Thursday, April 8, 2010

"The Web Planet" wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here with more apologies at the lateness of this post. But here, better late than never, is a wrapup of this very odd story.

I don't think anyone can deny that "The Web Planet" is a story that either works for a viewer or really doesn't, depending on one's ability to suspend disbelief a whole lot more than is usual for Doctor Who and see non-humanoid insect-like aliens rather than men and women in ant and butterfly costumes making weird movements. I count myself lucky that, for the most part (and with the possible general exception of Ronelyn), the Project members found themselves into the former camp. As Spoo put it, "Once you're used to them there's a 'magic moment' that I can look past the costumes, like the 3rd time I saw them." Not that everything worked, by a long shot--the Animus, for example, was honestly pretty disappointing after the fantastically eerie buildup. The Optera, who we really liked for the most part, were let down a bit by the...vestigial arms that just kind of hung there. And the Zarbi costumes...worked, but definitely not in the way that the production team--or the writer, Bill Strutton--had wanted. (Infamously, they arrived so late and were so stiff that they threw the entire production off. Check out Shannon Sullivan's page for more info about this, as well as general writing/production information.)

The Menoptra are, without a doubt, the standouts, both because of their costumes (those wings!) and because of the work of Rosalind DeWinter, who both played Vrestin and created the "insect movements" for the Menoptra and (slightly less convincingly) the Optera. I'm unsure whether the sing-songy speech of the one and the halting grunts of the other are down to Ms. DeWinter's work, the idea of director Richard Martin or in Strutton's original script, but regardless, it worked wonderfully to make the aliens, well, alien. (I think we can give Strutton full props for a lot of it, especially tidbits like Ian becoming "Heron" and Barbara "Habara" to the Menoptra.)

In the past, I've called "The Web Planet" a "failed masterpiece," a "a noble attempt," a story where the show's reach went much farther than its grasp. I really do believe all of that's true. The story, the writing is wonderful and the production, while severely limited by technical considerations, is pretty extraordinary, from the sets (helped by the weird filters used to convey an alien planet's atmosphere) to the flying effects. The acting was excellent, especially given the odd requirements both from the "aliens" and the actors having to play against them. William Hartnell and William Russell especially shone, though Jacqueline Hill isn't far behind. Maureen O'Brien suffers a bit from having very little to do after the first episode, but still turns in a good performance. Of the guest cast, the most notable is Martin Jarvis as Hilio (the Menoptra captain and "designated jerk" of the butterfly people), who would return to other roles in Doctor Who, as well as having a distinguished career. (This was apparently his first television role!)

All right, enough! Here are the individual episode post links:

"The Web Planet"
"The Zarbi"
"Escape to Danger"
"Crater of Needles"
"The Centre"

And, as always, here's the official BBC episode guide for this story.

I'd talk about what's coming up next, but you already know! Our four friends journey to Jaffa in the late twelfth century to join Richard Coeur de Leon and Saladin in the second Crusade! Join us for episode two in...well, we'll be watching it in 24 hours, so I'm guessing the post will be up in about 26 hours or so. Until then, I remain


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