The Web Planet

Cover of Doctor Who: The Web Planet DVD release


  • 3 October 2005 (UK)
  • 5 September 2006 (US)




Rightfully maligned for awful special effects, The Web Planet is a decent if flawed war/action story in the vein of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

The Web Planet - 6 episodes

The Web Planet is widely regard is one of the worst Doctor Who episodes in history. Such a reputation is plainly undeserved. The Web Planet is easily better than The Edge of Destruction or the bulk of An Unearthly Child and is quite similar to and sometimes outshines the popular Dalek Invasion of Earth.

On the other hand, The Web Planet is by no means one of the best Doctor Who episodes. Laughable special effects, poor acting on the part of several of the episode's creatures, and the entire sequence involving the Optera do severe harm to the story. But these factors are not enough to prevent The Web Planet from succeeding at being a competent but imperfect story.

The Web Planet plays out similarly to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The TARDIS crew arrive on a planet, witness several strange phenomena, get wrapped up in a war between two factions in which one uses mind control to gain the upper hand, and eventually choose the aid the "good guys". As with The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the first episode of The Web Planet plays out as an eerie, suspenseful event, focused on imagery and sound rather than plot. The Doctor and Ian's experience with the acid, Barbara's Dr Strangelove moments with the bracelet, and the effective barren and alien set for the planet's landscape involve the audience closely in the TARDIS crew's plight.

Later episodes play out somewhat predictably, following the now-established Doctor Who formula. The TARDIS crew split up *and* the TARDIS is rendered unusable by some force (usually the episode requires just one of these!). The Doctor deals directly with the villain (in this case the eerie voice of the Animus) and tries to use cunning to outsmart his enemy. The TARDIS crew get involved in a conflict, contributing sound thinking to aid the underdog side fighting for a righteous cause.

Considering the formulaic nature of Doctor Who stories at this juncture, what distinguishes a good story from a bad one is whether the conflict is compelling enough to be worth getting involved in, how fully realized the players in the conflict are, and how the TARDIS crew react and develop over the course of the episode. In this episode, the conflict is fairly interesting. A powerful alien force, the Animus, has taken mental control of the planet's native inhabitants, the Zarbi, weaving its way into the planet's very structure, and threatens to spread a web of control over the rest of the universe. The Menoptra, another native force on the planet, have fled and plan to return to retake the planet, but are hopelessly outgunned and outmatched in terms of intelligence gathering and communication. Such a story isn't particularly original, but creepy voice and bizarre telepathic mode of communicating used by the Animus, along with the acting of many of the Menoptra, which effectively conveys a sense of hopelessness, sell the story pretty well.

Where the story falters, making many of the same mistakes as its cousin, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, is that far too many sympathetic characters are presented and remain unrealized, preventing the audience from identifying with the protagonist force in the conflict. The only really memorable Menoptra is Vrestin, and that's at least partly because she calls Ian, "Heron" all the time, which ends up being more humorous than was probably intended. The Menoptra engage the audience's sympathy as a group. The actors playing the Menotptra convey their struggle effectively, and their unique speech patterns and mannerisms of the Menoptra characters are some of the more effective stylistic choices in the story. But the abundance of Menoptra characters, all similar looking and not fully developed, hinders the story. Perhaps it was intended that the Menoptra be perceived as a group, rather than as individuals. But by presenting individual Menoptra with somewhat different traits and not developing them fully, but the story seems to hedge its bets in this regard, failing to get the audience deeply involved in the Menoptras' travails.

One of the most annoying elements of the story is the introduction halfway through the story of the Optera, grub-like creatures who live underground. The special features indicate that the Optera were introduced literally to fill time when it was realized the original story wasn't long enough, and this motivation is all too obvious whenever they're on the screen. The Optera story is a distraction from the main thrust of the episode and seriously distracts from the primary plot. The desultory nature of the Optera's role in the story, along with the simply poor and annoying acting on the part of the Opteras' portrayers, does harm to The Web Planet.

In terms of the regulars, their contribution to the story is mixed. The Doctor works to outsmart the villain, in this case the clever and seemingly omniscient Animus. As expected, he has a few tricks up his sleeve and uses guile as a means of self-preservation. It's generally good stuff; then again the audience has come to expect this from the Doctor and nothing new or striking is presented. Vicki continues to be a pleasant but underutilized companion, accompanying the Doctor and serving as his sounding board as in The Romans. Barbara reprises her role as tactical analyst for the resistance that she originated in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. She gets the most time to interact with the Menoptra and proves an innovative thinker. The Azetcs seemed at the time like it would be the episode that finally established Barbara's intelligence and independence. But she's come a long way from the haughty and defiant regal figure of that episode and developed into a thoughtful and innovative leader. The trend is continued in this episode. It's also nice to see her interact with Vicki, and the aspirin scene highlighting their different backgrounds but also Barbara's tact is a nice one. The only character who gets short shrift is Ian, relegated to performing alongside the Optera in a B-story not worthy of inclusion in the serial.

The episode suffers from certain pacing problems, especially in the middle, but they're certainly no worse than those in The Daleks. The choice to film scenes on the planet's surface with a strange and detail-obscuring camera effect went overboard, and the special effects and many of the costumes, of course, are absurd. Those who watch 60s Doctor Who for cutting-edge special effects are either delusional or masochistic. The fact remains, however, that 1960s Doctor Who had in the past made relatively good use of special effects. Those in The Daleks for example, were conservative and not overdone and contributed favorably to the serial. In The Daleks, a simple special effect was used to simulate an elevator, and a striking cliffhanger ending was produced by showing the audience just a hint of the creature inside a Dalek casing. These effects were modest but very successful at conveying what was intended. Here, with the exception of the well-executed flying Menoptra scenes and the acid scene, the costumes and effects are far too ambitious and fail to deliver as intended.

The Web Planet isn't an example of the best or the worst of Doctor Who. Instead, it's a show with an interesting conflict, a few well-executed creatures (the Menoptra) and a few poorly-executed ones (the Optera), a mixed bag in terms of its attempts to utilize of the leads, and uneven but not abhorrent pacing issues. In sum, it's fairly standard Doctor Who.


Special features

For such an early release, the special features included in the DVD release of The Web Planet are excellent. The Tales of Isop feature is particularly informative, as the cast and crew comment on design and acting choices, the unique nature of the story, and their experiences in filming. It's enlightening to hear comments from those involved about what they thought worked and what didn't. Episode commentaries are nicely moderated by Gary Russel.