Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

Following directly on from the final scene of The Enemy of the World, the TARDIS finds itself entangled in a giant space web. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria find themselves in the London Underground, under siege from a weblike substance and the Yeti...

This time last year there were 106 missing Doctor Who episodes. Now there are ninety-seven. We all have serials that are partly or wholly absent that we would like to see returned more than others. (I'd like to see more of The Daleks' Master Plan, though I realise that's one of the least likely to show up, and no chance at all with Episode 7, “The Feast of Steven”. I'd like to see Marco Polo and Fury from the Deep too.) Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet featured on the BFI's list of the ten most wanted lost television programmes. Yet there's no rhyme nor reason as to which episodes will turn up, if indeed any more will. Without wishing to begrudge the discovery, I'm sure that back in 2011 one episode each from Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace would not have been top of most people's lists of ones they wanted to see again. Flash forward to 2013 and, after months of rumours, the announcement that nine previously lost episodes had been found in a relay station in Nigeria. Nice to have The Enemy of the World, of course, a serial that is now complete again. But the discovery of all but one episode of The Web of Fear was certainly cause for celebration, probably on a level with that of all four episodes of The Tomb of the Cybermen. A story that had attained all-time classic status from the memories of those who watched it at the time, from the clips, from the one previously surviving episode (the first) it was back.

There is a danger in this, of course. Watching Tomb again, or for the first time, you had to make allowances for the 60s pacing, budget and special effects (including visible wires). While the story is still rated highly by fans, there was more than a little backpedalling from the All Time Classic acclamation. And with Web, the opening episode (all that survived when the Lost in Time DVD release came out, along with and some censored shots from later episodes recovered from New Zealand) was so compelling that it seemed tragic that that was all you could see. Ever. I'm of the opinion that Who has always been at its best when delivering scares to its family (not, repeat not, children's) audience, and Web of Fear is properly scary. Yes, the plot meanders up and down the underground tunnels over the six episodes but it delivers. If the Yeti had appeared more often than just twice in the same season, and if we could see more than just the single orphaned episode (the second) that we have of The Abominable Snowman, they might rank up there with the Cybermen and Ice Warriors, two other Who adversaries embodied by tall men in monster suits.

What is also fascinating about this story is how it prefigures later developments in the show. The writers might be Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, and due credit to them of course, but the key names here are found in the end credits. With the departure of producer Innes Lloyd, script editor Peter Bryant replaced him and Derrick (misspelled “Derek” in one set of end credits) Sherwin became script editor. And a key recurring character shows his face in Episode 3: Colonel Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. The following year, Sherwin brought him back, promoted to Brigadier and head of UNIT, for The Invasion, a dry run for the Third Doctor's exile to Earth from the 1970 season onwards. Actor Nicholas Courtney had appeared in Who before, in four episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan as space mercenary Bret Vyon, but here he took the role that defined him and which he was still playing twenty-two years later in Battlefield. Inside a Yeti costume for all but the third episode is John Levene, who had been a Cyberman in The Moonbase and would go on to be a UNIT regular as Sergeant Benton. Jack Watling, under heavy age makeup as his character is forty years older, reprises his role as Professor Travers from The Abominable Snowman. While it's well-known that Watling's actual daughter Deborah was Victoria, his screen daughter Anne (Tina Packer) seems in many ways a dry run for Liz Shaw, the Doctor's companion introduced in the Sherwin-produced Spearhead from Space. And if Liz seemed a little ahead of her time as a more than capable female scientist in a popular TV show from 1970, Anne does even more so two years earlier.

Technically, Web is top-notch. Douglas Camfield – another soon-to-be regular – directs with muscular efficiency, clearly on home turf with the military material here. The production was refused permission to shoot in the actual London Underground, so production designer David Myerscough-Jones recreated it at Ealing Studios. It's a tribute to his work that the Underground authorities accused the BBC of filming without permission, so convincing is his work. (Historical note: the Charing Cross station referred to in this story is actually the modern-day Embankment. Today's Charing Cross was then two separate stations called Trafalgar Square and Strand.)

And at the end the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria leave in the TARDIS. Next week, Fury from the Deep, but you can't see that any more. But maybe one day...

The Disc

2 Entertain's release of The Web of Fear is, like that of The Enemy of the World, somewhat different to the rest of the Who DVD range. But first, the basics: it's a single dual-layered disc, encoded for Region 2 only, and there is an audio-descriptive menu option.

The previous serial, The Enemy of the World, marked the point where Who switched from shooting on 405-line video to 625-line video, though it remained in black and white until the end of the 1969 season. Sequences shot at Ealing Studios and a small amount of location work, all on film, was telecined in during the studio recording, and the serial was broadcast from two-inch Quad videotapes. However, those tapes were wiped in September and October 1969. However, 16mm film telerecordings were made for sales overseas, but these were junked in 1974. A copy of Episode 1 survived at BBC Enterprises. Web was one of a batch of four stories from Season Five were sold to Nigerian television in 1974 (along with Enemy of the World and Web, they were The Abominable Snowmen and The Wheel in Space) and as we now know, all the episodes of Enemy and all but the third episode of Web were still there when they were found in 2013. This DVD release has restored the film copies, with VidFIREing for the video-shot material. Comparing this with the DVDs of earlier stories, you can appreciate the jump in quality in the move to 625-line.

Episode 3 is still missing in action, but it is reconstructed from a soundtrack recording and from telesnaps (still photographs) taken at the time of original broadcast. There is one caption explaining action that isn't apparent from the telesnaps.

The soundtrack is the original mono, cleaned up and restored. Subtitles are available for the hard of hearing.

As with Enemy, there is only the one extra on this disc: no commentary, no featurettes, no production subtitles, no stills gallery and no PDF'd Radio Times listings. This does lead me to wonder if there will be a Special Edition DVD somewhere down the line, though I stress this is entirely speculation on my part. The only extra is an Available Now trailer for The Enemy of the World (0:56).



out of 10

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