What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Web Planet” (One, 1965)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien)

Time: Unclear, though the implication is present day.

Place: The planet Vortis, many light years from Earth.

Episodes: 

1. “The Web Planet” (Season Two, Episode Sixteen)
2. “The Zarbi” (S2, E17)
3. “Escape to Danger” (S2, E18)
4. “Crater of Needles” (S2, E19)
5. “Invasion” (S2, E20)
6. “The Centre” (S2, E21)

Today’s Lessons

1. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, one can only create costumed bug-like aliens from obvious plastic shells and vinyl suits.  After all, CGI wasn’t a thing in 1965.

2. Have I ever mentioned One’s preferred choice of fashion?  He generally wore a black suit, in the style of the nineteenth century, with a knee-length jacket, striped trousers, and a cravat tied into a bow at the neck.  Occasionally, he wore hats and/or spectacles, and of course had shoulder-length gray hair.  I believe Hartnell was the oldest actor to portray the Doctor, but I would have to double check those facts.

3. It seems that even when the TARDIS is out of power enough to open the doors, its passengers, if trapped inside, are not out of luck as long as the Doctor is around.  The Doctor wears a ring that, if waved in front of the proper apparatus, remotely opens the TARDIS doors from the inside.  It’s such a great secret, it befuddles and surprises Ian at its very revelation, though I couldn’t blame him for it, particularly as the Doctor giggles while leaving the TARDIS to explore the planet on which they are stuck.

4. Vicki’s time period, the future, is so advanced that the notion of aspirin is positively “medieval” to her.  She reveals that she has taken advanced courses in school, including medicine, physics, and chemistry at the age of ten, and when Barbara explains that she teaches the basics, the “3 R’s,” reading, writing, and “‘rithmetic,” Vicki guesses, “Oh, it was a nursery school!”  When Barbara becomes outraged and asks how much time Vicki spent in the classroom, a notion that further confuses her, Vicki replies that she had to study for “a whole hour each week” by using machines.  Barbara encourages Vicki to take the aspirin to spare Barbara from having to dress and put on make up and start dancing to ward evil spirits away.  Funny.

5. Barbara reveals that she is still wearing the gold bracelet she was given in ancient Rome, at which point, Vicki is surprised to learn from Barbara that she and Ian also went to Rome.  Vicki refuses to believe Barbara, though, and resolves to ask Ian.

6. As the Doctor and Ian explore the planet’s surface, Ian agrees to lend the Doctor his pen, which immediately disappears from his hand.  The Doctor giggles, praising Ian for never performing such a “conjuring trick” before, which is strange, considering that he hasn’t traditionally given Ian credit for much up until this point.

7. The Doctor and Ian also call out, leading to a cacophony of echoes that aren’t usual echoes in large, hollow spaces.  The Doctor is gleeful at this discovery.  When Ian voices his suspicions that he feels they are being watched, the Doctor disagrees, though logically pointing out that calling out on a strange planet might incite someone to come have a look.  “And take my pen?” Ian asks petulantly.  The Doctor laughs at the notion that any alien life form is attempting to lure them away from the TARDIS in order to steal a pen.

8. This planet is characterized, according to the Doctor, by echoes, interference, gold, and water that looks like acid, which Ian almost washes his face in, until the Doctor uses Ian’s school tie to test it, revealing its acidic nature.  The fact of gold becomes important when Barbara is hypnotically enticed out of the TARDIS by the bracelet she is wearing.  In fact, aliens on this planet use gold to exert control on other races.

9. The Doctor, while tracking the whereabouts of the TARDIS with Ian after Ian is caught in a fast appearing and disappearing weed that blisters his face and after their “respiratory compensator” jackets lose effectiveness after an hour’s use, comments that the planet they’re on is so “strange and unusual” that it is unlike anything he has ever seen before.  That alone is quite the claim!  Of course, One is very young.

10. The Doctor and Ian are set upon by the bug-like creatures and captured.  The Doctor had previously theorized that this was the planet Vortis, though he did not recall the planet having moons, when this planet had several to see in the sky.  Ian asks the Doctor when captured what he knows of Vortis’ history.  The Doctor retorts, “What does history matter when you travel through space and time?!”  Famous last words, Doctor…

11. Apparently, when the bug-like creatures, presumably the Zarbi, snagged the TARDIS, causing Vicki to panic from the inside, she performed a “miracle” by pressing random buttons and allowing something to happen to cause the power to the TARDIS to return.

12. I think Doctor Who must have been recorded live back in the day.  Let’s just say that one of the Zarbi things apparently collided with the camera for no apparent reason, and it wasn’t edited out.

13. When Ian asks why the “insects,” as the Doctor brilliantly calls them, are so large, the Doctor suggests that “size is relative,” and that evolution on the planet must have allowed this type of life to sustain.

14. The Doctor tasks Ian with searching for Barbara, who is still being held by another race of insects (they look like a cross between butterflies and bumblebees and talk with very specific British accents; update: they are the “Menoptra,” a race attempting to reclaim their planet from the Zarbi).  The Doctor gives Ian pills that produce the same respiratory compensation as their previous jackets…which begs the question, why the jackets to begin with?  He also starts to move a machine from the corner.  When Ian goes to unplug it, the Doctor cries, “No no no, don’t do that! You must never unplug the relative time and space dimensional link.”  Er…

15. When the Doctor tricks the Ant Queen, or whatever she is, into lowering the interference that disrupts the TARDIS equipment and function, he encourages Ian to go searching for Barbara.  When Vicki mistrusts this plan, the Doctor tells her not to worry, opining that Ian will come back with Barbara because he’s “very good at this sort of thing.”  I guess the Doctor has finally warmed up to Ian.

16. Ian and his Menoptra friend encounter another insect life, which seems to be a devolved version of the Menoptra living deep within the Crater of Needles.  For some reason, this new race speaks with a Spanish accent.

17. The Animus, or leading “dark force” of the Zarbi, is also called, by one of the Menoptra, “the Intelligence.”  Is this the Intelligence of Who legend?  Did it start as some sort of Queen Bug?  Notably, this force has not spoken to anyone directly but the Doctor and, then, only through a webbed cylinder that lowers from the ceiling of the Zarbi base.

18. The Doctor, while in the capture of the Zarbi with Vicki, uses his little machine to reverse the effects of gold, by which the Zarbi are able to control other beings (such as Barbara with her gold bracelet, or Ian with his gold pen).  In so doing, they trick the Zarbi guards and are able to control one Zarbi guard by putting a gold collar around his neck, which would normally have controlled the Doctor and Vicki.  They use this guard to locate the Spearhead, where the Menoptra forces are meant to land to infiltrate the Animus.  Vicki names this dulcet Zarbi “Zombo” and asks the Doctor if he doesn’t think he’s cute in this hypnotic state.  The Doctor answers, “Well, I haven’t noticed before now, but now you mention it, no, no he isn’t.”  Vicki reminds the Doctor not to judge by appearances.

19. The sight of the Animus causes the Doctor to collapse and Vicki to quail and blanch. The implication is that the Animus is some sort of giant spider, but really, the Animus looks like a great anemone with a sort of mushroom shape and hundreds of tendrils, like the misshapen heart of a circulatory system (or the brain, where the nervous system sprouts from all sides of it).  I am still waiting for confirmation as to whether this Animus is the “Intelligence.”  The Animus is certainly attracted to the Doctor’s Intelligence.  Update: I’ve decided that the Animus is not the Great Intelligence, as Barbara, with Ian’s help after he entered the scene from the underground crater of needles, was able to disintegrate it with some “isotope” or something from the Doctor’s “astro map.”  Also, the Animus apparently turned the water on Vortis into acid and, once dead, the balance of life was restored to Vortis, such that the water and soil returned to normal.

20. Ian is still lamenting his tie from Coal Hills School after the Doctor suggests that they all survived the battle between the Zarbi, Menoptra, and the Animus unscathed. Forget the tie, Ian!

“The Web Planet” offered no real propulsion forward in the overall mythology of the show but was a standard, episodic depiction of a visit to some extraterrestrial locale. The Doctor played ultimate hero, while his companions provided contributions where appropriate.  In truth, this serial does not stand the test of time well, since all of the alien insects look laughably fake and choreographed, and the overall pace of the story was on the slow side, even for Classic Who.  This six episode arc was not my favorite of the early seasons.

Next serial: “The Crusade” (Season 2, Episodes 22-25).

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · January 29, 2015

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