Reviews dvd-weboffear-cover

Published on February 12th, 2014 | by Elton Townend Jones

The Web of Fear DVD – Reviewed!

If you read my review of the DVD release of The Enemy of the World, then you’ll perhaps understand why this is yet another tough release to cover.

To summarise briefly, The Web of Fear has long been acknowledged as a ‘classic’; as, perhaps, Patrick Troughton’s best ever story (once Tomb of the Cybermen ruined all our previous illusions by having the Telosian temerity be re-discovered in 1992). That only its first episode remained in the BBC archive added to its power and mystique. The opening instalment was, all told, pretty atmospheric and solid – if the other five were as good, then it was bound to be a ‘classic’ through and through, wasn’t it? Douglas Camfield directing, Nicholas Courtney making his debut as Lethbridge-Stewart, Yeti with web guns, and so on: bound to be brilliant.

Well, at the end of last year, four of its ‘lost’ episodes came back in from the cold. In a flurry of insane activity, this most desirable carrot was dangled over we ‘missing episode’-hungry fans and was quickly and hurriedly consumed as we all went and downloaded it. By now, it’s probably the most watched Troughton story in all fandom. But is it any good?

Well, yes. It is.

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

Having seen The Enemy of the World, one is able to make much more sense of the opening sequences of characters sliding about the TARDIS floor in the desperate hope of giving us the impression they’re about to be sucked out into space. Quite why this superfluous sequence is tagged on to the beginning of the story (rather than the end of the last one) seems to be a throwback to Enemy writer David Whitaker’s tenure as script editor on the show, but it’s oddly out of place. It would doubtless have been a heck of a lot more spooky to open with Travers in Silverstein’s ‘museum’ for that creepy film sequence in which the Yeti (and the Intelligence, presumably) are once more reanimated.

In case you don’t know, the bulk of the story takes place some months later when the Intelligence has forced an evacuation of London by filling it with thick fog, a creeping, curiously foam-like fungus and scraggy-looking Yeti robots with guns that shoot cobwebs (and we old-school fans accept this, but do ideas get much battier than that?). The army are tasked with trying to control this menace, which is lurking in the London Underground, and it is into this web of fear (get it?) that the Doctor and co rock up.

The Web of Fear is one of Season Five’s ‘base under siege’ stories, but it is probably so well remembered because it’s the best of its kind. Ultimately, the story is about the soldiers trapped beneath the city, and because these soldiers are portrayed as ‘real people’, it’s an incredibly effective piece of work that stands head and shoulders over tedious dross like season-mate The Ice Warriors because the characters are imbued with real opinions and real motivations rather than ‘space/sci-fi’ ones.

Web of Fear Yeti

As monsters go, the Yeti are reasonable opponents; they are mobile and threatening in size, although, somewhat strangely, Camfield elects to chuck them straight into the limelight. No hiding in the shadows for these creatures, which makes them, in visceral terms, not especially scary. Perhaps this is a deliberate decision, a warning to the viewer that the enemy does not need to creep about to bring you death – death is there, up front and coming at you with violence in mind. The creeping about is given to the fungus – which, as it passes through the tunnels in both film and studio sequences or even in model shots (as at the end of Episode 5), always looks amazing – and the sinister menace comes from the hissing sibilance of that disembodied possessor of human bodies (dead or alive), the Great Intelligence.

Another reason The Web of Fear’s reputation has endured since it was broadcast, might simply boil down to one thing: Episode 4. Whatever you might think of it as a whole, Episode 4 is an astonishing and quintessential bit of Doctor Who. The filmed shoot-out in Covent Garden is a piece of sustained action unlike any seen in the series before (even if you want to quote The War Machines or The Gunfighters), and in studio, the claustrophobic attack on the electrical shop is brutally effective. Throughout the story, Troughton gives his usual sufficient yet elusive performance, but in Episode 4, he gets some incredible close-ups when telling his companions what the Intelligence is – all of which serves to make him look quite alien.

Many will note, of course, that this is, in effect, the first UNIT story. When Lethbridge-Stewart turns up in Episode 3 it comforts the modern viewer with 45 years’ hindsight. But at the time, the Doctor’s future ally was portrayed as a mysterious, conspicuous figure whose sudden arrival and subsequent actions were as questionable as those of Harold Chorley (played by second Avengers ‘girl’ and Ian Hendry surrogate Jon Rollason), Professor Travers (Jack Watling, reprising his role from The Abominable Snowmen earlier in the season), Driver Evans (the story’s most outstanding and multi-layered character, brilliantly played by Derek Pollitt) and Staff Sgt. Arnold (played with great texture by John Lydon lookalike, Jack Woolgar). Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is credulous, pragmatic and often cold, and although these qualities would remain in his later stories (even after his transformation into Pertwee’s sidekick buffoon), here they are used to crank up the paranoia that there is a traitor in the Doctor’s midst.

Colonel Lethbridge Stewart in The Web of Fear

If you can suspend your knowledge of the Colonel’s future life when you watch this, you will see what viewers saw in 1968 and that will add to the suspense. Once you have, however, and the Intelligence has trundled off into who-knows-where, it’s worth re-remembering that Lethbridge-Stewart would go on to found UNIT: the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Now read that again. Lethbridge-Stewart, as a consequence his involvement in these events, goes on to found the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Just sayin’.

Ultimately, The Web of Fear’s failings are few: it sags a bit in the middle because there’s too much repetition (I confess I didn’t even realise I’d skipped Episode 4 when I bought the download) and some of the storytelling is not particularly clear – I still have no idea who is sabotaging what and when – but this might all be to the advantage of the suspense the story is aiming for.

But Hitchcock it’s not. This lack of clarity or satisfactory explanation may fall at the feet of Camfield or writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (though, given the great and awkward pains the dialogue goes to in explaining to the viewers stuff we’ve already been able to work out thanks to direction and performance, I suspect the latter). Camfield’s direction is, in fact, incredibly accomplished. Here, he proves himself not only to be the master of stylish film work, but also the king of the electronic studio; I note in particular some excellent and highly unusual camera set-ups and cross-fades in Episode 6. He is also backed up by some top-notch set design from David Myerscough-Jones whose tube tunnels and platforms could easily be the real thing and whose Intelligence ‘centre’ in Episode 6 even features a ceiling (it’s the details, folks). The real atmosphere of this story, however, comes from Clive Leighton’s realistic and yet often expressionistic lighting, probably unrivalled in any other Doctor Who story since Season One.

Those of you who’ve seen the download, though, will probably agree with me that the most amusing moment comes when we see a chocolate bar emblazoned with the words ‘Camfield’s Dairy Milk’ and that the most frightening things in the whole six episodes are actually Victoria’s disturbingly weird legs.

Writing a review of The Web of Fear seems an odd thing to be doing so long after we all downloaded it and realised with astonishment and joy that it was great but nowhere near as good as The Enemy of the World – but, hey, the BBC are releasing it on DVD this month.

The Web of Fear

I seem to remember you all took it on the chin when they put out the Enemy DVD with no Extras, other than a trailer for this release. You stoic lot, you. I seem to recall the hope was that, as The Web of Fear would be released several months hence, there’d be time to record a commentary track, or maybe sling together a little documentary. And, oh how exciting if the BBC were holding back the real Episode 3 for the DVD release as a treat for all our dedication and love and pie-in-the-sky daydreaming.

Nah.

As I wrote on my review for The Enemy of the World:

Extras

  • A single shiny disc with a picture on it and words that tell you what it is you’re putting into your player.
  • A plastic case in which to keep your shiny disc safe.
  • A cover with words and pictures on it telling you all about the shiny disc you’re putting into your player.
  • An insert with words and pictures on it telling you all about the, yeah, you get the picture…
  • So, there you go.
  • No Production Subtitles, no Commentary track.
  • No ‘real’ Episode 3 – just John Cura’s telesnaps (I say ‘just’, at least we’ve been spared another poorly-executed cartoon…).

And, yeah, for the wag that asked me last time, it looks like it’s been VID-Fired.

But, if you don’t already have The Web of Fear (unlikely!) then this is a great story and well worth owning. If you have the download, though, I’d advise you against conning yourself again.

The Web of Fear can be ordered now from Amazon, where the £20.42 RRP is reduced to just £13.97, ahead of its release on February 24th .

email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


About the Author

avatar

Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.




16 Responses to The Web of Fear DVD – Reviewed!

  1. avatar Al says:

    I don’t do downloads, and I’m pretty certain lots of others don’t do downloads either, so the DVD will be just fine, thank you very much. Very disappointed that they didn’t spring to animate the missing episode, though. And having seen Enemy of the World on DVD – which resulted in it entering my top 10 stories of all time, prior to which Troughton tended to be stuck in the middle of the pack with me – and noting how it was too bad they didn’t do a featurette on the making of that story, I’m sure I’ll feel the same when I see Web of Fear.

    • avatar Al says:

      Oh and one other thing: unlike the download I’m pretty certain I’ll be able to watch Web of Fear again and enjoy it on DVD a decade from now.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Very true. I don’t really do downloads either, so have pre-ordered this DVD!

  2. avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the comments above – there are a lot of people who refrain from iPlayer and downloads etc! Am guessing Elton is an Apple fan. I personally watched it and continue to do so for free as part of my Virgin package. But I was also wondering if anybody could tell me if the DVD cover (for this and Enemy) are reversible so as to fit in with the rest of the series? I note the spine still seems to conform to previous releases but I’m a sucker for uniformity so it is a shame if the whole cover doesn’t fit in :)

  3. avatar Elton Townend Jones says:

    I’m not Apple fan. Unless you mean the Beatles’ record label, in which case I’m an Apple fan. As to not being able to watch the download in years to come – is someone going to smash up my USB stick? I hope not. Personally, having bought the download (not to mention the novelisation, the audio CD, a telesnap recon and then the VHS and ‘Lost In Time’), I simply don’t have the finances to be able to buy something I own all over again in a different format – but good look to those of you that CAN and ARE WILLING to spend your hard earned money like that. And they say we’re in a recession! Clearly not… I prefer DVDs, too, but I suspect the format will be obsolete in less than 10 – 15 years, so we’re all going to end up buying these things over and over again, aren’t we? Great set of episodes, though, eh?

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      I do agree, Elton. The lack of special features is a big disappointment, and if you’re inclined to download stuff, why would you buy the DVD unless you’re given something extra too?

      I’ve never seen Web before. I’ll see it when the DVD comes. Yes, I pre-ordered it. But only because I couldn’t stand watching any Doctor Who on a smaller screen than what I’m used to. I admit to being an old fuddy-duddy (a 23-year-old fuddy-duddy, then), who struggles to even watch iPlayer on the computer, simply because watching TV doesn’t feel right unless I’m watching it actually on the TV.

      The way I see it is, whether the finished product is good or bad, so many people worked so hard and put in so much love… It would be an insult to watch it on, say, an iPad or something which might not get my full attention. But that might be just me. :)

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Nonetheless, this is a great review – very enjoyable, and has whet my appetite for the story, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the sign of a good review!

    • avatar bryan simcott says:

      Hi ekton. Regarding your comment on the usb stick. And dissing the oosters point. Look at audiogo. Big high profile company gone bust and closed uts downlod option on feb 1st 2014. So if you usb stick us lost, broken,getswet. Then i hope you buy the dvd

      best wishes bryan

  4. avatar Joyce says:

    A stonking set of episodes. Watched them all in one go which can be difficult with 60′s Who. I understand why the BBC chose different media for distribution and it seems to have worked in commercial terms. I look forward to your reviews of Power and Evil in due course. :-)

  5. avatar Elton Townend Jones says:

    Hi Joyce – Power and Evil? Let’s hope so, eh? Though you might be interested in reading my current review of Power as featured in our Who@50 strand. Obviously, if it turns up sometime soon, it would be interesting to see what changes in this review, but do please have a read: http://www.kasterborous.com/2013/04/030-the-power-of-the-daleks-2/

  6. avatar craigt68 says:

    With a massive effort, I restrained myself from buying ‘Enemy of the World’ and may (note: may) do so for ‘Web of Fear’ too as I’ve no doubt that the BBC will issue some ‘deluxe’ version with extras soon. ‘Web’ marks the end of the line for all of the available stories and I’m sure the Beeb bean-counters are devising ways to make fans buy what they’ve already got all over again by dangling some extra features in a future release. The Beeb’s problem is that there is no new format available (I don’t count downloads) ‘requiring’ fans to upgrade to comparable to the change from VHS to DVD. So how to get the fans buying the same stuff twice (or more)? They’ve already tested the popularity of ‘revisiting’ (pun intended) previously released stories with special editions so know there exists a market. I wonder if the new design of the covers is significant, ie; indication of ‘new’ (ha, ha) re-releases? Anyway, I’m sure we will see both ‘Enemy’ and ‘Web’ re-released by Christmas as deluxe editions. And, although I hate been so obviously played by marketing departments, I’ll probably buy both as I can’t wait that long. As John Lydon said at the last Pistol’s gig, “Ever get the feeling that you’ve been had?”.

  7. avatar Elton Townend Jones says:

    Hey Philip – I take your point about watching Who on the telly where it ought to be watched. If you have a HDMI cable, you can simply plug your laptop into your telly. That’s the only way I watched my downloads – on the big screen as it should be done. Like you rightly suggest, I’d recommend watching all Doctor Who through the telly – but also with headphones, which is a lovely experience if there’s only you watching.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      HDMI? What is this witchcraft?! ;)

  8. avatar castellanspandrel says:

    I downloaded it, though I had and still have every intention of buying the DVD too, simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of being knocked down and killed by a truck or something without having seen it.

    And it fully lived up to expectations. One of my favourite stories.

  9. avatar bryan simcott says:

    I didnt buy the download ,cause its itunes. Thers no competion, no choices. Its discraceful. The dvd will have a better picture quality and vid fire, which itunes cant handle, so the pictue will be much better quality.

    but how ruddy amazing to think. I will have web of fear on dvd in a weeks time

    sorry about the typos previously. Im using a new tablet

  10. Pingback: Doctor Who Missing Episodes Marathon at the Prince Charles Cinema! | The London Leader

Please be aware that all comments are subject to adherence to our comments policy.
Back to Top ↑