Friday, 27 February 2015

060 The Web Planet Episode 3: Escape to Danger

EPISODE: The Web Planet Episode 3: Escape to Danger
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 27 February 1965
WRITER: Bill Strutton
DIRECTOR: Richard Martin
SCRIPT EDITOR: Dennis Spooner
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 12.5 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Web Planet

"You lie. You are the Menoptra. Our detectors show you are massing in space to attack. Speak!"

vlcsnap-2014-09-30-17h19m18s61 The Doctor speaks to the voice who does not believe they are travellers and are spies for the Menoptera. It attacks the Tardis but it emerges Vicki has realigned the fluid link to reactivate the power. Zarbi are stalking the remaining free Menoptera Vrestin. The voice offers the Doctor his freedom in return for assistance defeating the Menoptera invaders. The Doctor is coerced into bringing out his astral map to pinpoint the invasion force. Vicki is retained as a hostage while the Doctor and Ian fetch the map. While inside the Doctor treats Ian's injured face. The Doctor likens the voice to the ant queen and asks Ian to escape & track down Barbara. He escapes leaving the Doctor & Vicki with the Zarbi. While wandering the tunnels of the base he is pursued by Zarbi. The Doctor detects transmissions from the Menoptera fleet and learn they are planning to land at the crater of needles, where the slaves are held. Ian is trapped by the Zarbi but a Venom grub cutting through the wall allows him to escape at which point he meets Vrestin. On the pretext of fetching equipment, the Doctor sends Vicki into the Tardis and she emerges with what he says is the wrong box, containing a spider specimen which the Zarbi recoils from in terror. Vrestin tells Ian that Vortis is their planet, and they are reclaiming it not invading. Menoptera and Zarbi lived side by side. The Zarbi were enslaved by the dark power of the Animus which caused the Zarbi's base, the Carsinome to appear and grow. The Menoptera were driven off planet to one of the moons attracted to the planet by the Animus. They have returned to Vortis to destroy the Carsinome before it envelops the planet. Vrestin was part of the scouting spearhead. They leave for the Crater of Needles to rescue their friends there. They are waylaid by Zarbi but as they are cornered the ground gives way beneath their feet burying them.

Now this is odd. Last time I wrote:

Oh that's much more like it. I didn't get on with the first two episodes, but this one is much better. Some explanation of what's going on, some action and some plot advancement. Nice one, best episode of the story thus far. The more I watch Doctor Who in order, the more convinced I become that it's natural unit isn't the story but the episode. The whole episode was recorded in one session on these early stories and some weeks they pull it off ok, and in others it goes pear shaped.
This time out I've found two better than three! The episode is mainly the three regulars trapped in the Carsinome and communicating with the disembodied Animus.

Yes there's some action during Ian's escape and some brief, but effective, shots of Vrestin flying but I found it mainly static this time.

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Explanation comes courtesy of Vrestin who meets up with Ian after his escape, referring to him as Heron throughout:

VRESTIN: Heron? Do you still intend to go to the Crater of Needles?
IAN: Yes, I do.
VRESTIN: Many of my friends are enslaved there. They tear off our wings so that we may not escape.
IAN: What do you expect when you invade a planet?
VRESTIN: Invade a planet? Vortis is ours. We the Menoptera, are reclaiming it.
IAN: Vortis is your planet?
VRESTIN: Of course. They are returning to the Carsinome. They do not search for long.
IAN: Those things invaded your planet?
VRESTIN: You do not know our story?
IAN: No, I don’t. Tell me.
VRESTIN: The Zarbi are not an intelligent species, but they were essential to the life pattern here. We lived at peace with them, until they were made militant by the dark power.
IAN: The dark power? What’s that?
VRESTIN: The Animus. At that time, the Carsinome appeared. Grew like a fungus. We had no weapons. We had not had the need. And by the time we sensed the danger, the Zarbi were too strong.
IAN: So you left the planet?
VRESTIN: We had no choice.
IAN: Where did you go?
VRESTIN: At that time, these strange moons appeared. One of them became our home, those of us who could reach it.
IAN: Can you live up there?
VRESTIN: It is a dim, half-world and our wings grow weaker. We must return to Vortis, for when the Carsinome encircles the planet, it will be too late.
IAN: And now you’re ready to attack?
VRESTIN: No, we are not ready, but we must try.
IAN: I see. And what’s your part in all this?
VRESTIN: Three of us were sent here to prepare the way for the invasion force. Now, I am alone. I do not know.
IAN: They were killed?
VRESTIN: One is dead. The other was taken to the Crater
IAN: The Crater of Needles?
VRESTIN: Friend Barbara?
IAN: Yes, like friend Barbara. Vrestin, we’ve both lost friends. Come with me to the Crater. You know the country. We can collect your friend and mine.
VRESTIN: There are many of my friends in the Crater of Needles.
IAN: All the more reason to go.
In that we get all the background information we need for the story to make sense.

Barbara is completely absent from this episode - I assume Jacqueline Hill was on holiday this week? Likewise Hrostar, who she was last seen with, is also absent although Vrestin does confirm his survival.

Generally the sets in this story are excellent. However the interior of the Carsinome, apparently a web like structure, is let down a bit by being obviously made from flat panels:

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This episode also features one of the great Doctor Who mistakes as a Zarbi, walking towards us, actually walks into the camera, bumping it upwards and revealing (right photo) what looks like a strip light on the studio ceiling!

The episode title "Escape to Danger" is familiar to a legion of Target Doctor Who book readers as a frequently used chapter title appearing in The Daleks (David Whitaker), The Zarbi (adaptation of this story by it's on-screen author), Curse of Peladon (Brian Hales) Genesis of the Daleks, Keeper of Traken & An Unearthly Child (all Terrance Dicks) and Vengeance on Varos (Philip Martin).

This episode introduces us properly to and explains the Animus, voiced by Catherine Fleming. The Animus is the very first of a Doctor Who staple, the disembodied intelligence. Almost always evil these crop up regularly in Doctor Who over the years. As well as the Animus controlling the Zarbi here, Troughton fights the Great Intelligence controlling the Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen & The Web of Fear while the Nestene Consciousness with it's Autons fight the Pertwee Doctor in his début Spearhead from Space and it's sequel the Terror of the Autons. Tom Baker battles the Mandragora Helix and the Fendahl while McCoy fights Fenric. About the only "good" disembodied intelligence we see in the whole series is Rassilon, the leader of the Time Lords, who appears in the Five Doctors (does he reside, post death, in the Time Lords' Matrix ?)

Friday, 20 February 2015

059 The Web Planet Episode 2: The Zarbi

EPISODE: The Web Planet Episode 2: The Zarbi
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 20 February 1965
WRITER: Bill Strutton
DIRECTOR: Richard Martin
SCRIPT EDITOR: Dennis Spooner
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 12.5 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Web Planet

"The Zarbi are massed together against us!"

Ian lies on the floor, the web/net he was caught in having dissolved having irritated his skin. Barbara is led by her bracelet but as she walks hypnotised a butterfly like humanoid jumps up behind her. The Doctor & Ian find marks indicting the Tardis has been dragged away as we cut to a not terribly great model shot of the same. The butterfly creature leads the dazed Barbara to two of it's friends: They remove the gold bracelet that dissolves in the acid pool as Barbara comes to her senses. The Doctor finds marks made by a claw while Ian finds a large sized chrysalis. The Doctor thinks they have landed on Vortis in the Isop galaxy. Barbara tells her new acquaintances their story: They ell her she was under the force of the Zarbi. They disagree on what to do Hrostar wants to kill and overhearing this she escapes from the creatures who she learns are called Menoptera. The Doctor and Ian find where the Tardis has been taken but are captured by the ant like Zarbi and one of their Venom Grubs. Vicki is surprised when the Tardis doors open and calls for the Doctor. Leaving the Tardis she finds herself in the Zarbi lair. The Doctor & Ian are brought to the base which the Doctor discovers it is a living growing thing. A Zarbi tries to enter the Tardis and is repelled by some force. The Doctor & Ian are reunited with Vicki as Barbara is captured by the Zarbi. The Menoptera discuss whether to contact their forces and warn them of the power of the as yet unseen animus and the larvae gun, but communication risks betraying their position. They take the risk and the female Vrestin tries to make contact, but finds the cave interferes with transmission, The Zarbi, escorting Barbara, find them with one of the Menoptera slain by a venom grub. Hrostar frees Barbara from their control and tells her that they will be taken to the Crater of Needles and used as slaves. Hrostar is forced to the ground by the Zarbi and screams as they attack him. The Zarbi attach the Doctor to a tube like machine which descends over his head and speaks to him.

We said that the last episode was seen by 13.5 million viewers. Well in a week Doctor Who lost a million viewers which says something about episode 1! It's a shame because it's a better episode this week: we get a longer look at the Zarbi & the Venom Grubs. The Zarbi look a little odd with the oversized human legs contrasting with the much smaller ant legs, but the Venom Grubs are a great design as are the Menoptera which is the winner for me with it's fragile wings and better integration of the human and Butterfly forms.

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The start of the episode exposed a bit of a con at the end of the last one which lead you to believe the Tardis had dematerialised without the Doctor. Here's it's been revealed to have been dragged off. However last episode the Tardis dematerialisation sound was hear at the end of the episode hear but you don't actually see the column moving there. Deliberate use of the noise to misdirect or another fault in episode 1 (see the door fiasco last episode) that we must lay at the feet of director Richard Martin?

We meet three Menoptera in this episode: Hrhoonda, Vrestin & Hrostar.

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Hrhoonda is the one who wants to kill Barbara with the bit of crystal he's holding and he's played by Arthur Blake. This episode is his only Doctor Who appearance and his character is killed off by the end of it!

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Vrestin is played by Roslyn de Winter. An Australian mime she choreographs the Zarbi and Menoptera in this story and is credited as providing "Insect Movement" on this and the remaining four episodes. Richard Martin uses her again as The Grey Lady in The Chase: Episode 4: Journey into Terror!

Hrostar is the Menoptera who guards Barbara earlier in the episode and then frees her from the influence of the Animus. He's played by Arne Gordon who also reappears in The Chase where he plays the Empire State building Guide in episode 3: Flight Through Eternity. It looks like the Zarbi are torturing & killing him at the end of the episode but, because it's off screen with just his screams and Barbara's horrified looks, what's actually happening is his wings are being severed.

The actors playing the Zarbi are mainly Dalek operators from the previous stories that Richard Martin worked on: Robert Jewell, Gerald Taylor as The Zarbi (1-6) & Kevin Manser. Jack Pitt hadn't appeared as a Dalek Operator before this story but would make his debut in that role in The Chase, where he's also a Mire Beast, before returning in The Dalek Masterplan as a Dalek and the alien delegate Gearon. Also on Doctor Who debut as a Zarbi here is Hugh Lund: he doesn't get to play a Dalek but returns as Matthews in The Android Invasion episode 4.

But a big cheer please ladies & gentlemen for the Doctor Who debut of John Scott Martin, here also playing a Zarbi. In an extensive acting career he features in diverse places such as Pink Floyd's film of The Wall, The Good Life, The first episode of Tripods and as the old retiring 192 in the first 118 118 advert.

He's probably best known for being a Dalek Operator appearing in (deep breath): The Chase, Mission to the Unknown, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, Death to the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks & Remembrance of the Daleks. So basically every Dalek story bar Destiny of the Daleks!

As well as the Web Planet his non-Dalek Doctor Who appearances include The Chase (a Mechanoid), Colony in Space (the IMC robot), The Dæmons (a villager; uncredited), The Mutants (a Mutt), The Three Doctors (a gell guard; uncredited), The Green Death (Hughes), Robot (a guard; uncredited), The Brain of Morbius (Kriz) & The Invisible Enemy (the Swarm).

Friday, 13 February 2015

058 The Web Planet Episode 1: The Web Planet

EPISODE: The Web Planet Episode 1: The Web Planet
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 13 February 1965
WRITER: Bill Strutton
DIRECTOR: Richard Martin
SCRIPT EDITOR: Dennis Spooner
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 13.5 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Web Planet

"You’ve ruined it. That was my Coal Hill School tie!"

The Tardis has been imprisoned by a force and being dragged down to the surface of a planet. It materialises on a barren world with rocky outcroppings through the surface. Ian likens it to the moon, while the Doctor wonders what's holding them there. Vicki thinks it looks a bit grim. The Doctor is confident he can counteract the force. Unseen by the Tardis crew, the Tardis is approached by a couple of giant ant like creatures. Vicki can hear something that the others can't, the Doctor saying she can hear an extra sonic sound that younger people and animals can. Rubbish, this story's obviously written for Susan and her Telepathic abilities! The creatures bring a smaller grub like creature to help them and with it's assistance further immobilise the Tardis. Barbara takes Vicki away to lie down, while the Doctor & Ian go outside to explore and find what is holding them here. The Doctor and Ian don special jackets to compensate for the low pressure and lack of Oxygen. Without the power, and with some line fluffing from Hartnell, The Doctor uses his ring to open the doors. Led onto the subject by the medicine Barbara is giving her, Vicki tells Barbara about her education. Barbara tells Vicki about the bracelet she got from Nero and that she & Ian went to Rome too in the last story. The Doctor and Ian are exploring, as his gold pen vanishes, Ian believes they're being watched. Barbara feels herself dragged towards the doors by her gold bracelet. The Doctor & Ian find a giant pyramid on the surface, constructed many years ago. Ian finds a pool, the Doctor stops him from sticking his hands in. Instead he lowers in Ian's Coal Hill school tie which dissolves in the acid. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara all hear an insect like chirruping - the Tardis doors open allowing Barbara to leave dragged out by her bracelet. Inside the Tardis the console spins round influenced by the noise. Vicki wakes to find herself alone and calls for Barbara, which the Doctor and Ian hear. Ian is caught in a trap and sends the Doctor back to the ship: he returns to where they landed to find it gone.

vlcsnap-2014-09-23-10h46m18s30 A bit of an odd episode, with only a brief glimpse at the creatures the story is famous for. The sets are suitably bleak and alien, aided by some special lenses for the cameras that blur the pictures. This effect will wear as the story goes on and you'll be wanting a clear picture. I do like the nice little tune of progressive notes which is frequently heard on the surface. After some searching I've discovered that it's Rapsody de Budapest by Les Structures Sonores which you can hear a clip from it at iTunes or Amazon.

The two creatures we do see briefly in this episode are the ant like Zarbi and the Larvae gun, referred to in the novelization as a Venom Grub

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From what we see on the screen it's highly likely that this story was written for Susan and then modified for Vicki. Vicki being affected by the planet, explained away as her having "probably heard an extra-sonic sound" is too much like the instances of Susan being overwhelmed by her telepathy.

We learn a little more about Vicki here, and her background as she's disparaging about the medical treatment and tells of the advanced education she received, again possibly a leftover from an earlier draft featuring Susan.

Fluffing Billy is out in force during the scene as The Doctor & Ian prepare to leave the Tardis:

DOCTOR: Ah, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear. Hmm. It’s one thing after another.
IAN: (Smiling.) Hmm?
DOCTOR: Yes, well, I, er, I, er. I didn’t want to, er.
IAN: Hey?
vlcsnap-2014-09-23-11h12m47s36 This is the first time that the Doctor's ring, used as a bargaining tool during the Reign of Terror, is shown to be anything but a piece of jewellery. Somehow the Doctor uses it to open the doors! More powers will be seen later.

Years later in Death to the Daleks where the Tardis is similarly drained of power the Doctor uses a crank handle to get the doors open!

In an episode where a big fuss is made about being able to open the doors without power it might probably have been a good idea to keep an eye on what's happening with them! First the Doctor opens the doors, then he and Ian walk through them. You see the doors closing behind them. We'll be charitable, for the moment, and say they closed the doors from the outside.

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But then when Barbara's been possessed she walks out the Tardis.... through the already open doors! To compound the error they then close behind her. Barbara's possessed, she's hardly going to turn round and close them is she?

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vlcsnap-2014-09-23-11h08m38s112 So when Vicki wakes up and walks into the console room what does she find ? The open Tardis doors!

This then gets compounded a few moments later as she cries out and is heard by the Doctor & Ian:

IAN: That’s Vicki. Something’s wrong back at the ship.
DOCTOR: They’ve probably left the doors open!

It not the only odd thing going on with the Tardis during this episode: at one point the Tardis console is seen to spin round rapidly. As we'll see in later stories, Ambassadors of Death and Inferno, the console can be removed from the ship though generally it's thought to be fixed in place.

The end of this episode appears to be the first time the Tardis dematerialises without the Doctor!

This first episode of the serial was watched by 13.5 million viewers, the highest number for any Doctor Who episode thus far and would remain so until the late 1970s when an ITV strike gifted the BBC several million Saturday night viewers.

Friday, 6 February 2015

057 The Romans Episode 4: Inferno

EPISODE: The Romans Episode 4: Inferno
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 06 February 1965
WRITER: Dennis Spooner
DIRECTOR: Christopher Barry
SCRIPT EDITOR: Dennis Spooner
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 12 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: The Rescue & The Romans

"So the Senate wouldn't pass my plans, eh? Wouldn't let me build my New Rome? But if the old one is burnt, if it goes up in flames, they will have no choice! Rome will be rebuilt to my design! Brilliant! Brilliant! "

As Delos is poised to kill Ian, he strikes towards Nero, whose guards attack Delos. Ian joins in and they manage to escape, promising to return for Barbara. Poppaea speaks with Tavius and tells him to get rid of Barbara. He finds her, and Barbara tells him that she's seen Ian. Tavius promises to help her escape and tells her the Poppaea wants her dismissed. She tells him of Nero's plan to send Maximus Pettulian to the arena. The Doctor tries to date when they are and realises that Nero is due to set fire to the city. Tavius tells him of what Nero plans and says he must kill Nero today. The Doctor is shocked to discover this is what was planned. He plans to leave, but Nero arrives saying he has a surprise. Nero is shocked when the Doctor knows what is to happen. The Doctor sets fire to Nero's plans for rebuilding Rome which gives Nero the idea to set fire to the city so he can build his new Rome.

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At night Barbara waits for Ian, while he & Delos try to get past the guards. They gain entry a crowd of peasants who Nero has had hired to set fire to Rome. Tavius spots Ian and takes him to Barbara. Tavius furnishes Barbara with a disguise, while the Doctor and Vicki try to sneak out of the palace past the guards who are only looking for people trying to get in. Delos escorts Ian & Barbara from the palace while Tavius, revealing the cross he keeps hidden on his person, wishes them good luck. The Doctor & Vicki watch Rome burning. The Doctor is amused at the thought the fire of Rome may be his fault while Nero plays the Lyre amidst the flames.

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Ian & Barbara return to the Villa, finding the remains from the fight in the first episode including the jar Barbara hit Ian over the head with, which causes Ian to realise that Barbara was responsible for his troubles.

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The Doctor & Vicki return and they all leave for the Tardis. Vicki wonders where they will go next but the others hint to her that the Doctor may not be able to control the ship. The Doctor is worried: a force has captured the Tardis and drags it down.

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This is a bit of an odd beast of an episode. The humour is still their: witness the conversation as Nero tells The Doctor he's to play in the arena:

DOCTOR: Oh, my dear Caesar Nero.
NERO: I have a surprise for you. Guess what it is.
DOCTOR: Well now, let me think. You want me play in the arena?
NERO: You guessed.
DOCTOR: Well, it's no problem at all, after all, you want to do your very best for your fellow artists, well, why not the arena, hmm?
NERO: Yes, yes, of course, that is exactly right.
DOCTOR: Yes, well I promise you I shall try to make it a roaring success.
NERO: You'll have to play something special, you know.
DOCTOR: Oh, yes, of course, of course, yes. Something serious, yes. Something they can really get their teeth into, hmm?
But behind that there's a plot to kill Nero, which Tavius appears to be directing, and the episode is dominated by Nero's descent into madness. I've smiled at the humour in the story, the narrow misses, contrivances but don't find it as funny as some people do. However watching it episodically has again massively improved my regard for the story as a whole. Derek Francis' Nero is a fine turn and Michael Peake is great as Tavius.

The Great Fire of Rome is a historical event, dated to the night of 18/19 July AD64 and lasting for over five days. Legend claims it was started by Nero who played the fiddle while Rome burnt. Fiddling would have been an anachronism, the fiddle having been invented many years later. At the time of the fire, Christianity existed in Rome, but was persecuted so having Tavius as a Christian concealing his faith is a nice little touch.

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Indeed the fire of Rome was blamed on Christians many of whom lost their lives in the aftermath. Nero had persecuted Christians for much of his reign, there are tales of him having captured Christians burnt in his garden at night as a source of light. As such there is perhaps motivation for Tavius to be involved in such a plot.

Hidden away in this episode as an uncredited extra is a first Doctor Who appearance for First Derek Martin. He'll return in The Massacre: Priest of Death as a Parisian in Rue des Fosses St. Germain, The Web of Fear: Episodes 1 & 4 (he's in the big battle scene) as a Soldier, Spearhead from Space: Episode 4 as a Soldier killed by Auton (uncredited), The Ambassadors of Death: Episode 3 & 4 as a Thug, Inferno: Episode 7 as a UNIT Soldier, The Mind of Evil: Episodes Three and Four as a Prisoner, The Claws of Axos: Episodes Three and Four as a UNIT Soldier and Image of the Fendahl: Part One and Two as David Mitchell, the only role he's actually credited for. For most of this period he's operating as a Stuntman, who was a member of HAVOC, as well as an extra but his acting career eventually brings him fame as Charlie Slater in Eastenders. His webpage is at

The Romans was novelised in 1987 by Donald Cotton who had by that time cornered the market in writing comedy historical Doctor Who novels following The Myth Makers and the Gunfighters. The Romans had a Video release in a 2 pack with the preceding story, The Rescue. The same strategy was followed for the DVD release of The Rescue & The Romans