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The Web Planet

Production Code: N

First Transmitted

The Web Planet - 13/02/1965 17:40

The Zarbi - 20/02/1965 17:40

Escape to Danger - 27/02/1965 17:40

Crater of Needles - 06/03/1965 17:40

Invasion - 13/03/1965 17:40

The Centre - 20/03/1965 17:55

Plot

A strange power drain forces the TARDIS to materialise on the planet Vortis. There, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki become involved in the plans of the butterfly-like Menoptra to reclaim their planet from the parasitic Animus that is slowly enveloping it with its web-like domain, the Carsenome.

Joining forces with an advance party of Menoptra and the underground-dwelling Optra, the travellers manage to destroy the Animus, freeing the ant-like Zarbi and death-spitting larvae guns from its control and releasing the TARDIS from its influence.

Episode Endings

Left alone in the TARDIS, Vicki panics as the ship lurches violently. She operates the controls and the dematerialisation sequence starts. Returning to the ship to fetch help for the web-ensnared Ian, the Doctor is horrified to find that it is no longer there.

The Doctor, Ian and Vicki have been captured by the Zarbi and taken into a control centre. Their attempts to communicate with the creatures fail. A hood-like device descends from the ceiling and the Doctor is positioned under it. A voice asks the Doctor why he has come to this planet now.

Ian and the Menoptra Vrestin try to escape from some pursuing Zarbi by squeezing into a fissure in a rock-face. The ground gives way beneath them and they fall. The Zarbi and larvae guns swarm around the fissure.

The Menoptra forming the spearhead invasion force arrive and battle with the Zarbi. Barbara and Prapillus are caught in the middle of the fighting and find themselves surrounded.

Returning to the Carsenome with the Menoptra's isop-tope device, the Doctor and Vicki are herded into a chamber where they are enveloped in a web-like substance sprayed from wall-mounted nozzles.

The TARDIS dematerialises from the surface of Vortis. Prapillus vows that the Earth people will never be forgotten and warns that the Animus must never again be allowed to take root on the planet. The main Menoptra force is contacted and summoned back to Vortis.

Roots

Freudian terms.

50s giant insect movies.

Capek's The Insect Play.

D-Day (the Menoptra invasion plans).

White's The Sword in the Stone.

The Lord of the Rings.

The Outer Limits episode The Zanti Misfits.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Apart from rubbing our legs together like some sort of grasshopper, I doubt if we can get on speaking terms with them."

Prapillus : "The Menoptra have no wisdom for war. Before the Animus came, the flower forest covered the planet in a cocoon of peace."

Animus : "What Vortis is, I am. What you are, I will become."

Hetra : [Describes digging in one of Doctor Who's few attempts to show alien thought patterns.] "A silent wall. We must make mouths in it with our weapons, then it will speak more light."

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : [To Ian.] "Whatever power has taken hold of the TARDIS has taken your pen."

The Doctor : [Asking the Animus to lower its communication helmet] "Drop this hairdryer, or whatever it is."

Double Entendre

Barbara : "I saw a flash behind one of those crags!"

Continuity

The Doctor keeps specimens of creatures. He has heard of Vortis, and the Menoptra, but has never been there.

Vicki has acute hearing, hasn't heard of aspirin, and studied medicine, physics and chemistry at the age of 10, an hour per week, using a machine.

Ian once saw an ant colony eat its way through a house [he's been abroad, unless he meant that he saw this on TV]. His Coal Hill School tie is black with thin emerald stripes.

The TARDIS can be remotely controlled by mental power and prevented from taking off. Once Vicki accidentally realigns the fluid link, the take off noise is heard, and the light flashes as the TARDIS is dragged off by the Zarbi. [The Animus, from then on, has to prevent its departure.] The astral map has to remain connected to the ship [since it uses the TARDIS' navigation systems and scanner].

It is also a communications device and can [channel whatever TARDIS functions] change the allegiance of Zarbi control devices [telepathic circuits]. The ship carries Atmospheric Density Jackets, which work like spacesuits without needing helmets (see The Moonbase, Four to Doomsday). There is a hint that without power the TARDIS isn't indestructible [since the Animus' power blast is turned aside, the telepathic circuits took control of the weapon from the Animus, thus informing the Doctor that the power had returned].

Before the Animus arrived the Menoptra worshipped at temples of light and lived in flower forests, using Zarbi as cattle. The Optra are their subterranean evolutionary off shoot.

The Menoptra call the Animus 'Pwadaruk' and Web HQ 'the Carcinoma' [indicating that they see the parasite in medical terms].

The Animus absorbs many forms of energy, becoming stronger as it grows. It wants to invade Earth.

Young Zarbi are 'Venom Grubs', which can fire an [electrical] sting.

QV

The Doctor's Ring

The TARDIS Lock

Language

The TARDIS Scanner

Location

Vortis, in the Isop galaxy, now orbited by Pictos, [almost certainly in the far future as the Animus plans to 'take from man his mastery of space'].

Links

Trivia

The Menoptra captain Hilio is played by well-known actor Martin Jarvis in an early television role.

Barbara does not appear in Escape to Danger and Jacqueline Hill is not credited in the closing credits of that episode (a fact about which she later complained to the production team) as she was on holiday during the week when it was recorded.

Myth

The strange misty effect seen on the surface of the planet Vortis was created by smearing Vaseline on the camera lenses. (The effect was created by means of special filters fitted to the camera lenses.)

The butterfly-like creatures seen in this story are called Menoptera. (The correct spelling is 'Menoptra'.)

Goofs

Ian Thompson's decision to play Hetra with a stilted French bandit accent is interesting.

'Zarbiiiiiii!' A Zarbi hits a camera with an audible thump in episode three, and a Zarbi abdomen clangs on the studio floor.

One of the imprisoned Menoptra, judging by its gestures, is merrily chatting to a Zarbi guard.

The Zarbi are scared of tiny dead spiders.

In episode two, when Hroonda is killed, his wings fall off.

For five seconds in episode two, nothing appears to be happening in 'Web HQ'.

In episode four, as Ian is buried in the rock fall, someone can be heard laughing.

Shadows are cast on the sky through much of the story.

Barbara gives Vicki an aspirin when she asks for a sedative.

Fashion Victim

Ian uses his tie as a belt.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Vicki - Maureen O'Brien

Animus Voice - Catherine Fleming

Hilio - Martin Jarvis

Hlynia - Jocelyn Birdsall

Hrhoonda - Arthur Blake

Hrostar - Arne Gordon

Nemini - Barbara Joss

Prapillus - Jolyon Booth

The Menoptera: Vrestin - Roslyn de Winter

The Optra: Hetra - Ian Thompson

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - Robert Jewell

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - Jack Pitt

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - Gerald Taylor

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - Hugh Lund

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - Kevin Manser

Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi - John Scott Martin

Crew

Director - Richard Martin

Assistant Floor Manager - Gillian Chardet

Assistant Floor Manager - Elisabeth Dunbar

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - John Wood

Film Cameraman - Peter Hamilton

Film Editor - Gitta Zadek

Incidental Music - stock

Insect Movement By - Roslyn de Winter

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Norman Stewart

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - Dennis Spooner

Studio Lighting - Ralph Walton

Studio Sound - Ray Angel

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Bill Strutton

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Imaginative, ambitious, and, by modern standards, slow and silly looking. It's hard to judge a story that, at the time, was astonishing but has aged so badly. Effects age faster than anything else, so basing a story on them is risky. The insect gestures, odd speech patterns and use of camera filters are all sincere attempts to suggest the alien, applaudable in a series where aliens are usually Nazis with make-up. You've got to appreciate lofty ambitions.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Bill Strutton's The Web Planet is one of the most ambitious stories ever attempted in Doctor Who, and this may be seen as its great strength or its great weakness, depending on the spirit in which it is approached.

The story is unique in that all the characters featured, aside from the Doctor and his friends, are non-humanoid. The viewer is instead presented with an incredible array of giant insects and other life-forms: the ant-like Zarbi; butterfly people called Menoptra; the Optra, worm-like jumping creatures; the larvae guns, a kind of venom-spitting giant woodlice; and finally the Animus, a pulsating tentacled creature akin to a spider, lurking at the heart of its web. All these are seen against the backdrop of the planet Vortis, a bleak and echoing world, replete with rocky crags and pools of deadly acid. The sky is always dark and the many moons and stars are visible at all times.

It would be a challenge for any blockbuster film to realise all these requirements convincingly and yet, with their comparatively tiny budgets, Doctor Who's designers managed not only to create all the wonders required by the scripts but also to make them look quite decent - at least for the time of the story's production.

The Zarbi are introduced first, running about the planet on their two hind legs and trilling away to each other. In a way they are the most laughable of the creations as, despite the best efforts of the designers and actors involved, it is quite obvious that they are just men with ant costumes strapped to their backs. That said, they do work well as long as the viewer is prepared to become involved in the action and suspend disbelief.

Brigid Cherry discussed this aspect of the story in DWB No. 81 dated September 1990: 'The special effects which allowed the creation of ants in [the feature film] Them! were a high point of fifties science-fiction. In contrast with... The Web Planet, which has actors running around in fancy dress as ants, moths and woodlice, there were only two principal ants provided for the filming of Them!, and these were animated models...'

Rather less effective are the Menoptra. Again, the actors involved clearly expend a great deal of effort in trying to make them appear alien and strange; and their balletic movements, devised and co-ordinated by Roslyn de Winter (who played Vrestin), are largely effective in achieving this. The costumes created for them are also good; particularly the impressive translucent wings. In this case it is unfortunately the scripting of the characters that rather lets the side down. They come across as a fairly disorganised bunch of pacifists, and it is hard for the viewer to accept that they hope to defeat the Animus armed only with some sharp pieces of rock and an egg-like 'isop-tope' weapon.

Indeed, given that no Menoptra has ever actually seen the Animus and lived to tell the tale (as illustrated by the fact that, contrary to their expectations, it has no 'dark side'), it is difficult to understand how they could have developed an effective weapon against it in the first place.

The underground Optra, by contrast, are marvellously characterised and presented, with grunting voices, strange speech patterns and a curious leaping gait. The only negative point here is the costume's inclusion of what are supposed to be four vestigial arms, which just look daft. These creatures decide to help Ian and Vrestin to reach the Animus and, along the way, one of their number, the female Nemini, dies in a most horrific manner: in order to save the others, she uses her own body to plug a hole in the rock wall through which a stream of deadly acid is flowing. This is perhaps the most unsettling part of the whole story and, to his credit, William Russell as Ian manages to reflect the audience's feelings without saying a word.

A special mention must also go to designer John Wood for his amazing sets, which are at times quite breathtaking.

Leaving aside the incredible and fantastic characters and landscapes that the story presents, the plot itself is actually very simple and straightforward. At times, in fact, it seems that the writer and director have thrown in odd incidents of unexplained weirdness just to spice things up a bit. Examples include the TARDIS doors opening of their own accord and the control console spinning round for no apparent reason; Ian managing to put his foot - literally - in a Menoptra chrysalis when it is clearly visible on the ground with nothing else around it; and the Animus's strange influence over anything made of gold, including Barbara's bracelet, Ian's pen (although in the scene where this flies out of his hand, the wire by means of which the effect is achieved is unfortunately clearly visible) and the strange necklets used to subdue prisoners.

The story was certainly the weirdest the series had featured up to this point, and judging from the BBC's Audience Research Report on The Centre it was all a bit much for most contemporary viewers to take: '"Thank goodness this particular story is finished," commented a quantity surveyor from the substantial number of the sample for whom this episode had scant appeal. It also appeared that many viewers had found this last set of adventures centring round The Web Planet something of a disappointment, less arresting and entertaining than other Doctor Who stories they had seen, ridiculous to the point of being ludicrous, "silly instead of gripping", it was sometimes maintained - "Doctor Who is one of my favourite programmes, but just recently and especially the last episode, it seemed to become too stupid and I just couldn't get interested."

The whole series based on the Zarbi was "like a third-rate kiddies' pantomime," according to a library assistant. Quite a few of the sample in criticising this particular episode gave it as their opinion that Doctor Who as a series had deteriorated, lost its entertainment value and should be rested or "scrapped". Plainly, ideas were running out.'

The criticism of a shortage of ideas seems particularly inapt when applied to The Web Planet, however, and indeed there were some in the Audience Research Report's sample who took a different view: 'A few... seemed quite intrigued - "The Menoptra, Zarbi etc were most appealing. I adore science-fiction, so anything pleases me in this line"; "We always start off by saying how stupid this is and how far-fetched, but we always watch it and end up by sitting on the edges of our seats and thoroughly enjoying it, especially this one."'

Conceptually, The Web Planet is magnificent, a classic story of good versus evil played out with the fate of a planet hanging in the balance. There are good performances from all the leads and, despite occasional lapses, the direction is fine.

The success or failure of the story ultimately depends almost entirely on one factor: whether the viewer is prepared to appreciate the on-screen realisation of Strutton's bold concepts as the tour de force that it undoubtedly was for the time of production, or whether the admittedly now very dated look of the production presents too much of an obstacle and it is seen simply as six episodes of tedium in which a bunch of actors run around in silly insect costumes.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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