Written By Louis Marks
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield & Douglas Camfield (part of episode 3)
These days, most people who actually pay attention to what they shovel into their gobs would rather work hot shards of broken glass up their pisshole than eat non-organic food. Organic seems to be the new kosher, with my local supermarket actually having special implements to handle the organic produce, so as not to taint it with imperceptibly tiny traces of wronggrown grain of vegetable. Meanwhile, everyone else just crosses their fingers and hopes its not made of horse.
The genesis of this interest in how our food is produced can be traced back to the 1957 US banning of the DDT pesticide. This then lead to Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring in 1962, just two years before this story was written. Even by then though it was not something so widely thought about that it would be expected to turn up as the plot in a hugely popular family sci-fi show on an early Saturday evening.
The idea of shrinking the TARDIS crew was one of the first stories ever suggested for Doctor Who. Luckily, they held off until the second season, allowing the shoe to be established as a time/space travel show, rather than a prototype for the ‘Honey, I…’ film series. Writer Louis Marks also made the brilliant decision to have actual human villains, rather than pitting the Doctor and Co against ‘giant’ bugs. Not only did this remove Sydney Newman’s eyed ‘bug eyed monsters,’ it added a really interesting and highly original dynamic, where the protagonists and antagonists never directly interact with each other.
Its also impressive just how good this story looks. Ray Cusick’s giant size sets are wonderful, putting to shame many large budget attempts to do exactly the same thing. And, importantly, they’re actually a constant scale, our heros do not appear to grow and shrink as they move from set to set.
The three episode structure works to the story’s advantage as well. Originally shot as a four parter, it was edited down to three in order to up the pace. Compared to the mostly six parters of the previous season, four would probably have felt quite snappy, but this edit really moves along, only being outpaced by Marinus.
Its not all brilliant. There is some really bad science throwing an oversized dead fly into the ointment, particularly the notion of ‘space pressure.’ What the fuck does that mean? Often, I feel that doctor Who is better when rather than explaining something with obvious bullshit, the Doctor just says ‘I’ll explain later*. Also, its a rather quaint idea that a huge pesticide research project would be conducted entirely by two men in a sleepy country cottage.
As a bit of a greeny, this story was always going to be close to my heart, but the quality of the writing, acting and production here more than lived up to my expectations. It firmly establishes f Doctor Who as a show that can carry itself for more than one season, and establishes that there might be room for stories set entirely on comntempory earth, something that would become important in later years.
So far,each story in Who had been about a new place or time, and with it a new villain. That was not to last, however, as demand for the return of a highly popular plunger armed eugenicists grew. Next up: The Dalek invasion of Earth, though if you really can’t wait, the Guardian published a story in it earlier today.
*oddly, the bit of ‘bad science picked up on the commentary is not bad science at all. It’s not ‘time distortion,’ you gaggle of nonces, it’s that relative to their diminutive stature sound waves are bigger, and therefore sound lower. I can understand the rest of them, but you, Mark Ayres, you’re a fucking audio wizard for a living. Get it right. P.S, I love your work.