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Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 22, 2014
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 27, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

It feels like long lost movies and TV shows are turning up all of the time now. A longer version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis was unearthed a few years ago, there was a cache of lost silent films that turned up in New Zealand not too long ago, and several lost chapters of Doctor Who serials were discovered in Nigeria recently. All six previously lost installments of The Enemy of the World were recovered along with five of the six episodes of The Web of Fear (chapter three is still missing). After announcing the discovery last October (and making them available via iTunes), the BBC has put them out on DVD in Region 1. (The Enemy of the World will be released in May of 2014). Of course the big question for fans is if this story is actually good, or if it's a case of fans yearning for it simply because it didn't exist. Luckily, the former is the case. The story turns out to be an atmospheric and moody adventure that works quite well.

After a brief resolution to the cliffhanger that ended the previous story The Enemy of the World (it would have made more sense to release that newly discovered story first, but I'll take what I can get) Jamie (Frazer Hines), Victoria (Deborah Watling), and The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) become trapped in the TARDIS. Someone or something covered the time machine in a strange web-like substance that freezes it in space. Eventually the time machine is taken by the unknown force to Earth, but thanks to a device The Doctor is able to fashion, the travelers are able to make a small leap of about a half mile and throw their would-be captor off the mark.

They find themselves is the London Underground that's oddly empty. There are not trains or passengers and all of the tube stations are locked. The only people they see are members of the military, who seem to be set on blowing up parts of the Tube. It's soon revealed that London is under attack by the Yeti, robot invaders that The Doctor defeated twenty years and three stories ago in The Abominable Snowmen. Not only are the Yeti back, but so is Professor Travers (Jack Watling, Deborah's real-life father) who aided The Doctor and his two companions in their first encounter with the monsters. This time they are all trapped in the London Underground, encircled by the robotic Yeti and cut off from supplies and support. To make matters worse, it looks like there is a traitor among the group of military personnel and scientists holed up in a since makeshift HQ... who could it be? The slimy reporter? The scared driver? Or maybe the newly arrived officer, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)?

This was a surprisingly good story. The trapped-and-under-siege adventures generally aren't my favorites since they tend to follow the same basic pattern. While this tale doesn't stray far from the standard plot, the excellent acting, surprisingly detailed characterization, and eerie, claustrophobic setting work well and set it apart from similar stories.

The characters go a long way towards making this a really memorable adventure. Two stories ago The Doctor faced a similar predicament in The Ice Warriors, which was a decent tale but the characters were largely bland and two-dimensional. That's not the case this time, where several of the cast are given more complex characters. The grizzled sergeant comes across as a real person rather than a walking cliché due to the refined performance of the actor and the same goes for the scared driver who would rather go AWOL than die defending his comrades. The best character is easily Lethbridge-Stewart who plays is both a by-the-book military man and a pragmatic realist who is willing to accept the unbelievable when it's the most reasonable solution to a problem. All of the traits that 'the Brig' exhibited that made him such an well-loved supporting character in Pertwee and Tom Baker's day are evident in this, his first appearance.

This story also shows how much chemistry Pat Troughton and Frazer Hines had on camera. They play off each other wonderfully and the show is always interesting when they're both on screen.

Another thing that works well is the underground setting. The tube tunnels are dark and dingy, making the wandering Yeti appear all the more sinister, and give the show a very claustrophobic feeling.

The story has a lot of action sprinkled throughout, but it really goes into high gear with episode four. In this chapter Lethbridge-Stewart and the men under his command make a desperate attempt to find the TARDIS and are attacked by Yeti wherever they go. The fight scenes were well done (for 1960's era Doctor Who) and it was surprising to see how dangerous the monsters were, and how fast the death toll rose.

That's not to say the story is without flaws. There are a couple of problems. The story gets muddled in places, especially at the end. One of the big plots involved discovering who was giving information to the enemy, and at the end I still wasn't sure who the culprit was. The story does drag a bit in episode three, but that could be because that still-missing episode is constructed from the existing audio and still images. These are minor points, and the strong cast and exciting story more than make up for these minor flaws.

The DVD:


The original mono soundtrack has been restored and the story sounds great. The dialog is clean and the background music comes through clearly. There's nothing to complain about here.


I was a little worried about the video quality before I screened the DVD. After all, these episodes had been sitting on a shelf in Nigeria for the past 40 some odd years. How did they hold up over the years? Quite well actually. The Restoration team worked their magic and the result is simply beautiful. The contrast is excellent, the black levels nice, and the amount of detail is superb. There are a couple of sections that are a bit soft, but only a couple. Aside from that these episodes look marvelous.

The third episode is still missing, though the audio still survives. The missing chapter was recreated by matching the audio with surviving still images (promotional stills and telesnaps) and a few descriptive subtitles. The telesnaps, basically pictures taken of a monitor, are a bit fuzzy and don't have the detail or clarity of the other stills, but the reconstruction gets the job done. It fills in the action nicely.


Unfortunately there are no extras save a trailer for Enemy of The Word. I would have really enjoyed a trivia track (I really enjoy those) but I really can't complain. I never thought I'd be able to see this story so a lack of extras is a small matter.

Final Thoughts:

Thank God that four of the five missing episodes to this story were discovered last year. Web of Fear turns out to be an excellent adventure that is sure to please fans of classic Who. Not only is it a great story, but this also marks the first appearance of Col. Lethbridge-Stewart who would go on to play an important role in the show just a few years later. Even though it's a bare-bones release, it is a must-buy. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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