Once you’ve dived into the universe of Doctor Who far enough, there are few things that can surprise you. Many of the villains we know from the recent 2005 reboot had been introduced decade before, when the original series aired. Locations, themes, even solutions to deadly puzzles all ring familiar as you dip your toes into the classic episodes. Yet, that doesn’t hold true one hundred percent of the time, and watching the remastered Doctor Who: Web of Fear, only recently brought back to life through the discovery of some missing footage, is certainly an exception.
The Tardis frozen in space covered by space cobwebs. Yep, check and mate. Never seen that before.
Web of Fear originated in the years of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Originally broadcast in early 1968, the story surrounds The Doctor and his traveling companions as they are lured down to Earth, and into the subway tunnels of London. When they arrive, the entire city of London has been evacuated due to a scourge of robot Yeti creatures, an unknown fog, and a living fungus currently filling up the underground tunnels. The Doctor finds assistance from a band of soldiers, a long lost friend and the initial appearance of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (the head of UNIT), in his battle against the Yeti and their master, The Great Intelligence.
For the newbies out there yet to delve into these older episodes, The Great Intelligence was played much later in the Matt Smith years by Richard E. Grant (introduced in the episode with the deadly ghost coming out of the frozen pond). Here, the classic villain is mainly out of sight until the later chapters where he appears only in the bodies of borrowed people or soldiers.
The story is important to the Doctor Who canon due to the introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT (which isn’t actually mentioned outright during the episode). The same actor, Nicholas Courtney, will return in later years playing the same character, now promoted to Brigadier. His no nonsense, painfully logical, yet subtly caring demeanor is truly fun to watch.
Although most of the footage was unearthed, and able to be digitized and remastered, the third episode in the series only exists via still photos and audio tracks. So what you see on the screen during that portion is really only a slideshow of stills. The effect is a little like watching a old time radio play just translated to TV. As with many of the older Doctor Who episodes, there are some hilariously archaic special effects. The deadly fungus that fills the tunnels looks like sudsy overflow from your washing machine and the terrifying Yeti monsters are slow, bulky, and look like they grew up on the other side of Sesame Street. Nevertheless, the triumph here is none of that takes away from the drama, excitement and fun of the show. Some might say it actually adds to it, if you’re one who loves older cinema.
One of the other characters that deserves special mention is Professor Travers (Jack Watling). He is a fantastically amazing curmudgeon, a sort of human representation of the battle between science and the rest of the world. He also opens up the long held debate about the responsibility of scientists to understand the ramifications of their constant tinkering with nature.
Another memorable note was the ending, which I won’t give away fully, but The Doctor has a chance to not only defeat The Great Intelligence, but rid the universe of him for good. When that plan goes awry, Troughton lets us see a glimpse of the deep anger and frustration The Doctor can have with those around him. They don’t understand the universe like he does, the action/reaction chain that he has followed his entire existence. We see a brief moment of how lonely it can really be to be the only truly smart person in the room.
Doctor Who: The Web of Fear is a worthwhile classic episode for the collector and not a bad one for the recently initiated either.
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