There are very few Doctor Who stories made between 1963 and 1989 that I really struggle to watch. Underworld and The Invasion of Time have always been difficult for me – an overdose of CSO and lacklustre production values being the main reasons why. Timeflight and Arc of Infinity are also a problem – mainly because they’re both so crashingly dull.
But no story has ever posed more of a challenge than The Web Planet. During my last few sequential rewatches I made the craven decision to skip it altogether. Everything else I could manage – even five audio episodes of The Space Pirates – but Bill Strutton’s script was just a bridge too far.
It’s impossible not to respect the ambition though. In a couple of years, under producers Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant, the series would become much more formatted – base under siege tales would be the order of the day and strange adventures would become increasingly rare (The Mind Robber was a notable exception). But although you can admire what Bill Strutton, Verity Lambert and Richard Martin were attempting, it doesn’t make watching it any easier.
But maybe this is the time when everything clicks and I finally understand what others see in it. Probably not, but let’s dive in and give it a fair hearing.
Hartnell seems rather distracted in the opening TARDIS scene and this continues throughout the rest of the episode. It could be an acting choice (as the Doctor is very concerned about the way that the ship’s been drawn off its natural course) but it seems more likely that it was just an off week for him.
We’re only three minutes in when we get our first sight of a Zarbi. Many Doctor Who stories hold back the full reveal of the monster until the episode one cliffhanger or even later – teasing the audience with a glimpse here and there – but possibly Richard Martin felt he might as well get it over with. They’re nicely designed creations although the very human legs sticking out are a problem. That and the noise they make, of course.
I think that’s one of my major issues with the serial, six episodes worth of Zarbi noises is a major irritation.
Ian and the Doctor put on their space anoraks and head out to investigate. Just prior to this, at 8:12, there’s a major Hartnell dry as he really struggles to get his lines out. He eventually gets back on track but it’s something that should have necessitated a retake – but during the show’s early days retakes were an uncommon luxury.
With the Doctor and Ian sampling the thin atmosphere of Vortis, that leaves Vicki and Barbara alone in the TARDIS. It’s the first time since the start of The Romans that they’ve shared a two-handed scene together. O’Brien’s excellent here at highlighting the slight oddness of the futuristic Vicki. After Barbara tells the girl that her school taught the three Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) Vicki responds –
VICKI: Oh, it was a nursery school.
BARBARA: It was not.
VICKI: Oh. I wish I’d gone to your school. We had to take a certificate of education in medicine, physics, chemistry.
BARBARA: Now, wait a minute, how old were you?
VICKI: Well, I was ten when I took those.
BARBARA: Ten? What did you do in your time, live in the classroom?
VICKI: Live in the what?
BARBARA: Classroom. Lecture hall.
BARBARA: How long did you study?
VICKI: Almost an hour a week. We had these machines, you see, and we …..
The Doctor’s hysterical giggling is odd – but it sort of fits in with the strange Vortis landscape. The TARDIS should be a safe haven, but when Barbara’s arm starts acting independently of her it’s clear that it’s not.
The Zarbi chirruping starts again in earnest a few minutes before the end of the episode.
This is the sign for Barbara to find herself drawn out onto the planet’s surface. Ian gets himself caught in a net – well, sort of (it’s rather obvious he has to force himself into it) whilst the Doctor is perplexed to find that the TARDIS has disappeared. This is a neat triple cliffhanger that leads into the next episode.
So, all in all, this wasn’t too bad. Hartnell’s bizarre performance and the reveal of the Zarbi (there’s no reason why they couldn’t have been held back until the second episode, since they do nothing in this one) are the main problems. But we’ve yet to meet the Menoptra, so I fear we’ve got bumpy times ahead …..
8 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Web Planet. Part One – The Web Planet”
Episode 1 of The Web Planet is a cakewalk in comparison with what comes later – just you wait until Jacqueline Hill goes on holiday and those earwig things turn up…
The story’s merits do become rather more apparent when you watch it in sequence as part of the whole Doctor Who cycle (for me, anyway). I wrote a piece about this five years ago (It’s lost its illustrations since 2014) – https://cstonline.net/re-watching-doctor-who-the-pleasure-of-the-episode-by-billy-smart/
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Mild spoilers, but I did quite well until the last two episodes when fatigue really began to kick in. Had it been a four-parter I think the story would be a lot more palatable today – possibly when the BD eventually rolls around they can do a SE edit ….
I absolutely agree about the benefits watching the series in order – when viewing a good (or bad) story in isolation you’re only getting part of the picture. Seeing it in context with what came before and after is so much more rewarding.
For some reason I loved this when I saw the original transmission. It might have been something to do with the “Give a Show” projector and the first annual, in which the Zarbi and Menoptera featured prominently. Mind you, I did find the “lava cannon” a bit bizarre, even then….
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Brave is the man who tries to get through The Web Planet – I struggle to get beyond that first episode these days, although it is a bit of a giggle (literally) when right at the start of the fourth(?) episode, all that rubble is pouring down, and through the cacophony of noise you can quite clearly hear the hysterical laughter of wasp girl, as she clearly loses the plot beside alongside Mr.Chesterton. She is quite unable to contain her mirth to the extent that you can hear the laughter in her voice on her opening line – no hope of a re-take on that set!
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I like The Web Planet.
And I like Attack of the Cybermen, Battlefield and Love and Monsters.
And I like Doctor Who.
There was an article in an edition of the DWAS magazine Celestial Toyroom called Doctor Who Weekly. It suggested that instead of watching an entire serial in one go you should watch one episode and then watch the next one a week later and so on. So you’re seeing it as a weekly serial as it was originally intended rather than having too much of a good thing.
Watching the Doctor Who adventures in order is difficult when they don’t all exist.
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There”a the audios, recons and – increasingly – animations which all fill the gaps nicely. I never watch stories in one go (attempting all six episodes of The Web Planet in one sitting would be above and beyond the call of duty!).
Personally I find that two 25 minute episodes a day works well – that’s been the way I’ve mostly sampled the series, when in rewatch mode, for a good few decades.
There weren’t that many points in the classic series when I really struggled when I watched the whole cycle at an episode a day. They were –
Listening to The Celestial Toymaker. Terrifying and creepy the experience certainly wasn’t, trying to make sense and maintain some slight interest during ten minute sequences of Steven and Dodo playing blind man’s buff and hopscotch. The most interest that I could derive from it was hearing how fed up Steven/ Peter Purves sounds, and working out how much is the character and how much the actor. “You clown, you!” he snaps.
Both The Abominable Snowmen and Fury from the Deep seemed to go on and on, but I’m sure that I’d enjoy both if I could see them.
Although it starts off interestingly, the later episodes of The Invasion of Time made me feel actively ill-disposed towards Doctor Who for the first time when watching it in sequence. Its the combination of churned out writing an plotting where the strain of composition is all-too-evident, an unrestrained Tom Baker and an unrelatable Doctor, and some rather shoddy production values. Season 15 increasingly becomes a harder and harder watch than anything that’s gone before to my mind. Louise Jameson seems to almost single-handedly hold much of it together through the integrity and imagination of her interpretation.
The bits in Heathrow in episode 1 are alright, but Time Flight is testing viewing, incoherent and rather risible.
Attack of the Cybermen was the only other story after Invasion of Time to anger me. Confused, simultaneously obsessed with continuity while getting it wrong, with a disagreeable Doctor and companion…
Everything else I can watch with some enjoyment, even with a few stories that I objectively know are terrible. There’s always some aspect to derive some pleasure from, even if it isn’t always intentional! If the Doctor is motivated by a sense of exploration and gets on well with his companion that’s normally as much as I need to generate enough goodwill to be an engaged viewer.
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And I think, as I did when it was first broadcast, the Attack of the Cybermen is a cracking good adventure.