A mysterious force pulls the tardis off course, stranding The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki on vortis.

A fierce battle is raging between the moth-like Menoptra, and giant insects known as Zarbi. But what is the dark secret that hides at the centre of the Zarbi’s lair?


The Web Planet

13TH FEBRUARY 1965 - 20TH MARCH 1965











Apparently The Web Planet attracted 12.6 million viewers over its six-week run in 1965. The word ‘how?’ immediately springs to mind. Just as incredibly, this serial has been chosen as the third complete William Hartnell serial for DVD release, ahead of the likes of The Daleks and The Tenth Planet. And whilst the disc may come beautifully dressed in striking purple and blue artwork, that’s about all that’s good about it.


So far as special features go, the disc is pretty bleak save for the half-decent Tales of Isop documentary. William Russell reads a story from the first Doctor Who annual, The Lair of Zarbi Supremo; we are treated to some Give-A-Show Slides; there is a photo gallery; a commentary; and, of course, the deal-clinching PDF version of the apposite Doctor Who annual. It’s terribly poor in comparison to recent releases.


Where this DVD really falls down though is in its meat – the six episodes of The Web Planet itself. Bill Strutton’s script had a lot of vision and a lot of potential, and whilst some of that potential is realised on screen, the serial is too poorly paced to hold a viewer’s attention at all, never mind be regarded as a classic. I was particularly disappointed with this story because it had been so hyped up to me: the Zarbi notoriously made my Uncle Mick hide behind the sofa when he was a child. Distant members of my family would always say “Watch the one with the Zarbi in it” when they learned that I liked Doctor Who, but I could never get seem to get hold of the two-part VHS release and I always seemed to miss the UK Gold repeat, so until its DVD release The Web Planet was one of a handful of Doctor Who television stories that I’d never seen (or heard). After restlessly sitting through all six episodes earlier this afternoon in one sitting, driving my fiancée out of the flat, hearing Hartnell fluff far more than usual and enduring the absolute worst Who costumes and special effects of all time, I’m now convinced that it was providence that I’d missed out on this story for so long.


Above: The DVD's (much more limited than usual) selection of special features


On the plus side, The Web Planet is at least visually distinctive in that the director’s ‘Vaseline on the camera’ trick actually succeeds in creating a very alien atmosphere. Episode 1, the titular Web Planet, is quite easily the pick of the bunch for this reason, despite being quite similar in plot to The Dead Planet. However, from there the serial deteriorates into farce. Grubs that dance about and sound like Native Americans. The laughable Menoptra. And as for the infamous Zarbi, I can’t wait to see what our Mick says when he sees this.



For me then, The Web Planet is asking me to stretch my disbelief just ever so slightly too far. Even in its day, despite the high viewing figures, it was regarded as “a third rate kiddies’ pantomime.” Were it a four-part story made over a longer period of time, then my opinion might well be a little more favourable – but as a six-parter full of padding, bashed out by the Beeb on no money in six weeks? It’s no surprise that it doesn’t stand up too well in 2005.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.


Doctor Who

and the Zarbi






The second of the original three novelisations that eventually led to the Target range,Doctor Who and the Zarbi is based fairly faithfully upon the serial The Web Planet. The main development of the narrative is much the same, with Bill Strutton’s effective prose style fleshing out the world of Vortis, giving it a sense of otherworldly realism. The planet and its inhabitants really benefit from being described in print – though the original serial was an astonishingly impressive effort, the level of make-up and effects available was never going to be up to the task of convincingly portraying a world of insects. With prose description to kick-start the imagination, however, the reader or listener can visualise far more credible creatures. The Zarbi, singled out as the titular monster in this tale, particularly come across better here, being described in genuinely unsettling terms on some occasions. Equally, the Animus, the true villain of the piece, despite being described as a spider by the Doctor, is portrayed as something much more impressive than the whiskery prop of the original – it’s now a glowing nucleus, described in unpleasantly biological terms… although the choice of the word ‘bladder’ to describe it was perhaps not the wisest.


Equally, the plot is improved by the greater level of characterisation afforded by the novel form. The main characters come off well, particularly the Doctor (referred to as ‘Doctor Who’ throughout), and Ian, both of whom lead significant portions of the story as the plot breaks the characters up to continue separate adventures on the planet. Although there are some elaborations on the plot seen on television, the story is essentially unchanged, and this does mean that it drags woefully in the middle, just as the original did. Once the curiosity aroused by Vortis is satisfied, there’s a long wait before the main events of the plot really kick-in. There’s a good deal too much talking plans through in the fourth and fifth chapters, when what we really want is to get down to action of the final infiltration of the Animus’s web.



William Russell once again provides an excellent reading. His voice seems perfectly suited to the spooky atmosphere evoked here. Naturally, his portrayal of Ian is note-perfect, and his version of the Doctor is also very good, somewhat closer to the original than his attempt in Doctor Who and the Daleks, though this is as much due to the writing as his performance. Less convincing are Barbara and especially Vicki, though it’s hardly fair to expect an exact performance as a young woman from a man in his late seventies. The secondary character voices are excellent, more so than those in the original serial – the Menoptera (sic) speak in noble tones, treated with a subtle modulation, while their Optera cousins are a lot more coherent here than the originals. The Animus is particularly impressive – although I liked the silky, feminine tones of the original, the arrogant booming voice here gives a real sense of power and threat. Add to this some highly effective sound work, such as the chittering of the Zarbi and the fluttering of the Menoptera’s wings, and you have a captivating portrayal of this peculiar alien world.


Copyright © Daniel Tesier 2009


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.





Every now and again I get an itch to watch every single Doctor Who story, and when I start to scratch it, early classics such as Marco Polo and The Aztecs fuel my desire to see the thing through. Season 2, however, has always given me pause, and no serial more so than The Web Planet – a serial so reviled that it holds the unwelcome distinction of the being the only classic series DVD that I didn’t watch as soon as I’d bought it. This is the story that About Time claims looks like 1920s television. The story where a Zarbi walks straight into the camera. The story where producer Verity Lambert had to write to director Richard Martin to tell the cast to stop mucking about with the script. This story is generally considered the absolute nadir of Doctor Who.


Yet I’m starting to think that we might have all got it wrong. My problem with this serial has always been in trying to watch the whole thing through without any breaks - television suicide, as my colleague Mr Wolverson will attest (see above). But such is the case with many a six-parter, with even mighty classics such as Genesis of the Daleks and The Seeds of Doom suffering the same curse. No – the best way to experience The Web Planet to cut it up and sip it like a fine wine, late at night after all potential detractors have gone to bed.



CLICK TO ENLARGE IN COLOURI want to start by discussing the serials ambition. “An ambitious failure,” lots of people call it. After Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Romans, only a fool would think that production team were going to play it safe, but The Web Planet is probably the most powerful testament to just how far they were willing to go to try new things. Unlike the CG worlds of Gridlock, this was uncharted, dangerous territory because it could have wound up looking ridiculously amateurish and putting the brakes on any further adventures of this nature. The fact that Lambert and Martin were willing to risk the ridicule is marvellous, and they truly went for it 1960s style, giving it everything that they had. I really admire that.


You might complain about the creaky, clanking sets but this was an attempt to transport the Doctor and his friends to a truly alien world. Besides, I think that the sets are terrific - nothing is as you expect it should be. We have gorgeous looking moons in the sky, a craggy planet surface stretching for miles, acid pools, the Crater of Needles, rock formations allowing the camera to shoot from all angles, trippy Zarbi headquarters, and even the cancerous Animus sucking in all the goodness out of the planet with its light. The underground bases, houses, museums, and sewers of The Dalek Invasion of Earth were all child’s play to visualise, but Vortis is a dark and menacing environment for our regulars to lose themselves within. Here literally anything can happen - giant ants might swarm, or moths soar down from the sky. You might fault the realisation given the standards of today, but you have to at least appreciate the care that has gone into making this as strange and uncomfortable a setting as it could possibly have been.



The infamous Zarbi costumes actually look rather good, genuinely resembling horrid ants with curiously photographable faces (so much so that cameras come zooming up to them and don’t stop!). Admittedly the Menoptra look like they’re wearing pyjamas, but again their faces are very effective - my husband Simon has a morbid fear of moths, and he shuddered whenever he saw them. The hoppy Optera creatures are probably taking the idea a step too far, but again… how else would you do it? The weirdness of this story is such that is capable of winding you on occasion; the dizzying shots of moths flying down into an atmosphere of moons and crags is astonishingly vivid. There is one long shot of the Zarbi surrounding the Doctor and Ian that could be a piece of surrealist art.


Furthermore, The Web Planet remains to this day one of only just a few stories to feature a large cast that doesn’t include any human characters beyond the regulars. You could either see this as a red stamp on this serial or a testament to its daring - the sheer insanity of a story featuring a swarm of giant ants fighting giant moths is something that you just have to respect. The fact that the production team must have thought that they could do this concept justice on their budget suggests that they were drunk on their ratings success.



Turning to the regulars, Season 1 saw William Hartnell at his sternest, and understandably so, having to cope with that miserable walking hankie Susan. I think secretly he was waiting for her to make doe eyes at some bloke so that he could lock her out sooner! Of course, in reality Carole Ann Ford’s departure rocked Hartnell considerably, and saw the birth of the brand new nutty Professor Doctor, an adorable and charming character who enveloped his fellow travellers with a sense of security and warmth. This is the first Doctor that I remember and he’s just ace. The Web Planet sees this new Doctor as crazy as he was rude last year. The first episode is vintage Hartnell, giggling at his own cleverness, concerned about the ship but eager to explore and thrilled by the adventure. Some of his lines (“I say, Chesterton. What you doing over there? Come over here and learn something!”, “no pigeons,” and even better “we nearly had the remains of a Coal Hill school teacher instead of this wretched old, ragged old tie!”) are absolutely priceless. His chemistry with Russell and Hill is gorgeous by now and just three stories in, the Doctor and Vicki are already making a more formidable combination that the Doctor and his granddaughter did.


And Ian and Barbara are just wonderful, arent they? I don’t really care what they are doing; Hill and Russell manage to make it look believable, and more importantly, enjoyable. Whilst the Doctor is chuckling and aghast with wonder, its left to Ian and Barbara to remind us how alien and terrifying this planet is. Ian’s cautious attitude in the first episode is commendable, and Barbara’s possession scares because, for once, the malignant influence has extended into the safety of the TARDIS and ensnared one of our characters. Vicki’s reaction to the out of control TARDIS is very credible, not only because she is a freshman but as the very idea of the TARDIS being dragged across the surface of Vortis, an evil force drawing it in, is very creepy psychologically. I love Ian’s adventures underground, exploring beautiful metaphors;  Barbara’s baiting of Hillio, and the way that she pulls the drippy Menoptra into action, once again proving why she was without doubt the best of the original companions.



Maureen O’Brien nails it in the Tales of Isop DVD documentary - the ideas in this story are truly innovative. A nasty cancerous evil at the heart of a planet, influencing everything on the surface, drawing in all the hate from the planet through its blood stream-like acid pools. The fact that the Zarbi and Venom Grubs turns docile after the Animus is destroyed reveals just how powerful its influence was.


Where this story fails is in its attempts to make the action dynamic. I did chuckle a couple of times during its six episodes, mostly when Richard Martin jettisoned the idea to subtly explore this alien world, instead attempting to realise a full-blooded ants versus moths war. Martin did not have the technology, the resources, the time or the skill to pull this off as an action movie with any kind of success. What you get is the Menoptra practically standing still so the Venom Grubs can shoot them, the Zarbi being manhandled off their feet, and the Venom Grubs being picked up and squished against the walls. The action looks stilted; it’s deathly slow in places, and the shots of running Zarbi are enough to make you laugh yourself silly. That said, the phallic protuberance that spits cobwebs all over the Doctor and Vicki is more effective, and I really admire the moments where Martin attempts to pan across the action, even if the action itself is awkward. If it were my choice, I would have cut this story down to four episodes, snipped out most of the action sequences and really pushed the psychological terror.



Simon always amazes me when he watches Doctor Who. He loves the revived series, but then he adores flashy fast moving television. I can never anticipate what his reaction to classic serials will be, which is what makes us watching the show together so enjoyable. A couple of nights this week he has been happy to watch The Web Planet with me, even doing funny Menoptra hand signals every time he asks me if I want a cuppa. He thinks that Bill Hartnell is the Doctor who adores his hairdryer line. He will snap at Vicki, because he doesnt want her to end up like Susan. He laughs at the Venom Grub who walks across the stage with the actors’ legs clearly visible underneath. He loves the madness of it all. And he thinks The Web Planet is quintessential Doctor Who because its brave, insane, slightly embarrassing but proud.


I want more people to give The Web Planet a chance. It wants to be a stunning tour de force of weirdness, and it has a fairly decent stab at it. Every five minutes something silly happens, but equally every five minutes something strange and fresh and utterly wonderful happens. It is sheer insanity from beginning to end, but then that’s Doctor Who for you. Brilliant, poetic, shocking and imaginative on the one hand; childish, creaky, slow and under-resourced on the other. Six episodes of schizophrenic heaven. Justice for Zarbi!


Copyright © Joe Ford 2010


Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

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