Friday, 2 May 2014

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear (Revisited)

 So, here we are; I revisited Enemy of the World after Philip Morris unveiled its fiver previously missing episodes last October; now it's time for the obvious next step. Should Episode Three turn up soon then this blog could get very confusing...

Part One

"Is it safe?"

"Oh, I shouldn't think so for a moment..."

A direct continuation from The Enemy of the World, so we do get to see the aftermath after all. The Doctor and Victoria clearly aren't hanging on, and some of the roundels are clearly cardboard cutouts, but never mind!

I'm glad at least this episode survives so we can see Camfield's direction in all its glory- the scene with the Yeti transforming is great. And it's fun to see an older Travers with a beard and great, cantankerous dialogue- Jack Watling seems to be having a lot more fun this time around! I'm not sure about the character Silverstein here though- we seem to be getting a little too close for comfort to some rather dodgy stereotypes.

Actually watching the stories in order brings home just how soon it is for a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen to turn up. And it's rather odd that, if the Yeti are considered good enough to bring back, they then have to be completely redesigned!

This is great stuff, in large part a typical "exploring" part one, but also structured rather cleverly. We get the scene with Travers in the museum to establish the Yeti threat, but the next time we see him some time has passed, the army is involved and the threat is already underway with the minimum of exposition. In between these scenes, the web around the TARDIS in space adds tension and reminds us of the larger threat of the Great Intelligence- although why it lets go isn't made quite clear. All this, and the most postmodern line since a prisoner was kept in a corridor in the last story: "Funny, isn't it? How we keep landing on your Earth?"

We have a deserted London and lots of soldiers... this all feels very Quatermass.

Yes, we've seen Part One before, but this is the copy recovered by Philip Morris, and it's a notably superior copy. It's still obvious, sadly, that Silverstein is portrayed as the grasping Jew, but the episode is as gripping and as addictive as ever. The prospect of five more episodes of Douglas Camfield's direction is utterly gripping.

It must be said, though: the better copy makes it even more obvious that the TARDIS roundels are just blown-up photographs.

Part Two

"A right old Fred Karno's army".

Back to the recons, Joint Venture this time. It's fun to see, or rather hear, Travers' reaction to seeing Jamie and Victoria looking just as they did forty years ago- and The Abominable Snowmen is retrospectively dated back to 1935. Interesting, as I don't recall anything particularly in the story to suggest it wasn't contemporary. Well, aside from occupying Chinese people, obviously...

The Doctor's not in this much, is he? this is the first obvious time Troughton gets a holiday. Still, he had an awful lot to do in the last story.

We get a very odd line from one of the soldiers: "He reckons they're abominable snowmen." So how come everyone is calling them Yeti?

Our first "new" footage, then. It's fantastic to see footage of the soldiers vs. the Yeti and their web guns. The characters are all distinct individuals and the performances make them seem very real in this high stress situation, the web looks fantastic too in all its foamy-bubblewrappiness. It's quite arresting how quickly it moves through the ground. The cliffhanger is interesting: oh, look, foam!

The Doctor's absence is really felt, so it is left to the other characters to carry the story. It is amusing to see the 1960's attempt at depicting a professional woman; Anne may be a brilliant scientist, but it is she who makes the tea.

Part Three

"Good to see you don't take things at face value."

A small glass pyramid! There's a blast from the past. As is the Doctor, who it seems we haven't seen for ages. he seems to be accompanied by some mysterious, moustachioed soldier type called Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. we don't know where he came from, so he's probably a baddie.

Our heroes are by now entirely surrounded by fungus. at this point it becomes clear that we are indeed watching another base under siege.

Crikey, one of our heroes is a traitor, using the model Yeti- I bet it's that sinister Lethbridge-Stewart. But really, aside from the Doctor, Anne Travers and Victoria, it could be anyone. This is feeling even more Quatermass by the minute, and Pat Troughton makes a splendid Bernard. Good stuff.

This episode is not only still a recon, but a considerably worse recon than the version I watched above. It was clearly made in a hurry; there are NO captions- except one right at the very end! Things are very hard to follow,which is generally not the case for recons made my amateurs. Professionals, eh? Most revealingly, the reprises at both ends are not included, a sign of rushing.

It is of course frustrating that we are introduced to Lethbridge- Stewart in recon form. The character shines from the beginning, and is, from the start, a little more vulnerable than he would later become.

Part Four

"I have a craft that travels in time and space."

The Doctor's description of the great Intelligence to the Colonel (and us) is creepy, well-delivered stuff. Even more chilling is the realisation that the Yeti just came, took what it wanted (Travers) and went- it just doesn't see the army as a threat.

We get an extraordinary scene here in which the Doctor tells the Colonel about the TARDIS- and Lethbridge-Stewart believes him, showing not only an extraordinary amount of faith in the Doctor but also good judgement. But conversely, having sent a squad of troops to look for the Doctor's police box (!), he's entirely deflated and defeated once the others are all killed. This is a well-rounded and well played character, but not quite the one he would become.

I'm sure the long battle scene between the soldiers and the Yeti looked great, but I couldn't see it! but it was very long. And used the Cybermens' signature tune for some reason...

The cliffhanger is fantastic here. Unlike in The Abominable Snowmen, in this story the Yeti most certainly do pose a threat.

 At last we get to see Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, complete with his Scottish regimental headgear. It's great to see him, and moving pictures. Everything looks amazing, from the bits of web on the camera (Camfield was a genius) to the sheer awesomeness of the Battle of Covent Garden. Best of all, though, is Troughton's performance; his little monologue about the Great Intelligence is truly awesome.

The Colonel is awesome too, open-minded and pragmatic, although yet again the signs of stress are visible in this story in ways which later stories will not show. This is certainly a better story than The Enemy of the World, in spite of its inferior script, and that is entirely down to Camfield. This episode simply looks amazing.

Part Five

"You'd better stay here. Evans. And don't go taking any chances."

I haven't mentioned Evans yet, but he's a nice character: at the same time comic relief and fulfilling a serious function. He reminds us how scary the situation is, shows us how brave everyone else is in contrast, and is himself quite tragic.

The Intelligence, issuing his ultimatum to the Doctor, is a very powerful adversary indeed, and the situation is about as hopeless as I can ever recall it being. This story is superb.

I'm liking the Colonel more and more. He and Jamie make a particularly good team. Incidentally, in a story broadcast while Syd Barrett was still in Pink Floyd, we get two characters called Arnold and Lane...

This may be black and white, but by Jove it's psychedelic, not something one would have guessed from the recon. It is arresting, too, to see the Intelligence speaking through Jack Watling having recently seen Richard E. Grant in the same role. The Web of Fear is a slightly different experience with Steven Moffat having used the Great Intelligence as the Big Bad for Season 33.

Nick Courtney is truly fabulous here; even my semi-fan wife singled him out for high praise. It's still a pity, though, that we know he's going to become a regular and can't be the mole, as is often pointed out. It's interesting to see Lethbridge-Stewart and Jamie getting on as well here as they will in The Invasion

Part Six

"Prepare for a great darkness to cloud your mind."

So Arnold is the traitor? I'd forgotten about him- I'd genuinely though there were no plausible suspects and so there must not have been a traitor after all. Although I'm sure it would have helped if I was genuinely able to suspect the Colonel, as the original viewers must have done!

There seems to be no hope as the Intelligence starts to drain the Doctor's mind. But we get a great ending as Jamie heroically saves the day only for it to be revealed that the Doctor would have drained the Intelligence's mind into his simply by switching the wires.

More visual treats, then, in the middle of the tension as we are treated to rare footage of the Doctor playing his recorder. More to the point, the presence of actual visuals makes this episode much, much easier to follow. Once again I'm left with the strong impressions that watching recons doesn't help you to follow what is actually going on as it seems to at the time.

The final showdown is tense and awesome, and it's equally awesome to see Troughton's facial expressions during his extraordinary performance.

Overall, simply magnificent, full of twists and turns as a six-parter should be, action-packed and generally very Quatermass and the Pit. An easy 5/5.

No arguing with my past self there. A triumph from beginning to end. Douglas Camfield is without a doubt the finest director ever to work on twentieth century Doctor Who. 

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