Doctor Who-dunit – The Web of Fear

YetiThe TARDIS is caught, suspended in space by a mysterious web. Meanwhile, on Earth, the foolish Professor Travers has reactivated a control sphere that was retrieved from one of the deadly robotic Yeti that were used to spearhead the invasion of earth by the Great Intelligence in the Himalayas thirty years previously.

Because of Travers, the Intelligence has returned, invading London with a new horde of Yeti. A small army unit is all that remains, stranded in the London Underground, slowly being picked off. As the Doctor joins the fight, it seems that every move the survivors make is being countered. Someone in the outpost is the host for the Intelligence – but it could be anyone. Anyone at all…

When I was reading the Doctor Who adaptations, this, along with its prequel, The Abominable Snowmen, were the books that made me such a huge fan of Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor. Alongside Jamie and Victoria, the fifth series of stories, full of monsters, scares and bases-under-siege, were a marvellous set of thrilling adventures. A set of adventures that, it seemed at the time, were completely lost to us, visually at least. Then, in 1988, part of The Ice Warriors was recovered. Then in 1991, the complete Tomb Of The Cybermen was recovered. And then, this year, miracle upon miracle, both The Enemy of the World and (most of) The Web of Fear turned up.

It is absolutely astonishing how well The Web Of Fear hasn’t dated. Basically, it’s in black and white and… that’s about it. One of the characters is a clear channelling of some television reporters of the day, but apart from that… There’s an old story about how the London Underground accused the BBC of sneaking in after dark and filming at night. The set design is that convincing. And for all the fact that the Yeti are, on the face of it, a completely bizarre monster to be traipsing around the London Underground, they are, for want of a better word, bloody scary. Seeing them looming out of the dark in episode two, advancing down the tunnels, it sent a shiver down my spine.

All of the regular cast are on top of their game, along with some great guest perfomances – not least Nicholas Courtney making his debut as Colonel, later Brigadier, Lethbridge-Stewart. But what of the mystery?

I’ve seen some claims that the identity of the Intelligence’s pawn is arbitrarily decided for the final episode. Having watched the serial now – you can download it from iTunes – and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. There’s a line in the second episode which is so blatant, it’s not even a clue. A character practically announces that they are the Intelligence – if you spot it. And indeed, it is the character who is revealed in the final act.

Having said that, there’s not much else that points to the villain of the piece. When that plot point it being considered, it’s like a game of musical suspects, with people acting suspicious when the plot demands it. By no means is it a classic mystery.

But it is absolutely classic Doctor Who – one of the finest of the stories that were ever produced. It’s out on DVD in February and is available on iTunes now. If you’re a fan of the show in any way, shape or form – you simply have to watch this. It’s simply outstanding. Highly Recommended.

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12 comments

  1. I remember really liking the novelisation but am waiting for the DVD to come out – really glad to hear it stand up so well. Did you enjoy the rather melancholy Gatiss this evening? I thought it worked very well and mostly found an elegant way round his usual problem with structure and momentum.

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  2. I was disappointed with this. In my opinion, it is too slow paced and too long.The same things keep repeating again and again:– attack by Yetis, running away from Yetis, getting captured by Yetis, getting killed by Yetis, futile attempts to kill Yetis, attack by web, attack by fungus etc.
    I regard it as more an adventure story than a mystery. The only mystery is the identity of the Intelligence’s pawn for which there is virtually no clue. Any one can be randomly selected to be the pawn in the final episode.

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