Sunday, 8 January 2012

Web of Fear

So the blog has been unused for a bit after a very busy period, after which I didn't get back to it. The second half of series 6 has come and gone, and I suppose my thoughts will go up about that. The christmas special didn't have much of anything about it but I'll think of something.

But for now, I'm stepping back to look at the Web of Fear. I have the audio, but today I saw the first episode for the first time and there's so much promise. The underground sets are of a very high quality as I have read elsewhere. It is often reported that London Transport denied them the right to film (or perhaps simply wanted too much money) and then complained after airing of the episode that they had made unauthorised use of the underground for filming. The sets are good, but Covent Garden doesn't have plain tiled walls, and did they really think the BBC managed to sneak a film crew down there and run around on the platform and tracks?

The Great Intelligence is back and using Yeti again. This made sense in the Himalayas so now I assume they are just copied from the single robot Yeti that Travers brought back. Well that was a wise thing to do. Who built these extra Yeti? Did the Intelligence possess a few people into doing its bidding like WOTAN did in the War Machines, and churn a few out? The Yeti have taken to the London Underground, their eyes now glow and they have guns that shoot out endless amounts of web that covers everything. Oh and there's a lethal fog that gets everyone else. This web fills up the Underground, disables explosives, kills people when sprayed at them and moves around at fairly high speeds of its own accord, going from Queensway to Chancery Lane in under half an hour. The fog hangs around and swallows people up without trace. Is it poison gas, produced by the Yeti's weapons or part of the Intelligence itself? The Yeti are a menace often in the background, sometimes characters venture out safely, sometimes there's one lurking around the next corner. It's the base-under-siege stuff that defines this era of Doctor Who.

Talking about oddities on the Underground, there are a few suspect moments where characters get around awfully fast between locations that are quite far apart, and the progression of the fog/web doesn't entirely make sense. It's also surprising the Victoria react with incredulity at the idea of underground trains, the Doctor says that it's 'a little before your time'. But wait, isn't she from London 1866 (Evil of the Daleks), the Underground first opened in 1863 and was having extensions made frequently. It's not as if they kept quiet about it prior to opening, so this doesn't make sense unless she's very sheltered. How long did the Daleks keep her locked up?

This is of course the first story with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, sorry, that's Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. He obviously got a promotion after saving London and setting up UNIT, but he then never received another. UNIT were notorious for not promoting any of their staff, Benton went up twice, but no one else did. That, along with the minimal command structure and the high fatality rate of squaddies, it's a wonder that they got any recruits at all. Maybe the hazard pay was particularly generous. Anyway, heading off the point now but I'm inspired to write a whole piece about UNIT...

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is at his most credible in his first appearance. He takes the Doctor's story about a time and space machine in a Police Box almost at face value. Strangely his further encounters with alien life would seemingly make him more and more sceptical until unable to accept the bleeding obvious (The Three Doctors). In later years he would loosen up and become a bit more open minded.

The story builds gradually to a climax, I wish we had it all because it sounds wonderfully eerie on the soundtrack and the single remaining episode offers so much. The Great Intelligence has a plan to drain the Doctor's mind using a headset attached to some machine. But the Doctor has a plan to reverse this and drain the Intelligence by switching the wires around on the headset. Lets think about that for a moment. I really hope that there's a bit more to it than the Doctor suggests, because simply swapping the jacks around to put the 'output' into the 'input' and vice versa is a pretty silly way to beat a villain known as the 'Great Intelligence'. But unfortunately before this is put to the test, the Doctor's fellows trash the machine and the Intelligence's grip on London is broken. Defeated, but far from destroyed.

People complain about the ending of some New Series stories, but Web of Fear is held as a classic and yet has a very lazy way to defeat the villain, all in all. I suppose a lot of the difference is in the way the story is told and the characters that make up the piece. Troughton is amazing, and turns even rubbish into great entertainment, much as Matt Smith and co achieve at the moment on the show. Also the story would have been spread out over six weeks, and the somewhat dubious ending is the climax to 20 minutes of a single episode, rather that two hours as is the case from watching/listening in a single sitting. This isn't to say this *is* rubbish, it's got it all. A classic base-under-siege story, great monsters, wonderful creepy setting, a great cast with Prof Travers back (I've not mentioned him but Jack Watling puts in a great second appearance as the aged Travers) and introducing the Brigadier. It's a terrible shame that it is lost to us.

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