The Rubber Chicken > Letters & Words >
By Tim and Alastair. Featuring art by Andy.

"Panda Three to Control - I've just spotted a silver hovercraft being chased by an old crock at 90mph, and there's a little tiny helicopter after 'em both! I'm in pursuit! Over."

Planet of the Spiders (Part Two)
Written by Robert Sloman & Barry Letts
Starring John Pertwee & Elisabeth Sladen
And introducing Stuart Fell as “Tramp Under Hovercraft”

As you know, when we last left The Doctor, grave danger was afoot.

Sarah, trapped in the basement with Mike Yates (still recovering from his momentary lapse into evil, which you will no doubt remember from Invasion of the Dinosaurs parts two through six) has just witnessed Lupton and his power-hungry gang chant an alien spider (one of the Giant Spiders of Metebelis 3, as we will later learn) into existence. The spider proceeds to leap onto Lupton’s back and VANISH! But it hasn’t gone anywhere - we now learn that it remains latched to his back, invisible, its mind linked to his, thus granting him strange and mysterious powers!

Sarah escapes back to UNIT Headquarters, where The Doctor (portrayed by John Pertwee, best known for his role as General Von Kramer in Young Indiana Jones and the Attack of the Hawkmen) is examining The Crystal. It seems the last thing Clegg The Psychic saw before his sudden death were – oh horror of horrible horrors - spiders!

Unfortunately, Lupton has also made it to UNIT HQ. He uses his strange and mysterious powers to zap an unfortunate employee who asks him for identification, then goes on his diabolically merry way. Once inside, he emloys yet another strange and mysterious(ly italicized) power to summon The Crystal unto him. Back in the lab, Sarah watches The Crystal VANISH before her very eyes. You can see both these monumental television moments animated above in eye-bleeding stereo. Honestly, we spoil you.

Tom Baker is the best Doctor Who, without exception.
None of the above is important.

Lupton flees with The Crystal, and seeking a means of escape, he dashes towards the Doctor's silvery, futuristic "car", the magnificently named WHOMOBILE. At this point, dear reader, you must prepare yourself for the very meat and potatoes of this episode, the longest and most pointlessly elaborate chase sequence in television history. A life-defining tale of blood, sweat, tears...
...and hovercrafts.

But before we continue, let us shine the spotlight on other notable appearances of hovercrafts in the Doctor Who canon.

SPOTLIGHT: Other Notable Hovercraft Appearances in Doctor Who Canon

Enemy of the World Part 1:

Upon arriving on a mysterious beach, The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are spotted and attacked by Australian men driving a hovercraft.

The Sea Devils Part 6:

Jo Grant boards a hovercraft not unlike this one (a Royal Navy SRN5) in order to escape the eponymous Sea Devils. The Master later uses the same hovercraft to escape UNIT custody.

A hovercraft of the same model is seen in the story The Time Thief, which appeared in the 1974 Doctor Who Annual.

The Power of Kroll Part 1:

Thawn and Fenner man a hovercraft while searching the swamps for Roam Dutt.

The Doctor Who Interviews: Tom Baker

“The Doctor isn't really an acting part. It's a matter of being inventive enough to project credibility to scenes which aren't credible. The programme is like a hovercraft - on a fine line all the time. You don't dare touch the ground. I think it must have been the part of the Doctor that kept me fresh and young. All that fantasy is good for the mind, you know.”

[AUTHORS’ NOTE: Although this is not a factually accurate depiction of hovercraft operation, it still functions as a useful metaphor. ]

Webchat with Gary Russell

In a web chat with noted Doctor Who author and authority Gary Russell on July 9, 1997, one of the participants uses the screen-name “Hovercraft”.

Kelkoo Online Toy Store

A radio-controlled hovercraft appears directly bellow a radio-controlled Dalek.

When we last left these radically righteous crusaders of all that is good and holy, they were pursuing Lupton in the Doctor's other, less retro-kitsch car, Bessie.

The Doctor dismounts Bessie (tee hee!) to board what is estimated to be the most comically tiny helicopter known to man. It’s a wonder any actor could sit inside without crushing it, even one as stylishly slim and snappily dressed as Pertwee.

At this point the three zoom past a policeman, who delivers the priceless quote deservedly promoted to the top of this very page. Bear in mind that this is only a fleeting morsel of the insanity to come. Mark our words, wacky mayhem will ensue. Oh yes, it will ensue. With bells on.

Nine out of ten doctors agree that hovercrafts are bitchin' cool.

Rather a lot of old-time car / hover car / police car / embryonic helicopter chase madness follows. Cliched, perhaps, but like a fine wine, or perhaps cheese, this archetypal stuggle only improves with age.

At this point it is often wondered just how the spider is able to remain on Lupton’s back without being squashed. This does present us with something of a logical inconsitency, a rarity in Doctor Who canon, but it can be rationalised. The commonly accepted theory amongst Doctor Who fans (or "Whotopians" as they prefer to be called), is that it somehow harnesses time vortex energy, converting itself into some sort of stable, dimensionally transcendental antimatter, or something of a similar nature.

...And just in case we haven’t quite murdered the ancient art of GIF animation so far, this interpretation of the next scene should represent the fatal blow. The pursuers give up the chase. As they casually stand around and discuss their options, Lupton sneaks, nay, emerges from the bushes and steals the microscopically minute helicopter. How in Tim Curry’s name will they catch him now?

Before we answer that question, let us shine the spotlight on Sarah Jane Smith’s various fashion statements during her tenure as a Doctor Who companion.

SPOTLIGHT: Sarah Jane Smith’s various fashion statements during her tenure as a Doctor Who companion

Now, how does that devilishly clever Doctor pursue his airborne quarry?

He takes to the skies in his own vehichle, of course!

Lupton reaches a lake and lands his helicopter. (Funny, I seem to remember these things being able to fly over water.) A questionable tactic, but one soon forgotten when he spots two more vehicles: a speedboat, and… what have we here?

Yes indeedy, it’s God’s Humble Hovercraft.

As the boat owner steps out to admire the hovercraft and bask in its general excellence, Lupton resorts to drastic measures. He pushes him into the water! Now that’s just mean! We really are dealing with true evil here, folks. The hovercraft owner isn’t so fortunate; he gets zapped (most likely out of jealousy, and rightly so).

Evil, however, always falters. In this case, Lupton’s fatal flaw is choosing the speedboat. Before the villain can make his escape (again), the boat owner climbs on board, undeterred by the threat of arachnoid lightning, only to get pushed off again! That fiend! The man’s sweater could be ruined!

Now, let’s pause for a second, and take a moment to examine the character of the enigmatic hovercraft driver. Just who is this orange jumpsuit-wearing man of mystery? Is he a billionaire playboy and lover of technology, marveling at the striking innovation that is the modern hovercraft? Or is he a thrillseeker, who feels the need, yes, the need for speed, on both water and on land, and has just found his dream machine? Is he perhaps an entrepreneur, looking for the next big thing, trying to swindle the salesman out of his hard-won hovercraft fleet, only to sell them to foreign dictatorships for a quick buck? Or is he naught but a struggling family man, trying to bring home the bacon for his wife and three children, desperate to scrimp and save, now discovering a way to provide them with not only a family car, but a family boat as well?

No. No he’s not. He’s just a glorified extra.

In an orange jumpsuit.

Moving on, however: the Doctor and Sarah, who have landed nearby, rush to the scene of the confrontation, and watch Lupton make off with the speedboat. One look at the expression on the Doctor's face tells us all we need to know. Lupton has now gone too far. This means war.

...In a hovercraft.

The Doctor dashes to the shoreline and, without a word to Sarah, leaps into the fallen man's hovercraft and puts the pedal to the metal. Or, you know, whatever one does in order to make a hovercraft go really fast. For fast it indeed does go, hot in pursuit.

Just in case you forget this was a hovercraft chase, the Doctor’s stunt double reminds us with this completely pointless detour. But far be it from us to criticise his sense of direction; Our Hero has another trick up his sleeve…

Not only has Stuart Fell had twelve guest appearances on Doctor Who; he has also appeared in Star Wars, Superman, Blake’s 7 and Willow. His work as a stunt coordinator has graced the likes of Aliens and three James Bond movies!
His alter ego, Taro the Jester, was voted “Jester of the Year” in 1993.
What a guy!

The age old tactic: take a shortcut through a meadow and drive over a sleeping hobo (portrayed here by Stuart Fell, made famous by his nuanced performance as a Snowtrooper in the cult underground hit Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back). Will this manoevre (animated above once more for your masochistic pleasure) give the Doctor the winning edge? All shall be revealed…

But before we continue, let us shine the spotlight of SCIENCE upon the mysterious hobo-under-the-hovercraft phenomenon.

SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT: The Mysterious Hobo-Under-The-Hovercraft Phenomenon

A conundrum presents itself: In the aformentioned footage, (Planet of the Spiders (Part Two), 1974) the hobo is completely unharmed after being run over by a hovercraft. Is this enough documentary evidence to establish the scientific veracity of this phenomenon, or is it mearly circumstantial?

This question is important, because Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1996) presents a contradictory sequence of events. In an exciting (possibly death-defying) sequence near the end of the film, Mr. Chan is run over by a hovercraft, and although our hero (Mr. Chan) is unharmed, his clothes are torn partially off.

Which portrayal is more accurate?
We asked four major authorities in the hovercraft industry for the answer!

Universal Hovercraft
The world's largest supplier of hovercraft plans, kits and parts.

"If a person was lying on the ground and the hovercraft had enough hover height to clear him, it would pass over just as if he were any other obstacle. The person lying on the ground may get a fine dusting and perhaps a few bruises from the impact of the skirt."

Rev. Granville Spedding
Information and Publications Officer, Hovercraft Club of Great Britain:

“I have been under a hovercraft - though I did wear a crash helmet for protection. I can out the other end completely unscathed - clothes intact. The Jackie Chan's stunt must have been for effect!”

Paul Whitelaw
Rock journalist and author of “Just a Modern Rock Story”, a rather excellent biography of the rather excellent band Belle & Sebastian. (Buy HERE from Amazon! target="belle")

"...As for your thought-provoking query regards the after-effects on a human body following an altercation with a hovercraft (something I and my friends have mulled over on many a long winters night) I have come to the conclusion that the scene depicted in the classic 1974 Dr Who adventure is far nearer the truth than that depicted in the Jackie Chan film, which is clearly the delirious imaginings of a deranged fantasist. In short, Dr Who is science fact of the highest order and should never be disputed."

Gene Ray
Author of popular paranoid conspiracy website

"I have no time for trivia, I trust you have the proper mentality to make such an interpretation.
Good luck with your decision.

Dr. Gene Ray, Cubic"

Click here to hear the above email read by famous SCIENTIST Stephen Hawking!
(Voice might be impersonated)

Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996) may or may not be Police Story IV. Ostensibly, it also goes by the titles of Piece Of Cake, or Story of the CIA. We can't really figure this one out.

Sure enough, the hobo gave the Doctor the extra momentum he needed. As this roller-coaster ride of an episode nears its cliffhanger climax, he finally catches up to Lupton’s boat. He leaps aboard, only to discover his enemy has…

So, to summarise the episode:
“Lupton escapes.”

Not that this matters. Planet of the Spiders (Part Two) isn't about story. It's about life itself. Scriptwriters Robert Sloman and Barry Letts raise an important issue that’s all the more relevant in this frail, post-9/11 world:
What the hell happened to the hovercraft chase?

Once upon a time you could barely turn your head a few degrees without spotting one. Now Hollywood has turned its back on the very thing that made it famous. Many James Bond fans thought Die Another Day lacked that certain something synonymous with the series. Some say it was intelligent plotting. We say no, damnit – it lacked hovercrafts! Roger Moore would be turning in his grave if he were dead.

(Actually, I've just remembered that Die Another Day had a rather substantial hovercraft chase. Still, I'm sure we can all agree hovercrafts were missing in spirit. Somehow. - Editor, 2008)

If only the world’s leaders would settle their differences with a good old fashioned hovercraft chase, this planet would surely be a better place.

God save the Queen.

Christopher Eccleston is the best Doctor Who, without exception.

Special thanks to Rev. Granville Spedding, Paul Whitelaw, Universal Hovercraft and Gene Ray for their insightful contributions!

Subscribe to the Chicken Feed for more pop-culture dissection, the Podcast for sketch comedy fun, or explore the related links below.