The Web of Fear was just released on Blu-Ray with a (badly) animated Episode 3, so it’s time to take a look! Web of Fear holds a special place in my heart because pre-2013 it was one of the few stories I really enjoyed despite being almost entirely photo-slide recon and then in 2013 it was discovered whole! (though sadly Episode 3, the episode that features the debut appearance of future Brigadier Allister Lethbridge-Stewart, was nicked before they were picked up…) Watching Web of Fear with just one episode of Recon was great, but what’s it like now, with an … experimental animated Episode 3? How does it hold up in general? Let’s take a look!
The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are still in mortal danger as the TARDIS doors are open mid-flight thanks to dealing with Salamander in the previous story. Meanwhile on Earth an old enemy is planning his revenge in the depths of the London Underground…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Awwww, they’re so cute! …. Wait, I don’t want a hug that badly…. ARGH!!
Web of Fear feels like the earliest example of an Earth based UNIT story, despite not featuring the fictional group. While the Doctor and co. manage to close the doors to the TARDIS and save their lives the craft is soon ensnared in a mysterious web that eventually forces them to land in the London Underground, circa 1960s where the Great Intelligence has set itself up and is once again using mechanic Yeti to terrorise the local population (which makes less sense than Tibet, but hey-ho) Professor Travers (Jack Watling) and his daughter Anne (Tina Packer) are called in to assist the military set up to fight the Yeti menace given their past experience and scientific knowledge. Stationed there are Captain Knight (Ralph Watson), Staff Sgt. Arnold (Jack Woolgar), a journalist called Harold Chorley (Jon Rollason) and a bunch of other soldier fodder. So it’s your classic “base under siege” formula complete with a lumbering monster but the “base” being in the London Underground and it being full of contemporary soldiers gives it a different feel, a more… erm, I don’t want to say “realistic feel” given it’s robotic Yeti but you know what I mean!
Jamie and Victoria soon meet up with Knight and the Travers while The Doctor goes missing for an episode (to give Mr. Troughton some time off!), then Jamie finds comedy coward and Welsh stereotype Private Evans while The Doctor encounters Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, both Evans and the future Brig being survivors of an ammo resupply unit that was hit nearby. This gives us our cast for the remaining four episodes or so as The Great Intelligence sends Yeti all over the place while also filling the underground with a deadly fungus (which looks mysteriously like foam, as it tends to do during the Second Doctor era…) trapping our survivors in closer and closer quarters. Eventually Travers gets possessed and kidnaps Victoria (naturally…) and the Intelligence gives The Doctor an ultimatum that if he doesn’t surrender his mind then his friends will suffer. The Doctor and Anne build a method to control one of the Yeti as well as a box that can freeze them in place, and using this not only does this give them a friendly killer robot but our heroic Time Lord also fiddles with the machine that will take his mind so he can trap his foe forever…
The Briga- I mean, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart comes up with a subtle solution to the Yeti problem!
As the whole cast is gathered before the Intelligence (speaking through the corpse of Staff Sgt. Arnold) The Doctor enters the machine but before he can turn it back on his foe Jamie uses the controlled Yeti to wreak havoc and the Intelligence is sent away from Earth but very much still alive. The Doctor is furious that his friends pulled him out of the machine despite their good intentions but everyone else is relieved the threat is over.
It’s a fun story, lots of small twists with a good “who is secretly being controlled?” plot thread where it’s written so the viewer either distrusts the arrogant reporter or newly inserted character Col. Lethbridge-Stewart, who, among other things, doesn’t immediately recognise Private Evans despite being on the same convoy as him. Funny is retrospect that we’re supposed to distrust what is now the longest serving member of the cast bar The Doctor and some of his regular foes!
Remember the time The Doctor fused with Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars? …. Neither do I.
It’s time to talk about the weirdly moving elephant in the room: the Episode 3 animation. Rather than the often stylised 2D animation we’ve been getting its instead 3D and… wow, not very good 3D at that. The faces are disproportioned and often don’t resemble who they’re supposed to be, the mouths are barely moving slits and everyone sways and flaps around like whoever animating it thought the idea of someone standing still was an impossibility. Honestly, as the phrase goes, it looked like a PS2 game, but one created with no animation skills. A scene of The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria walking out of a room was so embarrassing to watch that all my “trying to see the best in it” good will vanished. I know the people behind it must have worked hard so I don’t want to come down on them too much, but it was really disappointing because they’re never going to re-animate it, so this is it for one of my favourite Second Doctor stories: an effort that would be praised had it been done by one man for YouTube but not so much on a Blu-Ray I paid for…
As for “bads” for the actual story? The only things that come to mind are Anne Travers and Private Evans. Anne has this super over-exaggerated grin throughout most of the story, even when something scary or upsetting is supposed to be happening, it drove me nuts sometimes. Evans on the other hand played his role perfectly, it’s just his role was to be dim-witted Welshman who kept trying to betray everyone due to cowardice and yet kept getting welcomed back into the fold every time. You’d think at some point someone would have at least slapped his annoying face… Oh and Professor Travers chews the scenery a bit, and then a lot during his time possessed by the Intelligence, and while I just find that funny your mileage may vary.
What I like about being able to finally take Blu-Ray screenshots is accidental moments like this, where Knight in the middle looks bored as hell while Travers waffles on. Can’t blame him, really…
Second Doctor-wise this is a direct sequel to “The Abominable Snowmen” and follows on from the cliffhanger at the end of “The Enemy of the World”. Col. Lethbridge-Stewart will return in the Second Doctor TV story “The Invasion” as a Brigadier, and the rest is history.
The Great Intelligence’s backstory is fleshed out in the Eleventh Doctor TV story “The Snowmen” and it later reappears in “The Name of the Doctor”. River Song meets Captain Knight just moments before this story begins in “The Web of Time”. Throw in a robot Yeti appearing in “The Five Doctors” and that’s about all I can think of!
Victoria hugs Jamie out of fear because that’s just what she does… well, apart from when she’s kidnapped.
The Web of Fear is a great story for the era, a base under siege with a more realistic twist (to the human survivors…) and a great setting. Ignoring the poor animation there are only a few negatives that just about knock it down from a 5, but it’s still a go-to story for a night in with the Second Doctor… Though I’ll go back to the photo recon next time…