Aired 13 February – 20 March 1965
One can approach ‘The Web Planet’ from a mindset either of viewing a ground-breaking piece of drama from 1965 or of viewing a story in which the budget simply didn’t meet ambition and to which time has not been kind, the faults becoming ever more glaring.
Even if one is able to look past the wires and costumes that evoke a sense of local theatre as the production crew and cast tries to bring the planet of giant ants and butterfly people to life, it’s sadly still apparent that there is very little action to carry events. As the Doctor and his companions land on Vortis after experiencing a power drainage, they soon find themselves allying with the Menoptra to regain their planet from the Zarbi and their leader the Animus. While the concept is sound, there unfortunately isn’t enough material to warrant six episodes, and the dialogue-laden script often creates lulls in the pacing. The few battles and action scenes present regrettably do not feature the best direction, creating a sense of bizarreness rather than danger.
Despite the slow pacing and padded plot, there is a certain charm to proceedings regardless of which mindset the viewer holds. ‘The Web Planet’ is unquestionably the most imaginative script of early Doctor Who, and it’s inspiring to see the many guest cast members giving their all despite the extraordinarily outlandish tasks set before them. The actors crawling around to make the Venom Grubs come to life as well as those in the unwieldly Zarbi costumes and those making due with the large Menoptra wings certainly give full effort and lend at least a modicum to credibility to the story. Altogether more successful is the set design which wonderfully realizes the differing locales of Vortis. The sets are generally good in early Doctor Who, but for a non-historical episode ‘The Web Planet’ far exceeds any expectations and certainly deserve recognition and acclaim.
The regulars all have their shining and heroic moments as they give the Menoptra the incentive to finally take action against the Menoptra, but it’s Vicki who shines the most. Although she is clearly written to be more in the background in this story, she shares a rather touching scene with one of the Menoptra, and her kind, pet-like attitude toward a captured Zarbi certainly helps to more fully flesh out her character. The first episode does feature one of William Hartnell’s most egregious flubs as he seems to forget his lines temporarily, but he quickly regains his composure and becomes a rather forceful presence as he leads his companions through their confusion and preconceptions about right and wrong.
Fortunately the Animus is a suitably disturbing and powerful villain, appearing to be a jellyfish-spider hybrid but able to take over and control any creature in the proper circumstances and to heal and regrow itself. Again the budget may not have been able to realize the Animus as originally intended, but the concept is chilling and would make a most welcome return to screens should any writer ever choose to tackle the subject once more. In the end, though, failure to realize the incredible imagination is the recurring theme of ‘The Web Planet,’ and while the enthusiasm and effort certainly creates a charming experience, the overall result is an example of a still-enjoyable experience that simply hasn’t aged well with time even within the context of early Doctor Who adventures.