Doctor Who: Planet of Giants

Apparently I somehow managed to skip over blogging about the episode “Planet of Giants” from the early days of Doctor Who as I’ve been rewatching the entire series from the beginning and blogging about it. And so here is my long-overdue post about it!

The episode involves a TARDIS malfunction which leads to it materializing on Earth but the wrong size. And so the “giants” of the story, whether humans, ants, or anything else, are in fact normal-sized from our everyday perspective, and it is the TARDIS and its occupants who have been miniaturized.

This fun and not-uncommon science fiction scenario is not used as an end in and of itself, but in service of a serious point. Small organisms are dead as a result of an experimental pesticide which, it turns out, doesn’t just kill pests but everything. And so the Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian are working together not only to get safely back to the TARDIS and escape, and return to normal size, but themselves play a part in revealing to authorities that those involved in the pesticide project have even resorted to murder in the interest of protecting their profit.

The miniaturization of the main characters provides for a nice symbolism regarding the theme of science and the environment. As human beings, we develop pesticides and other technologies at least in part because we perceive ourselves as small and thus threatened by nature – as for instance in the potential of pests to destroy crops and leave us in starvation. Yet despite our size relative to the grand scheme of things, we have a greater ability to reason and thereby to survive and thrive than any other living things we know of. When our desire to control and survive and thrive becomes paramount, we may be willing to murder and poison other living things in order to take care of our own interests. But if we are more concerned with our collective well being and with doing what is right, we can work together to overcome obstacles. Rather like the proverbial David vs. Goliath.

The four-part story was edited to three for broadcast, but not only has the full a recreation with all four parts been released on DVD, but you can apparently watch it online!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebecca-Fine/100002306266703 Rebecca Fine

    This story was inspired by the then watershed book about insecticides and the environment, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.

  • arcseconds

    I always think it would be more interesting if someone would take the physics a bit more seriously in the shrinking stories.

    Mass scales with volume, so as the cube of the linear dimension, whereas strength (of limbs, etc.) scales with the cross-sectional area, so with the square of the linear dimension. So a creature built like a human except 2cm high rather than 2m, is 100× smaller (by height), so a millionth of the mass, but only a ten thousandth of the strength, so (proportionally) 100× stronger!

    Forget being terrorized by giant spiders. You’d terrorize them! Through them across the room and rip them to shreds. Forget having to climb up the sides of the glass you fell into, just jump out: you can jump roughly the same height as you can now.

    Unfortunately, as heat content scales by volume and heat dissipation scales by surface area, you’ll probably freeze do death before you do much…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      So that’s why the Master’s shrink-ray resulted in death! :-)


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