Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Fifty: Dangerous Journey (Planet of Giants, Episode Two)
I can't quite make up my mind with this one. On the one hand, as I'm watching, I'm thinking about discussing how the story is quite dull. On the other hand, though… it's keeping me interested. I've not found myself getting distracted at all while I watch, and indeed I'm quite enjoying it. I don't know what it is, but there's something just not right about this one.
I did wonder if it might just be that the Doctor and friends are so disjointed from the story going on in the rest of the episode - they've only interacted with the guest cast when a briefcase has been moved and a tap has been turned on (again, another cliffhanger you could only get in Doctor Who!), but then at the same time, I'm enjoying the story that's going on in the background.
It feels almost as though it could be placed in any number of 1960s television - I can picture an Adam Adamant Lives! adventure that involves the DN6 scandal, and the same is true for The Avengers. Or for Danger Man. Or The Saint, or…
Actually, maybe that's it? This doesn't feel like proper Doctor Who because it isn't Doctor Who. The idea of the TARDIS crew being shrunk to an inch high is a fun one, but it's not especially what I expect from the series, and it's not a type of story that we often get in the following 49 years, either. Cliffhangers aside, this could just be A. N. Other programme.
Something that I do find interesting is that this was originally intended to be the very first episode of Doctor Who, or at least a version of it. Initially, the story was to have followed the first episode of An Unearthly Child by shrinking the TARDIS and its new occupants down, and dumping them down in the Coal Hill School science lab.
I wonder if that would have helped the story to feel less generic than it does here? The only reason, I think, that I'm struggling to connect with the DN6 plot line is because it's so unlike anything else we ever get in the programme; a story about insecticide and government permission not being given. Even the presence of a murder feels a bit mundane for Doctor Who.
There's a part of me that feels like I'd have rather seen it as a two-episode story following on from that very first one, with the Doctor and his friends exploring the lab. There's elements here that could still fit in there (Ian's musing on the litmus paper, for example), and you could still have Barbara's poison scare, by having her handle some dangerous chemicals.
I guess it's one of those strange little parts of Doctor Who history; a side-alley never taken…
The effects are still the best thing this story has, though. Frankly, they're brilliant. The way the camera pulls back to show a (moving!) fly menacing Barbara is fantastic, and a great example of aha the show could achieve in the early days when it really set its mind to it. It's certainly one of the better effects we've had so far. I'm also impressed with the way the large scale sets match the regular sized ones. You really do get the impression that you're watching the Doctor and co running around, tiny, in this world.
So, so far, it's good, but it's just not Doctor Who…
Next Episode: Crisis