Doctor Who #61: Crater of Needles

"Oh, my eyes are so sore. Everything seems to... to flare when I look at it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Web Planet. First aired Mar.6 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Ian and Verstin meet the primitive Optera underground, the Doctor and Vicki play for time before they can escape, and Barbara escapes from the Crater of Needles and lands smack dab into the Menoptra's invasion of Vortis.

REVIEW: I'll give it that, Vortis continues to be a surprising place. We meet another sentient species on the planet, cave creatures called the Optera, who appear to be devolved versions of the Menoptra, wingless, grubby things that hop around (in their speech patterns too). They look like they're made of Nerf, but I like them. Everything on Vortis to date has been pleasantly alien and accidentally cute. If they are Menoptra, it begs the question of how long ago the Animus arrived, as the dialog puts it as a fairly recent occurrence and certainly not enough for a species to "evolve" that much. Either the Optera were a primitive offshoot of the Menoptra, unknown and hidden before the Animus even came, or their deterioration is likely due to the Animus' corruptive effect on the planet as its "carcinome" spreads. The Animus is a planet-wide cancer, and along those lines, living cells (people) infected might be prone to mutation. Works for me. These guys may prove key allies in the fight against the Animus and its Zarbi minions.

Because it doesn't go too well with the Menoptra invasion, not after the Doctor accidentally gives the Animus sensor data that shows where the invasion force is set to land. The medium wasn't really made to show the battle, but darn it, it gives it a try anyway. It succeeds rather well at the flight scenes, the Menoptra making graceful landings and take-offs on wires hidden by the vaseline lenses. It doesn't do so well with the actual combat. Menoptra fall over carefully so they don't damage their wings, and there are a lot of close-ups to cover the confusing choreography. It does, however, capture the chaos of a battle, though I doubt that was the intent. In an early and just as dodgy skirmish, we also get the satisfying crunch of a larvae gun getting smashed on a wall. I take it where I can get it, but bucktoothed ants versus fluffy bumblebees... the battle will likely never reach "epic" on the proportions dial. I do give a thumbs up to the models and sets though, which marry well together to create Vortis. Long shots of the plateau and the Crater of Needles especially. Barbara actually refers to the streaky lighting - so it's not just for our benefit - and has trouble breathing, though otherwise, the thin atmosphere is all but forgotten.

Plot-wise, this is an episode about unseen MacGuffins. The Menoptra's only hope is their Isop-tope (you may groan at the pun, I'll be joining you), and Vicki implores the Doctor to use the "spider" (something not very well set up in the previous episode, so it may baffle even when watching the episodes back to back). Neither are seen or deployed. The Doctor does manage to realign one of the gold wishbones that can take control of people (Vicki, please don't do that zombie thing again, it's really creepy), but again, it's not deployed. These things do need to be set up for later, but I wonder how clearly it came across with a whole week between episodes.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Vortis keeps giving us more back story and new things to look at, but the serial's attempt at crafting a truly alien world swings from wonderful to silly in any given second.



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