of the frankness now emerging from some other eras of the show, but perhaps that’s because it really was one big happy family.
John Kane Remembers features the actor who played Tommy recalling his time on the show, while Directing Who with Barry Letts does what it says on the tin, with Letts explaining some of the secrets of his trade. In addition, the ever-excellent on-screen production notes offer yet another take on the episodes.
With a second disc offering an unrestored Omnibus edition of the story (for completists only), this is another top-notch effort from the Restoration team, a loving tribute to one of the most important production teams Doctor Who has had.