Fans of Doctor Who can rejoice! A long lost, but oft-lauded, serial from 1968 was recovered in Nigeria last year. The Web of Fear, the fifth serial of the fifth season, now gets the DVD treatment in the latest release from the BBC. Five of the six episodes are present, with the audio recording of episode three mixed with still photos in order to present the entire story on this single disc set.
On its own, The Web of Fear is a terrific tale of terror. The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and Victoria (Deborah Watling) try to escape a threat in space and end up in London. There, they encounter a military group facing off with an unknown threat. Going below the earth, the Doctor and his companions find a rapidly spreading foam and some pretty scary monsters. The race is on to figure out who the bad guy is and how to stop them.
More than most Doctor Who episodes, The Web of Fear is frightening. With the style and tone of a horror movie, suspense is built with shadows and sounds, relying less on action sequences, as befit the show’s budget. The director does a stellar job of building tension with clever shots and an eerie score, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats throughout the brilliantly tangled “Whodunnit?” mystery. The writing holds up extremely well, and buoyed by a terrific guest cast, including returning player Jack Watling as an older Professor Travers, this is one of the better serials from this era.
The Web of Fear is also important to the continuity of the larger Doctor Who universe. It is a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen (which sadly remains lost), and also to the 2012 Christmas special, my personal favorite holiday outing for the good Doctor, The Snowmen.
It features the Great Intelligence using Yeti to try to invade the city through the Underground, the set up of which is in an episode of the modern-day reboot, and brings back a popular character from a previous serial, as well as introducing UNIT and Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), who are a major part of Doctor Who moving forward.
Those familiar with the more recent Great Intelligence stories will notice a lot of similarities in the way the villain is handled. The GI is fond of natural weapons and controlling life forms entirely. It also favors a cold weather motif, and seeks to add to its brainpower. Seeing how well the Great Intelligence is used here, it is no wonder it made a big impression on the people who make the series now, and it’s easy to see why they wanted to bring it back.
As far as picture and sound quality go, one would expect The Web of Fear to be severely lacking, given that the prints were found in not-so-nice conditions, not taken care of or preserved in any real fashion. Yet, most likely due to a high talented restoration team, it looks pretty darn good. There are visual flaws, of course, showing the age of the installments themselves. But considering what it’s been through, The Web of Fear is sharper and more detailed than I expected, with a soundtrack that is quite defined for a mono presentation.
The Web of Fear lacks special features entirely. This may come as a surprise to Doctor Who fans who eagerly snap up each new DVD, usually jammed with tons of bonus material. One reason we may be left wanting here is because the story might have been rushed into release, having only been discovered a year ago, in an effort to spare fans of a longer wait. Another may be that the money for the project went into the episodes themselves, clearly presented with care. Whatever the cause, that probably just means the title is ripe for a Special Edition down the line.
Even without extras, though, I still recommend checking out The Web of Fear. It is a compelling, well-made story that stands the test of time and features some terrific performances and production. It’s also cool to fill in such a glaring gap in the Doctor Who universe, connecting dots that many thought could never be connected.
Doctor Who – The Web of Fear is available now.