Planet of Giants, as the production subtitles and the commentary inform you, had a rocky genesis. Originally planned as one of the earliest stories for the TARDIS crew – at one point, even the first – it finally was produced as the debut story for the show’s second season, relaunching Doctor Who after a brief summer break, and preparing the audience for the Dalek invasion of Earth that would follow. When the four episodes were viewed by the Powers That Be, it was decided to combine the key plot points from the final two episodes into one.
It’s not a bad story, as such, and the arrival of Douglas Camfield as director for the original part four shows a marked increase in tempo and excitement. The giant props work well, and less sophisticated televisions (let alone audiences) would let the various camera tricks achieve their aim. The commentary, moderated by Mark Ayres, includes a number of production personnel, rather than actors, which ends up giving an overview of elements of the show’s creation in that period, not just Planet of Giants.
The selling point of this DVD, though, is the reconstruction of the two final original episodes. Obviously the only footage that exists is from the broadcast version, so there are a lot of very large close-ups and re-worked scenes (for those, think of it as a foreign language dubbed film, so you don’t worry about the lip-synching not being right). There’s also some CGI animation, which is rather less successful, but fills in the necessary plot points. The genius of this comes in the re-casting by director (and mega-fan) Ian Levine: the new Doctor and Barbara are spot on (and John Guilor’s contact details should be got by AudioGo and Big Finish now: the best Hartnell recreation I’ve heard).
Unfortunately, what the reconstruction does demonstrate is that the BBC got it right in the first place – the two episodes drag with interminable scenes of measuring a notebook (dealt with as a fade to black in the revised version) and debates between the telephone operator and the local copper, and Forester and Smithers. Both Levine, in the mini-documentary about the making of the new versions, and Ayres, on the commentary, bemoan the loss but you don’t feel there’s something missing in the broadcast episode – in fact, the plotholes that do exist aren’t dealt with in either version.
Rounding off a good DVD are interviews with Carole Ann Ford and Verity Lambert, taken from the Story of Doctor Who in 2003. Little new is revealed, but it’s always good to hear these anecdotes.
Verdict: An interesting and different package for an interesting and different story. 7/10