Planet of the Spiders : Part Six
First Broadcast June 8th, 1974 @ 5.35pm (8.9m viewers)
‘Planet of the Spiders’ brought to an end the reign of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. When taking on the role he was faced with a difficult task. The viewing figures for the show had been sliding during Patrick Troughton’s last season and a decision was made to bring the programme back to Earth and this move to realism, coupled with Pertwee’s all action incarnation, saw a boost to the ratings. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and following the death of Roger Delgado, the departure of Katy Manning and the decision to give the Doctor use of his TARDIS once again, resulting in fewer appearances from the UNIT family, Pertwee decided to leave.
The script for ‘Planet of the Spiders’ ties together a lot of loose ends and references from the Pertwee era. In the modern show, we would call it a ‘story arc’. Capt. Yates gets his redemption following the events of ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’, the blue Metebelis crystal first seen in ‘The Green Death’ is given crucial significance to the plot. Even K’anpo is implied to be the hermit the Doctor spoke about in ‘The Time Monster’. This episode also sees the first use of the term ‘regeneration’ to describe the process a Time Lord undergoes which results in his appearance changing, a term that is now commonplace amongst the general public.
The imagery of Elisabeth Sladen with the Queen Spider attached to her back became one of the iconic aspects of this story, featuring on the cover of the Target novelisation published in 1975, and would later be replicated with Donna Noble and the Time Beetle in ‘Turn Left’ many years later. Unfortunately, the opportunity for the Time Beetle backpack has been missed by the merchandising departments of the BBC. Returning to our subject matter, some of the other imagery in this episode is a bit less successful. Director and Producer Barry Letts was a big advocate of the CSO process, which we now know as ‘greenscreen’, and used it significantly in this story. The technique was still in its infancy and so a fringing effect is seen which a modern audience accustomed to sharper quality picks up on immediately. However in 1974 I’m sure audiences would not have been bothered in the slightest if anything they would’ve been impressed by the Doctor being dwarfed by a giant spider. The original spider denoted for the role of the ‘Great One’ was deemed too horrific for the younger members of the audience and the Queen was redressed for the part. The Eight Legs do work well however and are very convincing, a nightmare for anyone with arachnophobia and maybe even triggered more cases of the phobia. The Doctor to has to face his fear in this episode, knowing full well that it would bring about his destruction, escaping into the time vortex with his body ravaged by the radiation of the crystals.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
A tear, Sarah Jane?
The regeneration of the Third Doctor is full of emotion. It is perhaps the only time in the show’s history that the Doctor appears to have legitimately died, although K’anpo states that he has not, his body fails to regenerate as a natural function which we generally understand the process to be. As a result, it requires the intervention of K’anpo, who viewers have known as Cho Je for the previous six weeks, to give the process “a little push”. Of course, this means he might be a little erratic, cue Tom Baker and his wild alienness. Tribute, however, must go to Jon Pertwee. When cast in the role he was known for comedy but as the Doctor, he delivers probably the most serious portrayal of the character we have ever seen. Anyone who may have doubted his ability to convey drama is proved utterly inaccurate. At the climax of the tale, Pertwee conveys fear in the face of a CSO spider which demonstrated the seriousness of his predicament, making it all the more terrifying to the audience, and draws tears from Sarah and viewers at home as he breathes his last. Pertwee himself admitted that he too cried a great deal, a testament to the impact the role had on him.
‘Planet of the Spiders’ is a beautiful finale to a much-loved incarnation of the Doctor, giving actor Jon Pertwee a dramatic and emotional departure which he so richly deserved. Twenty years on since Pertwee sadly passed away I can think of no memorial more fitting than the conclusion of ‘Planet of the Spiders’.
Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Mike Yates – Richard Franklin
Lupton – John Dearth
Tommy – John Kane
Cho-je – Kevin Lindsay
Director – Barry Letts
Producer – Barry Letts
Writer – Robert Sloman
Writer – Barry Letts