Originally recorded as the penultimate serial of the first season, Planet of Giants was held over to open the show's second season, beginning a tradition that would run throughout the sixties. This story had been in the pipeline ever since the series inception a year earlier, but due to the extensive visual effects requirement the serial originally penned by C.E. Webber was shelved. Louis Marks ended up reworking Webber's miniscule idea into the three-part ecological thriller that eventually aired in October and November 1964, and I have to say it is one of my favourite William Hartnell stories. Whether its long incubation contributed to the story's brilliance or not I don't know, but it seems that a year's hands on experience producing Doctor Who certainly imbued Verity Lambert and her production team with the confidence they needed to attempt such an ambitious project.
For a low-budget TV serial that aired in 1964, the production quality of Planet of Giants is out of this world. Monochrome may be forgiving, but even so director Richard Martin has managed to pull off some wonderful visual effects here - the clever use of scale models and camera trickery really helps to convey the difference in size between the real world and our miniaturised travellers, and best of all it doesn't look cheap and nasty like the C.S.O. catastrophes that would plague seventies Who!
Even more important than the visuals though is the story. Louis Marks' first Doctor Who script manages to find just the right balance between drama, spectacle and that ol chestnut, education. Ian and Barbara are at their schoolteacher best, educating the audience about pesticides and such like. The �baddie�, Forester, is the first real twentieth century villain that the Doctor and his companions ever come up against. He�s just a man; someone who is out to make a buck and damn the environment. In a sense, he is a much more disturbing protagonist than a Dalek or a Voord because he�s closer to home. This element of familiarity is one of �Planet of Giants� greatest strengths, and is something that would become a staple of Doctor Who in later years, particularly in the mostly-Earthbound Jon Pertwee era and also in the next serial, �The Dalek Invasion of Earth.� This story takes everyday things like a man in a suit, an insect, a cat and a plughole and turns them into the stuff of nightmares.
However, �Planet of Giants� does have one rather major flaw, although it isn�t one that can be blamed on the writer, cast or crew. For some reason, Donald Wilson, then Head of the BBC Script Department, decided to cut the serial down from four episodes to three two weeks before it aired. Obviously this resulted in the hasty editing of the final two episodes into the aptly named single episode, �Crisis,� and sadly a lot of the remaining material is a bit nonsensical, especially at the beginning of the third episode. How do the Doctor and Susan escape the water coming down the plughole, ey?
Regardless of its problems, �Planet of Giants� remains to this day one of my favourite first Doctor serials. The performances are all top-drawer to match an inspired production, and its brevity aside I can�t think of a bad word to say about it. Think Honey I Shrunk The Kids� but in black and white� and good.