Review of Doctor Who ‘The Web Planet’ (Series 2)

Neela Debnath

Doctor 10 final 300x204 Review of Doctor Who The Web Planet (Series 2)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath, with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

Partly inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s opus ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Web Planet’ was a six-part serial of epic proportions which included a battle to reclaim a planet and the destruction of a malignant omnipresent alien life force.

This story was featured mid-way through the second series and saw the TARDIS inexplicably dragged towards a planet inhabited by giant insects. From the journey to the Crater of Needles to the Doctor’s ring with special powers, it is not hard to see the parallels to Tolkien’s novel. As ‘The Web Planet’ progresses, a rich mythology is built up and more is revealed about the history of the planet Vortis and all those who live on it.

At this point in ‘Doctor Who’, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) is no longer travelling with the Doctor. She left the TARDIS at the end of ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ serial after falling in love with Dalek resistance fighter David Campbell (Peter Fraser). However, Susan’s teachers Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) have remained onboard. The Doctor also has a new companion in the shape of an orphan named Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), a native of the planet Dido from the 25th Century. They met her during the adventure ‘The Rescue’ and she has essentially taken on the role of Susan. Something interesting to note is that Vicki is another companion from the future just like Susan was.

From ‘The Web Planet’, it’s apparent that a friendship has formed between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara. They have now been on so many adventures together and have had to rely and trust one another that a bond has inevitably developed. There are even times when the Doctor addresses them as ‘my dear’ or ‘my boy’, suggesting that there is now a paternal instinct towards them that was not there before. No longer are they his unwelcome hostages, they are now his charges. William Hartnell’s Doctor feels warmer and it is a change for the better.

Another noticeable difference is that neither Ian nor Barbara is fazed by the new life forms they encounter instead they take it all in their stride. Barbara as a female companion is particularly strong due to her resilience and quick-thinking. Despite waking up to find herself surrounded by a group of Menoptra, huge butterfly-like creatures, she simply asks what is going on. As well as being a motherly figure to Vicki, she is generally quite a self-assured character and she is a good role model.

Although this is an adventure of great magnitude the poor production values let it down. The lack of investment means that the whole thing appears shoddy which is a shame given the scale of the story. Unfortunately, the production values and cheap-looking sets became part and parcel of the show’s reputation down the years.

In this serial, like many others, the use of psychological horror is employed to help fill the gaps where the special effects should be. There are times when things are implied but never seen. For example, only the sinister voice of the all-seeing Animus (Catherine Fleming) is heard, the rest is left up to the mind’s eye. This enemy works because it relies on the viewer’s imagination. The Animus is all the more frightening because no matter what happens, its gaze remains unbroken just like the Eye of Sauron in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. It can see others but it cannot be seen. The whispering, echoing tone with a touch of sibilance intensifies the fear of this invisible creature.

All in all, ‘The Web Planet’ serves up a big story to viewers on the small screen. The writing is ambitious but lacks impact given the poor quality of the visuals. Saying this, it is an enjoyable watch. The attraction of ‘Doctor Who’ rests on the strength of the storytelling and the acting which have to make up for the inadequate special effects time and time again. The fact that writer Bill Strutton has drawn upon ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a source of inspiration is a reminder that ‘Doctor Who’ is continually aspiring to tell big stories and create fantastical new worlds.

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DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • northwest0161

  • Nobody

    Not a favourite story, by any means, but it does have Martin Jarvis playing a moth (and, if memory serves, Hywel Bennett, possibly in his TV debut).  I could be wrong, though.

  • reverend61

    “Although this is an adventure of great magnitude the poor production values let it down. The lack of investment means that the whole thing appears shoddy which is a shame given the scale of the story. Unfortunately, the production values and cheap-looking sets became part and parcel of the show’s reputation down the years.”

    Yes, but.

    Doctor Who thrived on doing great things on a shoestring. There was an art, an inventiveness and sense of innovation behind those cheap sets and homemade costumes. In The Ark In Space, Tom Baker is pursued by a sleeping bag covered in bubble wrap, painted green. In The Talons of Weng Chiang, Stuart Fell dresses up as a ridiculous giant rat. The doors wobble. Things look cheap. But that was part of the fun. And the production team were brilliant at doing the most amazingly creative things on the same budget that was afforded any BBC drama, under the most auspicious circumstances.

    I’m not one for nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, nor am I one to talk about how it was all so much better in the good old days. I daresay if you’d approached Hinchcliffe or Nathan-Turner, they’d have said that given the choice they’d rather have the money. But it seems that in the current era, they just chuck a load of CGI at it and bang! Instant monster. Which makes things look great, for certain, but some of the magic has been lost.

  • SirSatyrane

    ‘The Web Planet’ is to be admired for lofty ambition if nothing else. I’m open to correction, but I can’t recall another story from the 1963-89 serial in which all the characters apart from the regulars are non-humanoid. With 6 episodes, it’s a bit of a plodder and it’s let down by occasionally flat direction, but there’s a lot that to appreciate – the Menoptera are nicely realised with their balletic gestures and idiosyncratic speech rhythms and some of the design is pretty effective (though why they decided to slap Vaseline all over the camera lenses I’ll never know) – but it’s very much a product of the constraints of programme-making in the 1960s with limited time and resources and where things had to be right first time. Just look out for the bit where a Zarbi runs smack-bang into a camera and you’ll see what I mean!

  • SirSatyrane

     Hywel Bennett appeared in ‘The Chase’ from the same season – though he’s barely recognisable!

  • JMark Sappenfield

    l could barely stay awake watching this. If any Doctor Who story could cure insomnia, this story and “Ambassadors of Death”(Pertwee) could fit the bill.

  • HoraceRoad

    ‘The Web Planet’ was one of the stories that I remembered most vividly from my childhood. I watched it again a few years ago and of course was struck by the cheap production values and variable acting. But half-way through I seemed to have one of those Gestalt moments and began looking at it differently: the bizarre sound effects, the crude but disturbing costumes, the Tarr/Tarkovsky pacing and camerawork. I think it truly is a marvellously strange little piece and deserves a place in anyone’s  collection of genuinely curious tv and film.

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