Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin
Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by William Hartnell, who was the very first Doctor. Hartnell was 57 at the time of the portrayal of the Doctor in this episode, while the current Doctor, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker, is 39 (and female). They must regenerate and get younger.
Doctor Who and his companions, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki (portrayed by William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, and Maureen O’Brien) arrive on the planet Vortis. They are soon caught in giant webs and are at the mercy of the Zarbis, a race of ant-like creatures.
Vicki mistakenly engages the TARDIS and it disappears. Back on Vortis, Barbara has been captured and is in a trance. Ian has been released from the webs which held him, although he’s suffering some effects. The Doctor is wandering around, trying to locate his companions and keep them safe, as well as figure out what happened to the TARDIS.
He soon learns that the Zarbis are slowly killing off the Menoptra in an effort to have the planet to themselves. He decides to help the butterfly-like creatures to thwart the plans of the Zarbi as well as learn what the secret weapon of the Zarbi is.
The Web Planet was first aired on British television in 1965, and it shows. Filmed in black and white, the effects are not even up to the mildly cheesy factor that was present in the Doctor Who stories I remember growing up. They aren’t even up to the standards of the original Star Trek series.
The creatures of the web planet are very apparently human. The Zarbi look like giant ants with fiberglass ant shells and human legs sticking out of the bottom. The Menoptra look more like giant bees than moths and are humanoids completely clothed in black stockings with white batting creating rings and big eyes.
Stepping out onto the planet, the camera is fitted with a different lens to give the sense of being in a different world. This is somewhat distracting as the picture doesn’t appear all that clear. It’s as if you are looking at the planet through a fishbowl or vaseline. The reason for this is not entirely that The Web Planet is more than 40 years old.
There’s enough familiar about the show, though. The TARDIS looks remarkably similar throughout the years. It’s gone through some renovations, but overall the concept is the same and has been brought forward quite well.
The acting is good if it has a little bit of a different feel than the Doctor Who series’ I am used to. The entourage of three companions gives it a feeling of a dinner party in space, especially as Barbara walks around the interior of the TARDIS sipping on what appears to be a glass of wine. Hartnell has the doctor acting as almost a mentor or guide to the three companions, and with the age difference it gave me the feel of a college professor off on a trip with three students; more like the archaeologist training the next generation. Hartnell and the rest do the best with what they have, and the script is not terrible, but it’s hard to imagine how they could be so convincing with what’s going on around them. Much credit must be given to them for being able to bring any sense of believability and suspense to The Web Planet.
I do have to say that I was surprised at just how well The Web Planet managed to entertain the kids in my house. My six-year-old was totally intrigued by the Zarbi and Menoptra and watched a good portion of the six episodes contained on the DVD. They have all grown to be fans of the newest incarnation of the series, and I thought this would be something they wouldn’t care for at all. If you have the patience and tolerance for something as cheesy as this is, you might want to give The Web Planet a shot, especially if you’ve been a fan of the series through the years.
• Commentary by William Russell, Martin Jarvis (who portrayed one of the Menoptra), producer Verity Lambert, and director Richard Martin
• Featurette: Tales of Isop which feature those from the commentary, plus Maureen O’Brien, make-up designer Sonia Markham, and designer John Wood
• The Lair of Zarbi Supremo – a reading by William Russell of a short story from the first Doctor Who annual
• Complete first Doctor Who Annual in PDF format
• Alternate soundtrack in Spanish for episode six
• Production notes
• Photo gallery