Unlike the other recovered story from the haul of 11 complete episodes found by Phillip Morris (of which 9 were missing), The Web of Fear (1968) does have a reputation to live up to. The story has always been high up on people’s lists to see (up there with Fury from the Deep and Power of the Daleks) even making it into the DWM top 10 in its 1998 survey of all stories. Though episode three is supposedly still missing, the find of its other 4 episodes sheds a lot of light on the story and it’s safe to say that it lives up to expectations and more.
Like The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear had one surviving previous episode. Unlike the former though, the latter’s surviving episode added to the weight of it being a long lost classic. It is perhaps the best opening episode of any story, full of atmosphere with a use of Bartok in the score and a wonderfully spooky London Underground set in Ealing Studios. Having the visual back instantly impacts the story in a number of ways but its plot is already an exciting, almost typical Doctor Who thriller. Following on from the earlier The Abominable Snowmen (1967), The Great Intelligence wants revenge on the Doctor for foiling its earlier plan.
The Intelligence, with the help of Professor Travers’ tinkering with an old Yeti sphere, has taken over London Underground and most of central London, dragging the Doctor off course in order to steal his knowledge. Though the plot sounds pretty simple (and in effect it is), the drama comes from several, suspenseful ideas that all lead to the plot’s inevitable conclusion. Its setting on the Underground is a masterstroke, making it one of the most claustrophobic stories in the Who canon (in spite of what a particular One Show “journalist” said, describing it as “sweet”). The isolated pressure that is built from this setting is what drives the narrative along with the seemingly impossible task of solving the violent presence of the robotic yeti and the unstoppable fungus that is gradually taking over all of the tunnels looking set to be impossible.
The other mystery that The Web of Fear spins is asking the viewer to decide who is actually in league with The Intelligence itself. It’s one of the few mysteries in Classic Who where the viewer knows as little as the characters with the reveal only happening in the final few minutes of the last episode. This mystery is heightened further by the fact that every single character on screen is developed well with even supporting roles are highly entertaining and believable. Slimy Journalist Harold Chorley (Jon Rollason) is a real highlight, at once undermining and desperate both for a good story and to get out onto the surface safely. Professor Travers’ daughter Anne (Tina Packer) is also a great character simply asking to be kept on as another companion. Like so many characters in Troughton’s era though, it was sadly not to be and she joins the ranks of Samantha Briggs and Isobel Watkins.
With the visuals now back in place, some of the story’s action can be assessed fully and not just guessed at from a few censor clips. The famous battle of Covent Garden is indeed a marvellous spectacle with Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) seeming extremely worried and scared by the surreal presence of the Yeti wandering around modern-day London. It recalls the later battle between his UNIT troops and the Cybermen in The Invasion (1969) but the presence of the Yeti and their raw aggression (in spite of being robots) make this battle far more tense and satisfying.
With the rumours about The Web of Fear being incomplete turning out to be true, it is sad to see that the episode 3 is missing, chiefly because it has the Brigadier’s first meeting with The Doctor. However, there’s no episode in the story where he doesn’t shine and it’s clear why he returned time and time again. Unlike The Enemy of the World, Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) get a lot more to do. Jamie’s heroism is rather simple but ultimately refreshing from his modern day counterparts who spend more time fancying the Doctor rather than adding to the adventure like he does. And then of course there is Troughton whose performance needs little said other than it is totally perfect, nuanced and further cements him as the best Doctor.
There is always a slight worry with the return of missing episodes that are as sought after as The Web of Fear. Since the recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) from Hong Kong in 1991, there’s a general consensus that listening to the audios of the stories has allowed better versions to be created than actually were probably shown. Far from suffering from this, frankly overegged idea, The Web of Fear lives up to all of its hype, showing just how great Season 5 was and how brilliant it would be for more Troughton to turn up. Here’s hoping.
The Web of Fear is now available on Itunes and is released on DVD in February.
Missing Episode Speculation.
Breaking aside from the review, some minor speculation on the missing episodes front is unavoidable. This writer has been following the rumours for some time that had been circulating in fan circles online. It appears that everything about last week’s release was at some stage leaked and everyone who discussed them should be given the benefit of the doubt for the months of questioning and abuse they have been on the receiving end of.
So, why the need for speculation if these have been returned? The rumour that was 100% accurate stated that more was to come; that more episodes (not just of Doctor Who but Dad’s Army among other things being in the 8000 cans of material returned from Africa) had been found and that this was the start of a drip-feed release of episodes with the restoration and cost of getting them back coming from sales of these two stories. Before the announcement, things got pretty heated online, not just between general fans, but between well-known people in Doctor Who. Online fans simply got too carried away with trying to find out what was happening and, if the reports were anything to go by, almost damaged negotiations and the recovery itself.
Though I firmly believe there is more to come, I hope that the more invasive speculation will die down while Phillip Morris and his team are allowed to continue their work unheeded by rabid fans. The sheer amount of hints that more is come needs no listing here (from BBC news, The One Show and The Telegraph to name but three) but this can only come to about in the future if the team are left to get on with it. I strongly believe and hope that Marco Polo is back and the powers that be are deliberately clamping down on the rumours by turning discussions about them into battles. However, prying will not make it appear more quickly.
The best thing for fans to do is to support the releases (online and DVD with The Web of Fear‘s far away release date only adding credit to the rumours that episode 3 was in fact hoped to be found in time) and hope that more episodes are to follow. Patience is a virtue and will reward those fans who indulge in it. Thank you Phillip Morris. We owe you a great deal.