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07 April 2019 @ 07:26 pm
The Randomiser: The Web Planet  
I was pretty wary going into The Web Planet. I was fond of the novelisation as a child, as were many people, but since its release on video it has not enjoyed a good reputation. 1960s Doctor Who's most ambitious attempt at creating an alien world seems to have been generally viewed as slow and marred by costumes that illustrate clearly what happens when ambition is greater than ability.

I actually thought it was fascinating in lots of ways though there are definitely places where it is both incoherent and/or slow.

I think it is the ant-like Zarbi whose costumes I have most often seen derided, but I thought they were actually the best of the four alien races on show. They look a lot less like men in ant suits than I was expecting. The butterfly-like Menoptera do look like men in suits but are no worse than a lot of Doctor Who aliens. I liked the attempt that had gone into giving them distinctive body language and the wire-work as they flew around (albeit in relatively few scenes) was impressive. The Larva Guns do look a bit like a stage costume but are quite cute - Tame Layman wanted one at any rate. The underground Optera are the weakest of the four and look as if they are made out foam. This is not helped by the fact they jump rather than walk - frankly the story would probably have benefitted from excision of the whole Optera sub-plot. Maybe Ian could have banged his head for a couple of episodes and William Russell gone on holiday.

So the costumes are a range from poor to surprisingly effective. But the sets and sound design are astounding. It is still very theatrical in feel but the whole thing is genuinely successful at creating a strange and alien feel. I'm not sure about the effect created by smearing vaseline on the camera lenses for the outdoor sequences. Tame Layman was very impressed when I explained it to him. Sometimes it definitely added to the eery feeling of the story but at other times, frankly, it did just look as if someone had smeared vaseline on the lenses. But really, apart from that, I thought there was a sense of the alien here that I'm not sure exists anywhere else in Doctor Who.

While the story is quite slow, I'm not sure that's a huge problem initially. It needs to be fairly slow in order to show off the alien world, but by episode 6 it is beginning to outstay its welcome - tame layman suddenly lost interest about 5 minutes into the final episode. It is also oddly incoherent in places seeming to jump forward in the narrative where you might expect some kind of linking scene. The final scene, in particular, where all the disparate groups meet at the Animus and fall under its sway is difficult to follow. From the book I recall that the sudden appearance of Ian and the Optera is supposed to tip the balance (I think they distract the Animus long enough for Barbara to use the Menoptera weapon) but in reality people seemed to be stumbling around, Ian appears and then everything is resolved.

It's not a perfect story by a long shot. But there is nothing else quite like this in the whole of the Doctor Who canon. It is part stage play and part science fiction of the weird alien society kind and is a sumptuous as Doctor Who at the time could afford to be. On its own terms I would say it mostly works.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/568220.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 7th, 2019 07:42 pm (UTC)
IIRC, it's not actually vaseline, but a special lens. But everyone assumes it's vaseline so...

I never liked this, but watching it again recently I could sort of see what it was aiming it, even if it doesn't always succeed. It's really attempting to be a huge Tolkien-style fantasy epic, with a big range both geographically and historically. A truly alien planet threatened by a Lovecraftian malignant, cancerous growth. It doesn't quite work, but it's pretty much the only thing in Doctor Who that even tries this, at least on TV, so I guess it's worthwhile for that reason if nothing else.
louisedennis: Who:Onelouisedennis on April 8th, 2019 09:40 am (UTC)
I did wonder if the vaseline thing was a myth, but an extremely cursory Google didn't throw anything up.

I'm not sure it exactly has a big geographical and historical range. There's a backstory, true and the various different races but the bulk of the story takes place in about four locations really. It reminds me more of Barbarella in a weird sort of way (without all the sex and accidentally ending up naked, obviously) but it has the same vibe of "what odd alien can we throw at you now".
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 8th, 2019 11:23 am (UTC)
I did say "attempting" to be a huge epic! I got the impression on this viewing that we're supposed to see it as taking place over a wider range of locations than was realistically possible at Lime Grove Studios. There's some talk of different places with exotic names like "The Sayo Plateau" and "The Crater of Needles" and there's the Menoptra "Temples of Light". I got the impression that we're supposed to infer a range that couldn't really be shown.
fredbassettfredbassett on April 7th, 2019 08:19 pm (UTC)
I loved this ep as a kid, and I remember my dad helping me write a fan letter to the BBC asking for more eps with the Zarbi. I haven't watched it since then!
louisedennis: Who:Onelouisedennis on April 8th, 2019 09:43 am (UTC)
I'm surprised the Zarbi costumes get so much flak to be honest. They're the most successful in the story and are really pretty impressive, I'd say. It's not a story to watch if you're not pretty tolerant of early 1960s TV pacing but as a curiosity its got a lot going for it.