Doctor Who – The Web of Fear Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Web of Fear
  • Story #: 41
  • Episodes: 6 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 02/03/1968 – 03/09/1968
  • Cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Nicholas Courtney
  • Format: Standard, Black and White, DVD, NTSC

“Web of Fear”, like “Enemy of the World” is one of two stories that was found in 2013, but whereas “The Enemy of the World” was even better than expected, “Web of Fear” is somewhat disappointing. Episodes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are the original black and white film/video episodes. Episode 3 is a telesnap reconstruction. There are no special features on the disc, except a trailer for “The Enemy of the World”. However, the film and video were beautifully restored and the episodes do look really good.

The story opens where we left off at the end of “The Enemy of the World”, with the TARDIS door open. Jamie is able to force the doors shut. Victoria shows off her new outfit, which looks awful – she looks like a Native American “princess”, complete with beads, the outfit is distracting throughout the story because it doesn’t fit at all with her character. Jamie points out the flashing light indicating the TARDIS has landed, but the Doctor insists they are still in flight. Victoria later points out the same thing. Checking the scanner the Doctor finds that the TARDIS is hovering in space. It’s caught by some sort of web. The Doctor frees the TARDIS with some gadgetry and they land.

The TARDIS crew exits the TARDIS and discovers they are in a subway tunnel (the London underground) but everything seems to be abandoned and even the electricity in the rails is turned off. Jamie and Victoria head one way and the Doctor heads a different way. Jamie and Victoria are picked up by some soldiers, taken to HQ and interrogated. When asked if there is anyone else in the tunnels, Jamie insists there isn’t – so the soldiers blow-up the tunnels, but the explosion never goes off.

Jamie insists the Doctor was in the tunnels as soon as he hears about the planned demolition. Soldiers are sent to look for the Doctor. Meanwhile, Professor Travers and his daughter, Anne, arrive. Victoria recognizes the Professor immediately from their previous adventure in Tibet. Travers soon recognizes her and Jamie as well, though he’s surprised they are no older (the previous adventure was in 1935 – 40 years ago, meaning this adventure actually takes place in 1975), Travers concludes the Doctor was telling the truth about being able to travel in time.

The Doctor meets Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in the tunnels (a character we will come to know as the Brigadier) and they return to HQ, although, along the way, several of the soldiers die.

From here on in “Web of Fear” gets a little confusing – the Doctor doesn’t take over or even make suggestions for defeating “the menace”. The soldiers go back and forth from the tunnels to HQ to the tunnels – with more men dying each time. The fungus or web that the Yeti create with pyramid-shaped handguns advances down the tunnels, trapping the soldiers and everyone else in HQ. By episode 6, even HQ is engulfed in the stuff. After they are trapped by the fungus, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart learns that the Doctor has a craft and he can get everyone out – but the TARDIS is stuck at Covent Garden. The Colonel leads the rest of the soldiers above ground, in an attempt to get the TARDIS from the other side. They are all annihilated by the Yeti. While the colonel leads his fruitless mission, the Doctor also heads above ground to a storehouse to get electronic parts. The soldier guarding him is killed. The Doctor makes it back to the lab.

The Yeti kidnap Professor Travers and Victoria, and deliver an ultimatum to the few survivors – turn over the Doctor in 20 minutes, or else. The Doctor and Anne Travers, a scientist work on getting the control box and sphere working so that they can control a Yeti (they succeed, but tell Col. Lethbridge-Stewart they failed, since he could be working for the Intelligence).

Again, various parties head into the tunnels – to scout, to try and find Victoria and Travers, etc. They meet Evans – a Welsh soldier who had been the driver of an ill-fated truckload of munitions (the soldiers were killed and the supplies destroyed by the Yeti). Evans, who first appears in the first or second episode, is portrayed as dumb and a coward. Every chance he gets he tries to run off – only to get lost and turn-up again. They also encounter Staff Sgt. Arnold, a good man and a good soldier, presumed lost in the mission to recover the Doctor’s TARDIS. Finally, they encounter Chorley, a journalist, who had run off at some point – only to get lost in the tunnels. Anne and the Doctor are able to take control of a Yeti but don’t tell anyone. The Doctor gives the control microphone to Jamie.

Everyone goes to the Yeti’s hideout at Piccadilly Circus. Anne is happy to see her father is unharmed, and Jamie is glad to see Victoria is all right. The Doctor agrees to give himself up and gets in the Intelligence’s machine which will drain his brain. Jamie, however, uses the microphone to send the Yeti he controls in and attacks the other Yeti, then destroys the Intelligence’s machine.

The Doctor is genuinely upset though, he had reversed the settings on the machine, so instead of it draining him, he would drain the Intelligence. Further, he knows the Intelligence will escape, and again be a formless cloud in space. The TARDIS crew leaves – heading through the tunnels to the TARDIS.

“Web of Fear” is a bit disappointing. The Yeti, though not as roly-poly as in the surviving footage from “The Abominable Snowmen” are still not that threatening, with a rolling gait that seems to be very slow. Their attacks are not precise either, and often, the soldiers appear to be throwing themselves at the Yeti rather than actually being caught. Most of the plot involves various people going from the HQ to the tunnels on pointless missions and then either dying or going back to HQ having accomplished nothing. When the Colonel leads the mission above ground, not only is it pointless because everyone dies – but one really has to wonder why he took the risk in the first place. Yes, the few survivors needed to escape – but why not just lead everyone above ground and run like heck? Instead, the Colonel instantly believes the Doctor has a time-space craft that will rescue them all so he risks everything and everyone to get to it. Later on, when the Brigadier had known the Doctor for years and several regenerations, this would have made sense – but it makes no sense when they have just met.

Most of the extra characters die in this story, especially the soldiers, though Anne, Travers, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, Chorley, and Evans survive. Staff Sgt. Arnold had died on that earlier mission, when they encounter him it’s only his corpse, animated by the Intelligence. When the Intelligence speaks through Professor Travers, a communication box, and finally Arnold – it is spooky, but this story doesn’t have the tension of a “who is working with the Intelligence” plot it should. People mention it, but it doesn’t feel like a real threat or as paranoid as it should.

Overall, “Web of Fear” is a pretty standard story, I’d give it a 3 out of 5. It’s not helped by a telesnap-only reconstruction in the middle. With 5 out of 6 episodes of the story remaining, it’s a good candidate for animated reconstruction, and it might improve the story a bit (Part 3 is very confusing.) I don’t normally re-buy things I own, but if a special edition came out with animation and special features, I would purchase it.

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