Friday 12 October 2018

Inspirations - Planet of the Spiders

Back in the 1990's, genre TV shows began to work to season-long story arcs. Sometimes - such as with The X-Files - it was a series-long arc. Previously, series were comprised of stand alone episodes which could be shown in any order when sold to other broadcasters. When Russell T Davies was called upon to bring back Doctor Who, he looked to some favourite American series (such as Buffy) and decided that the revamped show would have an arc. Most people know that Doctor Who has had story arcs before - namely the Key to Time season. You could argue that the entire run of stories from An Unearthly Child to The Chase is one long story arc - the quest to get Ian and Barbara back home to London.
There is one other arc which is often overlooked, and that is the Pertwee Era story arc, which reaches its conclusion in Planet of the Spiders. It's less noticeable because it is made up of smaller character arcs - Jo Grant's. Mike Yates' and the Doctor's. We've already talked about how Jo grew as a character, starting with her being hypnotised by the Master and ending up being able to resist him, or how she wrecked the Doctor's experiment when she first met him, to doing something similar to Prof Clifford Jones, who will become a new attainable Doctor-figure for the more mature Jo. her story ends here, as she returns the wedding present which the Doctor gave her - the blue crystal from Metebelis III. This planet formed part of the Doctor's arc. He wanted to go there as soon as his exile was ended, which began with his first story. He finally got there in The Green Death, and now that visit is gong to have deadly consequences. Back in The Time Monster, when locked in a cell with Jo, he told her the story of his wise old guru back on Gallifrey. In this final story of the Third Doctor's run, we get to meet that old man. It is never explicitly stated, but we can be pretty sure that the Buddhist lama K'anpo Rimpoche is the Time Lord who pointed out the daisyest daisy to him.
The Green Death had also seen Mike Yates sent under cover into Global Chemicals, where he was brainwashed into assassinating the Doctor and turning a gun on his commanding officer. Cured by the blue crystal he went on sick leave, which is when he fell under the spell of Operation Golden Age, who turned him into a full blown traitor. This story picks, and concludes, up his arc, as he has gone to a meditation centre in the countryside to sort himself out - a centre which just happens to be run by the Doctor's old guru. And he's there just as the rulers of Metebelis III decide they want their crystal back, and burnt out executives are just the people they need to get to Earth.

Back in 1969, when it was decided that Doctor Who should be retooled for the 1970's, with the Doctor exiled to Earth and working for a military organisation, the TV series Quatermass was often mentioned as an inspiration. We've already seen how Spearhead From Space borrows heavily from Quatermass II, and seen elements of Quatermass and the Pit in The Silurians and The Daemons. Nigel Kneale famously declined the offer to write for the programme as he claimed that he saw his work on screen every time he watched an episode. Well, Planet of the Spiders also borrows from Quatermass and the Pit in its opening episode. The Professor helps paleontologist Dr Roney to complete a machine he was working on - a method of visualising what the wearer is thinking. When Roney's assistant puts the headset on, she sees the Martian locusts wiping each other out. Later, it transpires that a significant percentage of the population have latent ESP abilities.
Planet of the Spiders begins, as far as the Doctor is concerned, with a trip to see a stage mind-reader, Prof. Clegg. The Doctor has worked out that the man is not faking it, he really has paranormal abilities. When called upon to visit UNIT HQ, the Doctor has him linked up to his IRIS machine - which is exactly the same as the Quatermass device -  a headset linked to a TV monitor. When given the sonic screwdriver to handle, Clegg sees Drashigs (despite that particular screwdriver being left behind in the lunar penal colony). When given a parcel which has arrived from South America, sent by Jo, the Professor sees spiders then promptly dies. This is because his handling of the package has coincided with the giant spiders of Metebelis III making psychic contact with a group of men who are staying at Mike Yates' Buddhist retreat. The Prof's death also sees the Doctor's lab struck by a telepathic whirlwind - just as we saw in the Quatermass story as people fell under the Martians' sway.

The group's leader is a man named Lupton, who must have one of the most mundane motivations ever for any Doctor Who villain. He is a jaded businessman who was forced out of his job by younger up-and-coming rivals, and he has a big chip on his shoulder about it. (He'll shortly get a big spider on his shoulder to go with that chip...). He doesn't start out wanting to world domination or to rule the cosmos. He just wants to kick back at a society that does not value experience.
The link between the meditation centre and UNIT HQ is Sarah Jane Smith. Mike has called her in to investigate what Lupton and his circle are doing, as he is too ashamed to contact his old boss in person. Sarah meets one of the Tibetan monks who run the centre- Cho-Je. We'll come back to him later.
Lupton has one of the Metebelis spiders join with him, merging invisibly onto his back and giving him some of its powers. He is sent to UNIT HQ to steal the blue crystal.
The inspiration for the second episode is basically Jon Pertwee himself. It is one extended chase sequence, employing a variety of vehicles on land, sea and air. As this was Pertwee's last story, Barry Letts decided to indulge his star. As well as "Bessie" we have another appearance by what is commonly known as the "Whomobile", which has been completed since its first outing in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, when it sported a temporary hood. The gyrocopter had been spotted by Pertwee and Letts during the location filming on The Daemons, and noted down for potential future use. We also get one man hovercraft and a speedboat.

Before we proceed any further, we should step back a bit and look at how this story came about. It is a season finale, so once again Robert Sloman has been called upon to write it, with input from Barry Letts. The year before, it had been intended that this slot would be filled by a story which would have written the Master out of the series, as Roger Delgado was finding that producers and directors were assuming that he was working on Doctor Who full time, and so unavailable for other work. Offered the choice of leaving with the door ajar for possible later appearances, or being killed off, Delgado chose the latter. A rough idea had been for the Master to die saving the Doctor's life and averting universal catastrophe. As it was, Delgado died in a car accident in Turkey on his way to a film location. Sloman and Letts therefore had to come up with another scenario. As the giant maggots had proved very popular with the audience in The Green Death, Sloman opted to include another of his pet phobias - spiders. A quick on-line search finds that Arachnophobia is the UK's fifth most common phobia, and the 8th globally. Surprisingly, more people are afraid of snakes in the UK than spiders, despite there not being that many snakes to be found in this country, with only one variety being poisonous. Worldwide, more people are afraid of dogs than they are of spiders. (Britain's top phobia is acrophobia - the fear of heights, whilst the worldwide top fear is of germs - mysophobia).
The Buddhist elements in the plot come from Letts, as he was a practitioner of this religion / philosophy. Not only do we have the meditation centre, run by (apparently) Tibetan monks, the spiders themselves represent greed and selfishness, with their Great One being the embodiment of Ego. The Doctor is brought down by his own selfishness and ego - his determination to explore and learn new experiences having taken him to Metebelis III, where he obtained one of the blue crystals.
When interviewed later, Letts made sure everyone knew that the whole story was intended as a Buddhist parable.

From Part Three onward, the story splits between events at the meditation centre and events on Metebelis III in the far future, after Sarah is accidentally transported there on following Lupton. The Doctor takes to the TARDIS and goes after her. There have been a couple of mentions recently about the ship's telepathic abilities, and here the Doctor tells Mike that he just sets the general destination, and the TARDIS selects the precise landing point. We have seen Earth colonies before in the series, and this one appears to have been inspired by Hispanic culture. The architecture suggests this, along with the big Zapata moustaches worn by most of the villagers. The Doctor becomes the Man With No Name, turning up to help free the terrified peasants from their oppressors.
Back on Earth we have the character of Tommy, who has a learning disability and who does odd jobs around the centre. Exposure to the crystal, which he has purloined, causes him to be "cured" of his condition. He's quite literally enlightened. Later, his inherent innocence, having lived a sheltered life away from society's evils and temptations, will make him impervious to the spiders' attack.
The Doctor finally gets to meet K'anpo, and recognises who he is. His old guru advises him once again - prompting him to acknowledge his greed for knowledge and experience. This very egotistical Doctor must return to Metebelis and confront that monstrous ego, the Great One. This is a vast spider, who lives in a cavern where she is building a web from the crystals, which she hopes will allow her to mentally enslave the whole universe. The web is generating lethal radiation, however, so the Doctor is making the supreme sacrifice in going there. The Great One declines to heed his warnings that the web will destroy her, and the Doctor flees back to Earth, dying.

He takes a few weeks to get there, from the perspective of Sarah and the Brigadier. When he does turn up, the TARDIS having brought him home, he collapses on the point of death. However, we have just seen that Cho-Je was really a projection of K'anpo's future regeneration. He turns up and gives the Doctor's own regeneration a little push, and Perwee becomes Tom Baker. This was the first time that the process of regeneration was actually referred to as such.
Tom Baker came in to film his scene early in the story's production, and he was making his debut story at the same time that this was being recorded. Lis Sladen had to run between shoots, often forgetting which story she was on. Script Editor Terrance Dicks handed over officially to Robert Holmes at this point, so that he could be credited with writing Robot, and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe had another project fall through, so that he ended up shadowing the outgoing producer for far longer than Letts had been allowed when he took over.
Next time: Asimov meets King Kong. It's a new Doctor, but it still looks and feels like a Pertwee era story...

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