Doctor Who #58: The Web Planet

"We very nearly had the remnants of a Coal Hill School teacher in there instead of his wretched old, ragged old tie!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Web Planet, available on DVD. First aired Feb.13 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS is brought to the Web Planet (Vortis) by some unknown force and strange things start happening both inside and outside the TARDIS. Oh yeah, and giant ants!

REVIEW: Director Richard Martin is back and he's doing an episode that feels a heck of a lot like The Edge of Destruction. Uh-oh. The good news is that it's actually not too bad because though Martin's pacing issues do crop up (let'd watch the Doctor dip Ian's tie in acid for a minute), he's going for broke when it comes to creating an alien environment. The backdrop looks cool, the characters have to wear new costumes to breathe in the thin atmosphere, their voices are treated to echo, and vaseline streaks make it look like even the light hits things differently on the Web Planet. The approach is a bit "hard sf" for television, but as a one-off, I think it's a remarkable idea. We only glimpse the aliens here, and if the Zarbi - great, big ants with adorable buck teeth - it's for two reasons. 1) Their hind legs are human and quite disproportionate to their four other legs. And 2) the electronic sound they make just doesn't sound organic.

Style over substance? A bit, though the character bits do work. There's a fun scene in the middle of the episode in which Barbara and Vicki discuss their respective eras' school systems (Vicki's time seems to use teaching machines that turns 10-year-olds into doctors). Vicki assumes Barbara's new bracelet was a gift from Ian rather than Nero, further evidence that they are an off-screen couple. And the Doctor and Ian have good interplay exploring outside the TARDIS. We also find out the Doctor's ring can be used to open the doors when the power's out, though it's not all that clear how it all happens.

In some ways, the script feels like a throwback from the previous season. Vicki's under some kind of psychic assault as if she were Susan (looks like they switched it to hypersonics just to cover it), and there's a justification for why the TARDIS can't just leave (even if the Doctor has shifted his focus to helping people and away from just getting out of Dodge). The similarities to The Edge of Destruction will probably scare potential viewers, with companions turning into zombies, strange sounds and images, and the TARDIS doors opening by themselves. At least this time we're promised monsters on an alien world, and that's enough not to turn this into a painful retread.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Be advised, I have a certain affection for The Web Planet serial, because it was my first (and for the longest time, my only) Hartnell story on public access. I laughed at it then with its giant ants and absurdly slow pacing, but that mockery has grown into my becoming something of an apologist for it. Well, we'll see how the daily experience affects my perception of it. At this point, I can recommend the characters, as usual, and the sound and light design. Not so sure about the plot and direction though.

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