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Planet of Giant Props
on 10 March 2014
Apparently this was one of the first ideas they had for Dr Who - the TARDIS miniatures the crew and they end up running round Coal Hill School only one inch high, but very wisely they decided to do one about cave men instead, not that there's anything wrong with this...
But there are implicit challenges, and one of these is that if you're only one inch tall, who are you going to talk to, apart from each other? The cat? No - to the cat, you're just another edible toy. When Carole Ann Ford recalls that the story was heavy on dialogue, one reason for this is that there weren't any other characters that our friends could talk to.
Being an inch tall means that most of the story has to be about coping with stuff that usually you'd not think twice about - a crazy paving path is a strange stone maze, a drain pipe assumes the role of the convenient ventilator shaft that they always use to get into places, and the cat means to torture and kill you, and it's a good job there's insecticide everywhere or those ants would be really dangerous. Here's another problem with small size stories - all the scenery has to be tiny things made big, so it can't really be as detailed as a big thing at its normal size, so after the initial `Oh that's a big plughole' reaction, you're kinda stuck with something that's really only as interesting as a plughole, and if you want something else that's interesting, you need to make more set - hence the reason that there's quite a lot of talking in front of big sets going on - there is only so much money to spend on sets. When they need a shot of the dead body's head, or one of the phone, it's a big photograph (though it may be closer to the lens than the actors).
And it's a great testament to designer Ray Cusick that it all works as well as it does - Chromakey hadn't been adopted, so it's all been achieved by design and ingenuity - and while a certain amount has been filmed against black drapes, it does all look properly convincing.
The rest of the plot - because four tiny people trying to avoid the cat isn't going to carry one episode, never mind three - is that of the villainous Forrester hell-bent on marketing his deadly - will kill everything - insecticide, whatever the consequences, killing the quite-properly concerned government inspector, and then conspiring with a scientist to cover it all up - finally the scientist does the right thing and a policeman arrives.
This is the point at which our friends do manage - just about - to effect the actions of full sized people, and quite ingeniously; inserting corks under the telephone receiver is a clever idea, and a serious physical challenge - I'm not sure quite how they manage it with only one fit strong adult among them.
In the end, they escape back to the TARDIS, and we know they are growing back to full size because the grain of wheat that the Dr made a point of keeping, shrinks back to tiny, and Barbara is all recovered from her contact with the insecticide.
So that's the story as transmitted, and I like it.
But back in 1964, it was originally a four part story, and the exciting Part Three was once Part Three *and* Four - there were copious cuts - and now, as the `special feature' for the DVD, Ian Levine has re-created those two episodes.
I doff my hat to him - it's clearly taken a lot of painstaking work - the editing must have been a heck of a job, and as well as that the cast has had to be re-assembled, or rather mostly re-cast because all but two of them are dead. Still, it is nice to see Carole Ann Ford and William Russell working together again, and the young man doing the impersonation of William Hartnell is doing superb work. It's very interesting to see how it would have been.
But it's not as good as the transmitted Episode Three.
This is not to deny the worth of the work done; the problem rather is with the script - there just aren't enough ideas to sustain the story, so however much Forrester and Smithers and Hilda and Bert talk about it, it's just padding - more `Comings and goings' than Five Go Mad in Dorset - while what the story needs is action, preferably from the little people, but that would mean another tiny-things-made-big set.
I think that, in 1964, cutting was a good decision.