The Web Planet
Doctor Who and the Zarbi
|ISBN||0 426 1134 1|
|First Edition Target Cover||Chris Achilleos|
|Back cover blurb: DOCTOR WHO lands his space-time machine Tardis on the cold, craggy planet of Vortis. The Doctor and his companions, Ian and Vicki, are soon captured by the ZARBI, huge ant-like creatures with metallic bodies and pincer claws; meanwhile Barbara falls into the hands of the friendly MENOPTERA who have come to rid Vortis of the malevolent power of the ZARBI...|
Novelised by numbers by Tim Roll-Pickering 19/11/03
The television story The Web Planet was once hailed as an all time classic by fandom but then took a terrific nosedive in many fans' estimations after it was released on video. Before that time this novelisation, only the second ever written and widely available throughout the 1970s and 1980s, was for many fans their only way to experience the story. Whereas the televised story had many contributors, including a director who now admits he thought that the author couldn't write, the novelisation is a product of fewer people and might thus stand a better chance of reflecting Bill Strutton's original vision for the tale.
Unfortunately this book feels very much like a straightforward rendition of the scripts and little more. Each chapter covers an entire episode and uses the same title with one exception (the final episode goes from The Centre to Centre of Terror). Little effort has been made to rearrange the order of scenes or to show events that could not be shown on television for one reason or another, such as material with Barbara during Escape to Danger the third episode/chapter where on television Jacqueline Hill was on a week's holiday.
Strutton also declines the opportunity to flesh out the characters or the back story of Vortis. What we're left with feels very much like a description of the scenes on television with few alterations. Consequently the tediousness of the plot stands out, with Doctor Who and Vicki spending an eternity in the control room trying to foil the Voice, whilst Ian and Barbara both wander around Vortis with different Menoptera. Ian's entire segment of the story is ultimately redundant to the plot since the encounter with the pigmy-menoptera makes no real impact at all on the eventual outcome. The result is that the story fails to work as much on paper as on television.
Some of the names used may surprise modern readers. The space-time machine is called 'Tardis' not 'the TARDIS', the Menoptra have been renamed 'Menoptera' for no obvious reason and the Optera are now called pigmies or pigmy-menoptera. Oh and the lead character is called "Doctor Who". Back in the 1960s this was extremely commonplace and it is entirely possible that had the 1970s Target novelisations followed the lead of this one rather than Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Crusaders then it is highly likely that fandom may never have "decided" that the Doctor Who isn't the character's name at all.
This book was originally written in 1965 when there were hopes to create "Zarbimania" on a similar level to "Dalekmania". But whereas the parrallel Dalek novelisation, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, is a strong read that still enthralls to this day, Doctor Who and the Zarbi feels like a rush job to simply turn a set of scripts into a novel for the mass market. The television story did not set the world on fire and neither does this novelisation. Whilst not as tedious as the video it remains a mystery how this story came to be considered a classic by so many given that this was available at the time. 4/10
Attack of the Zarbi by Andrew Feryok 25/11/08
"You're a parasite!" [the Doctor] exclaimed. "A super-parasite of course!"
"A super-power!" The Voice corrected him. "Absorbing not only territory, but the best of its riches - its energy, culture. The Menoptera are nothing - you and your friends are a choicer prize."
- The Doctor and Vicki struggling against the Animus, pgs. 160 + 161, Chapter 6
The Web Planet was a story that was incredibly ambitious and groundbreaking when it was first released, but it hasn't aged well. I have a hard time sitting through this story whenever I watch it. In fact, I recently tried to watch my DVD of the story just prior to reading the book and I actually abandoned it in favor of the book after two episodes! The real problem is the fact that so much attention was put into the visuals and the special effects that very little attention was put into the plot, which is barely enough to fill a four part story. Now this same story was being adapted into 174 page book with small font. Would the story be enough to carry the page count? The answer was not only yes, but I now think I enjoy the book better than the original episode!
Bill Strutton has not made a great deal of changes to his story, but there are some small, noticeable differences. At the start of the story, the Zarbi drag the TARDIS into their headquarters by ensnaring it in a giant web. On screen, it is simply drawn in by the powers of the Animus. When the TARDIS first arrives, it nearly breaks free of Vortis, but is finally held down when the Zarbi attack it with their web guns. The sequence where Ian loses his gold pen, which makes the special connection between the Animus and gold, has been deleted. And instead of encountering a pyramid, the Doctor and Ian find a giant, worn statue of a Menoptera which can be seen in a superb illustration. And speaking of the illustrations, the very first one depicts a very different control console in the TARDIS! Finally, the Doctor seems to have more knowledge of Vortis than he did on screen and it is he who explains the venom grubs to Ian, the history of their development and their current use.
Some of the character depictions are different as well in the novelization. The Doctor is a much darker character than Hartnell's on-screen persona. By this point, Hartnell had been lightening his character and would often be cheerfully giggling and making wisecracks to Ian. But there is no cheerfulness here. The Doctor is always grave and gruff and takes everything very seriously. He is much more noticeably the hero in this story than most stories as he spends a great deal of his time bluffing the Animus and taking control of the Zarbi using the wish-bone necklaces. However, this does not prevent Barbara from taking on an equally heroic role and she stays utterly true to her performance on screen.
Vicki and Ian really suffer in this story. Both are sidelined in favor of the Doctor and Barbara's heroic dominance. Vicki noticeably lacks any personality. I have to admit that I found her arrogance and lack of patience with Ian and Barbara's "ancient" knowledge to be annoying, but it at least allowed her to have a personality. In Strutton's book she has no personality and is mainly there to look scared and get saved by everyone. Ian lacks none of the wit and resourcefulness of his usual depictions and he gets sidelined in the awful Optera subplot which goes utterly nowhere in the end.
The Menoptera are still noticeably without personality or any reason for us to care about them... except for one. Strutton has managed to create a delightful character out of the elder Menoptera Prapillus. What is particularly amusing is that he is essentially a Menoptera version of the Doctor! And the sequence when they finally meet each other towards the end of the story is hilarious as the two square off and try to assert each other's superiority over the other.
The Zarbi are easily the best aspect of the story. Strutton clearly loves the monsters and since they are no longer bound by the cumbersome costumes and are not crashing into cameras, they can become the menace they always wanted to be. They don't speak the same language as the time travelers, so we are never able to humanize them, and their lack of humanity makes them more terrifying as we realize they are capable of doing anything since they are not bound by our own expectations and morals. The Zarbi are depicted as ruthless and sadistic and they rely heavily on the venom grubs for enforcing their whims. It is only once the Doctor and Prapillus remove the venom grubs by using the wish-bone devices that they show the Zarbi for what they really are at heart: cowards.
On the whole, Strutton's book is a pretty good adaptation. It's not as good as David Whitaker's Doctor Who and the Daleks or even later books like Terrance Dicks' Day of the Daleks or Malcolm Hulk's Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, but it is a solid read that passes the time. I certainly prefer it to the on-screen version as the imagination is much better than the BBC budget and is complemented well with some fantastic illustrations. Check it out. 7/10