Doctor Who (Classic): S05E05 “The Web of Fear”

Season 5
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln

Like the serial that directly precedes it, “The Enemy of the World”, 2013 was very good to “The Web of Fear”. Before that year, five of the six episodes were missing and existing only as audio tracks and telesnaps. As part of that “The Enemy of the World” find in Nigeria, four more episodes of “The Web of Fear” were found bringing the missing down to a respectable one episode (with the BBC going for the Ken Burns “picture with zoom” approach on the DVD). It also returns us from the future to the approximate then present to let us meet a special new friend. This serial sees the debut of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (in episode 3 which means that sadly this initial meet up has been lost to time) played by the late Nicholas Courtney who would go on to appear in a total of 23 serials and whose daughter now recurs on the show.

The story is also both a direct sequel to “The Enemy of the World”, picking up right where the last serial left off, the cliffhanger resolved as Jaime is able to shut off the door with great effort, and to “The Abominable Snowmen” from earlier in the season. “The Web of Fear” sees the return of the Yeti and the Great Intelligence as well as Professor Travers close to 40 inuniverse years after the latter serial. Their return is not hidden at all as a shut off Yeti is seen not even three minutes in and murdering by seven minutes in. They have been restored by Travers who has managed to make the control sphere work again, bringing the Yeti to life as they kill their new owner.

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Webs form a recurring theme in this serial, the TARDIS rematerialized in the middle of space coated in webbing, they find a dead body coated in web, and the whole Underground seems to be filled with them. The military is attempting to blow up the subway which is filled with Yeti and time travelers who have accidentally stumbled in, though they run into a number of issues as they keep finding people in the tunnels and the webs have rendered the bombs unable to go off. The webs left behind everywhere are a bit confusing to me though since they are also referred to as the fungus and the fungus looks like a bunch of suds (or maybe one of those reactions the teacher likes to show off in science to make chemistry seem cool).

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As is so often the case, the Doctor and his companions are suspected but thankfully for them, Victoria recognizes the professor who remembers them and vouches for them (albeit confused by the whole fact that they all look exactly the same). A reporter there isn’t very trusting but he’s basically ignored by everyone. All three are split up as the Doctor is left behind, with Jaime and Victoria separately going looking for him with the former also chasing after the pyramid shaped Great Intelligence. The Doctor is found by Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and along with Victoria return to the military where the Colonel takes over.

We have also added The Mist into it all, as there is a mist that covers an area and which things go into and don’t come out but sadly this aspect doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Trapping the soldiers from getting to the surface brought back bad memories of last week but at least this time it’s not from an imagined threat as when they finally do they find Yetis slowly troddling down the street. Their machine guns doing very little and almost all the soldiers are slaughtered by their unwillingness to walk briskly away. They are all called back by a loud beeping sound as they seem to be drawn to some small Yeti figurines and determined to kill anyone in possession of one. Meanwhile, the Yeti capture Travers and allow the Great Intelligence to speak through him. It wants to drain the Doctor’s brain, kidnapping Victoria as a hostage. In fact, its speaking through Travers is the one time it truly feels like a threat.

What I love about the plot to defeat the Yeti and the Great Intelligence is that the successful efforts of the heroes only make things worse. Using a Yeti that they captured, they attack the Great Intelligence to prevent it from wiping The Doctor’s brain and though they defeat it, The Doctor was never really in danger. His seeming acceptance of the situation was only so he can get into position where his work rewiring equipment could instead drain the Great Intelligence and their lack of trust in him allows the Great Intelligence to escape, only cutting off its contact with Earth, and setting up its eventual return which wouldn’t occur until Series 7 of NuWho.

This is the second straight week that the show seems to set up the return of a villain that it never actually followed up on (at least in the classic era). In fact, this entire season has felt like an expansion of the serialization closer to Season 1 levels with all its recurring baddies but it starts to feel more like throwing crap at a wall to see what sticks in an effort to replace the Daleks than any actual creative decision. Still, this is a far more cohesive and slightly more effective serial than the last. Its nothing special as the villains aren’t all that intimidating and the mysteries feel lacking but it’s still enjoyable enough.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations
– Jaime once again asserts that the Doctor can’t control the TARDIS
– We get a proper lampshading of the fact that we keep having stories set on Earth
– During the third episode we literally get a slide show within a slide show (as the episode features an in universe slide show presentation)
– The Doctor repeatedly playing “The Skye Boat Song” on his recorder just furthers the connection with Outlander (which named its lead male after the character and actor portraying Jaime) which uses the song for its theme.
– This has a direct prequel in “The Snowmen” which sets up the events of this serial in a way.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor and company struggle to find the TARDIS afraid they may restart the trains while they are down there.

Next Up:Doctor Who says goodbye to one delightful companion and hello to a new inanimate friend while I say goodbye to actually being able to watch complete episodes as we investigate “The Fury from the Deep” on December the 4th.

December 18th – “The Wheel in Space”
January 1st – “The Dominators