Doctor Who is a long-running British science-fiction television series featuring the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey whose adventures see him travel through time and space. Over the years, different actors have starred in the role, and to compensate for the realities of the television business, Time Lords were given the ingenious ability to regenerate their bodies when they die.
Planet of the Spiders is the 74th story of the Doctor and concludes with the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) regenerating into the Fourth (Tom Baker). It debuted in six weekly parts beginning May 4, 1974 on BBC 1 and serves as a nice culmination of Pertwee’s run.
The Doctor is fascinated by Professor Clegg, who performs a clairvoyant act not through tricks but with his ESP abilities. While conducting tests, a package arrives from the Doctor’s former companion Jo, who is returning the blue crystal from Metebelis III the Doctor gave her as a wedding present in The Green Death because the Amazon natives react negatively to it. Clegg does as well, suffering a heart attack after seeing images of spiders within it.
Meanwhile, Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), who had been discharged from UNIT in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, stumbles upon a ceremony in a Buddhist monastery in the English countryside. He finds it suspicious and contacts Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) to investigate. Together, they see Lupton (John Dearth) and other men call forth a giant spider, which ends Episode One. The spider fuses with Lupton and starts to control him, but he challenges it. Rather than battle each other, they work together to overthrow the Queen Spider.
Back at UNIT, the Doctor and Sarah Jane compare spider stories. Lupton arrives and steals the blue crystal, which leads to a superfluous chase across land, sea, and air because once the Doctor finally catches him, Lupton teleports away at the end of Episode Two, which he seemingly could have done once getting a hold of the jewel back at the base. At the monastery, Lupton travels to Metebelis III through a mandala and Sarah Jane accidentally follows after him. There, she is kidnapped by humans, who are slaves to the spiders. The Doctor chases after her, and in typical fashion, rescues her, leads the a revolt against the spiders, and contributes to their demise, but at a very high cost.
While a thrilling adventure with unexpected twists and turns that keep the story interesting, there are parts of the plot that don’t make sense. The Doctor is told by the abbot K’anpo Rimpoche, a former teacher of the Doctor’s who has regenerated, that he is responsible for what has taken place by taking the jewel in the first place. That is a nice touch dealing with unintended consequences, but there was no way for the Doctor to know what would happen or that the spiders would build a device requiring his jewel rather than using one on the planet.
Even odder is the timeline as the spiders and humans currently on Metebelis III have been there 433 Earth years after coming out of a time jump, but the mission hasn’t even happened yet on Earth so when did it happen? There’s also a seemingly unnecessary time jump for the Doctor because for some reason, he disappears for three weeks, lost in the Time Vortex (?) before returning for Pertwee’s death scene .
K’anpo Rimpoche is initially played by George Cormack. It’s not clear if he’s supposed to be Tibetan, but his deputy Cho-Je clearly is from the make-up and the way Kevin Lindsay speaks, which is unfortunate that they didn’t bother a more appropriate actor. It’s also hard to understand how Cho-Je is a projection of K’anpo’s future self, a variation of this concept occurred with the Watcher and the Fourth Doctor in Logopolis.
Disc 1 extras include a Commentary with producer/director Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, and actors Sladen, Courtney, and Franklin. There’s also an Info Text and Coming Soon (1 min) for Frontios.
Disc 2 is filled with extras. The Final Curtain (38 min) looks at the Third Doctor’s final season and serial with insight by those who were there. John Kane Remembers (13 min) the actor who played Tommy. Directing Who with Barry Letts (15 min) talks about getting his start as a director and working on the TV series. Now and Then (7 min) is a tour of locations. The Omnibus Edition, cuts the serial from 228 minutes down to 105. There’s also a Photo gallery (6 min) and PDF material.
Planet of the Spiders is entertaining, as long as one doesn’t pay to close to the plot, and notable in the annals of the show with firsts such as the use the term “regeneration,” another character regenerating, and an end-of-season regeneration revealing the new actor to play the part. The Metebelis III spiders made for worthy villains as they are powerful and pose a serious threat to the Doctor and the universe. Although the end of Pertwee’s run, this serial is a good introduction to the character, the mythology, and the actor in the role.