THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Twilight of the Gods
BBC
The Web Planet

Episodes 6 The Animus
Story No# 13
Production Code N
Season 2
Dates Feb. 13, 1965 -
Mar. 20, 1965

With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien.
Written by Bill Strutton. Script-edited by Dennis Spooner.
Directed by Richard Martin. Produced by Verity Lambert.

Synopsis: A powerful force has turned the peaceful inhabitants of the planet Vortis into soldiers who enslave the moth-like Menoptra.


Reviews

Insects! by Carl West 5/6/98

I recently had to make that difficult decision that most Who fans have to make from time to time: which BBC video should I spend my hard-earned money on next? I've been on a bit of an early Who kick lately, so the choice came down to either The Daleks or The Web Planet. Not being all that eager to see "yet another Dalek story," I purchased The Web Planet. What I ended up watching was about two hours of pure silliness.

In The Handbook: The First Doctor, Howe, Stammers, and Walker basically applaud The Web Planet as a "successful experiment" with a different type of Doctor Who. I am not sure that I would agree with this. Web might have been something special back in 1965, but now I think the only exciting thing about the story is getting to see the wonderful regulars in action once again. A lot of people seem to regard the original TARDIS crew as one of the best, but I think that the team of the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara got a lot better when they dropped the rather dull Susan and added Vicki.

I had to laugh out loud when I initially say both the Zarbi and the Menoptera. The plight of the bee-like Menoptera is particularly difficult to take seriously. The underground Optera come across as being a little more interesting, although their costumes look like something out of Fraggle Rock or Kroft Superstars. The portrayal of the Animus through voice is mysterious and convincing, but when we actually see the creature at the end of the story it just looks like a giant omelette or something. The in-studio creation of Vortis is actually quite good-- it's quite similar to the lunar scenery created for The Moonbase.

The Web Planet is worth watching to see Hartnell and his gang at work again, but I would advise you not to expect a spectacular production. Actually, I think it would make a wonderfully surreal video if some of the scenes from Web were extracted and merged with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon!


A Review by Leo Vance 24/8/98

I was quite surprised when this story came in the bottom 20% of stories in the DWM Poll. Why? Because I love it.

The Web Planet is a classic piece of story-telling. It's a 6-parter without much padding. The plot and script are excellent. William Hartnell is his usual superb and impressive self. Maureen O'Brien acting is competent as always, but in particular, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill are undoubtedly at their best by the time of this story.

The Menoptera are superb and impressive creations-- stunning with the programme that gave us the Dalek saucer from The Dalek Invasion of Earth barely three months previously. The Zarbi are even better-- an excellent monster race, who deserve a return as monsters rather than the cameo that they make in Twilight of the Gods.

Roslyn de Winter's performance is superb. Behind a mask, with no part of her body visible, and her fingers stuck together, her performance is no less than stupendous. The other Menoptera are just as well acted, and the hopping of the Optera is impressively well thought out.

That said, the direction is excellent. The sets create a real sense that we are on an alien world, unlike the sand pits that became so common later in the series history. And the Menoptera flying is unbelievably real.

The Animus is the icing on the cake. It is an impressive monster, and is truly horrible. Its voice is even more nasty. Brilliant.

On the down-side, the rather stupid use of the 'alien concept' idea of 'a silent wall' is disappointing. The destruction of Ian's tie is a bad effect. Beyond that-- well, close to flawless.

Great monsters, story and script combine to make on of Doctor Who's all-time greats. 9/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 11/12/98

By today's standards, The Web Planet looks rather dated and is a painstakingly slow piece of Doctor Who. But upon it`s original transmission, it must have looked very impressive. The Web Planet was obviously an experiment, something which wouldn`t happen often. It largely succeeds.

A lot was obviously expected from the designers and production team, and this is one of many highlights from the serial. The Zarbi were bulky creatures, causing the actors inside them to crash into the camera, sets or each other. The Menoptera were more successful, largely due to the fact that they could speak and looked so graceful in flight. The Optera were perhaps the biggest failure: their voices tended to grate and they were portrayed in a comical way out of keeping with the rest of the tale.

The four regulars were portrayed well, despite the odd fluff from William Hartnell. The first episode, featuring just the TARDIS crew (and the odd Zarbi) allowed for some great characterisation, particularly Ian, who would benefit from this throughout the story.

As with a lot of villains in Doctor Who, the voice was just as important as the appearance of the creature it belonged to. Catherine Fleming goes one better making The Animus sound more threatening and ultimately more evil than it appears. Something else to note is the emphasis to make the Menoptera appear more alien: their gestures, odd speech patterns and movement is actually conveyed well.

In summary, writer Bill Strutton came up with an imaginitive and ambitious script, which is generally enjoyable. It isn`t classic Doctor Who, but at least it was something different.


A Review by Keith Bennett 29/1/01

The Web Planet is a story that has to be seen in the right frame of mind. Today, it looks quite slow and silly, and seems unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone but fans. However, there's much to like here; it is very much a story of positives and negatives.

The positives include the light filters on the cameras, giving the planet a very real and convincing look. Also, the wonderful Menoptera must be one of the most interesting alien races ever seen in Doctor Who, with their unusual speech patterns and mannerisms. Roslyn de Winter, especially, is absolutely superb as Vrestin; little touches, like calling Ian "Herron", adding to the alienness. Ian and Barbara shine here, while even the Zarbi, even if they are obviously hunched men in ant suits, aren't too bad.

On the negative side, Vicki seems to have lost a bit of her brightness from her first two stories, while the Doctor himself doesn't seem to do a lot. The Optera, unlike the Menoptera, are not very good. The idea is fine, but the sight of the foam-covered midgets bouncing up and down grunting is more likely to bring laughs than poignancy.

I was especially disappointed by the ending, especially since I've been used to this story through Bill Strutton's excellent novelisation. I think it's because everything seems so quiet; this story cries out for a music score, but there doesn't seem to be any at all.

Overall, The Web Planet is not as bad as some might suggest it is, and it's a grand attempt at something different, but it has not aged well. Watch it in the right mindset.


Dare to Be Stupid by Peter Niemeyer 31/3/01

I hate to say it, but the time I spent watching The Web Planet could only be described as excruciating. I wanted to like it. It looked like everyone was trying so hard, especially the four regulars. But I was just too far from being entertained.

There are positives to the story. Although the production values have not aged so well, there were many aspects that gave this story an alien feel, such as the fuzziness of the camera lens during the outside shots, the pervading darkness, and the lack of anything recognizable beyond the TARDIS and her crew.

Unfortunately, some of the production aspects were overly ambitious and detracted from the story a bit. The flying sequence included many noticeable cables keeping the actors aloft. The Zarbi and Optera costumes made it difficult to ignore that there was a very humanoid actor inside. And there was also some actors' shadows on the alien vista backdrops.

But it wasn't the production values that made the story excruciating...it was the behavior of the aliens themselves. For the most part, the Menoptera and the Optera were portrayed as being so alien and so different from humans that I found myself not sympathizing with them or caring what happened to them.

Furthermore, some of their alien traits - the Menoptera hand movement, the Menoptera speech patterns, the Optera hopping - felt like they had been tacked on just to make them seem more alien, whether it made sense or not. Doctor Who has featured alien races who appeared only once but who established themselves as convincing aliens even in that one serial. Consider the Drahvins, the War Lords, the Draconians, the Movellans, or the Eternals. All of them were alien enough to be interesting and yet human enough to be engaging. I would put the Menoptera and Optera alongside the Chronivores, the Swampies, the Plasmatons, the Androgums, or the Bannermen - things that were weird just for the sake of being weird.

Of course, the plot didn't help. It didn't have major lapses of logic. It wasn't confusing or incomprehensible. It just wasn't enough to fill four episodes, let alone six. It's a good thing the Daleks were Doctor Who's first romp with aliens. If we had been given this story first, I wonder if there ever would have been Draconians, Movellans, or Eternals.

One Thing I'd Do Differently: Having Vicki accidentally leave the isotope in the astral map. The writer could have used any number of reasons as to why the Doctor and Vicki's initial plan didn't work out, but having Vicki forget the whole reason why they returned to the Karzhenome unnecessarily made her look stupid and less fun to root for.

One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The Doctor's discussion with the Animus via the plastic cylinder. These exchanges were to only real sense of drama and conflict in the whole story.

Would I Like To Watch This Serial Again?: No


Tedious and malcoordinated by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/10/01

The Web Planet is the first great disappointing serial in Doctor Who. After a strong season and a half of adventures where even the weaker ones show much promise, The Web Planet comes across as the product of a series that is suddenly tired and worn out. Even the good elements fail due to malcoordination.

The production team has high hopes for this story, hoping that the Zarbi would take off to become as popular monsters as the Daleks. Such an aim is immensely praiseworthy, showing a team determined to build on and expand the basis of the series' support, but the presentation of the Zarbi is terrible. The costumes aren't too bad in themselves but they lack any form of weaponry at all. The Zarbi have no means of speech and they move around far too clumsily and audibly for them to present any real menace in an isolated situation - a strong test for the effectiveness of many monsters. The direction of the Zarbi is especially poor, showing them wandering aimlessly around and using very few shots to generate any form of drama about them. Script wise the Zarbi are little more than the minions of the Animus. This is a far cry from the Daleks, who right in their first story The Mutants are shown as individually powerful and threatening and it is the writing and directing as much, if not more, that makes them as strong as they so often are. If the production team's aim of producing a monster to rival the Daleks is the test for which this story can be judged then it is an abysmal failure.

The story as a whole is an example of elements all failing to support one another. The mist effect on the surface of Vortis is an effort to show the planet as being very different from Earth but it noticeably changes from shot to shot and is sometimes not present at all. The shots that use the effect the most come across as very blurred and could easily be mistaken for a poor quality picture. Vortis itself is not a particularly exciting planet and recycles many clich?. There are pools that look like water but turn out to be acid (already seen, to greater effect, in The Keys of Marinus), initial signs of desertedness before the inhabitants are discovered (seen in The Mutants) and the surface of the planet itself is a stock crater setting. Few of the interior sets are particularly memorable or exciting, with the Carsenome being nothing more than some weird walls and a few built in guns that present very little threat at all.

The Menoptra are no doubt a good idea on paper but in practice they are not particularly convincing as a race desperate to reclaim their planet with many of their movements and actions seeming pedantic and tedious. The Optera are even worse, being little more than a clich? isolated community. The larvae guns are the only creatures that can deliver much destruction but this is not backed up by scripting, costume, direction or music. In so many parts of this story there is one element that shows promise but it is completely undermined by the rest.

The music is perhaps the worst element of all. Little is actually used and what there is comes from stock. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but here the music completely fails to give a scene any form of atmosphere and instead undermines it. The script is very poor as well, with far too much padding to tell the straightforward story of how a dark force is repelled. There is little to imply that Vortis is a paradise gone wrong and very little that can be seen as a parallel with any modern Earth event at all so it is virtually impossible to identify with any of the characters in this story at all. Nor is there any real science in the story and instead magic is resorted to far too often, particularly with the Doctor's ring. This story steps into the realm of fantasy but does not even succeed as such. Ultimately it is a combination of poor scripting and execution jarring with one another, making for an exceptionally tedious adventure featuring a bunch of characters that don't generate much. Even the regular cast seem to only be going through the motions in this story and showing less concern than they might otherwise do. All in all this is a highly forgettable story. 1/10


Season Two's Big Blunder by Michael Hickerson 4/2/02

One of the things that makes Doctor Who so appealing is that while the show could be predicable at times, it was willing to take chances -- to challenge viewers with stories that were new, innovated and different. And there are some splendid examples of how experimental stories could and should be done -- Ghost Light, Inferno, Greatest Show in the Galaxy are just a few that come to mind.

Then there's The Web Planet -- a story that's trying to be so much more than it actually is and failing miserably.

The Web Planet is probably my least favorite remaining story from the Hartnell era. It also qualifies as one of my bottom five stories in all of Doctor Who history.

Why?

Simply put: The Web Planet is slow moving, dull and tedious. There's a plot, but just enough to ably fill two 25-minute episodes. Instead, we get six-episodes of story where the viewer is forced to sit through long spells where nothing happens in order to get to the next critical plot point. I know that over the years I've stated that the Hartnell stories were made in a different era -- and that watching them all in one go is not what the creators intended. But The Web Planet moves so slowly and so tediously that it fails to build up any interest. Indeed, the best thing I can say about watching episodically is that every 25-minutes or so, the theme music plays and breaks things up a bit. Not exactly high praise for an era that features some rather underrated stories in my mind.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that you can see what they're trying to do -- and failing.

The production staff is trying to create a truly alien environment. They're creating a planet that isn't just guys in rubber suits and is, instead, actual alien beings of some kind. I like the fact that the TARDIS crew must overcome a language barrier and try to communicate with these aliens. There's so many good small things screaming to get out, only to get lost under the tedium of an overly simple story and a high episode count.

This is not a story that I would recommend you show to non-Who fans in an attempt to convert them to the ways of Doctor Who. In fact, it's one that I'd pretty much keep at the back of the tape collection until after they've really sampled how great Who can be. Otherwise, you're apt to turn them away from Who for good.

And who can blame them? I can barely make it through The Web Planet without wanting to turn away from my lifelong love of Doctor Who myself.


A Review by David Barnes 19/2/02

Picture this: aproximatley 8 months ago I was about to buy The Web Planet at a second hand video shop for ?25. This was a story that I had never seen before, I had read the novelisation (and it was a good one) and it had mixed reviews ranging from 9/10 to 2/10. After I got home from buying it, I slammed it in the VCR and watched it.

It was absolute rubbish.

I still think it is one of Hartnell's worst (second only to Edge of Destruction.) The regulars don't do anything. The story is padded to the extreme and could have been trimmed to a 4 part story. Let's go through the plot:

Episode 1: The TARDIS lands after being pulled down to a planet. The regulars faff around for 5 minutes before the Doctor and Ian decide to go outside. They dress up as ice-cream men and, after Hartnell forgets his lines and ruins the scene, leave via the Doctor's magical ring. Meanwhile giant ants are watching and making loud noises that scare Vicki, so she has a lie-down. An intelligence nicks Ian's pen, the Doctor starts laughing and then puts Ian's tie in a pool of acid. They walk around for a bit, Ian gets caught up by web and the Doctor runs back to the TARDIS. While this has been going on, Barbara has been lured outside by her gold bracelet and walks towards the acid pool. Vicki gets scared by the noises again and tries to take off. The Doctor gets back and realises the TARDIS is gone. He is so struck with horror that his lips move one second before the line "My TARDIS,"is heard.

Episode 2: The outside scenes suddenly become very bright. The Doctor runs back to Ian who has gotton free of the web. They walk around for a while, destroy a chrysalis, get caught by Zarbi and get taken to Zarbi HQ. The TARDIS gets taken to Zarbi HQ as well and Vicki meets the Doctor and Ian when they arrive (3 minutes untill the end of the episode). Barbara has had her bracelet destroyed by giant butterfly people, runs away from them (the butterfly people, Menoptra, just throw a stick at her) gets caught by Zarbi. walks back to the Menoptra cave, thus letting the Zarbi find them. One runs away, one gets his wings ripped off and the third Menoptra gets shot by a woodlouse. At Zarbi HQ, the Doctor is spoken to by a hairdryer.

Episode 3: The Doctor is told by the hairdryer (the ruler of the Zarbi speaks from this) to find the location of the Menoptra by using his astral map. The Doctor spends the episode fiddling with the map and chatting with the hairdryer and Vicki. Ian escapes, befriends a Menoptra named Vrestin and they head off somewhere. A Zarbi walks into the camera. Ian and Vrestin are found by the Zarbi and run into a rocky crevice and fall down a hole.

Episode 4: The Doctor and Vicki realise that the Zarbi are afraid of tiny dead spiders. Apart from this, they don't do anything until near the end. Barbara has been sent to a place where the captured Menoptra have nothing better to do than move rocks and talk to the Zarbi. Ian and Vrestin meet up with the underground cousins of the Menoptra, Optera, and ask them to help them reach Zarbi HQ. The Optera agree when Vrestin shows them that she has wings. Wow. The Optera would probably obey a sparrow if it flew past... The Doctor fiddles with his radio trying to find Ocean FM and instead reaches the "Menoptra Secret Invasion Force Tactics Channel" and gives the hairdryer all the information it needs. A squad of Menoptra land near the work party and are all shot by woodlice while the Zarbi walk into the sceneary. Barbara slowly walks away.

Episode 5: Utterly thrilling stuff this. Barbara and her Menoptra friends found a hole that leads them to a cathedral. The Doctor and Vicki take control of a Zarbi named Zombo and also find this cathedral that is really hard to find. Ian, Vrestin and the Optera wander around some tunnels, vandalizing the sceneary. The Doctor gets a secret weapon to use against the Animus, the controller of the Zarbi. Given that no-one has seen the Animus and lives, it is hard to imagine that the Menoptra could make a weapon that can destroy it. The Doctor and Vicki walk back to HQ and get sprayed by silly string.

Episode 6: The Doctor and Vicki are taken to the Animus and fall asleep. Vicki has left the weapon by the astral map because she's an idiot. "Hey, I'm being taken to the Animus. Let's leave this secret weapon right here so that we can't use it when we need to." Barbara and the Menoptra go to the HQ, find the weapon and go to the Animus. They fall asleep. The Animus is a giant spider thing that whispers and likes bright lights. It also depends on a piece of wire to hold it up. Ian breaks through into the chamber, and falls asleep. Barbara wakes up and squeezes the weapon which makes the Animus collapse. Vicki says "It's dead!" just in case we didn't know. Everyone goes back to the TARDIS. Everyone gets excited by a feeble little puddle. The TARDIS crew depart and the Menoptra start blavering on about how they will celebrate that day. They then use a machine that got smashed in episode 2 to call the Menoptra who are hiding on a different planet.

This story is utterly boring. The Zarbi are the only redeeming features for me. I give this 3/10


A Review by Gerry Hume 9/7/02

I really like this story despite the fact that a lot of fans think it's pure tosh. Admittedly it has it's failures but I think that overall it is an enjoyable, atmospheric and imaginative tale. One of the things which I really like about the very early Dr Who's - especially the Hartnell's - is the sense of mystery and danger which they comjure up. I rememeber watching some of these stories as a child (O.K., so there's a bit of nostalgia here) and wishing that the Dr and co. would just stay put in the Tardis. The Daleks certainly made me feel like this and so does The Web Planet. In my view programme lost this element in later years.

The negative aspects of the story are the examples of poor direction - shared by a few stories of this era - and the fact that its a bit padded, again like other stories of its time. These things however don't normally bother me that much as long as it is basically a good story. I just tend to wallow in my enjoyably private little world of Dr Who.

The Optera are the biggest failing as far as the story's characters are concerned: they come across as comical more than anything else and are just too obviously men in suits. Fortunately they are not seen too much. The Animus works best when it is not seen. I think the diembodied voice of the Animus works very well to convey a sense of threat and power. Its visual realisation could have been a lot better but it is only seen for a few minutes at the end.

Now for the positives. I think the sets and the camerawork combine well to create the feeling of an airless alien planet. It is certainly more convincing to my mind than all of those quarries used in later years. The Menoptera work beautifully: the costumes and their movement and speech patterns are quite beautiful and poetic and help to create a believable alien creature. They also come across well as intelligent and peaceful being fighting a desparate battle for survival against a seemingly all powerful and all pervasive evil.

I like both the Zarbi and the larvae guns as creations and I think they are imaginatively designed and work well What the story lacks, and which normally makes for a strong story, is a strong villain to relate too. The Zarbi are mindless tools and the Animus relies on its voice - and sense of being ever present but invisible - to create a sense of threat.

If the story is taken as an animal fable - after Aesop - then I think it works rather well. For me the most effective part of the story is that - in common with much early Who - it creates a real sense of the Tardis crew stranded out on a limb and in danger on a very alien world with only their wits to defeat an enemy which seemingly has them firmly in its grip. Many of you may not recognise the story which I have just described, but I like it.


I can categorically say that most of it is bollocks by David Massingham 5/2/04

Prologue: Ignore me if you will...

Cards on the table -- I haven't seen The Web Planet. Well, not all of it anyways... you see, the power went out before my VCR got the chance to tape part six, so I've only had the good fortune (?) to view the first five parts of this epic adventure. So it's up to you now. I'm giving you advance warning; if you do not think I am qualified to denounce this adventure as the festering pile of cat bile that it undoubtedly is, I understand. Truth is, I'm only reviewing five sixths of this story, and I honestly shouldn't be as I haven't seen all of it. I'm only doing this anyway cause I started reviewing the series from mark one a couple of months back, and I'd hate to see that all go now, or even see it get put on hold whilst I searched for the elusive final episode. Besides, ripping this turkey to shreds is gonna be so much FUN!

Oh yeah, and if I do by some misfortune get the chance to watch the final episode, I'll obviously add the appropriate supplement. That little disclaimer out of the way, let's start kicking this dog...

Episode One : How to stretch six and a half minutes of plot out to twenty-four.

Well, the chapter title says it all. I'll try to avoid committing the same sin the production team did, and I'll only allow this section the amount of space it deserves.

Firstly, let's talk Zarbi. What the hell were they thinking?!? Giant ants? At least the larger-than-average ants of Planet of Giants had the good grace to play dead. The horrible shuffling movements of the Zarbi are wondrous to behold, as they send the sounds of their footfalls echoing off the Styrofoam moons hanging by the backdrop and straight back at the microphones for all the kids at home to hear. Yet despite the obvious limitations of these creatures' relisation, there is another, more sinister menace that the unsuspecting viewer must contend with. That's right, I'm talking about the incessant, buzzing, shove-hot-coals-down-your-ears-to-make-it-stop drone of the Zarbi "communication". The whining cry of the Zarbi is arguably the most irritating thing the sound-effects chaps at the BBC ever came up with, and the inconcievable thing is that the production team decided to let it feature in The Web Planet ad nasuem. Awful, just awful.

As the you may have guessed, I am a firm believer that episode one of The Web Planet (sorry, I forgot its individual title, and I frankly don't give a toss) is stretched out for far too long. The scenes in the TARDIS feature mercilessly unedited dialogue, desperate for a trim with a pair of giant novelty scissors; yet the Doctor and co natter on and on about the nefarious nature of the force that has left them trapped on Vortis, and debate who should go outside and who should remain -- don't just talk about it, Billy, do it! The reasons for all this repetitive dialogue becomes abundantly clear once the credits roll -- all that happens in this episode is that the TARDIS lands, it becomes trapped, Ian loses a pen, Barbara loses control of her arm, Vicki loses her friends and the Doc loses his spaceship. But, my... isn't the set nice? And that cliffhanger is pretty fab, innit?

To top it off, the regulars are all off their game. Poor Jacqui Hill is lumped with a possessed arm, so we can forgive her; but Maureen O'Brien is near the lofty heights of Carol Ann Ford when it comes to hysterics, and Billy Hartnell is giggling so much that one assumes someone slipped him something in his morning coffee. William Russell is so melodramatic it puts the cast of Neighbours to shame -- see his horrible delivery of "My pen!!! It flew right out of my hand!!!" or somesuch flapdoodle. Mate, you've faced Daleks, the brutality of ancient Rome, and a killer alien sickness... a planet that steals your pen should surely be a walk in the park.

Episode Two: The plot is starting? Oh, must we?

Well, when I say starting, I mean creeping forward ever-so-slowly. You see, the Menoptera are going to arrange for a Spearhead to arrive and deal with the Zarbi. The Zarbi and the Menoptera don't get on, right, so, ummm... that's it for this episode. Might I add that what little we do get isn't much cop? First time viewers of The Web Planet, a warning -- it don't get any better.

The Menoptera are realised just as badly as you'd expect them to be. No, actually, they're probably worse. Not only are their costumes pretty terrible, but we also have to deal with the "insect movement" designed and choreographed (!) by one Roslyn de Winter. Now, I know that this story was completed under very tough conditions and little time, but the gestures and so forth brought to the table come across as more irritating than anything else. Sure, some effort has gone into creating a more alien type of, um, alien, but the catch 22 is that it ain't no fun to see grown people in butterfly suits running across a studio floor, before abruptly stopping, looking around for a couple of seconds, and then keep going along their "graceful" course.

What else? Well, I quite like the Doctor's attempt to communicate with the Zarbi near the end of the episode. Oh, and we get another relatively good cliffhanger. That said, this is pretty abysmal so far. Terrible guest cast, as well.

Episode Three: Home of the finest comic moment in Doctor Who's long history.

A Zarbi, starting at the very back of the set, runs full pelt (well, as full pelt as a Zarbi can go... I wonder if the poor actors stuck in those suits got back problems? Sue the BBC!!!), all the way, over a sand dune, and RIGHT into the camera! It is truly glorious. Absolutely hysterical, finer than that scene in City of Death when the Doctor meets Scarlioni for the first time. And the thing that makes this all the more funny is that the shot has absolutely no consequence in the story. The editor cut from a scene within the Animus' control centre, to the ant hitting the camera whilst a butterfly watches, and then they cut back to something that was at least vaguely relevant. Why, oh, why, didn't they leave it out? They would have only lost ten seconds, and they would have saved a little scrap of dignity to keep in a drawer for a rainy day.

It was about this time that I realised that the director of this story, one Richard Martin, is quite possibly the worst director Doctor Who has ever had. Look at his CV -- The Dalek Invasion of Earth (dull as dishwater), The Edge of Destruction (a noble but complete failure), and this tripe (I think you're rapidly getting an idea of my opinion of The Web Planet). Add to this The Chase, which is a bare three stories after this and almost as bad. I was going to say that his work on The Daleks was the exception to the rule, but then I noticed that he directed part six and seven -- the pointless trek episodes!! He also did part three, so I suppose he got something right.

Part three of The Web Planet is a different story -- it's pants. Oh, okay... some of the scenes in Zarbi control are alright-ish.

Episode Four: More happens than had been the case up until this one.

That said, in a normal episode, the narrative momentum here would have only covered two-thirds of an episode. But The Web Planet has its own standards, and I respect individuality. Generally.

One major problem with advancing the narrative in this story is that sooner or later they had to reveal the Optera. I suppose we should be thankful that they pushed it back as far as part four, but I would have rather they made a different story altogether. The Optera truly are monumentally awful. Never again has socks and Styrofoam balls been used to such comedic effect as they were here. Unfortunately, any of the (extremely) inherent comedy found in these little guys is ruined by distinctly crap acting and horrible line delivery. The stilted grunting of the Optera is another thing, I believe, that we can blame on Richard Martin... reminiscent of the ill-conceived Robomen, anyone? Still, there is another of those rare positives found in one of the scenes with the Optera -- we get that nifty fluid which magically ties Ian and the Butterfly's hands. Nice little detail, that.

Meanwhile, Barbara is shifting mounds of shredded film celluloid from one position to another. There's a dire "action" scene in which she and some Menoptera beat a piece of cardboard against a rock wall. I think the cardboard was supposed to be a gun (have I yet mentioned the absurdity of the larva guns? Cause not only are they absurd, but they also look like rubbish).

Writer Bill Strutton manages to solve a lingering plot thread by making the Doctor stupid for a couple of minutes. You see, the Doctor had been holding info from the Animus for nigh-on two episodes now, and the writer simply solved this by making a particularly damning recording play of its own accord, revealing to the Animus all that it wanted to know. Well, the recording either played by itself, or the Doctor accidentally played it, so...

Going by this episode's track-record, I am unfortunately wavering towards the latter.

Episode Five: Make it stop.

Zombo's kinda cute, isn't he/her/it? Shame about the inept way in which he/her/it is recruited, with the deus ex machina that the Doctor wears on his finger. That said, for the third time, we get a rather fetching cliffhanger. Of course, this is balanced out by the prior, and dire, twenty-two minutes. One of the Optera is killed, which is a plus, albeit is a thoroughly unconvincing way. Nothing else of note to report here.

Epilogue: Ahhh... it's stopped.

Well, for now. I will eventually see part six (I seem to recall its call The Centre), though I don't have high hopes -- according to David Barnes' loving dissection of The Web Planet, the final episode involves the regulars falling asleep a lot. Honestly, this doesn't surprise me given the atrocious nature of the preceding episodes. The Web Planet is a cheap and shoddy "experiment" (I don't know why people call this experimental, unless they are referring to plumbing new depths -- this story is incredibly trad, narrative-wise). It isn't often I criticise effects in Doctor Who, but this adventure has no story to stand up on so all it's got is its execution. As I suspect I have made clear, the execution is inept to say the least, and The Web Planet ends up as a humourless and dull mess. If only I could laugh at it like other fans seem to be able to... but, no dice. Quite possibly the worst story ever, and certainly the worst story I've been privy to.

2.5 out of 10

Postscript: Next Episode, The Centre.

David is searching for the final part of The Web Planet. It's not going so well thus far, as he can't be bothered getting out of his chair.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 18/6/04

For years I have been bemused by The Web Planet. Having been one of those stories that has received, let's say mixed reviews, I was intrigued to find out exactly what it would be like. I read the Target book, I knew it stretched the format of DW, and featured lots of silly monsters. I was told that my enjoyment of it would depend on my perception when watching it. I had to look past the dodgy effects, the dodgy monsters, put that to one side and enjoy the story - and enjoy the sheer audacity that the production team had back then in bringing out a story like this.

And thus I finally got around to watching this weirdo of the early years of Doctor Who. I am finally doing the stories properly (TV when available, BBC Audio when not). I don't really watch the stories in chronological order as I like to move about through the 26 years, vary things as much as possible. But I am determined to watch or listen to them all, before I go back over and rewatch some. All my reviews on this website are done directly after watching or listening when I can't watch.

And so onto Web Planet, a story that I honestly and truthfully had never seen before. Just one that I have been wary of, because of poor reviews. Would these silly monsters really spoil the thing? Would the far-out ideas be just too much for the DW format? It's quite reassuring to note that silly monsters and poor stories don't usually get in the way of enjoying DW - it has happened so many times before, after all. Web Planet is probably the peak of silly monsters, but that didn't stop me from quite enjoying the thing.

The world that the production team try to create on Vortis is mega weird. Using some kind of strange filter over the camera lens means everything has a kind of smudged effect. At first you think it is the poor quality of the film, then you realize that it is in fact intended to be that way. It makes the story even weirder. Vortis is a very strange place without this effect. Acid pools, strange rock formations, web-like plants - every effort has been made to make it look strange.

Apart from our TARDIS team of Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki the cast is totally alien. There's the Zarbi, looking like massive ants. There's the Menoptera, looking like a cross between Bees and Butterflies. There's the Optera, a worm like thing. If you like stories about intelligent insects, this is right up your street. The monsters do look silly though. The Zarbi, whilst looking brilliant from the top, are betrayed by black tighted legs scuttling around. They even bang into the camera in one classic moment! The Menoptera are ludicrous! Fluffy bodies, with plastic wings, combined with balletic movements. The Optera are perhaps the worst of the lot, jumping around with strange string round their heads. Then there is the all-powerful Animus, a spider at the centre of the web - which in fact resembles a strange playground bouncy castle! It really has the feel of an infant school production at times. This, more than any other story, is the one that you would not show your non-DW friends. A run of stories like this would have killed off Doctor Who completely, but as a one-off it's just about okay, and can be seen as a very peculiar oddity.

Us Doctor Who fans are a rare breed. We look past naff effects and costumes, and see something more. Mega blockbusters at the cinema are dismissed because the story is predictable. Alternatively terrible production valued material is placed up high, there's more to it than just the effects - is the cry. But is there really something "more" about The Web Planet? The story actually is quite simple. It's about Zarbi vs Menoptera, and the Doctor and friends just get caught up in it. There's lots of strange noises (the Zarbi chirp begins to get on your nerves after a while, be warned), there's lots of strange sets. At 6 parts too it may be a little drawn out, there's too much getting captured, then escaping - but isn't Doctor Who often like that? I watched Web Planet in 3 parts, it's just about enough in one go - and I have to confess to being quite entertained (apart from the Zarbi chirps). The leads, even Vicki who uses her brain more than usual, are always great and valiantly try to give it some seriousness. The drama that is injected into the set pieces are quite well conveyed - you actually feel sorry for the Menoptera on a number of occasions thanks to Ian and Barbara's reactions. I wanted to know what happened to these strange creatures on Vortis, who would win the day, and who would survive.

You cannot really consider Web Planet serious drama, but like an infants' school production it is quite engaging at times. It was a little too much for DW's meagre budget to realize Bill Strutton's elevated ideas, but they had a go. The ultimate result is laughable at times, but I personally like things that make me smile. Maybe I did approach it optimistically, maybe my perceptions were different. Either way I quite enjoyed Web Planet, without thinking it was that great. One things for sure, it is no longer in the "Worst Top Ten TV Doctor Who Stories" list. 5/10


A Review by James Aanensen 22/1/05

I've recently viewed The Web Planet again for the first time in about seven or eight years, in amongst a total re-watch of the Hartnell era one episode per day (and am thoroughly enjoying it too). Firstly I read all the reviews posted here which I intended to give me some reminder as to what it was like, having not seen it for a long time. Most reviews, as we know, are scathing. It's all been said about ageing production values and so on and so forth. But surely as Who fans we can appreciate it for what it is (or was)?

I have to say that despite the negative reviews and the obvious painful moments (the "camera incident" in epsiode three being the king - I can only come to the conclusion that it was left in as a joke by the production team, otherwise they were all insane and should have been fired on the spot) everyday in the week in which I watched I found myself looking forward to the next episode more and more. I don't know what it was - the plot, the regulars or what. But I did enjoy it. I think it comes down to simply being a Who fan - something that was original, ambitious and innovative for the series at the time of its production and transmission can only appeal to those of us who really appreciate the series as a whole. Certainly, I agree that this serial is woefully presented in some parts, but the Who "rose tinted glasses" surely must come out when viewing it. I also agree that if it had been made and transmitted like this further down the track then maybe it would not have the same appeal.

I think the point I am trying to make is that for those of us who are Who fans to the nth degree, the early Hartnells are really what made the show what it was and that nothing afterwards would have been the same without that era. The Web Planet is certainly a story that is a fine example of a story that is not that popular but should still be appreciated for what it is and means for the series as a whole. This is opposed to stories years later that are regarded as crap and have every right to be considered so because by then the series should have developed, which in most cases it had. So that's my two cents worth - respect the Hartnell episodes for what they are. The producers had either an easy or a hard job. Easy becase there was no precedent set for what they produced, or hard because they needed to make the series successful starting from scratch. Whatever way you may choose to view it, the first three seasons should be appreciated because of the foundations they laid for the series.


"Zarbiiiiii!" by Joe Ford 15/2/05

I could only make a small list of things that are as universally panned as The Web Planet. Tony Blair, George Bush, Marmite (oh shut up you don't really like it... it tastes like tar!), Time and the Rani and the love child of Adric and Dodo, Mel. Nobody really likes it, do they? It is ambitious, sure but is assembled with all the skill of a Saturday morning kids' show. Nobody would put on their top ten favourite stories list and the usual list of hilarious monsters is cemented in the Doctor Who hall of infamy (those Zarbis and Venom Grubs!).

Well fear not my friends... I have discovered such a person in that foggy backwater Lewisham. No, not Johnny Morris but one of my bestest mates Matt. He and I agree on absolutely nothing when it comes to Doctor Who and his latest aspersion that The Web Planet is an undiscovered classic waiting to be polished up on DVD has left me wondering whether his uncanny season-twenty-loving mind has been well and truly lobotomised!

I have recently been on something of a Hartnell bender (that isn't as rude as it sounds unfortunately), gorging on the old black and white episodes. There is something wonderfully atmospheric about watching the classic episodes with just the Christmas tree lights on. In three weeks I've feasted on The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror, The Rescue, The Romans, The Crusade, The Gunfighters, The War Machines... and such was my enjoyment I was even willing to have a shot at The Web Planet.

I have now stopped watching Hartnell episodes.

I won't deny that it could have been fantastic. If you go dig out Bill Strutton's target book and take a peek at the illustrations you will get a fair idea of how good this could have been. The Doctor and Ian staring up at a huge, alien statue. An ambush of terrifying Zarbi. The disgusting, writhing Animus creature... it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Had this been a Hollywood blockbuster (or even today with CGI) they probably could have pulled off a six-part story about ants and moths having a war because of some mutant seaweed. It would be kitsch and silly but no more so than these increasingly ridiculous Pixar/DreamWorks films that are all the rage these days.

One of Doctor Who's continual failings was the lack of restraint on the part of its producers. You want a dinosaur popping its head out of the Thames Mr Banks-Stewart... I should think we could accommodate that. What's that? A Concorde in prehistoric Earth... course Peter, I mean you've directed two stories already so you must be aware of our limitations! A planet full of giant ants, caterpillars, grubs and moths... what on Earth were they thinking? The season two mentality of bigger is better (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Planet of Giants and The Chase) was its major failing and this was one idea too far.

The central idea of the story is delicious, a very spiritual theme of evil poisoning a planet of peace. Bill Strutton rather deviously tricks us into thinking that the unappealing surface of Vortis, all disfigured rock faces and acid pools is a planet of nasties so when the Zarbi and Venom Grubs show up you naturally assume they will be hostile. It is in fact revealed that the Zarbi are harmless and rather thick giant ants that like squirting each other with water who were acting under the malign influence of the evil Animus force. There are other touches of genius in the story, the Menoptera having their wings ripped off to stop them escaping, the glorious mouth metaphor the grub creatures use when tearing holes to the surface, Vicki suggesting taking an aspirin is the equivalent of being bled by leeches... there are clearly some brains behind the script, the dialogue magical in places.

The regulars-driven first episode is very watchable and it is only when we start to focus on the politics of Vortis that things start to drag and where the budget cannot support Strutton's grand ideas. William Hartnell gives a wonderful doddery performance in episode one, barely managing to get one single line right but glowing with good humour that makes him irresistible to watch. His interaction with Ian is marvellous ("ECHOES DEAR BOY!", "Chesterton what are you doing over there? Stop flapping and gaping over there and come over here and learn something!", "You nearly had the remnants of a Coal Hill School teacher in there instead of this wretched old ragged old tie!") and Barbara and Vicki share some fun moments, especially when the former tells the latter of her adventures in Rome finally.

The start of episode two sees this giddy interaction falter in favour of dancing Zarbi (occasionally crashing into cameras), fizzy Venom Grubs (whose very human legs are alarmingly visible) and a bizarre hairdrying device dropping from the ceiling for the Doctor to chat to the enemy.

Richard bloody Martin, an inadequate director at best (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) and creator of the phrase "so bad it's good" (The Chase), was the man chosen to construct this epic. Oh for Douglas Camfield next door. Let's cut to the chase, Martin didn't give a shit about Doctor Who and it shows. The Web Planet is his worst story because it fails in so many ways visually where a little care would have ironed out some of the creases. He shoots his already tacky-looking monsters face on, in full light so we are all aware of their inadequacies and where the people inside of them are situated. He lets shadows droop over the backdrops, actors get away with horrific dialogue fluffs, fails to capture any menace the story was capable of and very often doesn't bother moving the camera at all. There is just no talent here; the story looks cheap and amateurish because it is, the regulars try so hard to salvage some dignity by delivering their standard excellent performances but even they aren't enough to distract us from geriatric action scenes, embarrassing guest actors ("Zaaaarrrrbiiiiiiiiiii!") and a dead pace. I don't understand how fans can excuse this story, even in a so bad its good way, because it is so dull. Big Brother style dull with extra lashings of Will and Grace (brrr...). An actor even laughs himself silly during the cliffhanger to episode three and it is kept in... Christopher Barry certainly would not let that past the edit!

The Menoptera are too slow and stagy to be interesting and even though their costumes show a bit of thought (if you squint you could almost imagine them being moths) they take ages to get through a conversation and look utterly ineffective during action scenes. They are a bit of a chore to watch and it is hard to gather any support for their cause. And the female one with the squeaky voice is really annoying.

The story is far too repetitive and the sets soon become boring to look at, especially those swirly maze Zarbi control ones. There is little or no incidental music to beef up the story and the climax is less than spectacular.

At its very worst this story is painful to watch. At its best it's mildly diverting. It is certainly the worst story of season two (edging out Invasion Earth and The Space Museum) and would have to be a sure contender for worst William Hartnell story ever. Supplement 6/9/10

Every now and again I get this itch to watch (and listen to) every single Doctor Who story. Of course you are starting with some of the absolute classics (An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Marco Polo, The Aztecs) which fuels my desire to see this thing through. I have always had my doubts about Season Two though, despite some strengths (jettisoning the drippy and practically useless Susan for the more upbeat and rounded Vicki), it has always felt less confident and certainly less interesting than the first year. Prepare for me to eat my words.

Planet of Giants surprisingly (given its subject matter) kicks off the year in low key style with some terrifically low budget and yet startlingly effective sets that make our travelers appear an inch high. Simon (during his daily obsessive chores) stopped in his tracks during one of the sink scenes to comment on how effective that scene looked. The Dalek Invasion of Earth has moved up in my estimation. Not the direction - that still feels like Richard Martin on autopilot - but the scale, the oppressive mood and the concentration on the details (I especially like the relationships each of the regulars build with their guest character). Plus the location work is genuinely good and you have to love how the ridiculous scheme of the Daleks can be explained away in The Stolen Earth.

The Rescue is possibly the cutest Doctor Who story with William Hartnell giving his most warming performance (you can really tell he has had a six week break!) and having some adorable scenes with Russell, Hill and O'Brien. Vicki is far more interesting and less whiney than Susan (unfortunately during my voyage through Season One Simon was forever groaning every time Susan screamed/whimpered/moaned which as you can imagine was quite frequent!) and the little mystery is lovely, climaxing on one of the finest Doctor/villain face offs. I love The Romans with every fibre of my being: a witty script, confident direction, fantastic performances and an all round good time.

Which brings us to The Web Planet. Oh, how I was dreading this one. This is the only DVD I have bought which I did not watch that evening. This is the story About Time claims looks like 1920's television (whilst calling the equally ludicrous and creaky Curse of Peladon charming). It's the one with the highest viewing figures for the Hartnell era (13.5 million for the first episode!) and that prompted Verity Lambert to write to Richard Martin to tell the cast to stop changing and adding to the script. It's the one where the Zarbi walks into the camera, prompting a reference in The End of the World. It is supposedly the nadir of Doctor Who, claimed by myself and a large portion of fandom.

I think I might have been wrong. I think my problem has been to try and watch the thing through without any breaks. That is television suicide. But such is the case with many a Doctor Who six parter (even mighty classics such as Genesis of the Daleks and The Seeds of Doom suffer with this curse) it is much better to cut up the experience and sip it like a fine wine. The best way to watch The Web Planet is late at night after everyone has gone to bed (that way you are also free of any mirth any family or friends may throw at you). I stuck episode one on at 11.30 just to remind myself how bad this story was - and I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed it!

I want to start by discussing the ambition of the serial. An ambitious failure lots of people call it. After Planet of Giants, Invasion Earth, The Romans and this, it was clear that the Doctor Who production team were not going to play it safe but this was probably the most powerful statement of how far they were willing to go to try new things. Unlike the CGI worlds of Gridlock where the production team knew they could pull of the imagery even if the story wasn't so good (I love Gridlock), this was uncharted, dangerous territory because this could have wound up looking ridiculously amateurish and put a clamp on any further adventures. The fact that Lambert and Martin were willing to risk the ridicule is marvelous and they truly went for it sixties-style, giving it every thing they had. I really admire that. The current production team could do with some of that spunk. Its all very well giving us a bucket load of fan favourites (I love The Stolen Earth too) but how about a low-key season finale or a pure historical? My absolute favourite New Series moment comes during an episode I don't particularly like (that awesome sequence of the spaceship diving over London in Aliens of London which throws out everything we thought we knew about how contemporary stories were told and leaves you reeling from its implications; easily the riskiest decision RTD has made).

You might complain about the creaky, clanking sets but this was an attempt to transport the Doctor and his friends to a truly alien world. I think the sets are terrific. Nothing is as you expect it to be, gorgeous-looking moons in the sky, the craggy surface stretching for miles, acid pools, the deadly looking Crater of Needles, rock formations allowing the camera to shoot from all angles, the trippy sixtiesness of the Zarbi headquarters, the cancerous Animus sucking in all the goodness of the planet with its light. The Dalek Invasion of Earth deals with underground bases, houses, museums, sewers... easy to visualize but Vortis is a dark and menacing environment for our regulars to lose themselves in. Whilst they are here literally anything can happen; giant ants might swarm or moths might glide from the sky. You might fault the realization compared to the standards of today but at least appreciate the care that has gone into making this as strange and uncomfortable as it can possibly be.

It remains to this day the only story featuring a large cast that has no human characters besides the regulars. You could either see this as a red stamp on this story or an endorsement of its daring. The sheer insanity of a story featuring a swarm of giant ants fighting giant moths is something to behold. How they thought they could give the idea justice on their budget suggests the production team was drunk on their ratings success. However, again you can see some real care has gone into trying to make this work. The infamous Zarbi costumes actually look rather good; they do resemble horrid ants and have fabulously photographable faces (so much so that cameras come zooming up to them and don't stop!). Admittedly, the Menoptra look like they are wearing pyjamas but again their faces are very effective. Simon has a morbid fear of moths (wimp) and he shuddered when he saw them. The hoppy Optera creatures are probably taking the idea a step too far but again, how else would you do it? Certainly the weirdness of this story is capable of winding you on occasion; the dizzying shots of moths flying down into an atmosphere of moons and crags is astonishingly vivid. There is a long shot of the Zarbi surrounding the Doctor and Ian that could be a piece of surrealist art. When Vicki is dragged in the TARDIS towards the Zarbi HQ she looks up at the scanner and a Zarbi looms into view. It is disturbingly alien and fascinating.

Season One saw Hartnell at his sternest and understandably so having to cope with that miserable walking hankie Susan. I think secretly he was waiting for her to make doe eyes at some bloke so he could lock her out sooner. In reality, Carole Ann Ford's departure reportedly rocked Hartnell considerably and saw the birth of the brand new nutty Professor Doctor, an adorable and charming character who enveloped his fellow travelers with a sense of security and warmth. This is the first Doctor I remember (season one really highlights Ian and Barbara) and he's just ace. The Web Planet sees this new Doctor as crazy as he was rude last year. The first episode is vintage Hartnell, giggling at his own cleverness, concerned about the ship but eager to explore and thrilled once he is at large on Vortis. Some of Hartnell's lines ("I say Chesterton! What you doing over there! Come over here and learn something!", "No pigeons" and even better "We nearly had the remains of a Coal Hill school teacher instead of this wretched old, ragged old tie!") are priceless. His chemistry with Russell and Hill is just gorgeous now ("Doctor the humming's stopped!" "Oh my dear, I'm so glad you're feeling better!" "Not me!") and, three stories in, the Doctor and Vicki are a far more formidable combination that the Doctor and his granddaughter. Hartnell manages to make those bizarre tube conversations with the Animus urgent and real.

Ian and Barbara are just wonderful, aren't they? I don't really care what they are doing; Hill and Russell manage to make it look believable and, more importantly, enjoyable. Whilst the Doctor is chuckling and aghast with wonder, it is left to Ian and Barbara to remind us how alien and terrifying this planet is. Ian's cautious attitude in episode one is commendable and Barbara's possession scares because for once the malignant influence has extended into the safety of the TARDIS and snatched one of our characters out. Vicki's reaction to the out-of-control TARDIS is very believable, not only because she is a freshman but the very idea of the TARDIS being dragged across the surface of Vortis, an evil force drawing it in, is psychologically very creepy. I love Ian's adventures underground exploring beautiful metaphors and Barbara's baiting of Hillio; the way she pulls the drippy Menoptera forces into action once again proves why she was without doubt the best of the original companions.

Maureen O'Brien is spot on in the documentary on the DVD: the ideas in this story are truly innovative. A nasty cancerous evil at the heart of a planet, influencing everything on the surface, drawing all the hate from the planet from its blood stream (the acid pools). It's striking and the fact that the Zarbi and Venom Grubs turns docile after the Animus is destroyed reveals just how powerful its influence was.

Where this story fails is in its attempts to make the action dynamic. If I'm honest, I did chuckle a couple of times during its six episodes but mostly when the director jettisons his ideals to explore this alien world and attempt a full-blooded ants versus moths war. Martin did not have the technology, the resources, the time or the skill to pull this off as an action movie with any kind of success. What you get is the Menoptra practically standing still so the Venom Grubs can shoot them, the Zarbi being manhandled off their feet and the Venom Grubs being picked up and squished against the walls. The action looks stilted, it's deathly slow in places and the shots of running Zarbi are enough to make you laugh yourself silly. If it were my choice I would have cut this down to four episodes, snipped out most of the action sequences and just went for making this a far more psychological threat. The phallic protrubence that spits cobwebs over the Doctor and Vicki is far more effective than watching the Menoptra screaming "ZAAAARRRBBBBBIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" I admire the moments where Martin attempts to pan across the action but the action itself is awkward.

Simon always amazes me when he watches Doctor Who. He loves the New Series, but then he adores flashy, fast-moving television. I can never anticipate what his reaction will be to classic stories which is what makes us watching the show together so enjoyable. He hates anything with McCoy and Aldred (season 26 is possibly his least favourite!) and yet he loved Remembrance of the Daleks. He can't stand anything Davison. He loved The Claws of Axos and The Gunfighters. He adores all of the fourth Doctor's companions. He fancies Jamie, but Ben doesn't register. He fell asleep during Androzani but wanted to watch all of season sixteen. Colin Baker makes him laugh, but for all the right reasons. Peri makes him groan. He wonders why we ever climbed out of the primordial slime if creatures such as Tegan could be created. He can still say "England's peerless premier Professor of Pathology!" and "I would have propelled him onto the pavement with a punt up the posterior!" despite the fact we last watched Talons of Weng-Chiang eight years ago. A couple of nights this week he has been ironing (shudder) and happy to watch episodes of The Web Planet with me. He has been doing the funny Menoptra hand signals every time he asks me if I want a cuppa. He thinks Hartnell is the Doctor Who so adores his "hairdryer" line. He snaps at Vicki, saying he doesn't want her to end up like Susan. He laughs at the Venom Grub who walks across the stage with human legs visible underneath. He loves the madness of it all. He thinks The Web Planet is an example of quintessential Doctor Who because it is brave, insane, slightly embarrassing but proud. I am marrying this man next month and he is always reminding me why.

I want more people to give The Web Planet a chance. It wants to be a stunning tour de force of weirdness and it has a good stab at it. Every five minutes something silly happens but equally every five minutes something strange and fresh and wonderful happens. It is sheer insanity from beginning to end but then that's Doctor Who for you. Brilliant, poetic, shocking and imaginative on the one hand, childish, creaky, slow and under-resourced on the other. Six episodes of schizophrenic heaven.

Justice for Zarbis!


A Review by Finn Clark 19/6/06

I love The Web Planet. As a child I loved it when it was a novelisation by Bill Strutton and today I love my Hartnellicious DVD. It's uniquely ambitious and a lot of fun, so long as you don't do anything silly like trying to watch all six episodes at a single sitting. I don't even understand how anyone could have a problem with the production side of this story. The visuals are what's so great about it! It's bold, insane and doing nothing by halves.

Take the giant ants. Imagine another story trying to do giant ants, like The Dalek Invasion of Earth with its Slyther or The Ribos Operation with its Shrivenzale. Imagine the pain. The Zarbi may not be naturalistic but they have screen presence, helped enormously by the fact that they don't talk. The designers didn't have to make synchronised mouthparts or anything like that. Instead the forelegs twitch. Besides, their chirping's atmospheric. It's a shame about the legs (see also the Magma Beast in Caves of Androzani), but in upper-body shots they're genuinely good costumes. Compared with other early monsters like the Monoids, the Sand Beast or the Slyther, they're practically Industrial Light and Magic. Another thing we never saw again in Doctor Who is winged aliens! The Menoptera fly! Today the CGI boys would would tie themselves in knots trying to make the flying look convincing, whereas in those carefree days they just whisked the actors away on Kirby wires and it looked great.

The Zarbi are just one of five different kinds of Halloween costume... I mean insect life on Vortis and I love them all. What makes it great is the ambition that obviously went into creating this alien world. I'm talking about the subtleties... (a) the echo effect on everyone's voices when they're outdoors, (b) the Menoptera mispronuncing English names, (c) the bizarre but brave attempts at invertebrate physicality, with a credit for Roslyn de Winter under "Insect Movement". Watching The Web Planet is like going to the ballet. There's nothing naturalistic about Vortis, but so what? The same's true of ballet and that's beautiful too. Everything's so alien. It's obviously all filmed on a studio set, but even this works for me as part of the story's level of unreality. Imagine filming these butterfly costumes in a quarry. You also couldn't have done this in colour, unless perhaps you went berserk in a sixties pop art way and Barbarella-ed it up. In black and white it's like abstract art. It's spooky. Damn, I love this era.

I've hardly even started on the imaginative visuals. I love the eerie Vaseline flare effect on the camera lenses. I love the inter-species confrontations, with insect-like hissing, surreal taunting and a terrific Zarbi-Menoptera battle in part two. The Optera are titans of TV entertainment, but they've also carefully been given different body language and voices from their flying cousins. They're gravelly, not sing-song. Their dialogue is sometimes almost poetic. And is this the only planet in the TV show, not counting the moon, with an atmosphere significantly unlike Earth's?

Episode one is spooky. It's playing with haunted house stuff like disappearing pens, the TARDIS's strange behaviour and Barbara's hypnotised arm. This all works really well, just as The Sensorites part one is a lovely horror movie. That first cliffhanger must have been terrifying too. The TARDIS has dematerialised? Bloody hell! Our heroes are stranded! Part five's cliffhanger is weird and creepy too.

Meanwhile the Doctor's mad as a coot. He can't wait to get out and explore this strange new planet. Hartnell's magnificent throughout in fact, with lots of fun bits. I love his pantomimed sign language to the Zarbi in part two, then his later chit-chats under the hairdryer. It's great to see the manipulative old bastard tie the Animus in knots in part four. Hartnell's really on form here, focused and hardly fluffing at all. You can see him thinking and working everything out in a way later Doctors often didn't get time for.

However of course it's not just the Hartnell show. This being the glory days of the Ian and Barbara era, dribble-worthy moments aren't reserved for the Doctor alone. I'd like to remind the world that Jacqueline Hill remains the only companion to return to Doctor Who years later in another role. How many companions were still in the business sixteen years later, mmmm? Some, but not all. It's called "talent". There's also an interesting point with Vicki, who invents the nickname Zombo and has an unbelievable line to the Doctor: "I've told you before not to judge by appearances." Naming aliens is a running quirk of hers, also seen in Galaxy 4, but it's rooted in her backstory. Think back to The Rescue. This is an orphan whose only real friend on the planet Dido was a gigantic sand beast. I think we can safely say that Vicki isn't uncomfortable with aliens, and particularly alien monsters.

I love the fact that the Animus has a woman's voice. It's a great monster, incidentally. The idea of the Menoptera being drawn to the light like moths makes intuitive sense, even if the underlying reason is obviously different.

This story is a tour de force of heightened reality. It's like a fairy tale. The TARDIS lands at the bottom of your garden and kicks arse with the ants and butterflies. Buglife! Larvae guns! The crap visuals aren't careless dated shit, but the fruits of the most deranged imaginations in sixties television. There's a difference. Get into the right frame of mind and even a Zarbi hitting the camera is a highlight of the production. If you do it right, The Web Planet will take you to a mental place beyond that of any other Doctor Who story. It's not intellectual. The Ark in Space took more interest in the horror of insect life (e.g. implanted eggs, metamorphosis), but that story did it the normal way around. Aliens invade the human world. In contrast, The Web Planet thrusts our heroes into a completely realised world that might as well be three inches tall. Put it this way. Which would you rather watch: the Hartnell production team pulling out all the stops or six episodes of Star Trek bumpy foreheads? This story rocks. Simple as that.


A Review by Bob Brodman 18/12/06

The Web Planet is an imaginative and ambitious attempt to create an alien world run by insects. The moth-like Menoptera are trying to reclaim the planet that is being controlled by the ant-like Zarbi under the influence of the evil Animus. The plot devise is typical for early Hartnell stories. The TARDIS crew lands, then becomes separated, then the TARDIS is stolen, then the Doctor and his companions help the good guys triumph, then they reunite and retrieve the TARDIS and leave. However, there are a number of interesting ideas: a totally alien world without any humanoid inhabitants or visitors (other than the TARDIS crew), the evolution of intelligent insects, and the ability of the Animus/Zarbi to control gold objects and those in contact with gold. I also liked the attempt to give the Menoptera insect-like movements.

The story suffers from too much padding and too little story to sustain all 6 episodes, but the novel ideas make it worth viewing. There is one biological problem with the Menoptera and Zarbi. Giant insects and insect-like creatures existed on prehistoric earth only during periods when the oxygen levels in the atmosphere were about 50% greater than our current levels. The reason is that the insect respiratory system is very effective at small sizes but not efficient at larger sizes. Increased oxygen levels allow them to overcome this problem that normally limits the size of insects. The problem is that the alien planet has a thinner atmosphere than earth, so large insect-like life wouldn't be possible.

Visually The Web Planet looks like a high-school play. The sets, Menoptera costumes, the Zarbi (plastic ants with human hind-legs), and Zarbi larvae are awful and look amateurish. Some reviewers say that it was quite good for 1965 but it just doesn't hold up 42 years later. I disagree because the visuals do not hold up to productions from the 1950s and 1960s. Alien insects with good visuals were seen in Them, First Men in the Moon, and the Outer Limits episode The Zanti Misfits. It isn't just the low-budget special effect that let the production down. Scenes set in the atmosphere of the alien world were shot with special filters that were smeared with Vaseline. This made the camera lenses distort the images with the intention to show that the alien atmosphere was different from earth. I understood this only after I watched the documentary that accompanies the DVD. Although I like the reason that they did this I just think that it looks like bad filming.

The Web Planet is probably the most ambitious of the Hartnell years. But the comical costumes and props make this story primarily of interest to longtime fans who really want to see every existing episode. If this was the first 6 episodes of Doctor Who that someone watched, then it is likely that it would their last. It is interesting to note that the viewing audience in Britain peaked during the early episodes of The Web Planet and then dropped throughout the 6 episodes. The audience for Doctor Who was never this high again until a decade later. The storyline is imaginative and interesting enough to make The Web Planet a great candidate to be redone with post-Jurassic Park CGI effects.

2 out of 4.


A Night at the Optera by Liz Rawlings 21/3/07

First, hurrah! There are no soapy subplots here, no modern moral dubiety, no smug postmodern complexity - just a group of friends on an outing and a "Boy's Own" storyline. Those were the days. The Doctor is mysterious and irascible, more concerned that he might lose his ring than wishing to receive the thanks of the people whose planet he's saved. Ian and Barbara get their own mini-adventures, Ian showing a healthy sense of proportion by grumping about losing his old school tie while Barbara is the role model we expect, rallying the troops and planning an invasion. And Vicki is the Doctor's sidekick, in case he needs someone to explain things to or hold his walking stick.

At 6 episodes, this story is a tad long and drawn out from a modern perspective; or rather, from the perspective of watching the whole thing in quick succession. (But the video library would have made us pay lots more if we'd tried to watch it over 6 weeks, as broadcast.) Also, of course, it would have been better to have been 8 years old, and to have watched it as part of an ongoing saga that was simply part of your life, and to be able to imagine oneself on an alien world so completely that one didn't notice the strings or the actors' legs. And to have had no idea that the series would last another 40 years, or that William Hartnell wouldn't always be the Doctor...

However.

However, the first episode was marvellously atmospheric, and gave the feeling that this really was an alien planet, complete with acid pools, numerous moons, a lunar surface, and some sort of prism effect on the camera lens. And mysterious happenings - eerie noises, vanishing pens, people being controlled by their bracelets - and, of course, a disappearing TARDIS.

I was surprised that the Zarbi (effectively giant ants, although evolution took a different turn on Vortis and they ended up with only two legs) were actually relatively convincing, in that you could easily forget there was a person inside (as you do most of the time with the Daleks). They only made weird sounds, which emphasised their alienness - one of the few species in the cosmos not susceptible to the TARDIS's "telepathic translator", apparently. The Larvae Guns, huge animated hairbrushes with glowing eyes and very long noses, were similarly quite convincing, given the limitations. The Menoptera and the "jumping bugs" were less good, inevitably, since they had to communicate with our heroes, which made their "human side" more obvious. It would have been better if they'd hidden their all-to-human looking mouths somehow. In an attempt to increase their alienness, they used flowing gestures and a sort of dominance display where they hissed at each other, but this just tended to highlight their inadequacies. The jumping bugs looked particularly silly in this respect.

The Zarbi were quite menacing in their appearance and behaviour, and the fact that you couldn't talk to them. Just a force to be escaped or fought - reminiscent of the Yeti in that respect.

The Menoptera failed to convince as a fighting force, being on a par with the Thals in the first Dalek story, but with less justification, since they were allegedly the advanced force for an invasion rather than wandering farmers. (Although they were supposed to have been forced into war reluctantly, so perhaps that was intentional.)

And they were, apparently, only armed with one weapon. Just one. It was called an "isoptope," and seemed to do them little good most of the time. It was supposed to destroy the Animus, the creature that had taken control of Vortis, although I'm not sure how they knew what would destroy it. (But then how would the Animus know how to devise things like giant wishbones capable of controlling people when put round their necks?) There was some confusing stuff about "aiming for the dark side" when the isotope finally came to be used on the Animus, and exactly how it was defeated was obscure. The gun obviously worked, but maybe not as expected.

(There were a few bits of dodgy science, e.g. how the Menoptera managed to fly in the allegedly thin atmosphere ... but anyone who expects real science needs their neutron polarity reversed. As Stephen Moffatt would say, "it's only Doctor Who").

It was also a straightforward adventure involving goodies and baddies (hurrah!). Or a baddie, to be exact, who spends most of the story communicating via something akin to Get Smart's cone of silence. Originally, Vortis was a sort of hippie paradise, full of butterflies frolicking amongst the flowers; only the Animus' evil influence turned everything to custard. A plot that some may recognise from the Bible, or Lord of the Rings, of course, and which in modern times might seem a wee bit lacking in depth.

The story was at best average for televised SF of the era, especially if we ignore Quatermass and the Twilight Zone and so on. I suppose it rather cuts down on the story possibilities when the putative villains are restricted to speaking in high-pitched twittering noises. But The Web Planet was obviously intended to rest mainly on its creation of an alien world. It would have been better in this regard with a huge budget, of course, but I don't think this is the main weakness - the story is too thin, drawn out over too many episodes, the dialogue is rather pedestrian, the (alien) characters rather childishly drawn. In fact, I'd say this story relies too much on special effects - which may strike some viewers of the modern series as a familiar complaint!

However, my 8-year-old son, who I was half expecting to be scornful, enjoyed it; and he's been watching new Who, too, so obviously dodgy scenery and so on doesn't make much impression on him. (Although it isn't his all-time favourite Doctor Who story. That's The Chase...)


"ZAAAAARBI-I-I! by Hugh Sturgess 4/3/11

It must have been in an act of thoughtless bravado that Verity Lambert looked at this script, with its cast of anthropomorphic insects, desolate lunar landscapes and the massacre of thousands of giant butterflies by living artillery in an airborne invasion gone horribly wrong, and said "yeah, that looks doable". In almost any other era of the series, the author of a script this potentially expensive and completely unfeasible would have received a (reasonably) polite reply from the script department like: "What the hell is this? Are you on drugs?" Here, Bill Strutton got a reply more like: "You bet!" It is appropriate that this story was the most watched of the 1960s (13 million viewers, if I recall correctly), as it represents a series at its most confident (over-confident, even); there's no feeling that this was considered a risk by the production team (the actors, less so...). No matter the logistical restraints of the programme and its budget, every element of the script is dealt with in an atmosphere of "can do". Bravado is definitely the word.

What's most impressive is that it is a success. There are a lot of people on this page who would disagree with me, but I remain firm in my commitment to the greatness of this story. It neither looks nor sounds as good as The Romans before it or The Crusade after it, but... well, what did you expect? The BBC loves costume dramas and hates stories set in space. Look at the attention lavished on The Aztecs and the utter lack of it on The Sensorites. The Web Planet asks more of the production team than any other show of the '60s (possibly, in proportion, the '70s until the similarly 'brave' Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Any (genuine) problems aren't with the design, for instance, or even the acting (bizarre though it is), but rather the lacklustre direction (whoever kept hiring Richard Martin, the show's most incompetent director, has a sick sense of humour) and limitations in the story and dialogue. I'm not going to say that the Zarbi look terribly real or threatening, or that the Zarbi vs. Menoptra action scenes are anything but limp, but the ingenious design, the acting and indeed the strength of the story-world allow the production to fly over these problems with sheer charm.

I simply can't agree with all the people on this page who describe it as a woeful failure, as boring, as stupid, and so on. I went into it expecting to hold a desperate pity for it and an anger at the heartless people who forced this episode to be made. Instead, it's delightfully charming. I wouldn't say that it succeeded with a capital S, but if it aims high and doesn't reach its goal then that's better than (say) being like any of a dozen Troughton stories and have your goal at such a subterranean level that it takes an act of God not to reach it. If it seems like I'm going on about the ambition of this story, then it's because it's a miracle anyone ever thought they could achieve it. Seriously, the budget of Doctor Who at this stage was probably worth less than the low-quality paper it was crudely printed on. It's amazing that this story looks half as good as it does.

Out of all the story's creatures, the Zarbi come off worst. The primary problem is the legs, but apart from those they're genuinely effective designs. The mottled eyes are particularly atmospheric, and made me image a multi-million-dollar version of this story, with designs by H. R. Giger. Ultimately, I don't have a damn problem with the Zarbi. If you've got a problem with them... well, have you seen half the monsters from this era of the show? Sensorites, Voord, Monoids, Slythers, Mire Beasts... The Zarbi look no worse than any of these, and better than most of them. Surely we're mature enough to allow a suspension of disbelief?

The Menoptra come away with the gold here. I love them to bits, from their transparent, segmented wings to their painted faces, to the fluffy bands around their body and legs. The Optera are a nice variation on them, though the two vestigial arms above their real ones are unfortunately tacky. What's most clear is that the actors inside the costumes have put a huge amount of effort into making the two species seem real. They mispronounce human names (Vrestyn calls Ian "Hair-On" throughout) and Roslyn de Winter must have put a lot of work into her role as Insect Movement co-ordinator. The bizarre hand gestures, hissing and tongue movements probably aren't a success, but I think more of them for trying. Rather than just going the easy route and imagining that they're just ordinary humans (which might've allowed them to get a stronger grip on their roles), the Menoptra and Optera actors have tried to create a genuinely alien physicality. A decent bit of thought has gone into the Optera, with they recurring meme of "mouths" (a wall is "silent" until they break "mouths" in it to "speak light"), though their delivery, while fine in itself, unfortunately reminded me of Gary Russell's diabolical performance as a Pakhar in He Jests at Scars... Incidentally, I love Martin Jarvis's character, especially when he is required to wail "ZAAAAARBI-I-I!" again and again at a man dressed as an ant. Apparently, Verity Lambert tempted him into the role of Hillio by explaining that he would be playing a troubled prince revenging the overthrow of his father. The whole "being an insect" thing wasn't mentioned.

As for their airborne assault on the Isop Plateau in Episode Four, the most astonishing thing about it is that it works. Obviously there needed to be more of Menoptra, descending on the set by the half-a-dozen, and maybe a lovely wide-shot of them flapping in front of the moon-filled, craggy panorama. But heck, it's amazing how good they look as they whiz out of the air on kirby wires. The Menoptra invasion is a good example of this story's ability, like all the best '60s stories, to play out a heightened, unlimited-budget version of the story inside your head. A much wider story-world is built up through the dialogue and little snatches of action. The giant Carcinome, the Menoptra invasion force, the moon of Pictos... Russell T. Davies wanted to emulate the '60s stories in Parting of the Ways (cue angry Ron Mallett response here), when all sorts of impossible things could be included in the story, created out of the dialogue and the audience's imagination. The low quality of the recording I have of this story, a crackly old tape rather than a shiny DVD, helps a lot, since it is a bit like trying to see a blob in a snowstorm, so you have to employ your imagination to fill in the gaps. It also makes it seem a bit spooky, a ghostly half-world for Our Heroes to wander around in.

This story was directed by Richard Martin, which many may regard as the kiss of death, though obviously not Verity Lambert, since she commissioned him for both The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and then The Chase after this. So she looked at this completely unachievable insect extravaganza and thought "Richard could do that!" Was she on a suicide mission? Or did she think he really could do anything? From the production itself, I think the latter was borne out more than the former. But all the classics of a Martin production are showcased here, most notably the use of ambient studio noise to build up suspense: doors opening and closing, the squeal of the venom grubs' rubber wheels as they roll across the floor, and so on. Seriously, Martin must have had no idea what directing a film or television production entailed. What you can see in this work and not his other offerings is a Zarbi run headlong into the camera, resulting in a good look at the studio ceiling. Nothing in The Chase approaches this level of incompetence, and what is strangest of all is that the scene that contains the collision is about fifteen seconds long and has no connection to anything else in the story, or, indeed, to anything else at all. It seems to exist solely to show off Martin's ability to break the fourth wall by physical force. Whoever looked at that and thought it was of broadcastable standard needed their head examined.

In most of the discussions of this story, the script seems to get buried beneath slagging off/defending the design work. Which is a shame, since it's a strong story with a lot of great concepts, most of which aren't capitalised on as well as they could be. While at times there's the distinct implication that Bill Strutton hasn't gone anywhere near the series (most notably in the Doctor's annoying announcement that they are "peaceful travellers, from Earth!"), at others it's as though he's looked at the format and decided to mix it up a bit. Look at the way the script is trying to raise the stakes above normal, right from the start. The Animus is the first force in the Whoniverse to affect the TARDIS, dragging it out of the Vortex (or "astral plane") in mid-flight. The ending to Episode One, which sets up the idea that the TARDIS has dematerialised and left the Doctor and Ian behind (David Barnes above seems to believe that a minor sound fault with his recording of the cliffhanger warrants its sequestration as a leper), is the result of a clear bit of thinking about the series' format: unlike the colour era, even if Vicki knew how to pilot the TARDIS, she wouldn't be able to steer it. The Animus is depicted as a different kind of villain than usual; while we've become used to disembodied, super-powerful entities at the heart of a web (primarily because the Great Intelligence is identical, with the word 'Zarbi' only occasionally replaced by 'Yeti'), at this stage the Animus is unique, and the weird juxtaposition between the bizarre part-spider, part-jellyfish, part-omelette physical form of the Animus and its husky female voice is genuinely effective. She/it is clear very powerful: the Doctor seems to believe that one of the Animus's wall-mounted weapons could destroy the TARDIS if the Ship's defences were down.

I am disappointed they didn't push the idea of the Animus as ancient, clever and powerful a bit more. Despite dragging the TARDIS down to Vortis, it seems to think that the Doctor and chums are Menoptra (?!). Oh, what I would have given for the Animus to know a lot about the Doctor and his as-yet unnamed people. It couldn't have happened for very fundamental reasons, I know, but a whispered "Time Lord!" as the Animus drains his life-force would have been superb.

And speaking of the Doctor, is he on drugs in this story? For some reason, he finds everything in Episode One hilarious. Their loss of power, the opening of the door, some mica, pools of acid, the destruction of Ian's tie - all provoke hysterical giggles. Eventually he settles down, and he spends much of the rest of the story indulging in some quality deception of the Animus. I even enjoyed the use of his ring, which is another example of Strutton looking at the set-up of the series and wondering what he can do with it. Yes, it's used as something of a deus ex machina, but since his ring is a generally mysterious artefact throughout the first Doctor's life I thought it counted as just "characterisation", I guess. The fanboy side of me looked at its ability to give a bit of power to the TARDIS (to open the doors) and the Doctor's obvious reluctance to part with it and noted how the second Doctor can't get rid of it fast enough in Power of the Daleks - some kind of store of artron energy to help during his first regeneration? In fact, this story, despite all this "Earth scientist called the Doctor" nonsense (something the script editor really should have picked up on), is very good for the mystery of the Doctor and the TARDIS. The energy of the TARDIS is set up as equal and opposite to that of the Animus, which made me wonder about the origins and properties of the Animus as suggested in the New Adventures. However, I remain bewildered as to why or how that transmission from the Menoptra invasion force is randomly played in Episode Four.

And unfortunately the story just sort of... stops. Vicki leaves the Isop-Tope in the astral map when they are taken to the Centre, which leads me to wonder why the hell she did that, since getting it to the Centre is their primary aim, and Barbara picks it up and takes it along with her. She activates it but cries out "It doesn't work!" The Animus smugly announces that she doesn't have the power, but then deflates and dies. WTF? Did the Isop-Tope work? I'm assuming that Barbara's plaintive cries of failure are just nerves, but the scene is so poorly executed that it just looks like the author wanted one more dramatic twist but then realised that he had no other way to resolve the story. I personally blame Richard Martin. Apparently he didn't like Doctor Who. If so, he's even more of an idiot, since if I was given this show to make, I could have made it much more of a disaster.

In short, this is a charming and impressive story from Doctor Who's most experimental and daring era. Even with the boldness of the stories around it, it's still stands out as something extraordinary. It's not remotely playing it safe and hasn't spared a thought for whether it's achievable or not. I'm not going to say that it's my favourite Hartnell by a long shot, and it's far from perfect, but it's a remarkable piece of television history and is, in its own goofy way, unforgettable.


No Pigeons by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 3/4/12

Oh yes, very controversial this one.

Say what you will about The Web Planet, it certainly has lofty ambitions. There's no other Doctor Who story like it and for that we should be extremely grateful. It may not be perfect - far from it in fact - but it aims to be its own entity, something that could stand apart from all other previous stories. On these grounds, you just can't touch it and you have to give the production team credit for having the balls to attempt something like this. It's unique and nothing quite like this was ever attempted again in Doctor Who. Unfortunately, its uniqueness has made it the target of derision and scorn in some quarters. I fail to understand how in a season which features The Chase, The Web Planet can be considered the compost heap. The Chase is an almighty piss take of the Daleks and nobody therein is taking the proceedings remotely seriously. The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth went to great lengths establishing the Daleks as a genuinely sinister and threatening race. The Chase turns all that on its head and decides to use them for comedy value. Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg...

It's important to remember that this is very much a product of 1960's television. Some Doctor Who stories have dated much more so than others and it's fair to say that The Web Planet has dated very badly indeed. The lazy people who criticise Doctor Who always lay into its effects and low-budget production, conveniently forgetting that many Doctor Who stories were made years ago, when such things as 'special effects' didn't really exist as such in British television. To them, a story such as this would be a sitting target, justifying everything that they think about the show. There are certain aspects of The Web Planet which are quite shoddy and really could have been done better or at the very least glossed over if Richard Martin had been on the ball a bit more. He just has no sense of finesse or artistry as a director; everything is shot in a bland, functional way. I think The Web Planet would have always been on shaky ground regardless of who was directing it, but even so a director with much more of an artistic eye would have improved things immensely. The various fight sequences are possibly the worst expression of this as they come across as being horrendously stagey. It does make me cringe at times and I certainly wouldn't want to show this one to a non-fan. Stories based around oversized arthropods have always been a bit risky e.g. The Macra Terror and Planet of the Spiders. The Web Planet, however, is really in a league all of its own. This is a story set on a completely alien world where all the guest cast are giant insects. Doctor Who has always been adept at inserting the monstrous and the alien into everyday life but here it takes the opposite approach and presents something which is so utterly 'other'. The humans are effectively the aliens in this.

Vortis is rather effectively realised, if a little stagey. The barren, bleak look is extremely appealing if you can suspend your disbelief and get past the sometimes less than convincing backdrop. Try and see it for what it is supposed to be: an endless lunar surface stretching off into infinity. I think what lets it down the most is Richard Martin's direction. The creaks and shadows could have been easily removed and/or avoided if he'd had his heart in it at all. A story such as this one needs a director who genuinely cares about it in order to pull it off successfully and unfortunately that wasn't what The Web Planet got.

Regardless of its shortcomings, I still find it to be charmingly effective at conveying an impression of another world. The special filter effect (Vaseline?) that they use on the camera lenses lends everything a somewhat spectral quality, almost dreamlike. As with that other generally unappreciated story, Underworld, the first episode is probably the best, with an palpable sense of mystery and unease. Things actually get quite creepy especially when the TARDIS loses power and the chirruping of the Zarbi is heard in the console room; it reminds me of certain scenes from Quatermass and the Pit. As Death to the Daleks is one of my favourites (don't look at me like that), any story which begins with the TARDIS losing power and being dragged down to a barren planet is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Barbara being dragged out of the TARDIS by her bracelet is rather creepy and effective, as is the Animus' telepathic attack on the ship, sending everything haywire and causing the console to spin. The Atmospheric Density Anoraks that the Doctor and Ian wear in the first episode are obviously supposed to be an attempt at futuristic life support gear, but they come across as comical more than anything else. Nice touch though that the Doctor wears a white hat in these sequences to match the Anoraks. Good sense of colour co-ordination there methinks...

Character-wise, this is actually quite a strong story and everyone involved is clearly putting in a lot of effort. Okay, so William Russell does seem somewhat bored and/or stroppy in parts, but he still puts in a very good performance. William Hartnell is on top form, as ever. Some people have criticised his performance in this story, suggesting that he is on autopilot and merely going through the motions, but I disagree. His characteristic touches of humour and playfulness are on display, as is his irascibility and superiority. I especially like how he refers to the Animus' communication device as a hairdryer. He manages to continually get the better of the Animus through his wits alone and it's only in the final episode that he comes unstuck with the creature. For some reason, he's horrendously giggly in the first episode and his comic touches ("no pigeons") are very enjoyable. He doesn't seem at all worried by the circumstances in which they find themselves and is a million miles away from the grumpy anti-hero of An Unearthly Child. He fluffs his lines quite a bit, but then you could argue that it's entirely in character and therefore wholly acceptable. He gets to spend a large amount of time with Vicki in this one and they work well together. He's very protective of her, just as he was with Susan, although she's a much more interesting character. Vicki can be quite drippy at times, but I'd rather watch her than Susan any day. She has far more charm and is also much less whiny. William Hartnell and Maureen O'Brien have obviously established a good rapport with one another by this point. It's a nice touch how she takes to the captured Zarbi and names him Zombo, obviously a reference to how she adopted the ill-fated Sand Creature in The Rescue.

Jacqueline Hill is really very good in this one. She reacts calmly to the Menoptera when she regains her senses in episode two. There is no screaming or hysterics, only calm enquiry and level-headedness which is probably a lot more than you'd be able to say for Jo Grant's reaction in the same circumstances. She later displays her canny grasp of military tactics by practically directing the Menoptera's attack on the Carcinome. She also has some lovely material with Maureen O'Brien in episode one when Vicki describes how 20th century medicine is primitive, giving us an interesting glimpse into her own time.

The inhabitants of Vortis are certainly an unusual bunch. The Zarbi are essentially giant ants. The fact that they are men in ant costumes is inescapable, yet they remain strangely effective. I think that the constant chirruping noise that they make has a strangely soothing sound; it becomes a kind of beguiling background ambience. They are rather more cute and adorable than menacing, but they work quite effectively within the parameters of the story. They also provide one of the series' most memorable fuck ups when one of them runs headlong into a camera in episode 3. The Larvae Guns suffer from the same problem in that they are cuter than they are menacing. So much so in fact that I want one as a pet. There is an hilarious moment towards the end of episode 3 when one of them goes careering across the rocks of Vortis like it hasn't a care in the world. Especially noteworthy is a scene in episode 4 (I think) when one of the Menoptera in the Crater of Needles splats one of them against the rock face.

Which me brings me soundly to the Menoptera themselves. They are intended to be our identification with what passes as normal on Vortis, but because this is so far removed from what we think of as normal and also because the story hasn't dated all that well, quite how you view the Menoptera will depend largely on how far you can suspend your disbelief. On the plus side, they aren't just another race of faceless aliens with barely a scrap of personality or character to distinguish one from the other. We've all seen where that approach leads and it's called The Sensorites. It might work when the aliens are supposed to be the villains, but when they're actually the good guys I think that giving them distinct identities is a far more sensible idea. Here the Menoptera are all portrayed as individuals, a noble, elegant race who desperately want their planet back. Unfortunately, all that bizarre posturing and gesticulating seems a little too choreographed at times and just downright silly at others. It's very elegant, almost balletic, but it just doesn't always work. Roslyn de Winter really does a wonderful job as Vrestin and she manages to achieve great rapport with Ian, forever referring to him as 'Heron'. This is actually a very nice little touch: it emphasises her alien quality and suggests that maybe she just can't get her tongue (proboscis?) around the word 'Ian'. I'm fairly certain that some of the other Menoptera do a similar thing with Barbara's name, referring to her instead as 'Arbara'. By the end of the story, there's even a sense that Vrestin will miss Ian when she asks him if he will ever return to Vortis. That mask completely obscures most of her face, yet she still manages to bring the character completely and utterly to life. This is also the first of Martin Jarvis' appearances in Doctor Who and he does a nice turn as the somewhat uptight Captain Hilio. The scenes of the Menoptera flying actually work quite well although sometimes the wires holding them up are visible. I think the take-off scenes are actually much better; they're really quite impressive, all things considered. Their costumes are a little on the cuddly side, but then if you're going to have a load of actors dressed up as butterflies then what do you expect? In fairness, they could have been a lot worse than they actually are.

The Optera are the creatures that I have the biggest problem with. As with the Menoptera, they're an attempt to create a heavily stylised insect culture, something a very great distance from what we might recognise as normal. As with the Menoptera, the result is distinctly hit and miss. Their gravelly, hard-edged voices are quite effective sometimes and they make a nice contrast to the smooth, velvety tones of the Menoptera, but some of the dialogue they they have to spout isn't exactly scintillating. Their costumes definitely err on the silly side of things and, although the Menoptera costumes aren't perfect, they are sublime compared to the Optera costumes. The constant hopping around also gets very tiresome very quickly. The concept of what they are as creatures is quite interesting, but unfortunately the execution is not to my taste. The final scene with the Optera are hopping around manically and exclaiming that 'light is good' makes me cringe. God knows how William Russell kept a straight face...

The Animus is a fascinating creature and manages to be a worthy adversary right up until the final episode, when it makes the fatal mistake of inviting everyone into its inner sanctum. I particularly like how the New Adventures have made reference to the Great Old Ones and tied the Animus in with them. It can now happily rub shoulders with the Great Intelligence, Fenric and Shub-Niggurath (the ancestor of the Nestenes apparently...). It has a wonderfully seductive female voice, laced with a subtle sinister quality. If they ever decide to bring the Animus back in the new series, then I think that they should get Joanna Lumley to do the voice. The Carcinome is essentially the web of the story's title. It's described by the characters as if it's some kind of cancer, a fact which is reinforced by it's name. I really like the idea of the thing spreading slowly across the planet like an invading growth, slowly polluting and corrupting everything. The scene at the Crater of Needles explains how the Carcinome has extended it roots throughout the earth in order to draw all the nourishment it can from Vortis and continue growing. The Zarbi HQ is therefore and organic building, a living thing in a sense, themes later explored in The Claws of Axos and Terror of the Zygons. I think the Animus actually looks quite good. Okay, so it's somewhat immobile and flimsy-looking, but if you can get past that I think it has a visual quality which is quite effective. The destruction of the creature is a little limp and rushed though. It also seems somewhat confused, as at first the cell destructor appears not to work and then all of sudden the Animus crumples. It doesn't help that this scene is played without music, a fact which robs it of much of its drama. Once again I think we can put this down to Richard Martin.

There was no explanation for how the Animus can control things which are made of gold. It's suggested that gold is the symbol of power on Vortis, but exactly how that gives the Animus control over it is never explained. For me, it smacks far too much of mysticism, which is not what this show is about. Doctor Who has always held science up as sacred, as the be-all and end-all. Not explaining how the Animus controls gold seems like lazy writing and shoddy script editing. The Web Planet is also fairly light on music and I think that this was a mistake. As a musician, I think that all directors should be aware of just how important music is to any film or television programme, a fact which seems to have escaped Richard Martin here.

There is a theme of the Snake in the Garden of Eden running through The Web Planet. The Menoptera describe Vortis as being a lush world of flowers and forests before the arrival of the Animus. Then the Carcinome began to grow and it corrupted everything including the Zarbi. Snakes have always been regarded as evil, mistrustful creatures throughout history. It's also interesting to consider that spiders have a similarly negative reputation and the Animus is distinctly spider-like. Vicki even refers to it as such.

There are some Doctor Who stories which are due for re-evaluation. To say that The Web Planet is one of them is being hopelessly naive. Most people just can't get past the dated, visual aspects of it. Simple as that. 95% of fandom will probably never regard it fondly and most will simply see it as an embarassment. Yet this is a story which should be admired for being so different. They had the guts to take a risk and attempt something new. It's far from being perfect, but it has a charm all of its own. It's so much more pure and honest than modern Doctor Who and isn't nearly as smug or self-satisfied. And, to be perfectly honest, if it comes down to a choice between The Web Planet and The Chase, I'll choose this any day.

Feverish, strangely dreamlike and woefully misunderstood.


Good except for all of the slow speeches by Yeaton Clifton 17/7/12

The Web Planet's story sees Barbara finding a way to destroy the Animus and the Doctor and Vick bungling as they play for time. The story is original and has an unusual appearance although the special effects are now very obviously cheap. I have no trouble forgiving the special effects in this story because it looks really strange and alien, and it is not that hard to forget how dated the special effects are. It is entertaining because it is a very unique story, but has some problems.

I have enjoyed watching this story through several times, but it always seems to make me drowsy. It seems much slower than most of season 2. In order to keep the story going for six episodes, there is a lot of dialogue, but the dialogue seems very forced, and makes us wish there was a car chase or sword fight to get people to stop talking. It really makes you wish that there were no such thing as an Optera. The Optera serve no function in the story and their costumes look very silly, even compared to the other alien costumes in this serial.

It is easy to imagine a better story where the dialog was lively enough to give us a sense of the various aliens as individuals, or imagine that it was cut down to an exciting three-part serial, but that did not happen. Then it would be nice to imagine that we could just somehow trade this story for missing parts of The Dalek's Master Plan, or even The Crusade, but the story just exists as it is. It seems that the story was popular at the time of broadcast, and it is now an integral part of season 2 that at least compares favorably with The Space Museum. So it can be fun watching Barbara save a planet, even if you have to work to forget that it is moving very slowly.

Recommended only for people who like me consider themselves fans of the first Doctor. 6/10