The epic return of two foes and introduction of a lifelong friend and ally
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The Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria finally stabilise the TARDIS, but find that they’re stuck in some sort of fungus and suspended in time and space. They escape but soon find that a vast intellect – or let’s call it, hm, ‘Great Intelligence’ – has pulled them to the London Underground in 1975 when and where it has used its Robot Yeti to take over the city.
Soldiers are battling the Yeti invasion, and when their leader is killed by the alien robot menace, who better to step into his shoes and lead the troops but… Were you going to say The Doctor? You’d be wrong. Enter stage left: Lieutenant Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart – later Brigadier – in his first ever appearance on Doctor Who.
Obviously, the Doc helps as well.
The Web of Fear sees the Doctor confront foes first introduced in The Abominable Snowmen.
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Oh my word, Podcast Land! I’ve returned once more for my sixth mini/maxi review on WhoBackWhen, and this time we’re about to go Underground as the Doctor takes on the Yeti once more in “The Web of Fear”.
As always, it’s time for a fact file!
• Only episodes one, two, four, five and six of this six-part story exist in the BBC Archives as 16mm black & white film telerecordings. Why that is? We’ll get to that!
• This Serial marks the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, later the much loved Brigadier.
• It is stated that this story takes place approximately 40 years after The Abominable Snowmen adventure in Tibet, which it states took place in 1935.
• Professor Travers is once again portrayed by Deborah Watling’s father, Jack Watling.
• The studio sets of the London Underground were so realistic, the BBC apparently received a letter of complaint from London Transport, claiming filming had been done on their property without permission. Now that’s dedication to detail!
• The closing credits for each episode except episode six were rolled against an image of the pulsing web.
• Another in-joke features in episode three (and is fortunately immortalised in John Cura’s tele-snaps), when Driver Evans takes a chocolate bar from a platform vending machine. The bar’s wrapper is seen to read “Camfield’s Fairy Milk Chocolate” — a reference to director Douglas Camfield and to comply with the BBC’s policy of not displaying brand named products on screen.
• In 2013, along with other lost episodes from “The Enemy of the World”, episodes two and four through six were returned to the BBC intact. But the story doesn’t end there. It seems the serial was located in 2012, IN FULL! That’s right, ladies and gents. Web 3 was found, but was snatched up before it could be returned to the BBC. There is photographic evidence of this !f you would like it, I can provide it. So that’s why Web 3 still remains missing. But we now have hope because a copy of Web 3 is floating about somewhere out there.
Alright, fact file done. Onwards to the review!
This is definite classic material. The Abominable Snowmen was the Yeti’s start, but it’s this serial that cement’s the place in history of the Yeti in the show’s lore. But why is it that way?
Perhaps it’s because The Web of Fear forms a clever sequel to that other classic, The Abominable Snowmen. Just 13 weeks later we have the fun of seeing Travers decades older, reeling at the sight of the Doctor’s youthful party and desperately guilty; he’s reactivated a Yeti control sphere and triggered the current crisis.
Or is it the craziness of this serial? Robotic Yeti. In the London Underground. Armed with web guns. Controlled by a disembodied Intelligence. Spreading pulsating fungus… Ludicrous, yes, but dramatised with such heart-stopping graveness that it works brilliantly. Only in Doctor Who!
Maybe it’s the inherent horror of the Underground. With almost all the action locked deep within the Tube (or the confines of a drab, subterranean fortress), writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln tapped into the claustrophobia latent in most commuters and visitors to London. (This thought was expanded upon in RT’s Web of Fear feature – accompanied by an abysmal cartoon. I can provide a picture, if you like!) Nothing was filmed on the real Tube, but the sets at Ealing and Lime Grove are remarkably convincing. So convincing, in fact that the Transport Department sent a letter to the BBC about it, saying what they did wasn’t okay with them. But I bet you knew that already.
Could it be episode three’s casual introduction of Lethbridge Stewart? On the page he’s shrewd and enigmatic, but director Douglas Camfield redrew the character as a very young colonel and “anglicised Scot”. Thus Nicholas Courtney (then 38) joined the series. Given how, as the Brigadier, he would become so popular – indeed Doctor Who’s most enduring star – it’s queer that we never actually witnessed his first meeting with the Doctor. They’ve already hooked up off screen moments before Victoria finds them in a tunnel.
And full praise to Haisman and Lincoln for making these people feel real. There’s Chorley, the oily hack who becomes a gibbering wreck, rheumy old Sgt Arnold (“Don’t try to be funny with me, lad!”) and cowardly Evans (“You’ve got to take care of Number One in this world. I’m getting out of these tunnels fast!”).
Anne Travers (“I have a very quick temper and very long claws”) is a rounded modern woman and bright enough to be co-opted by the Doctor. Study her: she’s a prototype of 1970 companion Liz Shaw. And, of course, there’s grumpy Professor Travers (“Television? Never watch it!”).
The Web of Fear is a tour de force for Douglas Camfield. He’s masterly at creeping terror (Victoria lost alone in the tunnels), shock-reveals (lurking Yeti, the fungus) and the spectacular battle in Covent Garden. He also polishes moody dialogue scenes – the Doctor explaining the Intelligence and secrets of the Tardis to the Colonel; possessed Travers revealing the Intelligence’s plan; and the row at Silverstein’s museum…
This sequence is shot and lit like a Hammer horror and uses a magnificently eerie excerpt from Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. When the Yeti is reanimated, it’s cuddly owl-like outline shimmers before our eyes into a brutal hulk with eyes ablaze. It’s a brazenly unexplained transformation that enhances the Yeti’s supernatural mystique. Both are superb designs by Martin Baugh. These Mark II Yeti also growl – long thought to be the distorted sound of a toilet flushing. Guess we can get an idea of where the Radiophonic Workshop people at the time got their best ideas, eh?
So, overall, what do I think of this serial? Well, it’s better than it’s predecessor, that’s for sure! This was the serial that cemented the Yeti as icons like the Ice Warriors, the Cybermen and the Daleks in my eyes. I mean, this serial had iconic villains so iconic, they were pulled up for New Series revivals! Well, the Intelligence was, anyways. Indeed, it would be nearly 45 years before the Great Intelligence returned, and when he did, he came back in a big way, tying up loose ends and overall being a great villain. So, I’m giving this serial a 4/5. This serial has it’s problems, but they are so few and far in between, they aren’t really worth mentioning, are they? The sets were fantastic! The monsters are classic, and Troughton and the rest of the cast were at their best! This serial is maybe the best of Season 5 of Classic Who so far, but we still have two to go before we’re done!
Also, just to remind the viewers who don’t listen to the podcast on the official WhoBackWhen website, I changed my extremely low rating of “The Enemy of the World” from a 2.95/5 to a 4.0/5. I have no idea why my heart went so cold on that serial. Maybe because I’ve seen it so many times and I found it boring. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. So, rating has changed. 4.0/5. Don’t know why I was so cold towards it. I do truly like it, but I was just bored with this serial.
Next time, the Doctor and Company land on a beach someplace and are soon in trouble again. We got weeds, foam, sonic screwdrivers, one of the creepiest faces in all of Doctor Who history and we say goodbye to someone. Next time, join Ponken on a Solo Mission as he takes a look at “Fury from the Deep”. And I’ll be there with another Mini Review! See you then!
The Web of Fear
(Hey I’ve finally caught up to the podcast with my viewing, I’ve been in the past for so long it’s good to finally be here.)
This is a solid and enjoyable story from beginning to end. The pace is constant throughout. I was never less than interested, but I was never enthralled either. It’s a shame the Great Intelligence won’t return for so long (or does it?) There’s no bad performances here and the portrayals are quite successful in keeping you guessing about who the collaborator is, even for those of us who have watched the series before and forgotten.
The Foggy web-ooze is a great extension of what we see at the end of the abominable snowmen and it’s great to see Prof. Travers years later (this is something Dr. Who as a whole didn’t do enough of). It’s a good reminder that people’s stories continue after their adventure is over. I could almost wish for a novel of his adventures between the two stories.
Even though Victoria is just going along for the ride as usual, I feel she stands out in this story, with constant portrayal, smooth dialog and a range of emotion. I could wish they would find more for her to do though. It seems the writers are stumped by her character’s limitations though. She’s a good actress and a good character, but needs more to do than be the damsel.
Colonel Lethbridge Stewart, we’ve been waiting for you. This man is in control of the scene from the minute he steps into it, and won’t stop stealing the scene (or supporting it with perfection) until the painting on the wall in Peter Capaldi’s era. His first command on screen here doesn’t go entirely well though does it? Remember the initial shock he portrays when he returns from his team being wiped out entirely. I believe this event is an influence on many of his decisions later on. He’s not going to ever let that happen again. His reliability and level headed thinking, along with the doctor getting them out of a truly hopeless situation here is what ultimately leads to a total and undying trust in each other for decades to come. As such, the most missed footage of the week award goes to the introduction of the Brigadier….ahem Colonel.
The London underground set is flawless (don’t take my word for it, listen to the commentary found on the recons and DVDs). Posthumous rewrite of the week would be to replace some of the random “I’m going out there for no good reason” scenes with some more character moments with Victoria and the other characters. One thing she is good at is getting other characters to open up, and there should be more of that in this story.
Overall a good, solid romp, but I never feel it’s an amazingly, edge of the seat adventure. 3.9
The Web of Fear introduces the man who will be Brigadier. And was he ever a breath of fresh air. After the belligerent or obstructive military leaders of serials past, seeing Lethbridge-Stewart ally with the Doctor, providing aid and a reasonable amount of skepticism instead of stubborn disbelief, was welcome.
On the cons, this serial has an issue that tends to get to me in Old Who serials. It consists of a lot of running back and forth from point a to point b and then back to point a, with one final trip to point b for good measure. Honestly, I’m not sure that it actually has it any more or less than past serials, but I felt it more here.
For pros, I liked the special effects shorthand of using the Underground map to track the progress of the web fungus, even if it does bend the rule of Show Don’t Tell. The setting of the London Underground also gave things a confined feel, which adds to a sense of suspense.
My favorite scene has to be the firefight with the yeti in episode four. It helps it was accompanied by the Cyberman theme we’ve heard before, which is a long standing favorite of mine.
One detail that stood out for me is that the Doctor actually fails to destroy the villain. Usually he’ll manage to destroy any threat the monster of the week may pose. The Daleks alone have been genocided about six times now. And along with that comes the irony that with all the concern over who was a mole for the Intelligence, it happened because of the one person the Doctor could trust implicitly.
I originally had my rating pegged at about a 3.5 or 3.6 because I had forgotten the firefight. That brought it up for me enough to declare my final resting a 3.9.
I’ve decided to take notes as a stream of consciousness as I listen to your podcast, which I really enjoy, and later edit them into a short commentary. My first thought was I like your consideration of the title. Your guesses about what “The Web of Fear” is are plausible. Is it the web of tube stations and tracks beneath London or the weird web fungus causing peril to the entire city? Things that may you say “Hmmm”
Before and after London is imperiled, the story resolves the cliffhanger from the previous serial, “Enemy of the World”. Spoiler: The bad guy from the last serial invaded the TARDIS and started it after the Doctor and his companions arrive. Then, he was sucked outside through the still open doors less painfully than Goldfinger bought it in his Bond movie. The podcast ponders where “outside” is nicely and spoilers are over for now. Back in the console room, our heroes struggle to close the doors in a tension filled escape scene highlighted by Deb Watling’s wonderfully wiggling thighs. Well spotted, guys.
Fast forward to a private museum somewhere in London. Prof. Travers (Mumbletron) and Silverstein (Goldberg)’s argument transpired because Travers lost his Yeti control sphere and was worried the robotic killer in the museum ( a Nyeti) would be reactivated. Goldberg is unimpressed, thinks his long standing purchase is especially valuable, and dies because Mumbletron is right.
Anne Travers (Sassy Anne) appears in the same scene before the greedy Londoner’s death. She is a lifelong scientist living her dream. If, as you suggest, she earned her Doctorate we would have Professor Travers; Doctor Travers; and the Doctor in the story and many of the same scenes. These similar references to characters could eventually confuse the audience. As you say, recurring characters are great for the audience, which is why Victoria recognizes Mumbletron and he recognizes her and Jamie. As an aside, nobody recognizes the Doctor because he was separated from his companions at the end of ep 1 and doesn’t appear in the second episode at all.
Episode 3 of the DVD is reconstructed as opposed to being animated like other commercially available, unrediscovered lost episodes. This treatment is due to the fact the serial was largely recovered at the same time as all missing material from “Enemy of the World” and BBC wanted to release both quickly in time for Christmas. So, the episode reunites the Doctor and his companions so that they can team up with the army and their new leader, Col Lethbridge Stewart. Actor Nicholas Courtney previously appeared as Space Security Agent Bret Vyon in the first four eps of “The Dalek Masterplan”, of which ep 2 was rediscovered. (It appears on the “Lost In Time” DVD collection with the first ep of our serial here, which has a commentary.)
As a continued aside, Agent Vyon is the only good guy in the Universe, galaxy, or solar system who is not the Doctor and has a clue as to what is going on in the story. Col. Lethbridge Stewart will become the most important character in DOCTOR WHO who is not the Doctor. In our story, he is not comic relief, but an extremely competent officer, pleased to show his papers to a junior officer not willing to accept his appearance at face value. Lethbridge Stewart is eager to get on with, “some practical soldiering,” after a short briefing where he issues some orders. Nevertheless, without the Doctor, despite well trained men armed with bullets and grenades as well as more high tech equipment like bazookas, his plans willl never come together because he hasn’t got a chance against the Yeti.
Lethbridge Stewar’s ingrained suspicion, though, though, is warranted because the plot soon introduces a saboteur among the good guys. Then, a series of red herrings keeps the plot moving and the audience guessing as to who it might be. Because our current story in an embryonic UNIT tale, the answer might be Sergeant Benton. He will be a corporal when we meet Lethbridge Stewart again in “The Invasion”, but, for now, actor John Levene appears unrecongizably as a Yeti. Could be be the traitor? No. The Yeti, however, appear in London because this story is, as you all said, the sequel to “The Abominable Snowmen” and their presence helps immediately reveal this fact to the audience.
Meanwhile, the army goes into action which leads to carnage and demonstrates Lethbridg Stewart’s leadership. The battle also keeps our heroes confined in the atmospheric, claustrophobic underground, which was so well built in studio the London transit people complained filming took place without permission. Good stuff! This action was induced by mini-Yeti homing beacons leading to more running to and fro until it is revealed this entire situation is an elaborate trap created to drain the Doctor’s intelligence. Holy Rube Goldbrick, Batman! Our hero’s dismay at the good guys participating in the climactic battle is great and his failed, foiled plan to solve his problem demonstrates the very intelligence the Great Intelligence, the Big Bad, desired all along.
Back in the first episode, the Great Intelligence immobilized the TARDIS in web like fungus stuff. The Doctor, though, used his much desired, vast intelligence to escape and evade the trap he knew the Great Intelligence had set for him. Oh, he escaped by building something to modify the expected course of the TARDIS for the aforementioned purpose and comedy. As a disembodies entity, the Great Intelligence is limited and compensates for its inadequacies with the familiar Yeti. However, it also seems able to animate dead bodies and use them for its ends. This ability opens fantastically creepy possibilities. The Great Intelligence could animate and utilize literally ANYONE, but would have to kill such a puppet first.
The story, like most 6 parters, could be told more tightly. Nevertheless, it appeals to the audience well, using recurring villains; recurring monsters; and recurring allies. The Yeti will not appear again until Peter Davison is the Doctor, perhaps because, according to Terrence Dicks, the sound effects people could not keep their fearsome roar from sounding like a flushing toilet, despite their scarier glowing eyes, about which the Doctor previously warned viewers.
So, while long and flawed “The Web of Fear” has firsts that appeal to fans and make it pivotal in the history of our favorite show.