Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin
The TARDIS is forced to materialize on a devastated planet and our heroes are soon trapped by unknown forces.
“What ARE you doing? Come over here and learn something!”
Yes, I was stalling yesterday by reviewing Here There Be Monsters. But every arduous journey must be taken a step at a time, and likewise, getting through The Web Planet must begin with episode one and be taken one episode at a time. I made the mistake of watching this in one go when I first got the DVD, and when it was finished, I felt as if I had spent the day drinking. My head was in a fog, and I felt slightly hung over. It isn’t that the story is entirely bad. Quite the contrary, there are some good things here, but the execution is not the best. This story has some problems, not least of which is direction. I’ve often felt Richard Martin, while being creative and enthusiastic, wasn’t the most technically competent. Thus, in his stories we often get creative ideas that often don’t quite work. When they are successful, they are wonderful. Part One of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one such example. But more often than not, his attempts fall short of his vision. Richard Martin is the embodiment of who I fear I may be in my darkest moments. As harsh as that sounds, I don’t really mean it that way. Regardless, I can see how this very ambitious story would be given to the very ambitious director. For better or for worse.
Much like every episode that will follow, there are good things and bad things in this story. Let’s be positive and start with the good. The planet itself is wonderfully realized. It is supposed to look dead, and it most certainly does. In fact, this set seems to reflect photographs of heavenly bodies such as moons and asteroids. It is natural to envision a planet in this way, and it is rather odd to think that this is the first planet on Doctor Who to look like this. Star Trek found planets like this every week. It took a year and a half for Doctor Who find a planet like this. There is a scene where Ian finds a pool of water and nearly washes his hands. The Doctor stops him immediately and we discover the pool is acid (a bit of a throwback to The Keys of Marinus?). This goes further to convey the danger and hostility on this planet. There is something very unusual at work here, and throughout, as Ian and The Doctor explore, they are being watched by ant-like creatures.
Richard Martin was one of the directors involved in The Edge of Destruction, where we got some very surreal acting from our leads as they attempted to convey mind-control or something. We have something similar here as Barbara seems to become controlled by her bracelet, a bracelet that was given to her by Nero. Presumably, it has something to do with the gold in the bracelet, since Ian had a gold pen that simply vanished early in the episode. Jacqueline Hill gets reprise some of her dodgy mind-control acting from Edge, and even Maureen O’Brien gets to participate as Vicki hears some type of supersonic sounds. Did everyone suddenly forget that Vicki was not Susan? On the subject of Vicki, I wasn’t impressed with her in this story. This is odd because I enjoyed her introduction in The Rescue, and thought she had some charming moments in The Romans. Granted, this story is quite unorthodox in television at the time and she may not have known how to convey what she was asked, but the performance is just a bit off. Although, O’Brien has better chemistry with William Hartnell than she does Jacqueline Hill with whom she does most of her scenes. Perhaps there is still a bit of resentment toward Barbara for killing Sandy in The Rescue.
The most difficult aspect of this story, one that will only increase, is the sound the ant creatures (The Zarbi) make in this story. It is a high-pitched, well, not quite beeping, but however you would describe it, it becomes grating. I think it works in this episode because it is very alien and helps to build tension. Speaking of which, the slow burn of this episode pays off in a very big way at the end when Barbara is lured out of The TARDIS and starts to walk to the pool of acid. Vicki, in panick, starts crying out for her from The TARDIS. The Doctor and Ian rush back to the ship, where Ian is captured in a web-like trap. He urges The Doctor to keep going, to get to Vicki. As The Doctor arrives at the landing spot, he discovers The TARDIS is gone. Yes, Mr. Martin, you gave us a good, if slow, first act in the grand story that is The Web Planet. I look forward to watching this episodically to see if it holds up better than I remember.