“Now what chance would human beings have, I really wonder, in a world of creatures like this…” – The Doctor
The show starts off its second season with a story that had once been intended for the very first episode. It is fortunate that they didn’t actually do that since the premise of the TARDIS crew shrunken to inch height would have overshadowed the introduction to the concept of the show. It works wonderfully for the second season starter, however, and in no small part due to the larger budget they were apparently able to put into the special effects. There are some incredibly well done large-scale sets here which must have been very advanced for their time. (The moving fly is particularly impressive.)
Not only does the story make good use of sets, but you can tell a lot of thought went into the writing about what physical effects such changes in scale would have upon the crew’s interaction with the environment. For instance, they could have just shown Ian and Barbara being carried in the briefcase but instead they belabor the point of just how jarring and almost deadly such jostling is at that size. There is discussion of how different the sounds are, how the proportions affect their view of what they see, even how the concrete seems rougher because the grains of sand are bigger. The writer even addresses some small details that viewers might question like how they could climb up the smooth inside of a pipe by having the Doctor and Susan point out how corroded the inside is. I guess I am quite surprised for a 1964 children’s show to have thought much thought put into it.
It’s also interesting that they chose to make the story not just the struggle of the shrunken but to juxtapose that with a simple dramatic story of corruption and murder. The characters of Forester and Smithers convey the greedy drive for money and fame and its consequences well. There’s even an environmental message to it which is again surprising for the time. Who knows what end-of-the-world damage our crew may have helped avoid by their ‘tiny’ intervention!
There are again some nice interactions between the crew. It’s almost funny to hear the Doctor admit after yet another tirade the quite obvious understatement “I always forget the niceties under pressure” but we also get a glimpse into his frustration at traveling with people that just can’t comprehend his level of understanding (“Oh please, don’t keep talking on the twentieth-century level!”) As it should be, the Doctor puts the signs together pretty quickly to realize what has happened (and seems more bemused than worried!) Thankfully, they let Susan also figure it out on her own just as quickly thereby restoring some of her status as a supposedly ultra-intelligent young girl as in the original premise of the show. Barbara’s anguish and self-sacrifice in not admitting her sickness are quite compelling.
Best unsettling moments:
Barbara’s silent desperation as she wipes at her infected hand while unwitting Ian talks on about the effects of poisoning is almost heart-wrenching; it was one of my biggest memories of this story from childhood.
Special mention also to the horrific look on the face of Farrow after he is killed, particularly when they pull him up off the ground to check his body and his face is caked with mud and that “particular posture and appearance” of death that the Doctor refers to earlier. Bravo to the actor for carrying that off so well at close-up.
- Strange effect of time travel
In the ‘less is more’ category, this story was originally to have been longer so it’s interesting that it works so well despite being cut down from four episodes to three. However this does lead to a few editing glitches and jumps that affect the flow of the story a bit.