“Panda Three to Control – I’ve just spotted a silver hovercraft
Planet of the Spiders (Part Two)
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.
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…
But before we continue, let us shine the spotlight on other notable appearances of hovercrafts in the Doctor Who canon.
Welcome back. 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.
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.
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 was this orange jumpsuit-wearing man of mystery? A billionaire playboy and lover of technology, marveling at the striking innovation that is the modern hovercraft? Or was he a thrillseeker, who feels the need, yes, the need for speed, on both water and on land, who had just found his dream machine? Was 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 was he naught but a struggling family man, trying to bring home the bacon for his wife and three children, desperate to scrimp and save, who had finally discovered a way to provide them with not only a family car, but a family boat as well?
Moving on. 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, hot, hot in pursuit.
Just in case you forget this was a hovercraft chase, the Doctor’s unconvincing stunt double reminds us with this seemingly pointless detour over land. But far be it from us to criticise his sense of direction; Our Hero has another trick up his sleeve…
The age old tactic: take a shortcut through a meadow and drive over a sleeping hobo (played 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?
But before we find out, let us shine the spotlight of SCIENCE upon the mysterious hobo-under-the-hovercraft phenomenon.
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:
Not that this matters. Planet of the Spiders (Part Two) isn’t about story. It’s about life itself.
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. 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.
(Editor’s Poscript: Thanks to your letters, we have been reminded that Die Another Day actually had a very substantial hovercraft chase in the opening sequence. Like, the most prominent one in the entire goddamn James Bond series. Still, I’m sure we can all agree hovercrafts were missing in spirit. Somehow. )