Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Web Planet"

Hello, the Historian here, back with Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Spoo for this very strange second season story. I'm also trying to get an idea of how the "create a jump" thing in Blogger works, to put the summary behind a cut, but I'm not having a lot of luck so far. It seems I can start a jump, but cannot come back from the idea of hiding only the summary might not work. If anyone has any idea of how I can achieve this goal, please feel free to leave a comment. Until then, we'll give this a try and get to the summary!

Episode Summary: First aired 13 February 1965. As Barbara and Vicki are off changing, the Doctor tells Ian that they are being dragged down to a planet by a mysterious force!

The TARDIS materializes on the surface of the planet, a bleak, craggy place. Odd webs hang between rock formations and even the light is strange. Back in their normal clothes, the TARDIS crew surveys the landscape using the scanner screen. The air is thin, but breathable, but the Doctor cannot free the TARDIS from the strange force. Is it a natural phenomenon or the product of some intelligence?

Outside, and out of view of the scanner, a large creature, resembling a giant ant walking on two legs, emerges near the ship. It begins a strange wailing, which calls another of the creatures out. Inside the ship, Vicki hears the noise, and nearly collapses in pain. None of the others can hear it; the Doctor suggests it's something operating on a high frequency, only able to be heard by young ears. Vicki tells them the noise has stopped.

Outside, another creature has joined the ant-like beings. It is smaller and closer to the ground, resembling some kind of centipede or grub. It has a long, pointed snout.

The Doctor attempts to manipulate the controls in order to free the ship, and, indeed, it disappears momentarily, but then reappears right back where it was. The ship rocks, throwing the crew about, then rights itself, as the noise of the creatures outside fills the ship. To their horror, the crew discover that the TARDIS appears to be completely drained of power! The scanner, however, still works and Barbara thinks she sees something outside for just a moment. When Ian and the Doctor look, however, there is nothing to be seen. Vicki mentions that the noise (which everyone heard this time) has stopped and Barbara suggests she lie down. After the two leave, the Doctor tells Ian that they simply must go outside and find the source of the interference. They agree that Barbara should remain on the ship to look after Vicki. Barbara comes back to the control room looking for a sedative for Vicki and complains about the Doctor's disorganization. Ian tells her of their plan and promises to not let the Doctor leave his sight. The Doctor brings over two "Atmospheric Density Jackets" to be worn to counteract the thinness of the atmosphere. Barbara goes to tend Vicki as the two men put them on. The Ian realizes something: without power, how will they open the doors? But the Doctor has this planned out. He uses his ring, which is "not merely decorative," to activate a machine which opens the doors and the two exit.

Back in the ship, Barbara brings some asprin to a sceptical Vicki, who dismisses the pills as "medieval medicine." She reveals that she has studied medicine, physics and many other studies as part of her primary education. Barbara, as a teacher, asks her for more information, but it is obvious that Vicki's experiences of education in the future are far, far removed from her friend's. Finally, laughing, she consents to take the asprin. Then she notices a gold bracelet on Barbara's arm and asks if Ian gave it to her. No, Barbara answers, Nero did. But she refuses to tell Vicki more than that she and Ian also went to Rome and to get some sleep. She also inadvertently lets slip that the other two have gone outside...

On the planet's surface, the Doctor has discovered that the rocky crags are composed of mica. He asks Ian for something sharp to scrape off a sample. Ian takes his gold pen out from under his jacket--and it is immediately whipped out of his hand and flies away. So quickly that the Doctor at first believes its disappearance was a conjuring trick! Ian is angry at the loss of his pen and the Doctor is intrigued by the fact that it was a gold pen. Could it have been taken by the same force holding the TARDIS?

Back on the ship, Barbara is tidying up in the control room when she feels her arm, the one adorned with Nero's gold bracelet, drawn up of its own accord. Disturbed, she manages to get it back under control and goes to check on Vicki. She tries to tell the girl what happened to her, but realizes it simply sounds silly.

Outside, the Doctor and Ian have discovered a giant pyramidal structure, obviously not a natural formation. It appears to be ancient and decrepit, and neither man is able to see its top. The Doctor dismisses it as the source of the strange force. Turning away, Ian sees what appears to be a small pool of water. He is about to dip his hands into it when the Doctor stops him in alarm. He asks Ian for the tie the schoolteacher is using as a belt and dips it into the "water." The tie begins to smoke and blacken. Ian is incensed that the Doctor has ruined his Coal Hill School tie, but the Doctor points out that it could have been his fingers, not the tie that had burned if the Doctor had not interfered! The mystery deepens: a strange force, the mica formations and now a pool of liquid that reacts like formic acid...and watching them, unseen behind a formation next to the pool, is another ant-like creature. It dislodges a stone, which falls into the pool and gives Ian a start. He tries to tell the Doctor, but the old man brushes him off and suggests they move on.

Back in the control room, Barbara clutches her head as the noises from outside once again penetrate the ship. The doors open of their own accord and the console rotates, out of control! Things begin to settle, but the noise grows louder and seems to be drawing Barbara outside by her bracelet-decked arm, no matter how she struggles against it....

Outside, the Doctor and Ian, hearing the noise, discuss its significance as message from either a sentient being or a machine controlled by one.

Back inside, Vicki awakens as the noise ceases. She calls for Barbara, then, with alarm, sees that the doors are open. She runs to them and calls out after her friend.

Outside, the Doctor and Ian hear the echo of Vicki's voice. Alarmed, they decide to return to the ship, but Ian blunders into a trap as a web rises up and engulfs him, stinging him painfully. Elsewhere on the surface, Barbara walks, as in a trance, towards the small pool of bubbling acid! Back at the trap, Ian is in pain from the stings. The Doctor finally leaves him to rush back to the ship and get something that might help.

Inside the ship, the control room again lurches and Vicki grabs the console to steady herself. She accidently activates some controls and the TARDIS, suddenly surging with power, begins to dematerialize! Outside, the Doctor reaches the area where the TARDIS was, only to find it gone! "My TARDIS," he says, horrified...

Ok, hopefully that worked. If not, this is all still cut and...we still have a few bugs in the system. (Again, if you know anything about all of this, please feel free to comment.) Another note before we begin: due to a (thankfully minor) illness, Ketina won't be adding her review this week, though I'll try to incorporate her opinions into my section. Hopefully, if I miss anything (which I undoubtedly will), she may add stuff in comments. So keep checking back.

To say the least, this episode was a huge shift in tone from last week. From (sort of) historical fiction to very, very out there science fiction, more out there than Doctor Who has ever gone before. Ketina observed (rightly, I think) that this was the most alien a planet on the show has felt yet. The silent, strange planetscape was a little disturbing, almost.

As (I think) the only person to have seen this story before (Ketina thinks she's seen a couple of episodes, but not the whole thing), I've been careful to lay the groundwork with everyone by calling it a story where the production teams reach exceeded their grasp somewhat. And, yeah, the initial appearance of the ant-like ah heck, I'm just going to call them Zarbi, it's easier. The initial appearance of the Zarbi was greeted with chuckles from some of the Project team. Afterwards, we mostly agreed (with some half-hearted dissentions from one or two of us) that they were actually pretty cool, all things considered, and slightly disturbing in that way insects can be. Even giant insects that walk on man-like legs. As Ketina put it, "If I saw that when I was six, it would scare the heck out of me." The resemblance to the ants in the 1950s monster movie THEM! was also noted. The Project team was almost unanimous (except for me--again, have seen the story before) in its amusement at the costume for the grub-like alien, dubbed "the Roomba" by Schmallturm, for somewhat obvious reasons. Like "Sandy" in "The Rescue," it's obviously a rug-like costume thrown over a poor crawling actor. Still, I thought it was neat, even if no one else did. Once again, although obviously based on Earth insects, the context of "The Web Planet" just makes them feel completely alien and more than a little odd and disturbing.

As for the story, I felt it was paced a little oddly, full of starts and stops, but I agree with the others, most of whom really liked the pace. The episode builds slowly, piling mystery on mystery and oddness upon oddness, slowly building to a climax that, essentially, leaves every cast member in a dangerous situation: Barbara about to step into an acid pit, Ian being stung and trapped in the net, the Doctor looking around in despair and Vicki...who knows where! We also enjoyed the direct tie-ins with "The Romans;" it was nice to feel a sense of continuity, thanks to Barbara's bracelet and Vicki's disbelief at how she acquired it. (Of course, it probably helped that Dennis Spooner was both the story editor who did a final pass on Bill Strutton's "Web Planet" script and the writer of "The Romans.") As I mentioned before, we liked the sets and costumes and odd "alien" feel of the whole situation. Even the disappearance of the pen was impressive--it really looked like zipped away. We imagine the pen must have been on a wire, but, if so, we certainly couldn't see it. Very well done.

As for the acting...well...the highlight for us were probably the interactions between Barbara and Vicki, especially the "medieval medicine" scene. Clearly meant to lighten the mood mid-episode, it worked to put a smile on our faces. Barbara's arm-with-a-mind-of-its-own was sometimes good (especially at the end), sometimes less good (especially in the first scene where she noticed something was wrong.) Ian was fun, though both his immediate move to dip his hands in the water and his anger over the destruction of his tie felt a bit out of character, especially given his participation in a very similar scene all the way back in the first episode of "The Keys of Marinus." In general, the acting was good, but there were a lot of comments about William Hartnell's Doctor this week. He seemed to have some particular problems remembering some lines and descended into somewhat crazy chuckling laughter far more than usual, not to mention talking in a way that had Ketina jokingly referring to him as "Yoda Doctor." (e.g. "Eh, there you are, look! See that! Erh....There you are, you see. Ha ha!" in a rather Yoda-ish voice.) This is not to say that any of this was bad, on the contrary, Hartnell was a heck of a lot of fun to watch! But he seemed a bit more...scattered than usual, some of us thought. A bit more "out there." I guess we'll see if he pulls back a bit in the coming weeks.

As always, I'm sure there are all kinds of things I'm forgetting. Project members, if there's something from you I'm leaving out, comment away! Oh, and Ketina would undoubtedly want me to mention that we got no screams this week, but that (alas for Ketina) Barbara is back to her old "hair helmet" style. Ah well, the Roman hair was nice while it lasted, right?

And that's it for me! Until next week (when Ketina will return!), I remain




Richard said...

Sensational - yes as an eight year old (forty odd years ago) and seeing this in Australia on Black and White TV that my family had just purchased it was very scary - when I saw the replay here a few years ago the quality of the monsters was really bad.

I remember feeling sorry that - for the story to end - one group of insects had to die but what a great introduction to SF.

Keep up the good work.

The Historian said...

Thanks for the comment! It's great to hear from someone who saw the episode close to its original run. I know Australia got most of the first six seasons; feel free to comment about memories or impressions of episodes. (The only thing I ask is be careful of spoilers; believe it or not, some Project readers and members haven't seen these stories yet!)

Thanks again!