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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

Serial Title: The Web of Fear
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)


Clinging to the console for dear life, The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria rocket through the Vortex like a runaway train, barreling through the time/space continuum inside the TARDIS, its open doors having just dispelled the sinister Salamander into the ether- now the crew fights against the sucking winds of their escaping air, trying to avoid being sucked out into eternity themselves! With a tremendous effort, Jamie manages to reach the controls and close the doors. The TARDIS ends up suspended in space as the trio catch their breath- and slowly, a strange spider-web-like mesh begins to grow over the exterior.

Meanwhile, on Earth, in 1966, Professor Travers, the man with whom they shared an adventure involving the Yeti in 1935, frets around a London museum, demanding the return of the inactive Yeti robot on display there; though the museum owner and his own daughter, Anne Travers, dismiss his fears, he believes that he has accidentally reactivated a control sphere, and the menace of the Yeti may soon reawaken! The museum owner dismisses him, and is killed moments later by a re-awakened Yeti. This is what we in the biz deem ‘a bad call’ on his part.

The TARDIS barely manages to escape the web surrounding it, and materializes in the London tunnels (some days or weeks after the scene with Travers), the apparent source of the ensnaring attack. A group of military men are holed up here, along with reporter Harold Chorley, as well as Travers and his daughter. London is under a fantastical sort of siege, a strange mist covering the city into which people vanish and do not return, which also blocks all forms of communication in the area. Survivors have either evacuated, or retreated down into the tunnels, where the mist has not ventured- but the tunnels have their own problems, as a strange fungus-like web is slowly consuming them, spreading its deadly-to-the-touch tendrils throughout every room and passage. The power is off (rendering the third rail safe, fortunately, or Jamie’s ignorance would have killed him), and the tunnels nearly deserted. They hide and see an approaching trio of soldiers laying a power cable. The Doctor assigns Jamie and Victoria to follow the soldiers while he traces the cables back to their source. Victoria and Jamie are soon caught by the soldiers.

As the Doctor finds the end of the cables, several crates of explosives that the soldiers plan to detonate remotely, he is forced to hide by the sound of a familiar beeping- a pair of Yeti emerge from the gloom, and cover the crates in more of the strange webbing, weaponized from hand-pistols- when the explosion is triggered, the strange webs simply absorb the energy. Back at the bunker/hideout, the military registers no explosion.

Travers recognizes a description of the new arrivals and is reunited with Jamie and Victoria- shocked to find that they haven’t aged in the intervening 31 years that have passed for him. Together, they deduce that the Great Intelligence must have returned, and was the entity responsible for attempting to ensnare the TARDIS in space. Jamie convinces Sgt. Arnold, one of the men that was laying the cables, to take him out in search of the Doctor, as Chorley the reporter continues to pry.

In the tunnels, Yeti set upon the soldiers, slaughtering them mercilessly- bludgeoning one to death, smothering another in web- bullets are ineffective and the indomitable Yeti advance implacably- even an attempt to blow them up fails as the energy is absorbed by webbing. The final survivors- Knight, Lane, and Thompson- as well as Jamie and Sgt. Arnold, who stumble upon them, are cornered and captured by the Yeti, who strangely hold back from killing them. Even more strangely, they are signaled away by the control spheres' beeping signal, leaving their prisoners free.

The fungus which had been motionless for three weeks begins to grow visibly again, advancing further into the tunnels- tunnels which Victoria, too, now roams in, having slipped out to search for the Doctor. The other search party- Jamie and the soldiers- likewise continue their search, and encounter a Welshman wandering the tunnels and singing- Evans, one of the demolition men- who reports seeing a Yeti carrying a glass pyramid in the tunnels, very similar to the one destroyed in 'The Abominable Snowmen' to thwart the Intelligence. Jamie tries to convince the soldiers to go after it, but they continue on to the bunker HQ, leaving Jamie and Evans alone to seek out the source of the Intelligence. The two find and attack the Yeti as web closes in on them... the Yeti is stopped when the pyramid is destroyed, but the web continues unhindered; the duo barely escapes.

Victoria finally locates the long-absent Doctor... but someone else has found him first. Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, a soldier sent in to relieve the current commander, and part of the destroyed demolitions convoy that Evans also escaped from. Victoria leads them both back to the bunker, where the Doctor and Travers are re-united.

After a briefing, the ever-agitated Chorley is given busywork to keep him occupied from thoughts of escape, and the Doctor proposes setting off an explosive to seal them into the tunnel, away from the fungus and Yeti, to buy some time- using explosives on a baggage rail trolley so that they can be rolled into position and detonated as they roll, before the Yeti have time to encase them in webbing. (But also trapping Jamie and Evans outside of the bunker for good).

Meanwhile, a mysterious saboteur unlocks the main door of the bunker, leaving the base open to attack... the traitor also steals one of the model Yeti, also a homing device used to control their movements (as seen in the Abominable Snowmen) and places it at the door of the explosives depot- in response, a Yeti is diverted from the tunnels- the group soon find their entire stock of explosives encased in web and useless.

Lethbridge-Stewart decides to take a group to the site of the explosives convoy that he and Evans escaped from- though the convoy was attacked and destroyed, it is possible, though unlikely, that some explosives there might have survived. Chorley, meanwhile, learns of the TARDIS and the plans to collapse the tunnel from naive Victoria, and in his mounting claustrophobia and panic, slips out into the tunnels to attempt an escape, locking the Doctor and Victoria into the main room. Fortunately, Jamie and Evans arrive just as he leaves, freeing the Doctor, and the TARDIS trio takes off in pursuit. The TARDIS crew finds no sign of Chorley, but collect a sample of webbing- to which the web reacts violently. They then meet up with Arnold, Llethbridge-Stewart, and their party- having failed to find any explosives, the group return to the base- to find the main door torn asunder. The Yeti have attacked the base, killing one of the soldiers, wounding Anne, and abducting Professor Travers!

As the web continues to advance on the bunker, the group realizes that a traitor is in their midst, and the Doctor gets to work on a device to override the Intelligence’s control based on the Control Sphere that Travers possessed. Having convinced Lethbridge-Stewart of the TARDIS’ importance, the Doctor plans an operation to recover the Police Box. The operation is dual-pronged: Lethbridge-Stewart's party (including Knight and the Doctor) will attempt to reach the tunnel with the TARDIS by an above-ground route, while a second group consisting of Arnold, Lane, and Evans will take a baggage trolley along the tracks, to be used for transporting the TARDIS- however, this latter party soon encounters an obstructing web. Wearing gas masks, Lane and Arnold attempt to force their way through the web with the trolley. Light pulses, men scream... and Evans retrieves the trolley and Lane’s web-covered body at the end of his rope. Arnold is gone, and Evans runs in fear.

Meanwhile, the above-ground party encounters the Yeti and are trapped in a pincer maneuver. Many of the soldiers, including Knight and Blake, are killed- The Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart are the only survivors. Back at the base, The Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart, Jamie, Victoria, and Anne reunite- but are stilled by a beeping sound- someone had planet the last Yeti model homing device on them, and a pair of Yeti arrive with the possessed Travers, through whom the Great Intelligence speaks. It informs them that this was all a trap set for the Doctor- the Intelligence wants to poses him and his... well, his great intelligence, for itself. It offers that if the Doctor submits willingly, his mind and great knowledge will be wiped clean, drained by the Intelligence, but his body- and his friends- will be released unharmed. The Intelligence gives him twenty minutes to decide, abducting Victoria as collateral.

The Doctor and Anne redouble their efforts and soon come up with a control-unit that should be able to override the Intelligence’s control on a single Yeti. Paranoia builds among the rest of the party, each suspecting the others of being secretly Intelligence-possessed like Travers, and the mole that the Great Intelligence has been using against them. Victoria and a now-released Travers are found by Arnold, hiding in the tunnels, who leaves to seek help for them, evading their Yeti guards. Arnold finds Jamie and Lethbridge-Stewart, who are out searching for Victoria, and returns with them to the base- which is quickly overrun by fungus as the walls bulge and explode inward! With no safe haven left, the group flees into the tunnels, where the Doctor and Anne have successfully brought a Yeti under their control- but haven’t told anyone else about this. Ordering the Yeti to go on about its business as usual, acting as a sleeper agent until commanded to do otherwise, the two slip off to rejoin the group.

Evans is captured by a Yeti, while Arnold escapes, finding a panicked Chorley in the tunnels. Jamie, now holding the control-unit for the ‘captured’ Yeti, escapes also. Victoria and Travers are taken to a strange chamber, the center of the Great Intelligence’s power, where a chair-like device is hooked to a pyramid- the waiting transfer device to drain the Doctor’s mind. The Doctor decides to give himself up as the group is found by the Yeti and ushered to the Intelligence’s chambers. The Doctor uses his control-override device to briefly freeze the Yeti in place, making a quick adjustment to the headset-device they are carrying before unfreezing them again- they then place the headset on his head. Everyone but Jamie, Arnold, and Chorley are now reunited in the chambers of the Intelligence.

The Doctor warns his friends not to interfere as he submits to the Intelligence’s designs- the Intelligence, responding to Lethbridge-Stewart’s demands, reveals the traitor in their midst and its own bodily form: Staff Sergeant Arnold. Jamie is brought in, apparently captured by a Yeti- the one that he controls. As the Doctor is placed into the chair-device and hooked up to the pyramid, the Intelligence announces that the transfer is beginning- and Jamie orders the Yeti to attack, smashing the other Yeti. The Doctor yells for him not to interfere as Arnold is likewise incapacitated. Finally, over the Doctor’s protests, Lethbridge-Stewart and Jamie pull him free, hurling the headset into the pyramid and destroying both, which shuts down all of the Yeti.

The Doctor is livid, berating the celebratory group that they have won the battle when they could have won the war- he had secretly re-wired the headset so that he could drain the Intelligence instead of the other way around, dispelling its astral form and removing its threat forever- which is why he was so eager for the transference to take place. As it is, the Intelligence is defeated, its contact with Earth cut off... but it is still out there, somewhere, ready to one day return...


The Web of Fear... dark, claustrophobic (as the very cool reconstructed teaser on Youtube from the end of Enemy of the World promised)... but also loud, chaotic, and confusing in its reconstructed state. Sure, we get some nice trinkets- an exterior TARDIS-in-space shot, the first appearance of future 'companion' Lethbridge-Stewart, a very cool first-time (unless you count returning Daleks/Cybermen/Meddling Monk, who are really returning characters but don't feature in returning storylines- or The Ark, which is a sort of sequel within itself) revisiting/sequel story (this story being a follow-up to The Abominable Snowmen, set many years later, with an aged version of Professor Travers from that story) that really sells the time travel aspect of this show... but those cool moments, nice as they are, get lost against a dark, incoherent muddle. I don’t blame the story-writing for this, merely the reconstruction. As a sort of war/under siege story, it’s a lot of loud noise and chaotic action that was probably exciting as filmed, but hard to convey with stills and the occasional interspersing of the same 5-second clip of Yeti walking forward under fire. This, more than any since the Celestial Toymaker, is really killed by being a reconstruction. Maybe moreso, as the Celestial Toymaker was still enjoyable despite it. Here... here, it’s a good story that NEEDS its video components to survive, and falls flat without ‘em. Come on, people, start searching those basements, rummage sales, and foreign broadcasting offices. We just found 2 new episodes- a Galaxy 4 and an Underwater Menace- after a decade-long drought; proof that more lost episodes are out there- it’s time to find another one already!!!


This is also the second of three appearances of the dumpy-yet-implacable Yeti (barring a new series revival, which some fans are clamoring for), who wouldn’t appear again until the 25th anniversary special The Five Doctors (starring four Doctors, and one of them a stand-in), which brought back iconic monsters from each era. So in terms of story consideration, the Pseudo-Talz (seriously, go to Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, and look up a Talz. SAME COSTUME), the furry Grimaces... the dumpy, lumpy, unstoppable juggernaut robots that epitomize unintentional laughter and nostalgic fun from this era, essentially have their swan song here (setting a pattern to be repeated with the Autons, the Sontarrans, the Silurians, and numerous other monsters that, as often as they're talked about, you'd expect to see a little more often in the Classic Series- but instead became famous despite very brief appearances). And the Yeti ARE truly implacable here, facing not just primitive monks, but gun-wielding soldiers, and mowing them down with even more juggernaut-like irresistible force than before. More menacing than their last appearance, which serves them well.

Also returning is the Great Intelligence who controls them, in what I believe is also his swan song (now there's someone begging to be brought back in the New Series!)- though he never really feels like a part of the story, as he’s a background presence through most of it- the Yeti and fungus-web being faced by our heroes on the front lines occupying the center stage instead.

There’s not much to say about the overall story. London is overrun and evacuated (is this what it will be like in the Third Doctor’s UNIT days?) and everyone is trapped in the subway tunnels- Travers, his EVIL (looking) daughter, the military, a foolish reporter, and the TARDIS crew. Much running around is done as folks try to figure stuff out. Then, a final confrontation which Jamie ruins.


Yes, an interesting choice of endings. The brash heroics that Jamie so often showcases are put to poor use for once, as he actually unknowingly works against the Doctor’s plan (trying to save his life) and allows the Intelligence to escape to one day plague the Doctor again (not that it ever does). This is a nice multi-dimensional touch, allowing the character and the story to avoid retreading itself and giving a realistic dimension to the reality of brash heroics- sometimes they’re poorly thought out! It’s a lesson in caution to Jamie, and a lesson to the Doctor that his secret planning and continual holding back of knowledge can have consequences- a very unique and interesting twist.

As for characters and their roles in this one... in a twist on the usual, no one really felt like they had a strong role here- everyone about equally, doing very routine running-around stuff, and not standing out from the crowd. Again, maybe a visual interpretation would have clarified people’s actions a bit more, but as it is, it’s all a bit... cloudy. In fact, it wasn’t until I wrote my synopsis based off of a detailed story brief on the wiki that I finally understood what was happening in the story.

That said, there was one unique feature about the fan-made Youtube reconstruction we viewed. It was the most ambitious we’ve yet seen, including things like video of Jamie pounding on a door from another serial rotoscoped onto a photo of the background of a room from Web of Fear- little bits like this, 2-second video clips rotoscoped onto still images, people’s still cutouts being slid and moved around the screen like a Monty Python animation, etc. were incredibly creative, assuredly time-consuming, and did a great deal to inject life into the reconstruction, which I’d like to see a lot more in these fan reconstructions- but sadly, it still did little to add clarity to the action itself. Livening up chaos doesn’t provide as much aid as you might think. If only this same treatment had been given to a clearer serial. Makes me wish that so many of these 2nd Doctor fans-mades were replaced with their Loose Canon equivalents- based on their past work, they probably did a stellar job... we just don’t have those in our collection.

So, overall...

This is such a short review, and it kills me. I’ve always found something to talk about in the past- always. I’ve never just said “I can’t really review this one in reconstructed form.” The story, the characterization- even when I’ve had little to work with, there’s been something to discourse on. And I hate to change that, but... I can’t really review this one in reconstructed form. It’s probably a decent serial, but it’s too visual to survive in this reconstructed form. It’s like a person without their supporting skeleton- just a flabby little blob on the floor, unpleasant to look at or be around, jiggly, wobbly, deformed, and unclear. And with that lovely mental image, I leave ye be.

Great moments:

We see the Brigadier for the first time here! And also, the continuity of a return of Travers is really cool- making this start to feel like a cohesive universe, and not just a series of stand-alone shorts. Plus, the ending’s pretty good, with the Doctor’s upset chewing-out and the final little comedy bit about the trains. Oh, and the reconstructed teaser at the end of Enemy of the World. AWESOME!!!


While I don’t feel comfortable rating this serial overall, I have to remind myself that these ratings are for enjoyability watched as-is. And in that vein... I have to give Web of Fear 1 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats. It has enjoyable moments, and conceptually, as a first direct sequel/revisiting, it’s ultra-cool. But the current presentation is “All sound and fury, signifying nothing.”I am sure the actual story deserves better; but in it's current format, that's all I can give it. I do so wish the video would be found so that I can judge it on its own merits!

The reconstruction, on the other hand, is a sterling 4.5 out of 5 effort, it’s inconsistent and slightly goofy nature on occasion, putting motion and action in for clarity’s sake without thought to a polished presentation or not provoking unintentional laughter would be commendable in trying to provide needed clarity to this tale... if it succeeded in that and didn’t distract from the story. But it does, keeping it just short of a perfect score. Still, it’s technically impressive, extremely innovative, and clearly took a long time and a lot of careful work. Very impressive.

And my apologies if that last paragraph, or this entire review, is as muddled to you as the serial was to me.

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