By Sophie Iles
It’s not secret by now that I am a fan of Ian Chesterton, and without a doubt his relationship with Barbara Wright. If you haven’t noticed, I suspect you might have to go back and read between the lines, but it’s all there in black and white. So, as today is William Russell’s birthday I’m very glad to be writing about one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories.
Yes, you heard it here first. Please note upfront, I really struggle finding faults in this story, so I might just be gushing over my favourites for the rest of this article.
You have been warned.
What happens exactly?:
After leaving the Reign of Terror, everyone is cleaned up and ready for a new adventure, but during materialisation the space pressure causes the doors to open. Panicked, the foursome close the door, and believe nothing extraordinary happened to them.
They’ve end up in Norwich, England, 20th Century, but alas, they’re the wrong size. The party are now down to the size on an inch, confirmed when they come across a variety of dead insects that appear to giant to them.
Whilst working out this problem, Ian Chesterton ends up in a matchbox, as whilst our party explore another story is taking place. A man called Mr. Farrow, is about to submit a report on the experiments going on at this location, a small house and garden (and it’s his matchbox that Ian has ended up in). He explains to Mr Forrester, leader of the experiments that the DN6 formula, an insecticide that’s being created there, is too dangerous to be given the go ahead to go into production. Mr Forrester, who’s not willing to lose all the money who’s put into it shoots him dead.
Even with Ian being reunited with the group, they all get separated when a cat finds them. Ian and Barbara end up inside as the dead man’s personal effects are taken in. Meanwhile the Doctor and Susan scale a drainpipe on the outside of the house, which leads directly into the laboratory where Ian and Barbara have been exploring.
Whilst there, Barbara touches a seed which is covered in the lethal insecticide, and causes her to get sick. She doesn’t tell Ian hoping to find a cure and not worry anyone. The Doctor and Susan find them, but alas, as they climbed the sink, the sink gets used when Mr Forrester and his colleague Mr Smithers, a fellow scientist dispose of the body. For a long and sad moment, Ian and Barbara think the Doctor and Susan are dead. But they were were hiding in the overflow pipe and everyone is okay, until they realise that Barbara is seriously ill. The Doctor believes that them becoming their normal sizes will save them so they should get back to the TARDIS, but Barbara wants to stop the evil men as after reading the science notes in the lab it could devastate the world. It’s just as deadly as radiation, with the way the insecticide can poison the drinking water.
Ian is against this, but he can’t bend Barbara’s mind, and the Doctor and Susan agree with her so they decide to set fire to the lab to make sure it gets attention from someone.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to this, the evil men are already being caught out as the phone operator was suspicious when Forrester rang to pretend to be Farrow. So the police arrive just as the TARDIS team were able to get a bunsen burner to heat a spray can. It explodes and is a distraction just as the officer appears to arrest both Smithers and Farrow.
Then the TARDIS team finally get back to the TARDIS, where The Doctor with some hope and I imagine some luck is able to get them back to their normal size. Barbara is back to her normal health, and the seed they used as a reference is suddenly tiny.
Now, there’s another adventure on the horizon, and the Doctor is keen to figure out what.
What didn’t work:
The only thing I find a struggle with this is it’s very obvious to me that this was supposed to be a four episode story. This story was fighting to be made and I believe from what I’ve read it was even supposed to be the first Doctor Who Story.
I’m very glad it’s landed in the order that it did. It’s a very unique story for them, and the chaos and crisis wouldn’t have nearly have been as evident otherwise in my opinion.
I really would have loved to have seen a whole episode of Ian and Barbara coping on their own without the Doctor and Susan, like they originally intended, though maybe that’s something for our favourite fanfic writers to deal with instead!
Unfortunately, Susan here did seem to get the worst writing. Her sad desperate screams when Ian is taken in the matchbox is so against how she was written in the Sensorites after all her development. I honestly wish she had been more consistently written.
Personally, this is one of my favourite episodes. It’s short, it’s too the point. It’s really well shot considering the issues of actually making our heroes small and i love that despite their size they made a difference. It wasn’t like the Borrowers or Honey I Shrunk The Kids where they had to be seen to make a difference, their story was their own.
The Doctor is also seen to once again develop, without a massive fan fare. He apologises to Barbara without even having to be prompted. I clapped!
DOCTOR: Well, happily no harm has been done. It’s most puzzling. Oh, my dear Barbara, was I rude to you just now? If so I’m so sorry. I always forget the niceties under pressure. Please forgive me.
BARBARA: There’s nothing to forgive.
Think back to an even the Reign of Terror. The Doctor was so upset with Ian he was willing to get rid of them both and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Now, an angry outburst about the worry about his ship and now he’s apologising to her. (Note: he doesn’t apologise to Ian, but it appears Ian is already off doing other things.)
For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments is William Russell’s performance when he discovers Barbara is infected with DN6. He barely speaks, as Susan and the Doctor deal with Barbara. It’s obvious that he blames himself for not noticing that she had been funny, that she had touched the seeds that caused her to become sick. I ask everyone to watch that scene again and just focus on Ian, because it really does bring emotions up in me.
Not only that, but Barbara’s need to fix this against her will to live, just shows her strength of character, even whilst she spent the last few episodes being so terrified of the effects of the insecticide. I also can’t not bring up this episode without talking about the first time Dudley Simpson ever did any music for Doctor Who, who from here goes on to make some classics. Rest In Peace, wonderful musical man.
I leave you today with this doodle, against guest doodled by my husband of Ian with a matchstick and incase you missed the memo: HAPPY 93RD BIRTHDAY WILLIAM RUSSELL!!