Doctor Who #63: The Centre

"We have been on a slight... exploitation." (Your Billy fluff of the month.)TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of The Web Planet. First aired Mar.20 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Everyone reaches the center of the web simultaneously and the Isop-tope withers the Animus.

REVIEW: So we finally meet the Animus in the flesh, and though its brightness might at first make it look like a Star Trek god-like alien, it's really more of a crepe paper jellyfish with sprawling tentacles. Personally? I think it works. Yes, it's cheap, but what isn't, on Doctor Who? It's the room full of tendrils that evokes some kind of Lovecraftian monster (see Theories), as well as the Menoptra's reaction to seeing "God". Rather strangely, it wants to reach Earth to steal the secrets of space travel, even though it's in another galaxy and would require those secrets to get there (it also implies we're in the future, since humanity is a well-known space-faring species). Its defeat comes at the hands of Barbara who finds the Isop-tope the Doctor lost, only one of many plot conveniences in the script. I'd also note how little the web cliffhanger plays a role in the story, and how Ian just pops his head out at the right spot at the very end of the story.

Really, it's Ian who suffers the most in this story. Once he gets separated from the others, he's on an irrelevant track, meeting up with the Optera who - surprise! - don't help in the effort to rid Vortis of the Animus. turns out they were just a bouncy spot of local color. That they share the Menoptera's destiny to rebuild the planet is all very nice, but it would have been much better if they'd been instrumental to the plot, if only so Ian could have been too. Having lost in school tie, his gold pen and a lot of time, he's clearly the loser here, more than the Animus. In the end, ridding the planet of the corruptive creature makes everything all right. The Menoptra embrace their primitive cousins, no problem, the Zarbi return to the status of friendly cattle, water starts running again, and even the larvae guns play with Barbara like cuddly dogs. (Cuddly dogs with explosive noses.) Satisfying enough, but it does over-egg the pudding.

It's here, in the last episode, that the story shows its creakiness the most. The absence of music reveals not only the cracking of exoskeletons, but of the sets as well. This is one noisy episode! I realize the problem was always there, but this is the first time it's really (PUN ALERT!) bugged me. The door to the Center of the web doesn't close very well, and you can see the string working it. And then there's the Menoptra poetry replaced by calls of Zarbiiiiiiiiiiiiiii that work like matadors' calls, but that never fails to get a belly laugh out of me. And Barbara and her allies popping out of a geological formation that seemed so much farther and bigger just evokes a Whack-a-Mole game to me. Another chaotic, blurry battle seals the deal. So yeah, the Animus IS rather good compared to all that. Seems like this serial has finally worn out its welcome.

THEORIES: The New Adventures novels maintain that the Animus was a Lovecraftian Old One, one of several presented on the show. It all started with David MacIntee's White Darkness which introduced Lovecraft's Mythos into the Whoniverse. Other authors reinforced the idea because it just happens to fit the canon rather well. Specifically, the Animus is identified as a pre-Universe being called a Lloigor in Andy Lane's excellent All-Consuming Fire, and made a comeback in the Missing Adventure Twilight of the Gods (by Christopher Bulis). Apparently, the one on Vortis was just a shred of a greater creature. Tying it to the Mythos helps explain a few oddities in The Web Planet. At times, it feels like the Animus is following magical principles rather than scientific ones. How its influence corrupts a whole planet, for example, changing its landscape and even its people (if the Optera are mutated versions of the Menoptra that stayed behind). Its ability to use gold to control other beings is more alchemical than physical. Its death also brings an immediate renewal to Vortis, which seems magical as well. And magic is just how it looks to us when a pre-Universe creature exploits the laws of its universe in our own. Don't worry about seeing the Animus again though, according to the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, it was destroyed in the Time War.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is called Doctor Who and the Zarbi, and contains a few notable differences. There's a Zarbi "queen" called the Zarbi Supremo. Vrestin is male rather than female. The Doctor is called "Doctor Who" throughout. The Animus loses its name entirely. Written by script writer Bill Strutton, one can probably see how much of it was changed before hitting the screen.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The low point of the serial as it runs out of new things to show us about Vortis and becomes about plot. Sadly, it's not a very good plot.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I still have affection for The Web Planet and I do respect its attempt at creating a most alien world. However, when experimenting this much, do try to keep the serial down to 4 episodes.


Matthew Turnage said...

The Web Planet... much like Top Gear, it's ambitious but rubbish. And like Top Gear, I enjoy it so. I think you've nailed all the faults over the last few days, but its strong points (which you've also done a good job of pointing out) outweigh them, if only by a bit.

It seems like we rarely see planets that look truly alien these days. They really succeeded in making The Web Planet look different. Well done, crew.


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