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Recap: Doctor Who S11 E5 "Planet of the Spiders"

"Is that fear I can feel in your mind? You are not accustomed to feeling frightened, are you Doctor? You are very wise to be afraid of me!"
The Great One

The final adventure of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, rounding off his tenure at five season's worth of stories. Also the last appearance of Richard Franklin as former Captain Mike Yates.

Sarah Jane visits her friend Mike Yates at a crypto-Buddhist retreat in the English countryside. Some of them have apparently been skipping meditation lessons to hang out in the basement and summon ENORMOUS FREAKING SPIDERS from Metebelis III, a world ruled by the terrifying things. As if enormous spiders weren't bad enough, these are enormous telepathic mind-controlling spiders, and one of them takes over a Buddhist and turns him into a spider-puppet. Naturally, they have designs on our world; but their chief aim at the moment is the recapture of a blue crystal prism thingy. Conveniently enough, the Doctor has just received one in the mail! It's from Jo Grant, who he gave it to back in "The Green Death".

Puppet guy follows Sarah Jane back to UNIT HQ to steal the Metebelis crystal, using mind-thrown lightning bolts to get past security. Awesome. Psychic powers so rarely come with offensive capabilities. A completely badass hovercar vs. helicopter chase ensues, but the guy gets away. The Doctor and Sarah Jane deduce who the thief must have been, and head back to the retreat—but by then the puppet guy has misplaced it.

The evil monks turn a mandala into a portal to Metebelis III, and puppet guy goes through. Sarah Jane, who really should know better than to step into glowing circles on the ground, finds herself there as well. She tries to foment glorious revolution amongst the human proletariat, but their arachnid overlords promptly arrive to put an end to that. She is saved by the timely intervention of the Doctor—who's used the TARDIS and the crystal to get to Metebelis III himself—the spiders attack him, leave him for dead, and go back for reinforcements. They're back bright and early the next morning to haul Doctor and Companion back to Spider HQ, where they have obviated prison cells by the simple expedient of swaddling their prisoners in spider silk.

The Doctor wiggles out of his cocoon, frees Sarah Jane, and decides to put the crystal back into the cave where it was found in the first place, on the theory that it will placate the intelligence that spawned it. But the radiation will surely kill anyone who enters the cave! If only there were some brave hero willing to sacrifice his life to replace the crystal!

No, it isn't a hero that needs to complete this mission. It's an atonement for a past mistake from a humbled Doctor, despite knowing that this will be his last act to make up for being a self-serving codger for a sizable part of his life in this incarnation. He finally steps in and makes a Heroic Sacrifice to prove he has a heart of gold. Prepared for the worst, the Third Doctor decides to face his fears and endure the punishment for his greed that day he took the crystal. He finds the Great One wants her mental abilities to reach infinity, and she snatches the Metabilis crystal to complete its psychic web circuit as a keystone, which is now irradiating the Doctor to a devastating effect. Except, the Great One is so power blind she ignores the Doctor's warning that her mind can't handle that much power. When she foolishly activates the circuit anyway, the power intake overloads the Great One's brain, until she explodes, causing the rest of the Eight Legs to writhe in pain and die off. Visibly anguished, the Doctor stumbles back to his TARDIS, reeling from excessive radiation exposure.

The Third Doctor returns to Earth several weeks late from his departure. He quavers out the doors of the TARDIS, unable to even stand without huddling to the frame of his ship. Losing his strength, he falls to the ground faced down. The Brig gets a seat cushion to prop up his head while Sarah turns him over on his back, grieving at the sight of her Doctor's last moments. The poor gentlemen is on his deathbed after getting lost in the Time Vortex. He weakly tells his companion what he had to do, but she won't accept his death. Starting to cry, the Doctor tells her "A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don't cry. While there's life, there's..." But the word "hope" does not escape his lips. He dies as though he just froze in place as the radiation stopped every process of his body from working, including speech and his eyelids, which Sarah closes.

But the utterance of hope that the Doctor couldn't gasp out before his demise shows up in the form of K'anpo Rimpoche. Sarah learns the Doctor isn't so dead after all, because the wise Time Lord sees that his old friend needs a "push" to make his cells regenerate. Sarah didn't know what the Doctor meant by regeneration when he first spoke of it, and is a might confused at what is going on. But the Brigadier has dealt with this change of appearance before. A bit diffused by the idea the Doctor is going to have a personality tilt again after two oft incorrigible faces, he resignedly says, "Well, here we go again..." Jon Pertwee fades away.

If only we had a Doctor that could start larking about the Pythagorean Theorem and let us know all was well. One who did not make us think his death would stick.

One who could, if he were to die, regenerate into Tom Baker!

If only...

Tropes

  • The Adjective One: The Great One.
  • Alien Among Us: K'anpo is actually another renegade Time Lord.
  • All Webbed Up: The spiders' captives are nicely webbed up in preparation for dinner.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Tuar. Definitely Tuar.
  • Author Appeal: The Buddhist themes were written into the episode by Barry Letts, himself a practicing Buddhist. This came back to bite him slightly, as some Buddhists objected to the use of mantras and chants as a means to summon the spiders.
  • Back for the Finale: Mike returns to redeem himself after getting booted out of UNIT for his betrayal in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
  • Badass Normal: Sgt. Benton. The mind-thrown lightning bolts instantly kill normal humans, and seriously inconvenience the Doctor. Benton takes two to the chest, and shakes it off with enough wherewithal to bring the car around.
    • He also makes a damn fine cup of coffee.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Eight-Legs, especially their leader.
  • Book Ends: Jon Pertwee's run as The Doctor begins and ends with him stumbling out of the TARDIS and collapsing.
  • Catchphrase
    "ALL PRAISE TO THE GREAT ONE!"
  • Call Back:
    • The Metebelis crystal from The Green Death makes a return, complete with a letter from Jo Grant.
    • Although it isn't explicitly stated, it's widely assumed that K'anpo is the hermit the Doctor remembered in the "daisiest daisy" monologue in The Time Monster.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While it's quite clear from the start that the Metebelis crystal is the MacGuffin of this story, we didn't know so back when it first appeared.
  • Combo Platter Powers: When the spiders possess people, they give them Psychic Powers and the ability to shoot bolts of lightning from their hands. Three years later, these seemingly unrelated abilities would come together again...
  • Contemplate Our Navels: A rather literal example. When Mike Yates first brings Sarah Jane in and they look in on some of the actual meditation.
    Mike: They're just meditating. Watching.
    Sarah Jane: So what are they watching?
    Mike: They're mentally watching their tummies. Go up and down as they breathe.
    Sarah Jane: Like contemplating their bellybuttons?
    Mike: You could put it like that.
    Sarah Jane: Well, I hope you all know what you're on about.
    Mike: Probably seems a bit daft. It's an exercise in awareness really.
  • Deceptive Disciple: Lupton to K'anpo
  • Dirty Old Man: Lupton mockingly blows a kiss to Sarah after one of the Eight Legs' guards knock her out with his crystal staff, suggesting this.
  • Distracted By The Pretty: Tommy.
  • Double Take: Sarah Jane gives a quite incoherent explanation of her discovery of the spider summoning ritual, and the Doctor doesn't really listen. That is, until he realises she's talking about spiders.
  • Driving a Desk: While most parts of the chase scene look good, the Whomobile part looks... off.
  • Face Your Fears: The ultimate premise of this story for the Third Doctor. In almost every one of his episodes, he's remained in control when facing a greater enemy, and has never bowed to fear even when he was forced to relive it. This is the one time when he isn't just scared to face the villian- he's tremendously terrified. That out-of-character moment should let you know this episode is going to be heavy.
  • Famous Last Words: "A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don't cry. While there's life, there's..."
  • Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: Tommy. Unusually for this trope, there's no sign that Tommy loses his newfound intelligence at the end.
  • Flying Car: The Whomobile.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Lupton was a former salesman and manager for 25 years who was embittered when his company fired him after going through a merger where the new boys in charge ousted the old buffers.
  • Foreshadowing: The Doctor's discussion of regeneration with K'anpo Rinpoche. It is a warning of what is to come. Also, K'anpo regenerating, which is a decoy plot twist that makes the viewer think this point was dealt with, before the real kicker sets in and the Doctor is the one regenerating.
  • Giant Spider: Lots 'n lots.
  • A God Am I: the Great One's desire
  • God Save Us from the Queen!
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Great One's plan.
  • Grand Finale: To the Pertwee era as a whole as it features a callback to Jo, Yates' return and acts as a loose sequel to Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Green Death.
  • Here We Go Again: Said verbatim by the Brigadier when the Doctor regenerates.
  • I Know You Are In There Somewhere Fight: The Doctor, to spider-controlled Sarah Jane
  • I Love Nuclear Power
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Protects Tommy from the spider-people's lightning bolts.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Tommy
  • Kneel Before Zod: the Great One tormenting the Doctor in part 5
  • La Résistance
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Doctor's opinion to getting captured, then fighting off guards, only to be recaptured, is "Oh dear, this is getting monotonous." Which is pretty much a summary of the vicious cycle of Padding applied to most of the stories over the course of his Doctor's whole era that are at least six episodes long, and a thinly veiled quip regarding why Jon Pertwee is leaving the show.
  • Large Ham: The Great One toward the end.
  • Left for Dead: One of Huar's guards was attacked by Arak and left to die for being unreasonably cruel, setting into motion the second half of the story.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Crossed with Made of Explodium. When The Great One dies, her underground lair explodes, which brings down half the mountain it's beneath.
  • Lost Colony: the human colony on Metebelis III.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Clegg
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The Doctor's Metebilis crystal.
  • Mood Whiplash: In Part 4, the Doctor is left weak for half the episode from being zapped by psychic electricity, with everyone worrying he's had it. But after he discharges the psychic energy, come next morning, when everyone else is all worn out:
    The Doctor: Wakey, wakey! Rise and shine! Show a leg, the weather's fine.
  • More Expendable Than You: Benton tries this in Part 2. The Doctor shoots him down immediately.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: The ultimate fate of the Great One when she learns that she can't handle infinite mental powers. And by extent, the rest of the Eight Legs who are linked to her mind.
  • The Nth Doctor: Somewhat lampshaded when the Brig recalls that the Second Doctor became the Third Doctor. K'anpo also regenerates at the end of the story.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Huath, the Queen spider, is Old Irish for "fear".
  • Negate Your Own Sacrifice: The Doctor.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: The Doctor is more interested in the Metebelis crystal than in Sarah Jane's story about a summoning ritual in the monastry. She calls him out on it, not that it helps. Until she mentions a big spider...
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Professor Clegg is a real psychic who disguises his talent as a magic trick.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: As lampshaded by the Great One re the Doctor.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Ominous Buddhist chanting ("Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ!") is used to summon the giant spiders.
  • One-Gender Race: The spiders, apparently.
  • Phlebotinum Overdose
  • Poke in the Third Eye: Clegg's death, apparently due to using the crystal while the spider is coming across.
  • Power Crystal
  • Psychic Powers
  • Puppeteer Parasite: with some remaining free will. Lupton in particular finds himself able to telepathically torture his spider right back when she tries doing it to him.
  • Religion Is Magic
  • The Shangri-La
  • Shock and Awe: The spiders have this power, and so have the humans possessed by them.
  • Simpleton Voice / Hulk Speak: Tommy has both of these ailments until the Metebilis crystal washes them out of his mind.
  • Spiders Are Scary
  • The Starscream: Lupton's spider to the Queen.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Arak to Reba in Part 5.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Cho-je and K'anpo Rinpoche are the same entity, with Cho-je serving as a sort of future projection of K'anpo that merges with him for his regeneration. Since Sarah Jane is unfamiliar with regeneration, she understandably gets the two confused at the end:
    Sarah Jane Smith: This is the abbot of— no, it's Cho-je. I mean, it looks like Cho-je — but it's really K'anpo Rinpoche ... I think.
    Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Thank you. That makes everything quite clear.
  • Wag the Director: By Proxy: The massive (and completely gratuitous) car chase that takes up most of the second episode was the writers' farewell gift to Jon Pertwee, who appreciated any excuse to drive motor vehicles very fast.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Although Yates doesn't rejoin UNIT, Sarah and the Doctor are very trusting of him despite that nasty "Golden Age" business.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: K'anpo does this, controversially, but the Doctor did provoke the whole mess by stealing the crystal, and his reaction to getting Professor Clegg killed is pretty cold.
  • The X of Y
  • You Look Familiar:
    • Professor Clegg is the third nervous scientist played in the series by Cyril Shaps, after Viner and Lennox.
    • And a case of You Sound Familiar: Lupton was previously the voice of the BOSS.


All praise to the Great One!
Doctor Who S11 E4 'The Monster of Peladon"Recap/Doctor WhoDoctor Who S12 E1 'Robot"

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