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Friday, 22 November 2013

Fifty Years in Time and Space 25 - Those bloody spiders

Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders was the story that stopped me watching Doctor Who for many years - that's not a great way to start off a review but let me explain. It's not that this is a particularly bad episode, nor do I suffer from arachnophobia - well, no more than anybody. I can get a spider out of the bath and everything. Mind you those ones with big furry legs do creep me out a little.

Planet of the Spiders, a six part story, was originally broadcast between May and June 1974 - I was eight years old at the time and had only discovered the show the year before. I had no knowledge that any actor other than Jon Pertwee had ever played the Doctor, I don't think I'd ever heard of that regeneration thingie the producers use when they need to replace the lead actor. To me Jon Pertwee was the one and only Doctor Who, and yet at the end of this story the dashing Jon Pertwee changed into the rather goofy looking Tom Baker. I must have been puzzled, couldn't figure out what was happening but I do remember being horrified - Jon Pertwee was the Doctor not the bulging eyed intruder named Tom Baker. It was Jon Pertwee I'd watched battling the DALEKS, Autons and Dinosaurs and yet I was supposed to believe that this newcomer who looked kinda scary was now the Doctor. I wasn't swallowing it and as a result I turned away from the show and didn't return until Peter Davidson replaced Tom Baker. I think I must have been a particularly stubborn eight year old and couldn't forgive this gurning new face for replacing the real Doctor - I also remember not being amused when the real Doctor Who later turned up on the other channel (there were only two in those days - well ignoring BB2 which was beyond me at that age ) as a scarecrow. I couldn't understand why Pertwee would prefer wearing the rags of Worzel Gummidge to the frilly shirts of Doctor Who. It made no sense and I switched my allegiance to Star Trek - after all, I reasoned, it wasn't as if anyone other than William Shatner would ever play Captain Kirk, nor would he ever jump ship and turn up as some sort of uniformed cop. No, I must have figured, I was safe with Star Trek.

Of course years later, watching the Tom Baker episodes on video tape I realised that Tom's era contained some of the best ever episodes. But the fact remains that Jon Pertwee's Doctor was the first time I'd ever experienced the show and even now, Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor with Pat Troughton whom I never saw on his original run coming a close second. Mind you I have revised my opinion on Tom Baker and think he did some great stuff in the show, but deep down, where I'm still that eight year old, that old grudge is still burning strong. 

And so onto the new DVD release.

The thing with the BBC's classic Doctor Who DVD releases is that even if the story is not one of the better ones, the added extras are always superb. And this time it's a double whammy because, corny lines and dated effects aside, Planet of the Spiders is a damn good story. Or at least it is, to my mind. More fervent Who fans may have a different opinion.

The second disc is where the real interest comes in - rammed full of bonus material - among other goodies there's a commentary by Elizabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin, Barry Letts and Terrance dicks, an interesting documentary looking at Jon Pertwee's era as the Doctor, The Planet of the Spiders omnibus edition, material from the radio times and a coming soon trailer.


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