Doctor Who #60: Escape to Danger

"I’ve seen a colony of ants eat their way right through a house. That size, they could eat their way through a mountain."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Web Planet. First aired Feb.27 1965.

IN THIS ONE... As the Animus attempts to draw information from the Doctor about the Menoptra invasion force, Ian escapes and tries to reach Barbara in the Crater of Needles.

REVIEW: We learn a lot in this episode, both about the history of the planet Vortis and about some of the cast (and when the story has so few sign posts, those character moments are precious). When the Animus controlling the Zarbi tries to get information about the Menoptra space fleet from the Doctor, it smacks of paranoia. NO ONE in this story seems equipped to go into space, but the Menoptra in the previous episode did communicate via satellite. As it turns out, though the Animus is barking up the wrong tree by interrogating the Doctor, the Menoptra ARE in space. They lived on Vortis until the Animus came with its gravity-transforming moons, and its web-like rot, and it's enslaving of the beast-like Zarbi. The Menoptra escaped to one of the moons, which they describe as a dim half-world, but now they must take back the planet before their wings grow too weak, even if they're not ready. The theatrical, lilting way Menoptra express themselves creates a vivid picture which increases the scale of the story tremendously. We don't need to see the fleet, because the sight of Menoptra swooshing in from low orbit is rather exciting. The Zarbi don't fare quite as well because they never really seem threatening, especially once Ian pushes one over. They're barely more mobile than turtles. It doesn't help that they fire the larvae gun at Ian's prison and accidentally free him.

And what is it with Ian and ants? Does it seem to anyone else like they make him freak out a little bit? Well, if I guess if I'd seen a colony eat their way through a house, they might also give me the creeps. It's not explained where Ian saw this, but it must be during his time in the service, which I think this is the first mention of (if obliquely). Our boy Ian was a hero before he ever stepped into the TARDIS, I'll warrant, and here he falls easily into the role of Vestrin's war-time ally. The Doctor is also well treated by this script. He shows acerbic wit when he calls the Animus' telepathic tube a hairdryer. He uses his ring to mesmerize the Zarbi (writer Bill Strutton or script editor Dennis Spooner is trying to develop a prop we've had since the first episode). And for the first time in the history of the program, he offers someone sweets! It's chocolate, not jelly babies, but we'll get there! Hartnell is quite good throughout, feigning distraction or openly defying the Animus. Sadly, the girls don't get as much love. Vicki turns variably into a lab assistant or hostage, and her re-powering of the TARDIS is a miracle, or if you like, writer laziness. Barbara isn't in the episode at all, which is always a disappointment.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Getting the back story to the Web Planet gives us a reason to care for its odd inhabitants, and there are enough character moments here to warrant a viewing.

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