Review: Doctor Who – The Web Planet

by @edent | # # #

Doctor Who DVD.

The Web Planet puts the first Doctor and his companions in the middle of a war between two alien races – the moth-like Menoptra and a hostile race of ant creatures known as Zarbi – for possession of the planet Vortis. With the help of a grub-esque people called the Optera, the Doctor discovers the Zarbi’s hidden weapon; the seductively voiced spider creature the Animus, which plans to ensnare the Time Lord and thwart his assistance to the Menoptra.

The Web Planet is a curio of a Doctor Who serial. In an era where the tapes of amazing stories were regularly destroyed, somehow this dog of a story survived!

Serials of this vintage usually have amazing ideas for stories which are poorly executed. There’s a gem of an idea buried deep in here – a planet where insects evolved into the dominant force and the giant ants are at war with giant moths. But it is so… flat!

As is usual with early Who, events just happen. There’s no particular reason why characters wander off, or make the decisions they do. The cliffhangers are dull, with no incentive to tune in next week.

Everything looks cheap. Partly this is because you’re watching on a TV which is 5 times the size of a sixties set. Every flaw is magnified. But even on a tiny screen, it’s obvious that the TARDIS is a battered and tatty old model.

That said, there are moments of beauty. The Zarbi are well designed. Even though you can see the actors’ legs, they somehow convey the alien otherness of the insect realm. The flying sequences with the Menoptra are magnificent. The theatricality of the performances of the Menoptra and Optera are sublime – both their movement and vocalisations contribute to the feeling that we’re not just watching people in cheap costumes. But it’s never quite enough.

But it is offset with the sheer dullness of the direction and acting. A bunch of giant ants start to attack and the human actors just… stand there. There’s no physicality or dramatic motion. Actors hit the cameras or forget their lines, and shooting just continues. It’s almost like we’re watching a rehearsal.

Four years later, the BBC would broadcast Star Trek for the first time. It’s hard to see how Doctor Who could have survived against the colour, drama, and professionalism of the American sci-fi.

The DVD has the usual array of special features. The “info text” subtitles are worth turning on. Lots of little trivia items – although it does sometimes veer off into “this shot was completed at 1 minute past the scheduled time, which meant that the actors couldn’t go to the pub” territory. Not always compelling.

The picture and audio are as good as you’re going to get for a show of this vintage.

One for completists only.

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