The 3rd Doctor era ends not with a bang or whimper but with a contented sigh. “Planet of the Spiders” is a perfectly fine story. I was never bored watching it and there are some great moments here and there. The Doctor’s death is suitably moving. It is a perfectly average story which is sad since this is the final 3rd Doctor adventure but at least it wasn’t terrible. I was hoping for something along the lines of “Caves of Androzani” but oh well.
The story revolves around men at a Buddhist monastery, evil alien spiders, the crystal the Doctor took from Metebelis 3 and gave to Jo as a wedding present, and a plot to conquer the universe. Honestly it doesn’t all fit together but instead acts almost like a greatest hits collection of the 3rd Doctor era.
Take the second episode. It is basically one long chase sequence that involves Bessie, the Whomobile, a helicopter, a boat, and a hovercraft. It is bonkers and probably goes on too long but this Doctor loves his vehicles so they throw them all in here. I liked seeing Bessie again. She became almost as important as the TARDIS, especially early on when the Doctor was stuck on Earth.
The Doctor uses a lot of his Venusian aikido as well, beating up several guards. Again, the story didn’t need all those fight scenes but Venusian aikido has been a trademark of this Doctor so might as well trot it out one last time.
Metebelis 3 might have been the most mentioned planet aside from Earth so making that the setting for the last story does kind of make sense.
The mentor that the Doctor has talked about in several stories finally shows up here as the head of the Buddhist monastery and helps the Doctor regenerate at the end.
Mike Yates is brought back and has a fairly large role here. I loved this because I didn’t like how his character was treated in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and this was a much better send-off for his character. He is at the monastery to try and find inner peace and come to terms with what he tried to do. He notices that several other men there, led by Lupton, are up to no good. He contacts Sarah Jane Smith to help him investigate because he doesn’t think the Doctor or the Brig would believe his word alone.
I was surprised that the Brig wasn’t in this story all that much. He has very limited screen time but he is there at the end when the Doctor regenerates and gets a pretty funny line when he says “Here we go again.”
The villains are rather weak. The spiders rule over Metebelis 3 but never seem like a big threat. It doesn’t help that they look so rubbery and fake. They also have a generic invade the Earth plan though how they actually intend to conquer the planet is never explained. The story does try to inject some conflict amongst the spider rulers as they vie for power but considering it is almost impossible to tell which spider is speaking and the fact that it sounds like they all have the same voice means that their bickering is more annoying than interesting.
Lupton is a pretty generic villain as well. He is given a back story and it kind of explains his lust for power but that doesn’t make him interesting. He also really doesn’t impact the story that much.
The oppressed humans on Metebelis 3 don’t fare much better. They aren’t introduced until the third episode and nothing about them really stands out. They are more or less slaves. Some want to fight back and others don’t. I couldn’t tell you any of their names without looking it up in a Wiki.
While Jo doesn’t return she does send the Doctor a letter detailing what she has been up to and that she loves her life with Cliff. It was a sweet moment and I’m glad that the final story didn’t ignore her since she was such a pivotal character for this era.
Sarah Jane is great as usual. She gets plenty of time to shine and she shows real emotion as the Doctor dies. Lis Sladen truly makes you believe that the Doctor is dead and that the world is a sadder place for it.
The Doctor’s regeneration scene was bittersweet. It was really sad to see this Doctor go but he stopped the spiders, freed the humans on Metebelis 3, and got to say goodbye to Sarah Jane. He went quietly and contentedly.
I am going to miss the 3rd Doctor era. I felt that overall it was pretty strong. The first season was impressive even if I felt that each story (save the first) could have lost an episode or two. “Spearhead from Space” and “Inferno” are the stand-outs from that season.
The second season is where the era really kicks into gear. Jo, the Master, and Yates are introduced. The UNIT family coalesces and becomes a major part of the era. Jo is an amazing companion and works wonderfully paired with the Doctor. The Master was a fantastic villain even if I thought he didn’t need to be in every story. “Terror of the Autons”, “Colony in Space”, and “The Daemons” are the stand-outs here.
The third season started off really strong with the 3rd Doctor finally facing the Daleks in the amazing “Day of the Daleks.” “The Curse of Peladon” was a great political thriller/murder mystery. “The Sea Devils” was a great way to bring the Master back and touched on similar themes from “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” Unfortunately the next two stories were both pretty bad.
The fourth season was pretty strong and the anniversary story “The Three Doctors” was a lot of fun. The basically 12 part story “Frontier in Space” and “Planet of the Daleks” was ill-advised and didn’t capitalize on the Master working with the Daleks. Thankfully it ended strong with “The Green Death” and sent Jo off in a fitting way.
This final season has been good but I think it might be the weakest season of the 3rd Doctor era. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is the only story that I felt was truly great. The rest were just okay.
I am sad to be leaving the 3rd Doctor behind even though I’m about to start what is considered the best era in Doctor Who. At least there are lots of 3rd Doctor books out there for me to read to get my fix.