‘THE WEB PLANET’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Menoptra and Zarbi with the First 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 an audio 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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Excellent review Tim, this story isn’t great is it, i commend trying something new but was a bit rubbish, as a four parter i think this would’ve worked far better with tighter pacing, but sadly as at six parters they’re really struggling, there feels too much padding & filler, i much prefer the excellent ‘Return to the Web Planet’, with the Fifth Doctor & Nyssa which is a cracking audio drama.
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Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘The Web Planet’.
No, this story isn’t great. I found it dull watching it again when revisiting it for this review.
I always try to see the positive side as well as the negative in any ‘Doctor Who’ story and whilst I like some of the concepts and ideas in this story, this fell flat. It might have something to do with the direction or pacing of the story.
I agree, this should have been a four-parter instead of a six-parter. I would have made this more compelling and fast-paced if I rewrote the story.
I’m glad you prefer ‘Return to the Web Planet’ with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa compared to this one. I do too, for obvious reasons. That story is also pacier and more enjoyable to listen to, as you can feel the action and pace and don’t feel bored when listening to it.
Thanks Simon. Glad you’ve enjoyed my latest reviews on these First Doctor stories.
My previous comments stand if this had been 4 parts it might have been a tighter paced story but I found this had a lot of filler which didn’t help the plot.
Excellent review that perfectly sums up this story.
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Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘The Web Planet’ again. I’m looking forward to revisting this story soon when it comes to checking out the Season 2 Blu-ray box set. It’s a shame about this story, as it has good ideas in it, but it falls flat in terms of pacing. ‘Return to the Web Planet’ is superior compared to this.
Many thanks for your comments.
“What I take from you will enable me to reach beyond this Galaxy, into the Solar System, to pluck from Earth its myriad techniques, and take from Man his mastery of Space…”
“The Web Planet” feels like the mid-1960s equivalent of seeing the latest CG blockbuster in the cinema. Something grand, sweeping, and evocative that challenges every corner of the screen on a glorious timpani of spectacle, and Vortis certainly has that.
The idea is a novel one and the production team does their utmost to try and make it work with the extremely limited resources they had. It would end up being one of the most popularly watched serials of the William Hartnell era with 12.5 million viewers. A figure that wouldn’t be eclipsed until “The Robots of Death” and its 12.6 million during Tom Baker’s tenure. “The Web Planet” feels like a quite genuine bit of one-upmanship for the explosive success of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”. There was even a Vortis-inspired adventure for Captain Scarlet in the pages of TV21.
So, why has age not been particularly kind to this production?
The answer could be that it’s very much a product of what was available at the time. A period in the series’ history where even location shooting was rare. Picture a Vortis filmed at night like “Cygnus Alpha” in ‘Blake’s 7’. Among swirling pools of haunted mist and a sky too wide, too bleak, and too dark to really capture with the naked eye. A truly airless plateau as impossibly flat as the Australian outback. With a Carcinome for the Animus as grim and crowded with terrors as the jungle in “Planet of Evil” where an ill-considered footing would vanish a person forever.
That is the imagination that this story is asking of the viewer. But it can only do so much. So a brutal survival story, clamoring over the lunar landscape, has to narrow its scope to a few film inserts and almost pure studio recording. It’s not quite the same. The first two episodes, for me, drag because of those limitations, but I take a lot of enjoyment once we meet the Animus itself. A fungous cancer that’s growing across a world now still and dark with the secret patrols of giant ants, crawling over its rocks like a freshly fallen animal carcass. The potential imagery is spectacular.
It’s also a story, as strange as it is, about faith. Like “The Crusade” after it, it has religious tones, but a recurring theme of “The Web Planet” is the faith placed in an individual, an ideal or even a people. From the little jokes between Barbara and Vicki about the former’s “antiquated” ways to the Doctor’s eager belief that Ian will return to them with Barbara still alive (how we’ve all grown since Totter’s Lane). The Menoptera even get their share in Vrestin’s determination to see the Optera live in Light and Prapillus’s renewed faith in his Gods after his wings are ripped from him by the Zarbi. There are long gaps of silence in this story, a lot of padding, sure, but… I was surprised rewatching how much is going on in “The Web Planet” when it is moving.
I’d be on board for another visit to Vortis. It would be a difficult thing to balance, absolutely. The Jim Henson-styled peculiarities of a planet aggressively unearthly with the story’s World War II undercurrents (the Doctor, a captured scientist in the Animus’s headquarters, works like a kidnapped codebreaker). It’d be worthwhile, I think, to see a four-part story that plays to this serial’s strengths.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on ‘The Web Planet’, highlighting the positves and negatives. I’ve heard claims that this is regarded as one of the worst ‘Doctor Who’ stories ever made, which I think is unfair as there is some good to be found in this adventure, despite some of the slow pacing that can be found in this one. I hope to update my thoughts on this story properly when it comes to the end of the 60th anniversary marathon in 2023 and when I get to revisit and update my reviews on the Season 2 stories in the Blu-ray box set.
Once again, many thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for your reviews to spark the ideas off, Tim. Looking forward to the revision. I agree, I wouldn’t even say that “The Web Planet” is the weakest of its era. It’s an imaginative concept hampered by the realities of its production. I imagine it would have a different pace and texture even with a change of medium–if ‘Doctor Who’ had been lucky enough to shift completely from video to film, as ‘The Avengers’ did between the departure of Honor Blackman and the arrival of Diana Rigg.
We won’t see Vortis again for the classic televised series. At least… We won’t see it directly. Many of the ideas that inspired “The Web Planet”, however, will linger quite prominently for the Second Doctor. There’s a definite echo of inspiration in the creation of the spirit-like Great Intelligence’s web and its controlled Yeti foot soldiers for “The Abominable Snowmen” and, more viscerally, in “The Web Planet”. The Tibet story takes place in a hijacked monastery (echoing Vortis’s themes of faith) and the London Underground story features a hijacked Yeti (similar to Zombo the Zarbi). The novelisation even forgoes any reference to the name of “Animus” (a Latin word for “spirit”) and simply calls it, “the Intelligence”. Food for thought.
These concepts will definitely pop up again for ‘Doctor Who’ after 1965. Just not in the way we’re expecting.
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Interesting comparisons you’ve between ‘The Web Planet’ to the two Yeti stories ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ and ‘The Web of Fear’. Thanks for sharing them.
I’m currently revamping ‘Part Three’ of ‘The Thirteen+ Doctors’. Hopefully I’ll be able to send a copy of the story to you and to others for persual in February before I share it on ‘Bradley’s Basement’ later in the year.