So, apparently, Jon Pertwee’s final serial was supposed to conclude the Master’s story arc, but due to the death of Roger Delgado, they had to come up with a new finale. Which is a shame, firstly because he died so young, and secondly because Planet of the Spiders just isn’t very good.
Robert Sloman has gone back to his weird occult type storylines, with monks, a cult of spider-worshippers, telekinesis and chanting. Oh god, the chanting, make it stop! “Om! Om! Om!” There’s also some cringeworthy bit part performances – the police officer is awful, the colonist woman is even worse – but some of the imagery, like the spiders hanging onto people’s backs and controlling them, is effective and quite unsettling. Arachnophobes should give this a miss!
The conveniently useful blue crystal that the Doctor picked up from Metabelis III (The Green Death) turns out to be more important than ever, as the spiders need it to enhance their mind power and rule the Universe. Although these spiders (mutated Earth spiders from a crashed colony ship in the future) have grown and developed serious mind control abilities, the weird revelation here is that all humans have the same natural potential within them. This was written in the era when ‘ESP’ was considered a real thing, so it’s understandable, but the concept hasn’t aged well. The rules seems to arbitrarily change, too. The spiders’ energy attacks are at one point deadly, another point not, at one point deflected by certain minerals and another by innocence of mind. It’s like they’re making it up as they go. And the worst part is when the Doctor gains the ability to teleport into another room for no discernible reason. What?!
The plot just lumbers along unevenly. There’s far too much filler, like the car chase that turns into a flying car chase then a hovercraft chase, taking up most of an episode to do so, and ending in nothing. Conversely, the Doctor’s trip to Metabelis III is conveniently instantaneous. There’s also another instance of the Doctor being nearly killed but miraculously surviving, which is even less necessary here because of the regeneration in the final episode – why pull the same trick twice?
As usual, it’s the final moments when anything of interest happens. The Doctor bravely enters the irradiated crystal caves to confront the Great Spider, who blows itself and the mountain up (yet another explosive finish!). The abbot of the monastery turns out to be a Time Lord, in fact the Doctor’s old mentor whom he previously mentioned. He gives the Doctor some advice and also turns up at the end to give his regeneration a little push.
The transformation from Jon Pertwee to a fresh-faced Tom Baker is not as seamless or drawn out as his first regeneration, consisting instead of a disappointing cross-fade. Still, I was glad to see it happen at last!