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Doctor Who story number 13

If The Romans was testing the format of the series, then this one was going to give the costume designers a workout - not one, or two, but five different alien insect species. Of course, being on the usual tight budget and made in the sixties the effects and costumes look dated now. Interestingly, the writer had come up with the idea of giant ants when trying to come up with another monster to equal the popularity of the Daleks.

On the up side the depiction of the alien species is well done, even if the Zarbi look silly sometimes. It also pays to remember that the aliens in this are all aliens, only the four main characters fit the standard human model, something that does not occur in other stories. The aliens are:

Zarbi: Big ant things, previously cattle-like creatures but now contolled by the Animus
Venom Grub: Larval Zarbi, which fire venom and are used as weapons
Menoptra: The dominant life form on the planet Vortis, driven into hiding by the Animus. The Menoptra are like moths or butterflies
Optera: A wingless, perhaps almost larval version of the Menoptra, living underground and with primitive speech
The Animus: A giant spider-parasite thing, which emits a bright light and controls the Zarbi telepathically. The Animus is powerful enough to stop the TARDIS in mid-flight and strip an entire planet of vegetation, and can presumably absorb energy from it's surroundings. It can also use anything made of gold as a sort of psychic receiver and control people wearing in.

We also get a good attempt at showing alien ways of thinking in this great line: "A slient wall. We must make mouths in it with our weapons, then it will speak more light."

Richard Martin

This story has 6 episodes with individual titles:

  • The Web Planet
  • The Zarbi
  • Escape to Danger
  • Crater of Needles
  • Invasion
  • The Centre

Plot Overview
The TARDIS is forced to land on the planet Vortis, which The Doctor has heard of (As well as the Menoptera). As Ian and The Doctor explore the planet Barbara is made to leave the TARDIS. She is captured by the Zarbi and taken to a slave colony, where she meets the Menoptra and Optera.

The Doctor and Ian meet the Animus, which has the TARDIS dragged to its lair. It wants to overrun all of space (mentioning mankind dominating space means this is set in the future), and generally absorbs everything to itself, taking beings knowledge and using them as an extension of itself. It has slaves fitted with gold collars to control them - Barbara was forced to leave the TARDIS because she was wearing a gold bracelet given to her by Nero in Rome, and the Animus seems to be able to use gold as a telepathic receiver.

The Menoptra invade the planet, but fail to kill the Animus. Ian winds up with an invasion party striking underground to get into the center of the web, and when they get there the travellers are all in danger of being devoured by the Animus until Barbara uses the Menoptra weapon (some kind of radioactive isotope that the Animus is vulnerable to) to kill it.

Main Cast

  • Roslyn de Winter - Vrestin
  • Arne Gordon - Hrostar
  • Arthur Blake - Hrhoonda
  • Joylon Booth - Prapilus
  • Jocelyn Birdsall - Hlynia
  • Martin Jarvis - Captain Hilio
  • Ian Thompson - Hetra
  • Barbara Joss - Nemini
  • Catherine Fleming - voice of The Animus
  • Robert Jewel, Jact Pitt, Gerald Taylor, Hugh Lund, John Scott Martin, Kevin Manser - Zarbi
  • Notes

    • Apparently 13.5 million people watched the first episode, which makes it the highest rated single episode for the sixties.
    • The Zarbi were apparently quite popular, though the fibreglass body sections were cracked after six weeks of filming. The limited actions they could make meant they were not going to come back for a rematch.

    What Vortis is, I am. What you are, I will become - The Animus

    Like many fans who begin with the revival of Doctor Who, I begin watching Classic Doctor Who almost as an academic exercise. There is a certain cachet in watching the classic episodes, especially since some of them are frankly a bit difficult to get into. And yet, when I started watching, I found that despite the lesser production values, the episodes had the same charm and drama that made the show valuable for me.

    And then I got to "The Web Planet", and I broke my stride. It took me several weeks to work through this story.

    It is not a terrible story. It is the same story that has been told in Doctor Who many a time: The Doctor and companions find themselves amongst feuding aliens whose conflict is not exactly what it seems. But the slow-paced story, with Doctor and companions wandering off and being captured and recaptured felt forced and hokey and pointless. The costumes were also silly, although I am perhaps being unfair to say this almost fifty years later. The two main aliens are people wearing ant suits, and people dressed up like butterflies. The butterfly-people show their alienness by talking in a singsong voice while waving their hands.

    At the end, The Doctor throws a grenade made of unobtanium at the enemy and everyone ends up happy.

    It isn't a terrible story, and that this was my particular stumbling block in watching classic Doctor Who may have had more to do with a natural loss of interest after seeing similar stories, rather than anything intrinsic to it. However, things would soon pick up, in The Crusade and The Museum Planet.

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