The Web of Fear
|Dates||Feb. 3, 1968 -
Mar. 9, 1968
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Deborah Watling.
Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.
Script-edited by Derrick Sherwin.
Directed by Douglas Camfield. Produced by Peter Bryant.
Synopsis: In the sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, a control unit becomes reactivated and the Yeti begin their deadly rampage in London.
|Note: Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of this story are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.|
A Review by Mark Parmerter 10/9/97
Originally broadcast during February and March of 1968, The Web of Fear is most often remembered for the debut of Nicholas Courtney as Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart and the return of the Yeti. However, this Season Five story deserves to be remembered for a multitude of reasons. Yes, Courtney does a superb job establishing the role of Lethbridge-Stewart, and the Yeti are indeed an effective and frightening menace as they lurk in the shadows of the London Underground. Yet The Web of Fear is one of the very finest sixties Doctor Who productions because of intense acting inspired by a flawless script, and Douglas Camfield's brilliant directing talents behind the camera.
The Web of Fear features many memorable characters and performances, most notably Jack Watling's return as Professor Travers. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln's script is brimming with elements of claustrophobia, possession, and paranoia, vividly brought to life by Douglas Camfield's expert camera work and ability to transform a tiny TV studio into a realistic version of the sprawling London Underground! Patrick Troughton is in top form as the Second Doctor, and his attempted manipulation of the Great Intelligence during the climax often reminds me of the Seventh Doctor's similar attempt to deceive and defeat Fenric and the Ancient Haemovore at the climax of The Curse of Fenric.
The Web of Fear shows sixties Doctor Who at its very best, and although only the first episode currently exists in the BBC archive, this story can still be greatly enjoyed in one of two ways: the excellent Telesnap Video and the terrific novelisation written by Terrance Dicks.
Rambling, Enthralling and Tense by Tom May 3/4/98
The Web of Fear is surely one of the finest missing stories. It's acute blend of realism, horror and drama is pretty unique, even in Doctor Who's wide-ranging canon. The direction is, as always from Douglas Camfield, exemplary, and the characters are virtually all interesting and noteworthy. From the wit of Anne Travers, the gruff stubborness of Travers, the haplessness of Chorley to the bizarreness of Evans, it's an enjoyable landmark of a story.
Rarely for Doctor Who, you get oddball characters such as Private Evans-- a paranoid, frightened Welsh driver who somehow comes across as more realistic than most characters in Doctor Who's history. One of many classic moments is Evans' slightly innocent reply to the Intelligence's ultimation-- to "let them have the Doctor, so we can all go home." I simply loved early scenes involving Anne Travers. Her cool, sarcastic reply to a soldier's question- "What's a girl like you doing in a job like this?" is a joy to behold, as is her amusing argument with a "member of the gutter press," Mr Chorley in part two.
Victoria dosen't fare so well here as in Fury From The Deep, and neither does Jamie, although I believe this has a lot to do with the fact that there are more other characters than usual in the limelight. Troughton's Doctor is masterful here, outwitting and manipulating the Intelligence, although it does seem at times like he dosen't know what he's doing (surely the second Doctor's regular trait of lulling his enemies into a false sense of security).
What gives this story an edge that the Pertwee Era didn't have was the Second Doctor's unpredictability and his waryness and aloofness from the Military set-up. Apart from the Travers, he clearly doesn't trust anyone-- not even newcomer Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart.
The Yeti are reasonably realised monsters, and the impact of their presence in the Underground created a big impression that many still remember and others comment upon. As the second Telesnap Reconstuction I viewed, the video (the newest version) would be a truly outstanding acquisition for any true fan. It's great to have an existing episode in the production, and this sets the feel for the five reconstructed episodes. It's probably the closest we'll get to seeing a true classic, and although not like seeing the real thing, it isn't too far off. 9.5/10
Down In The Tube Station At Midnight by Robert Thomas 30/8/00
Before I start I just want to say that unlike the previous reviews for this story, this review is after hearing the soundtrack.
I have always been disappointed that the majority of missing stories are from the Troughton era. Mainly because he was my favourite Doctor and the existing stories are mostly excellent. When I heard that this story was being released I started counting the months and ordered it as soon as it was released.
I had it for a few weeks before I listened to it as I wanted to be in the right mood to enjoy some classic Doctor Who. Finally in the mood I put it on late one night with the lights out, and was literally blown away.
Without doubt The Web of Fear is an absolute classic. The only knowledge that I had of this story were that it featured the Yeti, the Brigadier's first appearance and was set in the London Underground. Without doubt this story works so well because of the surprises it springs, so I promise not to spoil any of them.
The setting is one of the best ever, with the Yeti swarming all over the London Underground provoking a lot of fear. Indeed the regulars walking straight into a war zone at the start keeps the listener well on the edge of their seats. Indeed this is one of the few occasions when the Doctor arrives at the last moment and has to help the army defend against invaders.
The fight scenes between the army and Yeti are some of best ever action scenes. But as well as this there are excellent character scenes. Some being the soldiers discussing what is happening and what will happen.
All of the guest cast are on top form particularly Anne Travers, Professor Travers, Evans and Lethbridge-Stewart. Indeed Evans is one of best normal characters in the shows history. He excels as a slimy coward who is caught up in events that don't concern him. Lethbridge-Stewart makes a great debut coming across as a someone who will put himself at risk and cares about others. I spent all of the beginning waiting for him to appear and hear his first meeting with the Doctor. Indeed there is a scene in the final episode when he is more worried about Victoria than his own fate.
The regulars are also on form with Jamie getting to fight the Yetis in the underground and Victoria interacting with the other characters in the base. The Doctor though steals the show with Troughton putting in one of his best performances. The most surprising thing is that after watching so many Pertwee stories, the Doctor doesn't entirely trust the army, or Lethbridge-Stewart!
This story has come from nowhere to become my favourite story after only one listen. It has all the ingredients for a classic such as good characters, action and mystery. Indeed the last episode is the most atmospheric of all time, when it seems that even the Doctor can't save the day.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 12/11/01
Marking the return of the Yeti, within one season The Web Of Fear has much to offer. For starters it sets in motion the ultimate premise for Victoria`s departure and it introduces a significant character in Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. It also features a woman with a degree of intelligence, something rarely glimpsed since Barbara left the series. The Yeti are also more threatening here; whether this is due to the enclosed spaces of the London underground is debatable as the story would work better on screen than it does on audio; the battle in Covent Gardens being a case in point. Overall The Web Of Fear is a winner and a worthy sequel to The Abominable Snowmen.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 25/10/01
When I heard the Audio CD was coming out of this, I rushed to the shops immediately. In fan polls I had faithfully given it 10/10 (the only Troughton story I had awarded that honour), the TARGET book was one of the best (and also one of the very first) I ever read. What was it really like?
Web of Fear is a brilliant story. After being hooked for 6 episodes I can definitely now say that. It is not just a great book, but it was a great serial too – and I don’t have other people’s word to trust on that anymore. And that’s the glory of listening to the Audio Soundtrack.
Brilliantly crafted is this Audio. Frazer Hines successfully captures the mystery and horror of the Underground setting with his informative commentary. The links embellish the story, not detract. There cannot be a better DW Audio of a Missing TV Story.
Why do I like it so much? I can think of many points, but here’s a few:-
Suspended in Fear by Tim Roll-Pickering 27/12/01
Based on the Joint Venture reconstruction.
This story is the first direct sequel to a previous adventure in the series, with the possible exception of The Daleks' Master Plan (although since Mission to the Unknown is more a trailer than a story, that doesn't really count). Direct sequels are expected with either dread or anticipation, depending upon the individual's reaction to the original story. The Abominable Snowmen is one of the most padded and weakest stories in the early years of the series and so a sequel to it should by rights be looked on in dread. However The Web of Fear is far superior to its predecessor and more than justifies its appearance.
This story takes the claustrophobic setting to an extreme, taking place almost entirely in the London Underground. Having spent many years using the transport system it is quite chilling to see it under such different circumstances. [A niggling pedant could point out that some of the tube stations seen look different in reality (Tower Hill for one) or ask why if it's 1975 (as the dialogue points out) is the Victoria line not shown (it was opened in stages from September 1968 until 1971), but only someone with a strong knowledge of the Tube is even going to think of these points and they in no way have any bearing on the story itself.] The Web of Fear concentrates very much on how the Doctor and humans react to the menace and there are many wonderful scenes in which two characters discuss the situation and show just how terrified they are. Right from the scenes in Julius Silverstein's collection when the control sphere takes over an empty Yeti up until the climax in Piccadilly station the story is full of suspense and surprise.
Of the cast, Jack Watling puts in a brilliant performance as Professor Travers, coming across as fully convincing in being forty years older, whilst Nicholas Courtney makes an impressive debut performance as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. Even the smaller roles such as Ralph Watson as Captain Knight are strong and this helps to build the story. All three regulars once again give strong performances, with Patrick Troughton injecting a mixture of humour and seriousness to the proceedings thus keeping matters on their toes.
For this story the Yeti have been redesigned and so instead of bumbling lumps of fur they are now far more sleek and scary. There's a very strong sense of terror throughout the story, making Patrick Troughton's warning in the trailer for the story (a reconstruction of which is on this tape - see below) true to expectations, although there's a nice touch suggesting that it's actually the parents who get scared! As is often critical to a story's success, the direction, design and (stock) music all complement one another, though there is a slight letdown in Episode 4 when the same piece of stock music is noticeably used several times in the open-air fight with the Yeti. Otherwise they all combine to emphasize the lonely, desperate nature of the tale.
The climax is interesting, with the Doctor showing that had the entire situation in hand until Jamie and the others messed up his plans and thus showing the more mysterious side of Troughton's characterisation. Although the final scene is unnecessary it does not detract from a very strong story that brings the series down to earth and even under it! 10/10
This is the first story to have been reconstructed by the Joint Venture team, presenting full scale high quality telesnap scans combined with a good audio copy. The captions are a good idea to explain what's happening, especially in scenes where a character leaves the room mid-scene and is then discussed. However some of the grammar is strange, such as this complete caption: "Arnold, alone in another part of the tunnels" and there's the infamous 'The explosives explodes' but as the first in a series pooling the resources of several individual reconstructors it more than achieves its task. This reconstruction is highly recommended. 8/10
I think we're going to need torches... by Andrew Hunter 16/12/02
The menacing, grizzly Yeti and the formidable Great Intelligence had clawed a mark in fans' minds in The Abominable Snowmen and three stories later; they quickly returned, lurking in the screens again for the Web of Fear.
Like many of Patrick Troughton's stories (and Hartnell's for that matter), a lot of episodes are missing, probably for good. This is really unfortunate, because there are some classic stories: Evil of the Daleks and Fury from the Deep are two good examples. Sadly, the Web of Fear couldn't completely survive, as only episode one (out of six) remains.
On the bright side, we are fortunate to be able to experience this masterpiece through the audio releases. The story opens as The Doctor, Victoria and Jamie are struggling not to be sucked out into space, because the Tardis doors are open. After much panic, Jamie manages to close the doors. The disadvantage of some of these audios is that the listener may need to see some video footage to get an strong idea of what is happening, particularly for The Web of Fear because a lot of its atmosphere is created in long, dark tunnels.
This brooding atmosphere doesn't take long to grasp us, as Professor Travers is trying to take back a Yeti from a museum. We discover that the sphere, which controls the Yeti, has been re-activated and disappeared. Travers is desperate, letting us know this is serious, but he is not given the Yeti. Leaving the museum owner to lock up, an angry Travers leaves, as the Yeti comes to life. With sinister music and a great description by Frazer Hines, the Yeti strikes the man down and the invasion has taken another step forward...
Meanwhile, soldiers in the underground try to fight off the aliens, but they are having trouble. The Yeti have web guns, which are used to prevent the explosives from going off and the soldiers are very scared. This is a good aspect of the story: the other characters act realistically. Although they are scared, they do show bravery in defending their country and the superior officers aren't going to hide their feelings to the men.
Amongst all this heroism, there are some cowards, most notably driver Evans. He is rather selfish, claiming he "shouldn't be down here" and tries to escape, leaving the military. Again, this is what makes the story realistic - not everyone is the fearless action man. Alongside Evans, there is the frustrating journalist Chorley. He is being selfish as well because all he's interested in is his interviews, getting in the way a lot. Like Evans, he tries to escape from the trouble and "save his own skin".
On the other hand, instead of fear and courage, there is the irritable temper of Professor Travers. He is with the soldiers, although he is seemingly reluctant to be. This attitude soon changes, as he discovers that the Doctor and his companions are there as well. It is very interesting hearing his reaction to seeing Jamie and Victoria, who haven't changed a bit in the time that they last met him. This seems to give him more energy to accomplish his job.
This job is made worse because the Great Intelligence controls someone among them, planting devices for the Yeti to home in and make the kill. As a result, everyone is suspicious of each other, adding more mystery to the shadowy story.
Overall, The Web of Fear is a superb story: Mystery, action, excitement, dark atmosphere and great characterisation. There are so many good aspects of the adventure, making it the best Troughton story.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 18/2/04
The Web of Fear is one of the more difficult stories to listen to on audio CD. There's a lot of visuals going on here, and it's also an action series, introducing us to the embryo of UNIT. Therefore, I think I was not as impressed as I would have been seeing it. However, there's enough left here to make me enjoy it and realize why it's another 'lost classic'.
The main drawback is that it's 6 episodes, which like so many Who stories of that length means that you could edit out almost 3 episodes of walking around, getting captured, and escaping and still have the majority of the plot.
The acting is for the most part good, but not astounding, with a few exceptions that I'll get to. Jamie and Victoria are in character, but really don't do much but act companions. Most of the soldiers are likeable cannon fodder. And Chorley's actor plays his 'annoying git' very well, so well I hate it. But that is what he's going for, I imagine.
The Doctor tends to spin his wheels for most of the serial as well, even skipping an episode due to unconsciousness. In the final episode, though, we really see Patrick going to work, secretly plotting the masterplan that then goes completely wrong. His tantrum at the end is wonderful, and highly realistic - very pouty and petulant.
The Brig is introduced here, though still a Colonel, and the serial makes much of the fact that he's acting suspicious and might be the bad guy. This is already difficult to accept due to the fact that 40 years of future episodes have told us differently, but it's also overplayed a bit - we know he isn't the traitor as they're trying to convince us too much. Still, Nick Courtney's performance helps, as he's very curt, aprubt, and to the point - things that would be suspicious to newcomers who didn't know of his Brigadierity. (Brigadierisnous? Brigadieration? Whatever...)
But the real revelation here is Evans. There's a minor attempt at the very end to have him help the good guys rescue the Doctor, but it really doesn't work. Evans is a scrungy little coward, who's only out for himself. And he's not working for the bad guys, and he doesn't nobly change sides, and he doesn't die. This is absolutely fabulous, and something we so rarely see on a program like Doctor Who. Fascinating.
The villains... really need to be seen. The Yeti's appeal is all visual, as is the fungus, and the Intelligence is fairly dull (which is likely why it makes so few appearances). Again, this is a fault of listening to the show, I imagine, rather than the show itself. There are lots of reports about what a scary image the Yeti presented.
Overall, it's a shame this story is missing from the archives, as it sounds like the visuals might add a lot to my opinion. As it is, though, it's fairly dull with a few good performances, and an excellent final episode.
A Review by Brett Walther 5/10/04
Toronto's subway system isn't anywhere near as sprawling as London's, and mercifully, we aren't reminded to "mind the gap" at regular intervals, but I still get a tingle of excitement whenever I find myself alone on the platform having just missed the last train, and it's got everything to do with The Web of Fear.
Everyone's done it, I suppose, at one point or another: whistled the tune of the Great Intelligence's control spheres, listening to it echo down the cavernous stretch of darkness, while waiting for a lumbering shape to emerge...
Although The Web of Fear is a success in just about every conceivable manner, perhaps its greatest achievement is in sparking our imaginations.
Whether it's because we don't get to see everything -- What is happening to Arnold and Lane as they wheel themselves into the web on the trolley? Who is the traitor? -- or simply because of the captivating concepts put to use by writers Haisman and Lincoln, our imaginations run rampant throughout six extremely tense episodes.
The guest cast are absolutely first-rate, from the introduction of Nicholas Courtney's Lethbridge Stewart to the return of Jack Watling's irascible Professor Travers, aided by some lovely one-off's like Tina Packer's refreshingly competent Anne and the enormously huggable Derek Pollitt as Driver Evans. Evans is so crucial to the story, providing some light moments to counterpoint the tangible sense of doom and hopelessness, whether he's taking a break from evading the Yeti to raid a vending machine or confessing that he's only returned to the fortress because he found the gates to the surface locked. He's also the one who makes the very reasonable suggestion that the Doctor surrender himself to the Intelligence in exchange for the safe passage of the rest of the group. I can even empathize with Chorley, a man whose aspirations of being the world media's representative on the crisis has left him clearly out of his depth.
We learn very early in The Web of Fear that the guest cast are also in terrible danger. The body count is honestly shocking, and the massacre of soldiers in Episode Four reaffirms the notion that no one is safe, with the horrific death of Lane in the tunnels and the unexpected demise of Knight at the hands of the Yeti in the electronics shop.
Nevertheless, I'm not necessarily convinced that the Yeti are scarier here than they were in The Abominable Snowmen. They're certainly less cumbersome and seem more mobile, which I suppose makes them deadlier and better suited to Episode Four's fantastic battle, but I've always been thrown by the 100 Watt lightbulb eyes that are set far too close to the tops of their heads. The Yeti that takes centre stage in Episode One in particular is an odd looking fella, with what appears to be a square-shaped mouth grille plainly visible. This is a minor complaint though, and one that in no way detracts from my enjoyment of this story.
Jack Watling's possessed Travers is undeniably creepy, and might I suggest it comes in a close second to Wolfe Morris' hissing Padmasambhva in The Abominable Snowmen? I admit to being somewhat disappointed that when Sergeant Arnold is revealed as the Intelligence's pawn that Jack Woolgar doesn't continue the characteristic rasping wheeze. He just sounds a bit too human for me, and was a bit of a let-down after six episodes of speculating on just who the Intelligence was using as its agent on Earth.
What spoiled the soundtrack of Fury From the Deep to some extent was Dudley Simpson's harsh electronic score. For all the atmosphere generated by the pulsating heartbeat of the Weed, there was a burst of synthesized burbling that totally dissolved the tension. Thankfully, The Web of Fear is blessed with truly eerie and appropriate incidental music, from the sinister strings in Silverstein's museum in Episode One to the otherworldly "twinkling" theme that accompanies manifestations of the Intelligence, to the re-use of the Cyber-march stock music during the battle between the Yeti and the Army in Episode Four.
The conclusion is startlingly downbeat. We've been terrified for six episodes, and then instead of defeating the seemingly unstoppable foe, the Doctor's allies succeed in merely severing its link with Earth. It's still out there, floating around in space, waiting for another bridgehead... It's absolutely chilling, and the Doctor's frustration with Jamie's interference with his plan to defeat the Intelligence once and for all is Troughton at his finest. He's positively furious, a reaction given added poignancy when you remember that the entire situation came about because of the Doctor. The deaths of all those soldiers at the hands of the Yeti, as well as untold civilian casualties when the web mist first emerged are all because the Intelligence wanted to lure the Doctor into a trap. It's a powerful emotional punch to the end of a gripping story.
I've always felt we were cheated out of a third and final Great Intelligence installment from Haisman and Lincoln, but of course, the furor over the re-writes to The Dominators brought those plans to a grinding halt. Given that The Web of Fear is an all-out, epic battle between good and evil, it's difficult to imagine a final showdown that could top this one.
We can use our imaginations, though, and that is what The Web of Fear inspires us to do.
A Review by Brian May 21/8/06
An immensely enjoyable story, The Web of Fear is one of the standouts of the "base under siege" adventures that prevailed through the mid-Patrick Troughton era. These stories have been praised for their atmosphere and monsters, but also criticised as stilted and formulaic; while this tale of the Yeti in the London Underground may not be the most thought-provoking or innovative of Doctor Who serials, it is one of the best applications of the formula.
It's exceptionally well-made. Although only the first episode and a few other clips exist, it's obvious this is a professionally assembled production. With Douglas Camfield as director this is a given, and from watching episode one his skill is plain to see. The sets are wonderfully underlit; the creeping camera movements, slow pans and low angled shots, especially when the Yeti appear, are all arresting visuals. But it's not just the direction: the design is first rate, the Tube tunnels particularly realistic and claustrophobic. All the other footage testifies to the overall quality and the telesnaps confirm this high standard was upheld in what no longer remains.
In terms of atmosphere, it's consistently suspenseful and at times true horror movie material. The Yetis' new look is much better and more frightening than their Abominable Snowmen costume, although it's bizarre seeing it change at the beginning (you never see a Revenge-style Cyberman suddenly morph into an Earthshock model, do you!?!) Their toilet flush roar works well and the scenes of them stomping through the streets of London would be as memorable as that of the Daleks or the Cybermen - if they actually existed! The Great Intelligence's voice is creepy, except when it possesses Arnold, but in a way it's even more unsettling as a totally non-alien, gruff Yorkshire accent. Oddly enough for a story that uses only stock music I have to say it's one of the most appropriately eerie soundtracks for Doctor Who. Admittedly the theme accompanying the battle in episode four is a bit overused after The Moonbase and Tomb of the Cybermen, but the unsettling score we hear in the museum in episode one, or the foreboding tinkles as Victoria walks through the tunnels in episode two, or anything else to this effect, is extremely good.
The story unfolds slowly, but for the most part avoids any long, boring stretches. There is padding, but the plot developments and overall mood mean the audience hardly notices. The first episode cuts between pre-crisis London, the TARDIS scenes (isn't it lovely to see the Doctor and his companions finding the time to relax and eat sandwiches!) and then London in post-crisis stage, with no explanation given for this latter situation. There's no Doctor in part two, so we're spending a whole episode wondering where he is. Here we also first glimpse the map of the Underground and the black line slowly moving through the system: the Intelligence is getting closer. In episode three the audience learns there's an insider in the base and at the end a Yeti storms in and abducts Travers. In episode four practically all the soldiers are wiped out and at the end the Intelligence arrives, having taken over the Professor. In episode five it lays out its terms and takes Victoria hostage; at the cliffhanger the Web finally enters the Fortress; the base is no longer under siege, it's been invaded. And throughout this the invincibility of the enemy has been driven home: the troops have been massacred, while there's not a single casualty among the Yeti. It's very uncompromising. Some of the padding is obvious: there's a bit too much walking through tunnels, the Doctor and Anne at work in episode five - to name a couple of examples - but what with all the above going on it's small-scale and never tedious.
There are plenty of red herrings and double bluffs to keep the viewer hooked. The obvious suspects as to the insider's identity are the cowardly Chorley, who accordingly vanishes midway through, and the untrustworthy Evans. Arnold appears to die in the fourth episode, but then turns up in the fifth having been left for dead. "So it can't be him, can it?" is the blind the audience is fed. There's some excellent characterisation: I'm not sure if it's down to the writers, or Camfield's obsession with all things military, but the soldiers are professional and three-dimensional. A moment in episode two, when Weams and Blake are chatting away, is very realistic.
Lethbridge-Stewart's first appearance is impressive: he's efficient, intelligent and pragmatic, even prepared to hand the Doctor over to the Intelligence at the end, albeit for altruistic reasons. His emotional reaction to the massacre in episode four is quite astounding, and something we would never see from this character again until the 1980s, and even then not as good as this. I liked Anne Travers - up to a point. For the first few episodes she's fantastic; her response to Knight's chauvinistic taunting is great, as is her putdown to Chorley. But in the second half she just seems to become docile assistant, handing the Doctor his tools. (If anyone wants to write an oblique article defining her as a metaphor for women in the Pertwee era, i.e. Liz becoming Jo, feel free!) The only other problem character is Silverstein, a cliched and offensive Jewish stereotype.
However the acting is all of a high standard and the resolution is a good one. The Doctor fiddling with a few controls, which made the end of The Evil of the Daleks so unsatisfying, is another cliche that's smartly turned on its head. The Web of Fear is one of the incomplete stories the loss of which I rue the most. The sole existing instalment is wonderful and the rest is so engaging. Funnily enough, it's easy to visualise: recently I revisited episodes 2-6 on audio only, but thanks to the first episode you can picture all the scenes in the Fortress and of course everything in the tunnels. But that's small consolation for such a fine, sadly missed adventure. 9/10
A Review by Finn Clark 1/11/06
The Web of Fear is probably the best Troughton "base under siege" story, which almost by default makes it the best such story in all of Doctor Who. The Troughton era gets bashed for overusing this formula, but less noted is the fact that the rest of the show hardly used it at all. It's rather odd. The best examples I could find from Pertwee onwards were The Seeds of Doom, Warriors of the Deep, Terror of the Vervoids and maybe The Satan Pit two-parter, none of which are an ideal fit. In contrast The Web of Fear is almost a definitive example of the genre, not least for being almost perfect.
Scriptwise, The Web of Fear is fine. It's not towering genius, but a solid piece of workmanship that copes surprisingly well with the six-part format. The plot slackens a bit in the second half, but only comparatively. It certainly never plumbs the depths of the likes of The Faceless Ones or The Wheel in Space. The surviving part one is terrific, part three is downright action-packed and part two makes an interesting virtue out of the Doctor's absence. Patrick Troughton had played two roles in The Enemy of the World, so a result here the production team gave him a holiday at the earliest opportunity. This was common in the 1960s and tended to produce relatively dull episodes, but here Haisman and Lincoln use the Doctor's absence to build up his mystique. Everyone's talking about him. What's more, the situation and the incidental characters are strong enough to support the narrative without him, which also gives Jamie and Victoria more to do.
The cast is impressive. Driver Evans is a lovely character of a kind we hardly ever see, the soldiers are refreshingly down-to-earth and of course we get the debut of one Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. It's a great showcase for him, dumping him straight into the most desperate situation he'd ever face. I was impressed that in part four, Lethbridge-Stewart doesn't waste time doubting the Doctor's claim to have a space-time machine, unlike Captain Knight, but immediately asks whether it could get them out of here. Then there's Harold Chorley. Haisman and Lincoln really don't like Chorley. At least he's a human being, unlike many loathsome journalists in fiction, but he's certainly far from likeable. In episode one he's merely pompous. Before the end we'll have discovered that he's basically slime.
Finally there's the Travers family: the Professor and his daughter Anne. Jack Travers was great fun in The Abominable Snowmen and here he's just as scene-stealing. He may be forty years older, but if anything the cantankerous old bastard seems to be using his deteriorating faculties as an excuse for bad behaviour. He was never particularly good with people, judging by his monomania in Tibet, but here he seems to have abandoned anything that could even be mistaken for politeness. Note Anne's exaggerated patience towards him. As Professor Travers says in part one, "She's like a mother, always interfering in things she knows nothing about."
Two things in particular make this story special. The first is the high stakes. London's population is dead or fled, the military are caught like rats in a trap and the situation in part one is more dire than most stories manage in their dramatic climaxes. The second is Douglas Camfield. The Troughton era tended to stand or fall by its directors, especially when churning out stories as formulaic as this one. Here Douglas Camfield is working with decent material, but what he brings to the production is immeasurable. He makes it real. There's the famous story of London Underground being convinced that the Doctor Who production team must have filmed on location instead of in the studio. The soldiers feel like soldiers, the danger feels dangerous and the Yeti are terrifying. Gone are the teddy bears of The Abominable Snowmen, except briefly in episode one in order to transform into a less cuddly version. That scene in Julius Silverstein's private museum is shot like something from a horror film and it's bloody great.
This level of sustained intensity is what Doctor Who so often desperately needed and so rarely got. The Troughton era is at its worst when looking like Star Trek, with cardboard corridors in a cliched future, but The Web of Fear grabs you by the scruff of the neck and never lets go. You're in those tunnels. You're trapped there with the soldiers and the Yeti. You can practically smell the fear. That's what Douglas Camfield did.
The regulars are good, although they're struggling for story space with an unusually rich guest cast. Nevertheless I enjoyed Jamie's entertaining lack of faith in the Doctor and memorable exchanges like "Is it safe?" "I shouldn't think so for a moment". Like "sleep is for tortoises", that line attained the dubious distinction of being ripped off for a BBC Book. The "base under siege" is a more flexible story format than it might seem at first glance, but The Web of Fear was arguably its purest realisation in Doctor Who. Thanks to Douglas Camfield, it was also its strongest.
A Review by Jason A. Miller 29/1/11
Only Episode One of The Web of Fear exists in full in the BBC archives. In reconstructed format, four of the five missing episodes are crashing bores. Partly this is because Loose Cannon never tackled the story, so the available reconstructions lack the creativity that animates other LC efforts. But more importantly, this is the fault of Douglas Camfield.
Simply put, the surviving Episode One is the best remaining intact episode of Season 5. We all had high hopes for The Tomb of the Cybermen but the directorial choices made during the production of that story have not aged well today. However, what Dougie Camfield did with The Web of Fear remains atmospheric and scary even today.
The opening scene -- the TARDIS in crisis following on from the end of The Enemy of the World -- is directed in such a way that you'd think the console room set was actually built to pitch and yaw, instead of just three middle-grade actors rolling themselves around a not-very-sturdy set. The following scene in the museum, featuring a reanimated and angrier-looking Yeti (last seen all cute and fuzzy in The Abominable Snowmen) is shockingly well-directed, evidently on film in an expensive-looking set. Only the too-quick cut from the shot of the dead newsagent and the too-fast fade to black from the Doctor-blows-up cliffhanger signify that this story was made with the '60s audience in mind rather than a contemporary one.
Episodes two and three lag a little bit, at least in reconstructed format. Enlivened only by a couple of surviving censor-clips of slow-moving Yeti massacring human soldiers, these middle episodes mainly serve to introduce a too-large cast of proto-UNIT British soldiers who sip tea and say things like "Blow me!" (a phrase you'll never find in modern-day Who, that's for sure). The Yeti kill off a couple of redshirts in Two, but we don't lose a named character until the cliffhanger to Three.
At least Nicholas Courtney makes an impact when he finally enters as Colonel Lethbridge Stewart. He's under cloud of suspicion of being possessed by the Intelligence, which makes his early speeches pleasantly ambiguous. His briefing-the-troops scene helps make sense of the plot, and in that same scene the Doctor and returning character Professor Travers have fun geekily describing the regenerated Yeti as the "Mark Two".
And then there's Episode Four. Terrance Dicks in his novelization, aimed at the kiddies, glossed over this one, writing it up in just 15 pages, compared to the positively atmospheric 30 pages he lavished on Episode One. When just about all of the supporting cast is killed off, Dicks confines that to a four-page stretch with relatively little emotion. On TV, however... the Yeti massacre of the troops fills up a substantial chunk of the 25-minute run time, with the script spreading the tension across three separate locations. A few seconds of censor clips show the Yeti killing off Lethbridge Stewart's troops on location and this confirms, along with Episode One, that Camfield just directed the heck out of this story. Finally, in the cliffhanger, it turns out that Professor Travers, a good guy in The Abominable Snowmen and the beginning of this story, is possessed by the Intelligence. Episode Four is thus continuously downbeat in a way that early Who episodes never were before. Even with no other live footage from the other death scenes, the power of the scripting shines through even in the reconstructions.
Also affecting is the death of Captain Knight, who played a major role in the early episodes before Lethbridge Stewart showed up. Knight was played by Ralph Watson, one of those background actors who played multiple Who corpses over those years, but the ones you never noticed, not until Watson showed up in the DVD commentary booth for The Monster of Peladon with so much to say, and then it turned out he had a Who-themed Twitter account too. Speaking of recurring cast members, the ill-fated Corporal Blake is played by Richardson Morgan, who'd be memorable beast-of-the-week cannon fodder in The Ark in Space several years later. The last two episodes again drag as we're deprived of Camfield's direction. The script ending is a bit comical, as the Doctor's companions inadvertently prevent him from destroying the Intelligence. One has to assume the finished product looked great on TV, because the surviving footage is so intense, but in reconstructed format the story really only soars in Episode Four.
Another letdown is the imperialistic attempts at culutural diversity, as we get a whiny and greedy Jewish museum curator (Julius Silverstein) in the opening scene. In later episodes, comic relief is served by Private Evans, a cowardly Welsh soldier prone to acts of desertion. In the novelization Dicks attempts to salvage both these characters, by de-ethnicizing the curator's name to "Emil Julius", and adding in a line from Lethbridge Stewart about how, apart from Evans, the Welsh usually make such brave soldiers.
It's hard to rate the overall quality of The Web of Fear, since most the reconstructed episodes lag far behind the excellence of the opening act, and as Dicks' 120-page novelization can't really capture the scare factor of the coordinated Yeti attacks. Still, with Camfield as director and the few surviving moments looking so crisp, it's fair to say that the loss of The Web of Fear is a pretty big blow to the BBC archives.
Someone should have saved this film... by Clement Tang 4/9/12
Only one episode of this story is still in the archives, yet this is in my top 5 stories. This is an excellent and magnificent story filled with an intelligent plot, great acting, a menacing villain and tense atmosphere. The plot works well. It's the sequel to The Abominable Snowmen. Although I haven't watched the story, I know about Travers and the Yeti, and I know this is a story set decades after Nepal. The Great Intelligence are great (no pun intended), and their use of the Yeti is just terrific. You can feel the tension and claustrophobia in this tale. And, for a six-parter, it doesn't feel padded or slow at all. It goes at a good pace. The location looks so much like the Underground. It's no wonder there were complaints about it being the actual Underground.
The acting is superb here. Patrick Troughton is excellent as usual, along with Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, the latter improving a lot in her acting. The supporting cast are great. From Travers and Evans to the awesome Lethbridge-Stewart. Who knew that Nicholas Courtney would have his role extended for years in the show? He may be a Colonel here, but stories later he will be our beloved Brigadier, even if UNIT wasn't conceived yet.
I still wish that this story was still around. I would love to see the visuals to this classic story.
Reconsidering "The Web" by Matthew Kresal 11/2/19
It was just five years ago that The Web of Fear was one of several mostly wiped stories featuring Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Dramatically, and seemingly overnight, that changed. The serial, which had gained an almost legendary status during the nearly five decades since its broadcast, had, alongside its proceeding story The Enemy of the World turned up in Nigeria. Though its third episode was (and remains) missing, it offered fans the opportunity to see it again. Could it live up to expectations set by decades of hype?
Perhaps the question is to ask why the story was so legendary? In part, it's almost certainly down to its introducing a notable character to the lore of the series. Coming in midway into the serial, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (played the one and only Nicholas Courtney) made his debut here. Later still, of course, he was to become a series regular beside Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor and then a recurring character throughout the life of Who's original televised run and in audio adventures before Courtney's passing in 2011. Despite that, the character lives on, both through his daughter being a recurring character in the modern series, as well as in a series of paperbound adventures that have been running since 2015. All of which was born out of this story and the creation of the characters by writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.
The story also derived some of its status from its monsters. Made in the midst of a season of Who tales based around a formula of "base under siege" by various creatures, this was one of two stories to feature the Yeti and its controlling influence The Great Intelligence. Both had appeared in only one other serial that had been made the same season and was just as missing from the BBC archives. With only the opening episode surviving the archive purgings of the 1970s and a handful of clips turning up in the 1990s, there was much to suggest atmosphere and menace in visuals alongside the surviving soundtrack. "If only we could see it for ourselves," fans would say.
Then, of course, we could. Four of the five remaining episodes of it turned up again, cleaned up for release first on iTunes and later on DVD. With the missing third episode reconstructed from the soundtrack with still images for visuals, we could, at last, see view it again.
In some ways, it lived up to expectations. Directed by Douglas Camfield, one of the acknowledged best directors of Who, and set in the confined spaces of the London Underground system, it certainly had all the menace and atmosphere expected from previously surviving elements. The black-and-white visuals of the era lend themselves nicely to both the story and the direction, creating a world of shadows and gloom at every corner. Even the scenes set inside the makeshift headquarters aren't too brightly lit, adding to the sense of entrapment. Camfield and his camera crew further add to the sensation of claustrophobia by engaging in frequent close-ups of the cast, especially when they get into groups. It's something that further cements the director's reputation as one of the program's best directors.
What of the Yeti themselves? The giant furry robots with glowing eyes, claws, and web-spraying guns certainly looked great in those surviving clips. Indeed, for much of the serial, they are towering and menacing as they alternate between rampaging roars and sneaking up on their victims. Indeed, it is to Camfield's credit as a director that they look as good as they do for so long. Once the big battle with them in episode four takes place, showing how powerful they are, they suddenly lose what made them so great. They become the center of a couple of gags and are reduced to merely being guards rather than the great force they had been. The limits of the costumes also show themselves on occasions throughout, where they become more lumbering actors than threatening monster. It is here that both their reputation and that of the serial takes a hit.
The serial's other issue became apparent as well. For the first four episodes, the same ones in which the Yeti are at their best, the story moves along at a cracking pace. The Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive in the London Underground where the Yetis are already a presence, with a group of soldiers and scientists led by Professor Travers (Jack Watling reprising his role from the earlier Yeti serial The Abominable Snowmen in solid old age make-up) and his daughter Anne trying to stop them. It has all the hallmarks of a great "base under siege" story: small cast, confined space, menacing adversary and the sense of a traitor within the ranks of the besieged. The latter is undermined somewhat by the fact that viewers now know that Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart won't be the traitor (something the writing does its best to imply here), but it works for the most part, leading up to the big action sequence in episode four. All seems to be going well, a genuine classic at hand.
Then the plot stalls. Writers Haisman and Lincoln fall victim to the bane of Doctor Who six-parters: the need to stall out the plot in later episodes. Indeed, the Great Intelligence goes so far as to issues a timed ultimatum that (perhaps not-so-coincidently) lasts almost the same length as the episode and gets drawn out even more. From there until a long way into the final installment, all of the pace and menace the story worked so hard to build up until then dissipates. Once it does so, not even Camfield's direction can either hide the fact or get the pace back once plot begins moving again. The result becomes a frustrating conclusion to an otherwise first-rate story but, given the issues surrounding the duo's third and final Who story, The Dominators, which lost an episode due to comparable problems, perhaps this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise?
Where does that leave The Web of Fear? For much of its length, it's worthy of the reputation that fandom had bestowed upon it for the time in which it was missing. And yet, in the end, it suffers from issues of plotting and scripting that not even one of the show's best directors could help it overcome. The Web of Fear is a story that has greatness in its grasp and, yet, lets it slip away.