This is the first example of a Doctor Who story that’s used up all its ideas in the first episode. There is a real dearth of new information in this episode. We already know the deadly secret of DN6 thanks to the long discussion between Forrester and Farrow, and seeing its devastating effect on the wildlife in the garden in Planet of Giants. This information is regurgitated here, and we see a fly die from its effects (having seen a bee die last week – this is starting to look like an entomological snuff movie). We also know who killed Farrow, and why, so there’s not even a murder mystery angle.
And because the regulars can’t interact with the guest characters – as we’re reminded, several times – what we get is a series of two-handers. Forrester and his assistant Smithers snipe at each other – and, much as it would have been fun, not even like a couple of vicious old queens. The Doctor and Susan mount a daring rescue attempt, climbing up a drainpipe. Ian and Barbara wander round a giant laboratory bench. Inevitably, as there’s no new information to impart, most of the interest of the episode comes from seeing the regulars interact with giant everyday objects – a huge plug; a bowl of enormous Sugar Puffs; a giant fly. The fly in particular is very impressive. But all it does is wiggle at Barbara, then buzz off and die.
On the plus side, this is the most equitable material for the regulars since Marco Polo. During each of the previous four adventures, one of them has been on holiday for a fortnight and missed out two episodes (or only appeared briefly on film) so it’s nice to see them each get a reasonable chunk of screen time. Inevitably, Susan benefits the most by actually getting anything to do, even if that’s just to share some screen time with the Doctor. Hartnell is a bit fluffy this week (I think he’s giving the gist of the script rather than the actual line readings). By now, the Doctor has clearly been redefined as the show’s hero, so it’s no surprise we get lines like, ‘Normally I wouldn’t hesitate [to investigate a murder]’ and later, when Ian and Barbara are accidentally abducted:
I’m not going to give up before I’ve tried. And remember, you must think of the other two. They must be constantly reminding themselves they’re only one inch high. There’s only the two of us to help them.
(Which is weirdly prescient of Davison’s fêted speech at the end of The Caves of Androzani, Part Three). Whoever suggested he doesn’t become ‘the Doctor’ until The Dalek Invasion of Earth or The Rescue really isn’t familiar with his character development across the first season.
Ian and Barbara are actually slightly less impressive – not through any fault of the actors’, but because the script relegates Barbara to a bit of a peril magnet (twisting her ankle, fondling the seeds of death, fainting when she sees a fly), and makes Ian come across as a bit of an insensitive oaf (he’s more interested in litmus papers than what Barbara’s saying to him, and entirely fails to notice her distress when he’s gleefully describing the effects of the insecticide).
But overall, Barbara’s infection by DN6 aside, this episode doesn’t do much either to complicate the plot, or to advance it. The giant sets are great, but a bit more of the same after last week. Even the direction, which was so pacey last week, feels like it’s running out of steam – the quick intercutting replaced by lots of two shots. The cliffhanger features water slowly draining down a plughole, which seems like a forlorn judgement on the way this adventure is going.
Next episode: Crisis