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14 April 2019 @ 07:30 pm
The Randomiser: The Web of Fear  
From The Web Planet to The Web of Fear: two stories which have remarkably little in common beyond the word "Web" in the title.

One thing the do have in common though (as well as the word "Web" in the title) is having been novelised early and well. To be honest, the novelisation of The Web of Fear is one of Terrance Dicks' 120 page jobs, but it is gripping and terrifying (at least if you are 9 years old). When, in 2013, all but one of the episodes of The Web of Fear were found, along with all of The Enemy of the World, it (of the two) was most anticipated and there was something of an air of disappointment once it was actually available. The memory, people felt, had in this case cheated.

For my birthday in 2013 I had a party on the 23rd November. The original plan had been to watch about three Doctor Who stories including the anniversary special, but when The Web of Fear was found I extended it earlier in order to watch this as well. To be honest, like many people, I think I was a little underwhelmed.

This time was very different. Oddly, tame layman recalled nothing of the earlier viewing (maybe he was in the kitchen making supper?) and he was genuinely gripped in the early episodes, and genuinely surprised and pleased when the Brigadier put in an appearance. Frankly the first two episodes are as gripping as my memories of the book suggest. It is difficult to tell with the third episode which consists only of telesnaps. The fourth is basically padding. There is a lot of running around shooting at yeti and a lot of the characters the story has been successfully building up are rather summarily bumped off, leaving a much smaller core group to carry the final two episodes. I suspect it is this fourth episode that is at the heart of the diappointment. It is ambitious for the 1960s but I suspect the collective imagination had built up the running fights through the streets of London into something impossible to realise at the time.

This feels eerily like a UNIT episode. I'm not sure if the producers already had UNIT in mind when creating it, but it has that feel of The Invasion and some of the early Pertwee stories, where the military have a much larger and more obvious presence. On the whole I think the story benefits from this. There is more excitement and more of a feel of realism (give or take Yeti in the London Underground, obviously) than in many Doctor Who stories.

The character work is often excellent. Anne Travers is a stand out - not only one of the show's first female scientists (a character type it was to lean into heavily for the next five years or so) but one of the better examples of the genre - able to stand up for herself, level headed, and equipped to help the Doctor. However the Brigadier, the unfortunate "Staff" (Sergeant Arnold in the novel but referred to by everyone as "Staff" here), Evans the cowardly but clever (professionally Welsh) Private, even Blake and Weams (two largely red-shirt characters) have a distinctiveness and life to them that mean you don't get the various soldiers confused with each other.

Rewatching this felt a bit like rediscovering the story. I'm not sure what went wrong in 2013. Maybe watching it all in one go was a mistake. But this took me back strongly to reading The Web of Fear at age 9 and experiencing the thrill of the Yeti in the London Underground.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/570822.html.
 
 
 
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 14th, 2019 09:49 pm (UTC)
I've also gone back and forth with this one over the years. Sometimes it's a favourite, sometimes it's another base under siege. The last viewing was positive, though. I think the recovered episodes stand up well, on the whole, but the story definitely seems better when viewed in isolation and not two thirds of the way through the rather samey season five.
louisedennis: Who:Twolouisedennis on April 15th, 2019 10:45 am (UTC)
Yes, I can imagine it works better in isolation. I suppose if you have to pick a base under siege story, then this is one of the better ones.