THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE TV STORY
"THE ENEMY OF THE
WORLD" AND PRIOR TO
THE BIG FINISH AUDIO
BOOK "THE GREAT SPACE
MERVYN HAISMAN &
'LOST IN TIME' DVD
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
AND 'THE WEB OF FEAR'
AUDIO CD (ISBN 0-563-
55382-0) RELEASED IN
When the TARDIS
arrives in the tunnels
of the London
Doctor, Jamie and
Victoria are reunited
Travers from their
But the Great
Intelligence is also on
Earth, and it wants
to drain the Doctor's
mind. Can the armed
forces, led by Colonel
help the time
travellers in their
mission to stop it?
ALL BUT EPISODE ONE
The Web of Fear
3RD FEBRUARY 1968 - 9TH MARCH 1968
The Web of Fear is a phenomenal story – without doubt the best story of Season 5 – and all based on such a simple, disturbing image: Yeti loose in the London Underground. This is one of those iconic stories that is forever etched into the minds of so many viewers, be they Doctor Who fans or not.
Those who originally tuned into the serial back in 1968 are now among a very privileged few, as for most of us this serial has only ever existed in the form of a single surviving episode; a narrated audio soundtrack; or, at best, a telesnap reconstruction. Nevertheless, thanks to John Cura’s telesnaps and the Restoration Team’s sterling work on the soundtrack, there is still much to be enjoyed here beyond the first extant episode.
The first episode has had a lot of exposure in recent years. Firstly, it was released as part of The Reign of Terror VHS box set by BBC Video, and then not long afterwards it was included in the Lost in Time DVD box set. It has even been aired on BBC 4 on more than one occasion. The episode still looks stunning on screen, particularly the lovely scenes at
the beginning in the museum which have a wonderful film-noire / hammer-horror feel to them.
My first experience of The Web of Fear way back when was via Terrance Dicks’ superb Target novelisation – “For forty years the Yeti had been quiet…” – but, quite unusually, I was not disappointed when I came to view the existing episode: the same magic that I found within the pages of the novelisation was there on screen. Of course, it is a great shame that more of the serial does not exist, but what we have does showcase The Web of Fear pretty well. For example, first and foremost we get to see the London Underground sets that are absolutely amazing. I am sure everyone will have heard the infamous anecdote about how the London Underground refused the BBC permission to film there and so the BBC had to build their own sets, which looked so realistic that the London Underground accused the BBC of filming there without permission! Seriously, that is how realistic these sets look. Secondly, although we do not see much of them, we do get the odd snippets of the redesigned Yeti. The most noticeable difference between these Yeti and those seen in The Abominable Snowmen is their ferocious, red glowing eyes, but if you look closely you will also notice that they are also a little sleeker, and there is also that roar… Yes, a toilet being flushed, played backwards! Thirdly, the first episode features a lot of Jack Watling reprising his role as Travers. Forty years older, the Travers in The Web of Fear is a much more likeable character (older, wiser, slightly madder) and I think that he works better as an old man. Sylvia James’ make-up job on him is equally impressive, beard and all!
This serial is also famous for sewing the first seeds of UNIT, and introducing us to a very fresh-faced Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Nevertheless, it is not until the third episode that we meet the future Brigadier properly. Nicholas Courtney (who had appeared
in Doctor Who before in The Daleks’ Master Plan as Bret Vyon) makes the first of many, many appearances in the most recognised role of his career... but it was so nearly very different. David Langton was originally cast to play the Colonel, but he dropped out at the
last minute and was replaced by Courtney, who had been due play Captain Knight. Director Douglas Camfield added the ‘Stewart’ suffix to the character’s name, as he envisaged the Colonel as an anglicised Scot similar to General ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell, and there you have it. Lethbridge-Stewart was born! The rest, as they say, is history.
The Brigadier-to-be is given much to do in the story, and fortunately a few clips of the brilliant battle scenes still exist thanks to some over-zealous New Zealand censors. The Colonel is not all-action though; there are some quite poignant moments for the character when, for example, he is unable to prevent the slaughter of all his men. He is even relatively open-minded about the TARDIS, which I found quite surprising – it certainly bodes well for his friendship with the Doctor and demonstrates the enormous trust that the rogue Time Lord engenders.
The Doctor himself, despite being absent from the second episode, is also at the heart of the story and his ‘tantrum’ at the story’s conclusion is a brilliant character moment. The whole thing – the Yeti in the Underground, the Web in Space; all of it – was all one big, elaborate trap for the Doctor. The Great Intelligence wanted all the Doctor’s knowledge for itself. And, although it failed to get them, the Doctor’s companions allow the Intelligence to escape, setting up a sequel beautifully…
Jamie enjoys a strong story too, teaming up with the Colonel for a great chunk of the plot,
but it does have to be said that Victoria has one of her all-time worst outings. Her stupidity beggars belief – there is a traitor in their midst, it could be anyone, and so she goes and
tells the prime suspect all about the TARDIS and where to find it! She does have some good scenes with the possessed Travers though, but unfortunately she screams her way through most of them.
Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln’s script still stands up incredibly well today. The plot is fast moving, the mood is atmospheric and dark, the incidental music is superb (that old stock Tomb of the Cybermen piece again) and there is also time for some comic relief in the form of Private Evans (the hilariously cowardly Welshman); Chorley (the gutter-press journalist); and Staff Sergeant Arnold (the stereotypical old soldier). We even meet Travers’ daughter Anne, played by Tina Packer. Ironically, she is a much more intriguing and better-rounded character than the one played by Jack Watling’s real life daughter! In many ways, Anne is a sneak preview of the kind of companion we would be getting in Zoe. Immensely intelligent, a bit too closed minded… She certainly works very well with the Doctor here, especially in their twenty-minute ‘real time’ race against the clock…
Finally, it has to be noted that The Web of Fear is a tremendous improvement on The Abominable Snowmen, which itself was very, very good. Truly ahead of its time, The Web
of Fear is a serial that cannot be missed. It is nothing less than a piece of television history. So go and buy the CD, get the Recon, or even read the battered old book! It doesn’t matter which, so long as you get hold of the story somehow...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? Professor Travers remarks that the events of The Abominable Snowmen occurred more than forty years ago, and his daughter states that those events took place in 1935. The later video Downtime, set
in 1995, suggests that these events took place approximately 25 years prior, suggest an early 1970s date for this story.
Both fit with the production team’s original vision of the UNIT stories taking place a number of years after their transmission dates, and the subsequent school of thought that places The Web of Fear in or around 1971, with The Invasion following in or around 1975, and Spearhead from Space shortly after that. However, such a placement is at odds with novels such as Who Killed Kennedy and the novelisation of Downtime, which both suggest that “the London Event” occurred in 1968, when the serial was first broadcast.
Please see the UNIT Dating Dossier for further information.
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