Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin
All teams converge on The Animus, which proves to be one of the most dangerous evils The Doctor has faced.
“A power, absorbing territory, riches, energy culture. You come to me.”
All talk of The Animus is nothing compared to the realization of the creature. Yes, there is a lot of foam and rubber, but when you think of the actual design of the thing, it is the most-alien creation we have seen in this show. The Animus is evil given shape. In the context of Vortis, an insect planet, The Animus bears a vague resemblance to a spider. This was foreshadowed when Vicki and The Doctor discovered earlier that The Zarbi were afraid of a dead spider. It reminded them of their master. The Carcinome is the creature’s web, which is why it could only sense movement, just as a spider detects prey when the strands of its web vibrate. Many spiders also have poor vision. The Animus as spider is also probably why the complete consuming of Vortis took so long. If The Animus digests as a spider, everything would need to be broken down. The acid on Vortis may have been digestive enzymes.
The Animus shows its power in many ways in this episode. First, as punishment for attempting to escape, The Doctor and Vicki are encased in a web. The point was not imprisonment, but pain. William Hartnell really sells this as it is the first time his Doctor has appeared visually shaken and possibly re-thinking his actions. He is in severe pain for the first time in this show and everything has ceased being fun and games. Later, upon entering the center of The Carcinome, both The Doctor and Vicki are quickly dispatched by the light and hypnotic emanations from The Animus. Tendrils begin to wrap around them, dragging them closer to The Animus to be consumed. Even The Menoptra are vulnerable as the light from The Animus draw Hlynia like a moth to a flame. To make matters worse, The Isoptope seems somewhat ineffective. This is one of the weak parts of the story, as it is not really explained why the weapon initially doesn’t work, but later does. Was Barbara not using correctly? Did it have a cumulative effect? No explanation is give, but The Animus is defeated nonetheless.
Fan retconning, most notably in The New Adventures novel line, establishes The Animus as one of the Great Old Ones from Lovecraftian mythology. It is certainly a plausible speculation, but I doubt that Strutton had this in mind. The Animus is a spider. It is a metaphor for cancer. However, since Lovecraftian horror is more conceptual, preying on visceral feelings, the speculation is valid. Plus, I like the idea of Doctor Who taking place in a Lovecraftian universe. I would like to see this weave itself into the new series, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Likewise, I would love to see The Animus return in some form. With the budget of the new series, this creature could be wonderfully realized. Given fan opinion of The Web Planet, I don’t see this happening either.
I have to admit that I enjoyed this serial. I was dreading it when I started doing these reviews. Much like The Sensorites, I found it quite entertaining when watched episodically. That’s what fascinates me in re-watching the show. I had always watched serials in one go. Some stories have felt weaker to me when watching episodically, others have felt stronger. It has been quite the eye-opening experience, and I can now say that I enjoyed The Web Planet. Never expected that.