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Mar 05, 2006

Web Swinging

I’ve always found it difficult engaging with those lonely ‘only surviving’ Doctor Who episodes. It’s like opening a Kinder egg second – you take off the wrapping, taste the chocolate, ever in the knowledge that there prize has been removed from the centre. What’s the point in getting excited about a four part story when three quarters is missing? Particularly if it’s only the first part that remains – the episode that doesn’t really give anything away, poses a few questions and introduces characters you don’t have time to get to know (save the regulars). We don’t even get the benefit of a returning character and monster from a previous adventure, thanks to the BBC policy of junking most of the Troughton era.

So what do we have to play with here? Well of course there’s good old PT, who is marvellous. Impish and amusing, he really does shake off the cobwebs of Hartnell with his energetic performance. The old rascal even tries to cop a feel of Victoria while they struggle to hold on to ‘something’, the saucy beggar (or should that be cosmic hobo). Jamie is also great to watch – not that he really gets to shine in this episode, even when he fetches the Doctor and he not so magic torches – I thank you!

Web01_1Part one wastes no time in showing us the yeti, which is unusual – while people would have been familiar with the furry beasties in The Abominable Snowman, it’s not as if they had to do a reveal so soon. Fair enough if the story had been called Web of the Yeti, but Web of Fear could have been about terrifying spiders. Either way, while the episode does try to remain Gothic, the creatures are never in the shadows long enough to be truly spooky and they look rubbish. They looked rubbish before and they look rubbish here – at least in The Five Doctors they had the sense to show us glimpses – I mean, Troughton’s coat is more sinister. And they sound really annoying, like a smoke detector that has gone off the rails.

The production values of this episode are pretty strong – it looks like an ITC production screaming out to be in colour. It also draws of course on the BBC’s very own Quatermass and the Pit, thanks to the underground setting. It’s all very Tooting Beck isn’t it? No of course it isn’t Jon. Sorry, I’m struggling to feel much for this episode – it’s in entirety I may think completely different, but I’m not interested in recapturing some of the magic through audio releases and telesnaps. All or nothing dammit! I found more fun in spotting lookie-likies in the supporting cast. Look closely and you’ll see Knight is really Terry Jones, Chorley is a young Harry Hill, the staff sergeant is Enoch Powell and the bloke at the desk is Nigel Planer. I tell you, they is!

Web05_1_1As for the webs of fear – not so much for the Doctor, but for a good dose of Mr. Sheen. He could have given those Phantasm balls a good polish too. In summary then, the whole is hopefully better than the some of its part. It’s not a bad episode and I’m sure it’s not a bad story – the elements are hinted at that this was a corker, but as it stands, I just can’t get fired up.

The Bumper Book of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about The Web of Fear: the sandwich being eaten by Troughton was preserved by BBC archivists, but thought lost by 1974. It was however returned to the BBC in 1981 and turned up again in The Five Doctors, this time being munched by Richard Hurndall.

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