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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Doctor Who: The Web Planet

Serial Title: The Web Planet
Series: 2
Episodes: 6
The Web Planet
The Zarbi
Escape to Danger
Crater of Needles
The Centre

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'brien)

The TARDIS is mysteriously drawn in towards the barren surface of an unknown planet in the Isop galaxy-(NFS: I don't like that name...makes me think of leaking eyes) where the stars are always visible and the standing pools are filled with deadly acid. While exploring, Ian's golden pen is torn from his grasp as if by great magnetism, and Barbara, still wearing a golden bracelet given to her by Nero, is taken in a trance-like hypnotic walk to a nearby cave- wherein there are three Menoptra,, humanoid butterflies. (Yes, really.) It turns out that the Menoptra are an advance-scout for an incoming invasion force... or perhaps, more accurately, a reclamation force... as this planet, Vortis- a world the Doctor recognized but was confounded by (as it has moons that it shouldn't have), was originally theirs (NFS: Botany bay....oh nooo!). They intend to reclaim it from the sinister Zarbi, giant ants whose back legs are completely human. (Yes, really.) In point of fact, though, the Zarbi (NFS: I think you mean "ZARRRBIIIII!") are not the true threat- they are typically only dumb brutes, animals- as if cows suddenly rose up and took over our Earth. No, something is manipulating them (via control collars made of gold, which is apparently the transmitter for mind-control telepathy), controlling them hypnotically- the same someone or something that has captured Vortis and driven the Menoptra off... and the same something that captures the Doctor, Vicki, and Ian using the Zarbi.

A mysterious controlling intelligence, the master of the Zarbi, communicates with the Doctor via a telepathic helmet in the great citadel where they are taken, a being identified as the Animus. It co-opts the Doctor to track down the Menoptra spearhead force with the TARDIS' advanced technology... or he and his companions will be killed.

The Zarbi attack the Menoptra and Barbara, killing one and capturing another, while the third escapes. Barbara and the captured Menoptra, Hrostar, are taken to the Crater of Needles, in the shadow of the Great Web, where they will act as slave-labor (Barbara seems to draw this fate a lot lately) gathering the planet's sparse vegetation and dropping it into the acid rivers- feeding channels all leading to a central spot on the planet- the heart of the Animus within the citadel.

Ian escapes the citadel as the Doctor and Vicki stall- meeting up with the escaped member of the Menoptra trio, named Vrestin. (NFS: Can I just say that Vrestin freaked me out...I don't know..she had one of those voices where you couldn't imagine her as anything but this weird freaky weird looking butterfly, it's like trying to imagine the actress being a normal person was impossible...which I guess is was just kind of freaky) She explains the history of the planet- that the new moons were pulled in by the Animus, and it was to one of them that the Menoptra fled. The same irresistible attractive force is what grounded the TARDIS. The two set off for the Crater of Needles to free their respective companions, but while hiding from the Zarbi, they fall through the ground and into a deep cavern, where they meet the Optera, sentient humanoid potato-bugs that hop around like they're in a sack race. (Yes, really! I'm not making this up!) The Optera initially distrust them, but after Vrestin recognizes them as a mutated offshoot of the Menoptra race who fled underground when the Animus came, and are now subterranean, dark-adapted, wingless beings, descendants of the original Menoptra holdouts, and Ian gives a rousing speech, they agree to help to take down the Animus and free their world. (NFS: Those things were so dumb! It literally looked like hobo clowns with dirty faces in a bag.)

The landing site for the incoming spearhead is discovered by the Animus despite the Doctor's best attempts at obfuscation, and the spearhead is ambushed near the Crater of Needles. Barbara and Hroster escape but are too late to warn them. (How flying, armed invaders from space are threatened by land-bound ants is a testament to what poor tacticians the Menoptra are. Oh, and the Zarbi have pill-bug-esque living laser cannon bugs. Yes... really.) Menoptra weapons prove ineffective and the intial wave of the spearhead is routed- a few members fleeing with Barbara and Hroster into a secret citadel, one of the Meoptra's old temples, with a secret entrance unknown to the Zarbi. Meanwhile beneath the surface, Ian and the Optera begin to climb (somehow, given the Optera's single welded sack-race uni-foot) up towards the surface...

The Doctor intuits the Animus' 'gold-mesmerizing' ability and works out a way to disrupt the signal temporarily with his mysterious ring. (Seriously, we never find out- I want to know what's up with that ring!!!!) Using it, he takes control of one of the Zarbi- using it to escape- meeting up with Barbara and the Menoptra. A plan of attack is formed- while the Menoptra make a diversionary attack, the Doctor and Vicki will infiltrate in to the heart of the Animus itself to attack it with the Menoptra's ultimate weapon (which, an an absolutely horrific pun, is called an Isop-tope because they're in the Isop galaxy... Yes, REALLY!!!!), the living-cell destructor. Basically, DN6 from Planet of the Giants- a very potent pesticide for a person-sized set of insects. Hmmmmm...

Making their way inside, the Doctor and Vicki confront the Animus- a giant spider-like creature of immense and ancient power. (NFS: This for me was a real high point in the episode, I thought that thing was freaky and cool and whoever was doing the voice should get lots of candy.) Unfortunately, Vicki hides the Isop-tope and neglects to retrieve it. (Seriously, I like this girl, I really do, but... WHAT IS HER PROBLEM!?!? Between trying to poison Nero just for kicks and now this, she may be the ditziest dame I ever heard of!)(NFS: There shall be many more, young Andrew) The Animus takes control of them- only having allowed them in so that it could devour their life energy. Barbara and the Menoptra, very successful in their raid, make it inside, retrieve the Isop-tope, and make it to the Animus' central chamber- only to be likewise halted by the inexorable power of the Animus, held helpless and paralyzed at the door.

Thankfully, the Animus is housed in the Central Chamber of Ultimate Coincidental Convergence, as Ian and the Optera tunnel up... right through the floor and into this chamber, despite a lack of any indication while they were climbing that they were underneath a building. With this distraction to the Animus, Barbara breaks free in an act of great willpower and delivers the Isop-tope home, killing the Animus, freeing the Zarbi, and allowing the Menoptra, Optera, and Zarbi to reclaim the acid-free planet, slowly returning to life, to return it to the utopia it once was.

Wow. This one was... wow. It felt like the TARDIS had landed in a kindergarten play... I broke into hysterical laughter, literally, when I first saw the Zarbi, but at least they were passable if hokey. The butterfly outfits were just silly... they looked like kids' Halloween costumes caricaturing butterflies rather than any attempt to create actual insectoids, and the caterpillar-creatures who hopped like they were in a sack race (but could sometimes be seen walking when they thought they wouldn't be noticed) robbed this production of ANY dignity that it had in trying to carry on.

However, it did also generate the best laugh of the season- when that Zarbi ran smack into the camera, complete with a terrific 'thunk!' and shaking of the camera, while the poor man on a wire landing behind him ensured that there would be no re-take, I suppose, by landing correctly- I rewound it twice and my wife and I could not stop laughing; that was, bar none, the funniest blooper I've ever seen... especially one that was left in. (NFS: This outtake might outshine many of the most funny left-in outtakes on Dark Shadows...and that's saying something.)

Also, several landings during the battle on the bluff looked as if the actors were stumbling and about to fall over on the landing. At least a few were credible 'fliers,' to their credit.

The crystalline communicator (a clam-shell block of crystals in two halves that is opened and closed to transmit) looked as if it was breaking and falling apart every time they opened or closed it. Props for a unique concept with the opening and closing, regardless.

The episode did have a few good elements. The great web effect looked very nice. The evil voice of the Animus was suitably creepy and menacing. The acid-water and one of the caterpillars sacrificing themselves to block it from flooding the tunnel were effective story moments. The creepy unfurling-tentacle gun was cool- as was its lethal looking web blasts, and the image of the terrified, webbed-up Doctor and Vicki as the final cliffhanger was chillingly effective. The gold-control was an interesting idea (why was the pen snatched- and by what?- instead of being used to control Ian?) The Animus' grabbing of the Doctor and Vicki, and it's inexorable power, were a very good climax.... a truly creepy moment as it's tentacles locked around their necks as they were forced, hypnotically and half-asleep, to continue their approach.

However... the Larvae guns were so absurd, and you could see the hands and legs of the people under them half the time. The Zarbi noise was extremely annoying by the fourth or fifth time. The Animus didn't look bad, but the ending was contrived (they all end up in the same spot including CLIMBING UP UNDER IT DESPITE A COMPLETE LACK OF ANY INDICATION OF BUILDING FOUNDATIONS OR EQUIPMENT in the area they were climbing) and confusing- I'm assuming the isotope worked, just on a delayed reaction. The finale- with the caterpillars jumping around in glee and looking even sillier and less dignified than before, if indeed that's possible, was nauseatingly dumb and insipid. And the caterpillars themselves were so tritely dealt with... "Oh, yes, subterranean creatures who have lived underground with no light and adapted highly sensitive light-absent night vision eyes... all you must do is lower your hands and just LOOK at the sun for a few minutes, you'll adjust! Meanwhile, get that fellow with the broken leg doing some jumping jacks- he just has to work through it, that's all..."

The episode had some nice alien-esque looks to the world, and a few cool touches. But they couldn't redeem it from being SO hokey and silly... I can't even describe it, but something about the costumes feels like they went for completely the wrong type- like they weren't even trying for something that wasn't childish. There was an indescribable quality of "Not trying" about it.

Great moments:
The ending was creepily atmospheric.

This one was truly bad. Not bland, not dull, but BAD. Perhaps for the first time on this show. However, even though that would rate it 0-1 shrunken TARDISes at best, the amusement value does raise it up just a touch- the so-bad-it's-good humor of laughing at the train wreck. So, final total of 2 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, solely on laugh value.

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