Doctor Who – Planet of the Spiders

Doctor Who Story 074 – Planet of the Spiders

The Doctor faces The Great One
The Doctor faces The Great One. (Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1974 by BBC.)

Written By: Robert Sloman

What’s It About: Mike Yates has joined a Buddhist retreat in an attempt to come to terms with his betrayal of UNIT. While there, he discovers a group of men who have allied themselves with beings from another planet who want the crystal The Doctor took from Metebelis Three.

What constitutes a good finale for a Doctor? While I wasn’t a fan of The End of Time, where we saw David Tennant’s departure from the show, I think it did a good job of bringing themes from the Tenth Doctor’s era to the forefront. The dominant theme: The Doctor is the last of his race, and he is haunted by this fact. The End of Time made manifest that angst. Thematically, this makes sense and is incredibly satisfying. Storywise . . . well, we’ll get to my thoughts on that in a year or so.

Sadly, Planet of the Spiders doesn’t really seem to capitalize on any particular long-running themes of the Pertwee era. Roger Delgado had died in a car accident, so The Master couldn’t return. His absence from this final story is conspicuous. UNIT has only a small role to play. Their involvement is almost incidental. So as an ending, Planet of the Spiders doesn’t quite work to wrap up the era.

As a story, however, it does quite well. There is some clever foreshadowing that sets up the regeneration (Cho-je’s line about the old man dying so the new man may be born). The discovery of a Time Lord at the retreat lends a good deal of gravitas to this story (much as the appearance of the Time Lords in The War Games changed the tone of that story). Planet of the Spiders has a good pace to it, and it is surprisingly epic and metaphysical. Buddhist philosophy permeates this story (attributed to Barry Letts who had become a Buddhist at this point), and it doesn’t really feel out of place. It works as a redemption for Mike Yates and gives the character some good development. It works to shine a little more light on the Time Lord culture, with a fellow Time Lord rejecting his people, but pursuing a route more peaceful than The Master and less chaotic than The Doctor.

Before this year, I had never watched a story by Robert Sloman. I have enjoyed his stories a great deal. They have been some of my favorites of the Pertwee era. This story is no different. As much as I love Robert Holmes, for me, the top write of the Pertwee era is Sloman. I’m glad he wrote this final story.

With Hartnell and Troughton, I was very aware that their final story was the finale; I was constantly aware that this would be the last time I saw them (anniversary episodes aside). With Pertwee, I never quite felt it until the last episode. There was gravity to the story, but not as much. I think there were fewer stories from this era that I enjoyed, so the departure of the Third Doctor may not have been as big of a deal to me. Perhaps anticipation for Tom Baker was too great. After Hartnell and Troughton, I felt the need to mourn afterward, but I don’t with Pertwee. But I will say that Planet of the Spiders is a great ending to a really good season. Pertwee’s era began strong, and I think it ended strong.

My Rating: 4/5

Up next: Pertwee Era in Review.

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