Planet of Giants came out last September on DVD, allowing us to inaugurate the second season in proper fashion. This serial may seem a poor candidate for the defense, as its relative lack of action and plodding dialogue meant that even its creators cut it from the planned four episodes to the rarely seen three.
The serial starts in very promising fashion. While attempting to return to 1960s Earth, the TARDIS experiences a malfunction. Although at first it appears to have arrived without incident, the Doctor and Barbara, Ian and Susan quickly discover that things are not normal at all — they have arrived shrunk to only an inch high!
This is a very different sort of predicament than the usual fare, and sets this episode off from any others I, at least, have seen. Moreover, they discover that the wildlife surrounding the TARDIS is all dead, which sparks another mystery. Unfortunately, this part of the serial is the least successful, as there are frequent cutaways to dialogue between individuals previously unknown to us and of which the main characters are unaware. This is a very kludgy way to clue us in on the mystery, and reduces the suspense, as we quickly figure out what is wrong, and the only question remains whether the Doctor and his friends can figure everything out.
The story is redeemed, in my view, by the very creative way the design team constructed the various “giant size” sets, as well as the special effects used in other scenes. I feel this serial has the best set design of any serials to this point, with the possible exception of the lost Marco Polo, and rates very well with any of the First Doctor episodes. Such objects as a briefcase, drain and plug, notepad, and telephone are constructed very believably, and the characters have appropriate difficulty manipulating things that are far larger than they are. In point of fact, most of the sets were constructed quite simply, but that makes their success all the more noteworthy.
Tension is set up fairly adroitly as the Doctor ends up down a drain with a full sink above and a plug about to be pulled, and later faces a pet cat who is looking for something to play with. The cut-down plot ends up working in the serial’s favor, as it would no doubt drag endlessly with an additional episode of padding. They probably ought to have adopted a policy of cutting out an episode’s worth of footage after filming every serial these first few seasons.
A masterpiece Planet of Giants may not be, but it definitely has enough to make it stand out from the other serials before and after, and for that alone I encourage a verdict of Not Guilty.