‘THE WEB PLANET’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Menoptra and Zarbi with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki
Welcome to the planet Vortis!
‘The Web Planet’ is a six-part adventure from the William Hartnell era of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s by Bill Strutton and was shown during Season 2 of ‘Doctor Who’ in 1965. It features the First Doctor with his companions Ian, Barbara and Vicki. It’s a pretty surreal tale and it has plenty of interesting ideas.
The story has the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS ‘dragged down’ to the web planet of Vortis, where it is populated by large insects including the Zarbi and the Menoptra. But a dark power has taken over the planet and the Doctor and his friends must help the Menoptra in rescuing Vortis.
I like the concept of an alien world filled with large insects. Bill Strutton certainly creates an unusual world that feels strange and surreal. This isn’t my mum’s favourite story as she doesn’t like insects. 😀 But the themes and ideas running through the story are pretty interesting and thought-provoking.
Saying that however, I do find this story to be pretty slow and underwhelming at times. It takes a while to establish the world of Vortis and the alien misty atmosphere makes you want to sleep at times. I don’t think a story like this could have been made today and wouldn’t be so underwhelming.
I enjoyed the characters featured in this and that’s not just the regulars. The supporting cast is all insect-like and only the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki are recognisably human. Had the story’s atmosphere been less underwhelming and more fast-paced, I would have enjoyed these characters.
William Hartnell is very good as the Doctor in this tale. I liked how the Doctor knows about Vortis, even though he’s never visited it before. I liked some of the comedy moments, especially when the Doctor’s with Ian and when he tells Vicki off to get him a ‘white’ box when he had actually said ‘red’.
William Russell plays Ian Chesterton very well. He gets to join the Doctor early on when venturing out into Vortis. Ian gets upset when he loses his gold pen and when the Doctor ruins his school tie. He also shares this adventure with Vrestin the female Menoptra and meets the Optera underground.
Jacqueline Hill is equally good as Barbara Wright. Barbara gets drawn out of the TARDIS when she wears the Roman gold band on her arm. Barbara gets to share a lot of scenes with the Menoptra, especially when she’s a slave to the Zarbi and when she helps the Menoptra’s attack plans on Zarbi.
Maureen O’Brien is lovely as Vicki. I really like Maureen’s performance in this story. Vicki senses the Zarbi’s calls when she’s in the TARDIS and she gets some headaches. I liked it we get to know about her 25th century origins with Barbara and she shares scenes with the Doctor in the Zarbi stronghold.
For ‘The Web Planet’, there are five alien-insect species on Vortis. These include the Menoptra, the Zarbi, the Optera, the Larvae Guns and the Animus. All are unique in what type of insect they’re based on. The performances of the cast and the operators performing them are really extraordinary.
The Menoptra are like giant moths or butterflies. These include Roslyn de Winter as Vrestin; Arne Gordon as Hrostar; Arthur Blake as Hrhoonda; Jolyon Booth as Prapillus; Jocelyn Birdsall as Hlynia and Martin Jarvis as Hilio. The Menoptra’s insect movements are all conducted by Roslyn de Winter.
I liked how the Menoptra are portrayed as the goodies of Vortis in this story. They’re very graceful with their hand movements, even if they do take a while to speak their words in their insect-like accent. For some reason, the Menoptra name Ian as ‘Heron’, Barbara as ‘Harbara’ and Vicki as ‘Hicki’.
The Zarbi are like giant ants. I like the Zarbi, although the costumes are rather cumbersome for the actors to wear and they make strange whirring noises. I like Ian’s remark about ants eating through houses whereas the Zarbi can eat their way through a mountain, which is a pretty terrifying thought.
The Optera are like giant woodlice that hop about. They were once Menoptra but have lost their wings. These include Ian Thompson as Hetra and Barbara Joss as Nemini. I couldn’t take these Optera seriously, especially with Hetra as the leader who kept speaking with a funny grunting voice.
The Larvae Guns (or Venom Grubs) are worm-like creatures that fire venom out of their nose stingers. They work with the Zarbi for the Animus, killing every Menoptra in sight. Although deadly, I found these creatures unconvincing, especially when they fire beams which could be done with CGI.
The Animus is a spider-like creature, voiced by Catherine Fleming. The Animus is the evil entity controlling the Zarbi and the Larvae Guns on Vortis. She talks to the Doctor through a ‘hairdryer’ with her ethereal voice. When confronting the Animus at the end, it emits a very deadly bright light.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s ‘The Lair of Zarbi Supremo’ short ‘Doctor Who’ annual story, read by William Russell on audio only. There’s also a commentary with William Russell, producer Verity Lambert, director Richard Martin and Martin Jarvis, moderated by Gary Russell.
There’s a Spanish soundtrack audio option on the sixth episode and an info-text commentary option to enjoy. There’s also the making-of documentary called ‘Tales of Isop’ with cast and crew interviews; a ‘Give-A-Show Slides’ based on ‘The Web Planet’ story and a photo gallery of the story.
‘The Web Planet’ is an intriguing and unusual ‘Doctor Who’ story to watch. I found it slow and uninspiring at times, but I like the brave attempt to create an alien world filled with giant insects and its concepts. It’s of its time, but this shouldn’t be disregarded likely and is worth the entertainment.
The Doctor would later visit Vortis again in future ‘Doctor Who’ stories. As well as ‘The Lair of Zarbi Supremo’, there’s the ‘Doctor Who’ novel, ‘Twilight of the Gods’, with the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria and the Big Finish audio drama, ‘Return to the Web Planet’, with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa.
‘The Web Planet’ rating – 6/10
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