Monday, April 28, 2014


I resisted the urge to download "THE WEB OF FEAR" and "ENEMY OF THE WORLD" at the time but waited until the DVD release. . . and now finally I've just now watched "THE WEB OF FEAR".  While the story still lacks episode three, it is still one of the biggest DOCTOR WHO finds in the past quarter century.  "ENEMY OF THE WORLD" is the first full lost story rediscovered since 1992 but, while a priceless find, it still pales in my mind compared to the restoration of most of "THE WEB OF FEAR" to us.  Previously, all we had of the story was episode one and, since the very first time I saw it over a decade ago, "THE WEB OF FEAR" has been one story which I always dreamed most of seeing in its entirety.  The first episode has been one of my favourite Troughton episodes all this time.  So, it was with particular joy and fandango-dancing that I learned of it's (almost total) rediscovery.  Now, as wonderful as all this is, it still leaves one open to a very real danger; such skyrocketing expectations usually result in an inevitable disappointment.  How can something built up so much in one's mind ever measure up?  While I never harboured delusions that the story would be some sort of lost masterpiece, I had always hoped that it would be as good as the first episode was.  So, it was with a sense of realistic optimism that I sat down to view this lost story.  And happily, I can honestly say it is one terrific fun-fest!
"THE WEB OF FEAR" is the sequel to the Yeti's first appearance in "THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN" the year before.  The first episode (which we've always had) finds the Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) landing in contemporary (circa 1968) London after the TARDIS was temporarily stranded in space and covered in thick cobwebs.
  They find themselves in a strangely deserted London underground which is crawling with Yeti.  All of London has been evacuated and a small military group is bivouacked inside the underground trying to come up with some way to combat the seemingly-impervious furballs who are being controlled by the Great Intelligence (from the original story).  Also returning is Professor Travers (Jack Watling . . . yes relation) and his scientist-daughter Anne (Tina Packer); the Prof met the Yeti and the Doctor in Tibet 30 years earlier (in "THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN" storyline).  Travers got hold of the last surviving Yeti and a control sphere; he sold the robot to a museum which has had the Yeti on display ever since.  Sadly for London, Travers' tinkering with the control sphere reactivates the Yeti  and starts the whole mess up again.  The Doctor, the military (led by Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart) and the Travers meet up in the underground where they all become hemmed in by the Great Intelligence's web-fungus (the beloved Troughton-era foam machine) and try to think up ways to beat the foe. 

Between the dark and candlelit spooky museum and the dark and darker London underground, episode 1 was always a Hammer Horror-like tour de force with splendid camerawork and a good dose of the gothic creeps.  The rediscovery of all but episode 3 shows off the splendid direction of Dougie Camfield which remains at a very high standard throughout.  The lighting, for once, is kept very dark but still light enough to see everything that's going on.  Most of the six episodes take place solely in the London Underground with only a brief foray topside for a street battle between the Yeti and the military; this sequence gives the Yeti the same opportunity the Daleks and Cybermen had to trod the streets of London (but without visiting the monuments).  Camfield, as usual, provides an action-packed battle sequence which is top notch.  The pace throughout all six episodes never flags for a second and there seems to be no evident padding despite the story's length.  Sadly, the only episode still lost is the third which has been the "holy grail" of DOCTOR WHO fans because it features the very first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart the future Brigadier.  Episode 3 on the DVD features the audio paired with still photographs as a reconstruction.  Now, many of these reconstructions can be torture to sit through but this one somehow is quite good as these things go.  Naturally, I'd much rather have the original episode but this reconstruction is passable and not painful at all.  

One of the most revealing things about the rediscovery of these episodes is just what a fantastic companion Anne Travers (Tina Packer) would've been.  If I remember correctly, she was at least briefly considered for just such an outcome.  Oh, if only the Doctor and Jamie had grabbed Anne Travers and pulled her into the TARDIS while accidentally-on-purpose leaving Victoria behind with the Professor!  Victoria was always a rubbish character (through no fault of Deborah Watling) who did little but cringe and scream and whine a lot; this was the way she was written and there's not much Watling could do with the character under those circumstances.  Victoria is actually the stereotype of what the general public thinks a DOCTOR WHO companion is like.  Anne, on the other hand, would've made the perfect companion; as played by Tina Packer she's a brilliant scientist as well as demonstrably brave and built for action scenes.  She's a Liz Shaw about 2 years early.  Of course, the makers of DOCTOR WHO didn't know how to handle Liz Shaw's character so they probably would've been just as at sea with Anne Travers.  Funny how they never seemed to have trouble creating a very capable woman character when she was a guest star but not when she was a recurring character -- although they did get it right with Zoe soon enough.  Alas, for us and for Anne Travers, however, it wasn't to be.  
"THE WEB OF FEAR", while not great art, is a great six-episode thrill ride with robot Yeti firing web guns in a London Underground flooded with fungus (soap suds) in a classic example of the tried-and-true DOCTOR WHO base-under-siege story.  And I, for one, am extremely thrilled that it now exists once again for all of us to view from behind the sofa. 

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