Thursday, 3 March 2011

13: The Web Planet - An Overly Ambitious, Poorly Executed Mess.

Written by: Bill Strutton.
Companions: The Doctor, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright and Vicki.
Monsters/Villains: The Animus, The Zarbi.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives on the Planet Vortis, where the Butterfly-like Menoptra are trying to regain there world from the ant-like Zarbi, slaves of the Animus...
Rating: 1/10.

I'm genuinely sorry to do this. I love Doctor Who and I would defend it fervently to anyone who dare say even the smallest bad thing about it. So, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but this is just awful. 

I know, I did it, I actually said a Doctor Who story is 'bad.' This is the first I've watched in the run so far that I really struggle to find positives. I won't find myself doing this often but this is a couple of fruits short of loopy.

Ian and The Doctor in their ADJ's
through an odd camera filter.
The Tardis arrives on this very odd, very alien planet Vortis in the Isop (as in 's fables) galaxy, and in order to help us, the audience, understand just how odd this alien planet is they've used a strange camera filter to make everything look a bit wobbly. Yes that's the technical term, 'wobbly.' There is a long tendered myth that the camera man smeared vaseline over the lens to create this effect. This isn't true but it might as well be. 

The crew meet the butterfly-like Menoptra who are attempting to reclaim their planet from the brainwashed Zarbi controlled by the Animus, an alien intelligence which landed on Vortis. The Animus manifested itself within an organic, self-healing palace called the Carcinome. Along with the TARDIS crew, the Menoptra join forces with the Optra; who are basically woodlice, to defeat the Animus.

The Optra, possibly the worst Doctor Who monster ever?!
The Doctor and Ian don these odd coats, called ADJ's, (Atmospheric Density Jacket) as Vortis has different gravity to that of earth or any other planet the TARDIS crew have been to before or will ever go to again. This along with the scripts references to the human's struggling to breath on Vortis, attempt to make the world seem more alien, but they seem to forget about them when it's inconvenient. When Barbara and Vicki venture out of the TARDIS they aren't wearing ADJ's and they seem fine. 

There's an interesting expositional scene in the TARDIS between Barbara and Vicki, where we learn some more of Vicki's background. She finds the idea of taking an aspirin to alleviate her headache as medieval as we would find applying leeches. She admits to having studied medicine, physics and chemistry at the age of 10, an hour per week, using a machine.

The first cliffhanger is actually quite good. 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. It turns out that it was actually carried away by Zarbi.

The Animus.
My main criticism of this piece is that a lot of the ways they try to make Vortis unearthly just come across as unnecessary and inexplicable. Why do the beings of this planet move their arms around in an interpretive dance style? Why do all the creatures on this planet have such incredibly odd voices almost singing their words? Why do we see the planet through an odd misty lens? Why do the Doctor and Ian wear Atmospheric Density Jackets at the opening of the story but then later no longer require them? Why do Vicki and Barbara not need them at all? Why do they sporadically find it difficult to breath on Vortis and the rest of the time appear to be totally fine? All of these things could be fine and well but some explanation wouldn't go amiss.

The Doctor conferring with the Animus or doing his har? 
The best I can really say about this is that in 1965 this might have been an..... attempt at visualising an alien world, but today it just honestly looks like a bunch of people in silly costumes, singing, doing interpretive dane or stomping around. This was a hard one to get through, but my resolve is still strong.

Join me next time for another historical, The Crusade.


Anonymous said...

very enjoyable to read mate! Keep up thee good work.

Anonymous said...

At the time, this was a very scary set of episodes. Maybe the induced flare made it seem more alien. Don't forget that these will have been watched on tiny "goldfish-bowl" sets with 405 lines, so the primitive effects will look much more glaring on today's equipment!
My uncle was making me a dalek costume for Christmas when these were aired, and I remember he flatly refused to even think about making a zarbi costume as well....


Steve said...

I was wondering what you were going to rate The Web Planet if The Edge of Destruction received a 2/10.  Well, a 1/10 sounds about right!  I've put it off for six years, but I think I'll get it on DVD just to have a complete set of 1st Doctor episodes, and because it seems good to have as much 1st Doctor as possible.  That said, I don't know when I'll watch it.  Even previously borrowing it from my former roommate, I returned it, saying, "Sorry, too tedious to watch."  The worst episode until some of the 6th Doctor ones.  And still possibly the worst!  I think it would have been better if it had Susan instead of Vicki.  I love the Barbara/Ian/Susan team!