Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Web Planet"

Aired Feb 13 - Mar 20, 1965

Episode 1 – The Web Planet
Episode 2 – The Zarbi
Episode 3 – Escape to Danger
Episode 4 – Crater of Needles
Episode 5 – Invasion
Episode 6 – The Centre

Story 13

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin


The TARDIS is seized by a mysterious force and dragged down to the planet Vortis, a craggy, forbidding world where the dangers include pools of lethal acid and a thin atmosphere. Here, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki get involved in the struggles of the moth-like Menoptra to reclaim the planet from an alien parasite. The Animus has invaded Vortis and taken control of the once-docile, ant-like Zarbi, turning them into its vicious drones that use organic Venom Guns to enforce the Animus' will.

Eventually, with the time travelers' help, a group of Menoptra and Optera (stunted troglodyte descendants of the planet's original Menoptra inhabitants) hatch a plan to infiltrate the Animus's web-city and confront the creature directly, destroying it with a weapon devised by their scientists called the Isop-tope, which destroys living cells.

Ian and the Optera are trying to tunnel their way to the Carsinome from beneath, while the Doctor and Vicki manage to make their way into the hidden chamber where they finally set eyes on the Animus itself. It is a giant spider-like creature, and its mind powers mesmerize the Doctor and Vicki, preventing them from using the Isop-tope. Ian and the Optera dig their way in, but they are also frozen by the Animus' will. Finally Barbara and her cohorts make their way to the Animus, and by sheer force of will, Barbara manages to activate the Isop-tope device, and the Animus is destroyed.

With all the creatures on Vortis now free from the threat of the Animus, the natural order is restored and the Menoptera, Zarbi and Optera can co-exist in peace. The TARDIS and her crew depart.


The Web Planet is probably the signature example of the production team's reach exceeding its grasp. This was the first Doctor Who story with an entirely non-humanoid supporting cast. There was a real hunger by the entire production team to depict the most alien setting they possibly could. To that end, the sets, the filming style, the performances, the costumes, all of them push to the absolute limit what the series could do. The real question is, does it work?

The answer, sadly, is no. The main problem seems to arise from two areas. First, six episodes is way, way, WAY too many episodes for the story they've got. If you're going to push things this far, you need a tight, well-paced, action-packed story to paper over any cracks in the execution or any things simply too odd to be understood. With a six episode length to fill, we get little action and too much padding, which a four episode story might not have revealed so nakedly. This problem throws into sharp relief the second problem, which is that the choice of having such alien characters behaving so oddly distances the viewers from what's going on, so that the events  don't make a lot of sense or seem to matter much.

However, it's hard to hate The Web Planet. They truly pulled out all the stops to create something that was bold and innovative. It must have looked astonishing to viewers at the time, if a tad silly. But still, there are some things that genuinely amaze. The sight of the Menoptera flying is still thrilling. The web covering the Doctor and Vicki is a cool effect. And I like the alien qualities of some of the performances, though I admit they may not be for everyone. At the end of the day, you just have to admire the gumption, even if it doesn't come off.

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