CRRRaSh! 321 Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders

By Roy Mathur, on 2020-06-24, at 23:25:03--00:00:45 BST, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

It's a hot night and I'm starting to lose it. Rewatching classic Doctor Who every day of the lockdown has left me living in a permanent haze of 70s Whoish oddness and has furthered the half-arsed 70s era BBC RP accent I always knew I had lurking beneath the remaining London Council Estate drawl. It doesn't help that the last speech therapist I saw a few years ago said that speaking with a stiff upper lip would reduce my lisp, because no amount of therapy would change the non-human way of speaking I have developed. No, I'm not making that up. Why would anyone make that up? I feel if I leave home for a jaunt, after the virus hell is over, it will be wearing tweed and driving something eccentric. Well, okay, wearing silk velvet, and driving something even more eccentric.

It's not just the Who rewatch, but it's Blakes 7, my love of fountain pens, and the bloody banjolele. After being teased about being a George Formby fan (look he was okay, but I'm not a fan), I bought a George Formby album before the lockdown. Is that the fault of my contrary inner anarchist? Is it punk rock? Is it the same sort of joyful wrongness I experience when consuming cheap curries and gin and tonics as a man of Indian origin?

Only 15 years of Whotime to go and this another back-to-back recording session, so let's go.

Cast and Production Notes

Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen
Director: Barry Letts
Writer: Robert Sloman
Producer: Barry Letts
Serial five of season eleven, following The Monster of Peladon covered in 320, 6 x 25 minutes, first broadcast from 4 May to 8 June 1974.

On this Day in the UK

ABBA, Waterloo, need I say more?

What Happens

Ex-UNIT Captain, and traitor, Mike Yates has convinced Sarah Jane Smith to visit him at a Buddhist retreat because he wants UNIT to investigate strange events. On the drive from the station, Yates almost hits a tractor, which disappears.

The students are summoning an alien spider from Metebelis 3 who is attempting to retrieve the blue crystal the Doctor took in the planet's past and gave to Jo Grant who recently returned it to him for safekeeping.

The Doctor and the Brigadier consult a stage psychic who tells them he has recently developed real powers. During a test the psychic dies when touching the blue crystal and spiders appear on the monitor of the Doctor's testing equipment.

The Doctor and Sarah go to Metebelis 3 and discover that in the planet's future it was populated by stranded human colonists and spiders. The crystals have evolved the spiders, both in size and intellect, to become the dominant and ruling lifeforms; referred to, by their law, as the "eight legs", as opposed to humans who are called the "two legs".

The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith return to the retreat, find out that the abbot and the monk are one and the same, his former Time Lord "guru". He goes back to Metebelis 3 to return the blue crystal to the living god of the spiders: the Great One. She uses to complete last part of a crystalline structure that will vastly increase her intellect, but the power is too much and, her mind burning, is destroyed along with her spiders.

On earth the abbot of the retreat is killed, but regenerates in the form of his monk. Three weeks later, the TARDIS materialises at UNIT, the Doctor collapses and regenerates.

What I Thought

Here, yet again, we have the west's view, at least at the beginning, of sinister eastern mysticism. There're fake Tibetans too, oh dear, but at least no yellowface. Some of this is explained away in the script later---the two Tibetans monks are unaware of their students gone bad and are actually one and the same Time Lords---so one would assume the programme makers knew even this mild Orientalism wasn't okay by the mid-seventies. Well, at least, I hope that is the case. Otherwise, materialising menacing alien spiders at the centre of a Tibetan Buddhist Mandala using Sanskrit chanting apparently didn't ruffle the Beeb's occasionally progressive feathers.

Mike Yates? Seriously? Why are we humouring the traitorous ex-terrorist, who's cabal almost destroyed Earth in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? (Pod 315). Man, that guy is trying my patience.

The scene of the dialogue between the Doctor and the towering Great One, a giant spider, is very impressive. The use of perspective with the spider at the top of a dais and the Doctor at the bottom of the stairs, like a supplicant, makes the spider seem even more massive. Though logically, other than for the sake of art, why a spider that big needs stairs so small is beyond me.

Simple Tom's intellectual evolution through the crystal echoes 2001: A Space Odyssey, Flowers for Algernon, my own trippy experience back in the 90s, Alfred Bester's The Stars, My Destination (also known as Tiger, Tiger after William Blake's poem The Tyger) etc.

There's a crazy James Bond film-like chase involving Bessie, the Whomobile (which we and Sarah Jane Smith discover can fly), an autogyro, a hovercraft, and finally a short fight on a motorboat.

Both those two last items, contained too many references and I could go on, but for fear of turning into an analogue of famous sci-fi encyclopedist Forest J. Ackerman. I thought of those on my own, but referring to the BBC page for this episode afterwards confirmed some.

I thought there were strong parallels to Doctor Who: Turn Left (2008) in which a parasitic insect attaches itself to Donna Noble's back. It should be pointed out that mind controlling parasites that attach to the host are fairly common to science fiction. For example, the head-riding Emohawks of Red Dwarf (Emohawk: Polymorph II, Red Dwarf VI, episode 4) or the brain burrowing bugs of Ceti Alpha V in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.

The Doctor took a tremendous beating in The Monster of Peladon when fighting hand-to-hand with an extremist. He is again beaten by crystal wielding human slaves of the spiders. It shows that the regeneration and Pertwee's plans to leave must have been known for quite some time.


Robert Delgado, who previously played the Master and a personal friend of Jon Pertwee died during filming another project in Turkey the previous year. Pertwee has said his death influenced his decision to leave the show the following year. The spider queen was played by Kismet Delgado, Robert Delgado's widow.

Lupton, the leader of the students, is controlled by a spider voiced by Ysanne Churchman, who played Alpha Centauri in The Monster of Peladon (pod 320).

The Whomobile's registration, WVO2M, is seen briefly as it is flying.

We see the TARDIS key, not the Yale-type key, but alien-looking pocket watch fob charm in the shape of a shield. There have been many keys over the years, but I refuse to go that nerdy and describe them individually.

If, after watching this, you're suddenly hankering for more spider-based fiction, first, what is wrong with you, and second; check out the Spider World Series by Colin Wilson.

The idea of advanced colonists turning primitive would be used again, most notably as the origin of Tom Baker's assistant Sevateem (Survey Team) warrior Leela.