Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Web of Fear - "[I]s it safe?" "Oh, I shouldn't think so for a moment."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Web of Fear - Details

Season 5, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #41) | Previous - Next | Index

This shot alone worth the price of admission.
No sooner is Salamander sucked out the door into the vortex than we're caught up in a new adventure ... we're shown the TARDIS suspended in space, captured in a web, and then we're dropped straight into a 1950s B horror movie. Over the top acting,stock music cues, and all.

I'm going about this all out of order, so the robot yeti we encounter, and Professor Travers, would've been known by sight to anyone who'd watched "The Abominable Snowmen" first. This story was clearly made as an excuse to see the Yeti again. (Or to reuse them for budget purposes hoping they'd be a success first time around.) That's not particularly ambitious, but "Web" delivers on its modest goal. Those big, shaggy, Great Intelligence-controlled robots may not make hella sense, but they're so damned adorable can you blame fans for loving 'em? (That's a rhetorical question. Because no. You can't.)

After "Enemy" made a Bond-inspired, globe-trotting break from the Base Under Siege structure that characterized several earlier Troughton-era stories, "Web" has us squarely back in that mode. A mode in which it stays stuck for a while. In that sense, this is a bit of let down. Where "Enemy" was doing something a bit daring and different, "Web" takes no chances at all. And, after introducing a strong woman of color in the previous story, is back to being lily-white with only a stereotypical German Jew giving this story anything like diversity. The Yeti, great as they are, are recycled; so, this feels so very much like generic Doctor Who. It's hard to shake the been there, done that ennui.

That feeling of nothing being new here is reinforced by the modern-day viewer's benefit of hindsight. We know that Nicholas Courtney's Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart will get promoted and go on to become a fixture of the series for years to come -- even contributing a daughter to carry on the Stewart name into the new series. Back at the time this was shown, I don't think that was predictable. More likely alert viewers would've thought instead: "Isn't that the bloke who played Bret Vyon a few years back?"

While we're noticing things that will get reused, the foam that fills the tunnels of the London Underground will be used again in "The Seeds of Death" as the spores the Ice Warriors try to smother the Earth with. Again, hindsight makes it obvious, but it wouldn't have seemed so same-y to those watching in 1967.

I lamented the return to League of White Men casting above, but I nearly forgot one of the better moments in terms of the portrayal of women that this story featured:
KNIGHT: What's a girl like you doing in a job like this?
ANNE: Well, when I was a little girl I thought I'd like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist. 
You tell him, Anne.

Yeti, Lethbridge-Stewart, the bit of dialogue above, some decent atmosphere. That's what this has going for it. Uncomfortable Jewish stereotyping, some hammy acting, and a general lack of originality or a sense that it has anything in particular to say work against it. Glad it was found, but "Power of the Daleks" still looks like the missing story we needed the most.

You know, I'm glad the restoration team, upon finding finally getting hold of this film, didn't feel obliged to insert a CGI Jenna Coleman into the story to link it to the Series 7 GI arc. (A DVD extra with tongue firmly in cheek on the other hand would've been a nice Easter Egg.)

Small trivia note: John ("Sgt. Benton") Levene, who'd later join Nicholas Courtney as part of the regular UNIT crew appears here, but you wouldn't know it until the credits rolled as he played one of the yeti.

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