Doctor Who has been many things after being around for forty six years in various forms of mass media, adventure tale and mystery, comedy and tragedy. But it also had been a fable of sorts, a legend whose tales have a moral base of right vs wrong, good vs evil.
Planet of the Spiders takes this concept to the extreme, with major characters in the narrative searching for peace of mind and clarity to past mistakes in their lives. It also deals a lot with fear, to the point of using a monster that has a large association with a common Human phobias, namely spiders, a fact rammed home by the story that the first design for the spiders was abandoned as being too scary for the audience.
This serial also marked the end of Jon Pertwee's nearly five year run as the Doctor, as well as the departure of both Barry Letts as producer and Terrance Dicks as script editor, both men becoming figures that would loom large in the annals of Doctor Who history, making the story a milestone on two levels, both in front of and behind the cameras.
The story is also a homage to the years Pertwee had the role of the Doctor, with his love of cars and modes of transport indulged in an episode long chase scene, and his Venusian karate skills coming into play as well, icons that are as much a part of Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor as Troughton's recorder before him or later Tom Baker's long multicolored scarf.
It is a shame the episode seems sub par in places, perhaps due to the fact that it was a replacement script for what was supposed to be Pertwee's final story, which would have culminated in a standoff between the Doctor and his arch enemy the Master, who was played by actor Roger Delgado, who had tragically died in a car crash the year before, making the original script unusable.
It would seem that the replacement villains would delve into arachnophobia.
The planet Metebelis Three had been name dropped in the previous season, being an allusive destination for the Doctor and Jo Grant and a crystal from the planet became part of the solution in the Green Death, the final story of the tenth season.
This planet would be revived and populated with a crashed Earth colony mission, and the spiders they brought with them. But, of course in a mix of Who tradition and fifties sci-fi shtick, these spiders were made into giants by the same kind of crystal mentioned previously.
The effect of these monsters is undeniable, they are the bearers of wide spread panic and terror in some, they are simply the stuff of nightmares, no matter how dated the realization of them may be to our critical modern cgi eyes.
They are terror on the level of the toy troll that comes alive and the plastic squirting daffodils in Terror of the Autons earlier in Pertwee's reign, they're scare factor is tripled because they are real right here and now in our everyday lives, which was another link to the overall feel of the Pertwee era as well, making monsters that were closer to home rather than some far flung world.
The effect of all this hard to gauge honestly, there are good aspects like the Doctor having to face something he actually fears after all his travels and battles with various races throughout the first ten years of the classic series,and the bad, a link to Eastern philosophy that in my opinion is a bit forced and non essential to the plot, to the same old tired colony story that plagued Doctor Who in both the past and the future.
It is hardly a fitting end to one of the longer reigning Doctors, but the ending makes up for it, the Doctor bathed in blue light from the cave of the Great One, facing fear as well as death as his cells are ravaged by the power of the crystals, making his way to the Doctor's 'home' UNIT HQ, and leading into one of the saddest deaths of an incarnation of the Doctor, one that shows that even our everyday fears can be defeated and championed, although sometimes not without a cost.
Especially when your fear comes a crawling on eight legs, all the better to hold you down in terror...