Doctor Who: The Web Planet Review

So, along with the Twin Dilemma (already reviewed) and Paradise Towers, The Web Planet was one of the stories I was least looking forward to re-watching one day for this blog. I convinced myself that my dislike for it probably came from the mistake of watching all six parts in a row back when the DVD came out, so I watched it in three lots of two episodes this time and… nope, still extremely boring and super cringey in places. I do admire how far they went with how little money they had, it’s an impressive story for a 60s British TV serial (well, apart from the Zarbi…) but still doesn’t make it very fun to watch… So, let’s get it out the way then, shall we?

Synopsis:

On the planet Vortis, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki are swept up in the struggles of the butterfly-like Menoptera, the original denizens of Vortis who were forced to flee the planet for the moon Pictos to escape the encroaching web of the Animus and its mind-controlled minions, the ant-like Zarbi.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

I mean, all things considered, they don’t look that bad. Sound? Yeah, but look? They’re fine.

As I said in the opening paragraph, the story is impressive for 1965 BBC TV, with one or two exceptions, and the scope is large. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki (I’ll mention “played by Maureen O’Brien”, as I think this is the first time she’s appeared on this blog…?) are pulled down to the planet Vortis against their will and head out to explore, or pulled out against their will. They meet an intelligent butterfly-like race called the Menoptera and a simple-minded ant-like one called Zarbi, the latter of which are under the control of a powerful mental creature known as “The Animus” (voiced by Catherine Fleming). It turns out that the Animus invaded Vortis, enslaved the Zarbi (as well as bug-like creatures called “Larvae guns” that they … well, use as guns) and forced the Menoptera to flee the planet, the few that our crew meet are an advance party trying to reclaim their home world. During their adventure they meet the Optera, a race of Menoptera who had fled underground instead of off-planet and evolved to lose their wings and become sensitive to light. So lots of good ideas and with a more convincing Zarbi costume, less panto acting, a non-blurry camera and at least two fewer episodes it would’ve been fine…

The Bad:

I mean…. No, they’re pretty bad. Especially when one bumps into the camera at one point…

The first thing, as mentioned several times, is the pacing. The first episode is almost entirely incident free and mostly just The Doctor and Ian wandering about the surface of the planet while Barbara and Vicki act like mother and daughter. Most of the rest of the story is actually not as full of capture-escape-recapture as you’d think, instead Ian spends several episodes wandering around with a Menoptera called Vrestin (Roslyn de Winter) and meeting the Optera, then eventually climbing up to the Animus chamber and… literally doing nothing as Barbara throws the bomb that finishes the psychic-powered spider thing off. His role in the story comes to nothing, apart from introducing us to the race with the most over-the-top acting of them all who also do nothing. Similarly The Doctor and Vicki spend multiple episodes playing around with the Animus’ mind controlling device and the Zarbi but never really doing much. It’s one of the most shining examples of a story that really needed some trimming.

As mentioned I don’t like to rag on the effects of the mid-sixties TV story, but the Zarbi are hard to take seriously as their clearly human legs poke out of the bottom of their hard plastic tops that then start bumping into things due to a clear lack of visibility… their “Larvae guns” looked much better which made them look worse when they were in the same shot. At least the Menoptera and their underground off-shoot have good costumes, but they’re ruined by a very old fashioned way of stilted “speaking like an alien” speech, with lots of over-gesturing and looking right at the camera. The Optera’s leader Hetra (Ian Thompson) is possibly the worst offender here, with “simple tribesman” speak and a weird hopping way of moving due to the Optera’s costume. I know, especially in these early days, the show was very much only aimed as children, but it’s not normally THIS cheesy and cringey.

It’s Ian and The Doctor *squints* I … I think…

The last thing that drove me crazy was the scenes on the planet’s surface, and I’m not talking about it clearly being a wooden stage with a flimsy backdrop, that’s fine for the time period and budget so that doesn’t bother me, what did bother me is the weird smeary, blurry effect placed on the camera. Apparently because the planet has a thin atmosphere it was decided to put a distorting lens on and then smear that with Vaseline… what a great decision! It made the whole exterior scenes hard to focus on and generally unpleasant to look at. It’s one of those things where it might have looked good on small 60s TV screen, but I can confirm it hasn’t aged well to the point of being distractingly bad.

The Continuity:

“For God’s sake, yes! We’re both women breathing oxygen, stop questioning literally EVERYTHING you see!” “But, Barbara… Why?” “Argh!!”

The Doctor re-visits Vortis several times, for some reason… The Second Doctor novel “Twilight of the Gods”, Fourth Doctor comic “The Naked Flame” and Fifth Doctor audio drama “Return to the Web Planet” all feature the planet as its central location. The Animus and some Zarbi are teleported to Earth as part of the multi-Doctor story “Prisoners of Time”, while the bracelet that drags Barbara out of the TARDIS in episode one was given to her by Nero in “The Romans”.

Overall Thoughts:

Who doesn’t like a final villain that’s all tentacles and pulsating lights? It’s a classic!

The Web Planet is a good attempt at creating something that was blatantly outside of their budget, but it was always going be far too long to sustain interest even if it had modern costumes and effects. The stilted speech and blurry camera only add to the story’s inability to make me want to continue watching it, so I’m afraid despite the fact it was a “good effort” I’m not going to be watching this again… probably ever. Ah well…

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