Released December 2008
‘The Web Planet’ is one of the earliest Doctor Who stories, an ambitious attempt at science fiction set on a world with no humanoid creatures despite a meagre budget that simply could not allow the full realization of said ambition. Nonetheless, despite its rather overt shortcomings ‘The Web Planet’ has retained a fond attachment through the years, and Daniel O’Mahony’s ‘Return to the Web Planet’ marks the first return to Vortis from Big Finish, and a most welcome and enjoyable one at that.
With the brief running time allotted this story, O’Mahony wisely does not delve deeply into the mythology stemming from the Doctor’s original visit to Vortis. Instead, only the Menoptera and Zarbi make return appearances, and ‘Return to the Web Planet’ actually follows quite a traditional format as the Doctor and Nyssa soon find themselves in the company of two ostracized Menopterans. Indeed, with the story split between the tragic story of Acheron and his wingless daughter, Hedyla, and the presence of an exterior threatening to change the way of life on Vortis, there are only a few scenes featuring and overt action or tension, but the pacing and intrigue are never anything less than superb throughout.
As with all of the Bonus Releases, ‘Return to the Web Planet’ features a small but incredibly effective cast, and the world of Vortis comes to life wonderfully with just a few lines of dialogue and some excellent sound design. As fascinating as the planet and its species are, though, the script features another immensely intriguing core idea that is absolutely worthy of further exploration in future stories. As humans eventually realize that colonization is an ineffective way to ensure survival through the eons, they begin sending out seed ships to incorporate the human genome into whichever ecosystem they may come across to allow natural evolution to take hold and ensure survival in at least some form. Even if Yanesh and the Speaker don’t have the most proactive roles in the story, this elucidated plot thread that even takes the Doctor by surprise is incredibly strong and takes ‘Return to the Web Planet’ in an unexpectedly satisfying direction.
Despite the human aspect to the story and the lack of callbacks to the original tale, ‘Return to the Web Planet’ in nonetheless a fitting homage to ‘The Web Planet’ and certainly manages to evoke the surreal bizarreness of Vortis despite its very personal tales. Audio is unquestionably the perfect medium for the Menoptera and Zarbi to live, and the script wonderfully helps to create very visual settings and scenes that allow the imagination to run rampant. The decision to use regular voices for the Menoptera rather than to enhance them with any sort of effects may rankle some aficionados, but this choice also allows the subtleties and nuances of the performances of Sam Kelly and Julie Buckfield to shine bright, a trade that certainly works in this release’s favour. Regardless of any small quibbles, though, ‘Return to the Web Planet’ is a fitting sequel for a fondly-remembered First Doctor story that incorporates plenty of fascinating new ideas to more than stand up by its own merit as well.