Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Lured back to Earth by an unknown force, The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria find themselves in the London Underground with a squad of soldiers who are fighting against The Yeti.
If the first episode is anything to go by, this story looked great. The underground sets look amazing, so much so that lore has it that London Underground accused the BBC of filming there without permission. Douglas Camfield proves once more that he is one of the best directors of the classic era as he creates a fast-paced introductory episode, while building massive amounts of atmosphere and tension. The TARDIS hanging in space and being consumed by webs is quite creepy. The scene where the three explorers find a dead man in the underground is chilling. A wonderfully eerie opening that brings images of Day of the Triffids, scenes of post-apocalyptic society. Sadly, the opening episode is the only one that exists.
“It’s turning into a proper holiday camp, this place.”
While I enjoyed The Abominable Snowmen, I felt that it went on a bit too long. With The Web of Fear, I felt the pace was better handled. The first episode sets up the mystery of Yeti in the subway tunnels, a strange, web-like fungus being spread by the robots, and access to the surface is cut off. Soldiers are placing explosives at various points in the tunnels. The second episode brings our heroes back into the life of Professor Travers, only 40 years from when they last met him. We get a bit of exposition and find out that London has been abandoned due to a strange mist. Yes, it seems The Great Intelligence is trying to manifest in our realm once more. If possible, the invisible creature seems more menacing than before as his plan has already conquered a city and he is able to take control of some people for a brief period, including Professor Travers at one point. To make matters worse, one of the people at the army post is in league with The Intelligence. This mystery is played quite well with plenty of red herrings. Is it the cowardly Welsh soldier Evans? Is it Anna Travers, who seems to suspect The Doctor? Is it The Doctor himself? Or is it the newly-arrived Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart who assumes command after the death of the previous commanding officer is killed?
Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart! I’m quite excited to finally see (well, hear) his introduction to the show. Yes, he meets The Doctor off-screen, but the crew didn’t know at the time that he would become a recurring, then regular, character. However, after his performance in this story, you can really see why he would be brought back. Nicholas Courtney brought an amazing performance to this role. If you didn’t have hindsight in place, it would be easy to suspect this new character, yet he remains believable when it is revealed that he is not under The Great Intelligence’s control. Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is a great character who even takes The TARDIS in stride. He is yet another foreshadowing of things to come, as is Anne Travers working as a scientific advisor, and competent assistant, to The Doctor. It is almost a direct foreshadowing of Liz Shaw.
This was a great story. I really wish it wasn’t incomplete. It encapsulates just about everything The Second Doctor era did well, as well as being a strong entry in the base-under-siege format that is starting to wear thin at this point. It is atmospheric. It is well-paced. It improves on the strengths of The Abominable Snowmen. I think it was wonderful.