For this review more than most so far, I find myself having to stop my own bias affecting what I put across. I love this story, it has always been one of my favourite Hartnell stories; but I think that is perhaps due to the fantastic practical effects (more on that later).
So the story opens with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan still in the Tardis, presumably not long after the events of The Reign of Terror. In fact, the Doctor is still wearing his cloak from that story; clearly he took a liking to it. He had previously mentioned in The Sensorites that he looked good in a cloak. The rest of the crew are in different clothes, Ian is back in schoolteacher attire, with Susan in dungarees.Midway through flight, the Tardis doors open causing an emergency in which the Doctor has to land.
Upon exploring their environment, they come across ‘giant’ ants, worms and matchsticks. As it turns out, the doors opening during flight caused them all to shrink to roughly the size of an inch.
Meanwhile there is a dispute going on. One gentleman named Forester has invested huge amounts of money into a pesticide called DN6, however a chap known as Farrow has done research on DN6 tells him that it is too dangerous for use. Forester then shoots him in the garden. A scientist who has worked hard on the pesticide assists Forester to clean away the body etc.
It is worth mentioning at this point that Forester is definitely the number one least effective murderer in the history of everything. It’s almost like he hasn’t even seen a Midsummer Murders before. His list of stupid acts includes – leaving the body outside for all to see, intending to cover up the murder as drowning despite a bullet wound, leaving fingerprints on Farrow’s briefcase, leaves blood on the floor, makes calls pretending to be the victim, and the list goes on.
Anyway, one of the things I noticed at the start of this story was that the cut from the interior of the Tardis to the exterior was especially smooth. This is just after the Doctor apologises to Barbara for snapping at her previously – it is obvious that humans are affecting his icy behaviour over time. Ian finds his way into a matchbox seconds before Farrow picks it up and gets shot. He and Barbara then find themselves inside the science lab, with the Doctor and Susan having to climb up inside the drainpipe to meet them.
This brings us neatly to the practical effects I mentioned earlier. They are very ambitious and are so much more special that CGI that you might encounter today.
Barbara and Ian continue to bond, considering that they must have known each other for a long time now. I wonder how long they were teaching together for, hanging out in each others classrooms after hours like in An Unearthly Child.
The fact that DN6 is the focus of the plot means that the giant bugs etc can just be props as opposed to men in suits. Since the animals are required to be dead, they don’t need to be moving at all. Otherwise we could expect something that looked more like the Zarbi to come.
Having said that, when we do have to see a giant fly that is still alive, it is so brilliantly done. I presume that it was made to move by using wires, but they are invisible even on the restored DVD quality. So bravo to the design team for that one.
The scientist who serves as a second in command villain is named Smithers, which couldn’t be more perfect since Forrester is just as ridiculous at being a villain as Mr Burns. At this point Forrester has to make a phone call pretending to be Farrows. To disguise his voice he uses – a handkerchief. This results in the line operator Hilda realising that this guy isn’t who he says he is.
The Doctor and crew cause a small explosion using a gas tap and aerosol can. This was intended to start a fire to let them escape, but instead it distracted Forrester enough to let Smithers get the upper hand on him.
Hilda gets a policeman Bert to listen to Forrester’s voice, and they agree that Bert should go and check it out. This is when Forrester and Smithers get arrested leading to the failure of DN6 presumably. So the heroes of the story were really the line operator and a bumbling copper. They should have their own spin-off. Hilda and Bert solving alien threats from the other end of your phone line.
So the story comes to an end with everyone safely back at the Tardis returning to normal size. At this point I have to ask myself how much of my enjoyment came from nostalgia and the great effects. Although the props are great and the story is fun, I do have to remind myself that effectively the two cliffhangers were a cat, and somebody washing their hands. I think when it comes to the actual story, it isn’t particularly specific to Doctor Who and isn’t really that clever. I think I need to give this story five shrunken Tardises out of ten.