DVD Review: DOCTOR WHO – THE WEB OF FEAR

Doctor Who - Web of Fear DVD Cover

1 Photo © BBC Home Entertainment

(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing a complimentary DVD for review)

One of the highlights of last year’s Doctor Who anniversary celebrations was the discovery of nine episodes previously “lost” from the BBC Archive. One of these stories – The Web of Fear – is being released today on DVD. For years, legend spoke that this was a classic, with a nicely shot first episode that showed promise….but that would never been enjoyed as a full story – until now.

Watching Web of Fear on DVD, it is a really good Doctor Who story that foretells much of the future of the show…but also is not quite as perfect as legend suggests. It’s still a cracking good view.

Part of it is that this isn’t the complete story – episode three is still missing, and there is a stills-and-narration reconstruction. But moving past that, The Web of Fear is a really strong example of mid-1960s Who, and contains many factors which would play a role in shaping the series’ future. Focusing on (then) contemporary Earth, the story integrates the typical “base under siege” trope with a focus on military efforts to stop an invasion. This is also the story in which Colonel (later Brigadier) Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart – played by Nicholas Courtney – makes his debut. Given the nature of the threat (a “Great Intelligence” that can take over corporeal hosts ), the story not only shows a slightly Lovecraftian influence, but also indicates why Steven Moffatt felt comfortable reviving this concept in the current series of Who (Check out Doctor Who Series 7 – most notably The Snowmen, The Bells of St. John, and The Name of the Doctor). This is also a great example of Patrick Troughton at the height of his tenure as the Second Doctor, and his performance provides many hints of the direction the character would take (not including influencing a certain Mr. Matt Smith…but we’ll leave that for later)

Photo © BBC Home Entertainment

Photo © BBC Home Entertainment

(Oh, and for those of you thinking that giant robot teddy bears….er, Yeti, might be too “cute” to be a Who nemesis, we give you….Adipose!. And yes, we fully support Adipose. In this context, Yeti works)

Granted, the story is in black & white (reflecting the television technology of its time), but the real star of Web of Fear is Douglas Camfield’s direction. What could have been a simple runabout becomes a tightly claustrophobic, slightly paranoid tale that has a strong sense of presence. (Rumor has it that the production crew were threatened with a lawsuit because of filming in the London Underground – truth is that it is all standing sets and some outdoor location footage). There are some drawbacks to the script – there are some gaping holes in the narrative (and if you don’t believe me, please check out this episode of the Doctor Who: The Writer’s Room podcast), but consider this: in the next season, Doctor Who would test a more earthbound premise in The Invasion. Three years after this, the show would record in color – with a new actor – and with a decidedly more down-to-earth focus.

Photo © BBC Home Entertainment

Photo © BBC Home Entertainment

This is also a very bare-bones DVD release – other than captions and a trailer for The Enemy of the World (the other formerly “lost” episode to be released on DVD in May), there aren’t any special features. However, The Web of Fear is a must-own for both classic and new Doctor Who fans – not only is it a great Who story, but contains many hints of the show’s future direction. For any fan of the show, this is a definite must-own.

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