Jeff Reviews “DOCTOR WHO: The Web of Fear (DVD)”
DOCTOR WHO: The Web of Fear (DVD)
BBC / 1968 / 146 mins / NR
It was looking as if the well had truly and finally run dry. It had been years and years since any of the missing episodes of DOCTOR WHO has turned up anywhere. Then, two random episodes were found; one from a First Doctor (William Hartnell) story and one from a Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) story. That was a faint glimmer of hope, a weak spark that maybe there were more lost episodes waiting to be found somewhere.
In 2013, DOCTOR WHO celebrated five decades of adventures with a year-long celebration, a spectacular 50th anniversary special and a hugely anticipated regeneration story, but probably the most astonishing news was the discovery of nine previously lost episodes from Patrick Troughton’s era (in Nigeria!) that completely restored one story and almost completely restored a second. On top of that, the two six-part stories were two consecutive arcs that feed into each other! There is no greater news to classic Whovians than the discovery of lost episodes but to find almost TWO complete stories… that is cause for a major celebration!
For reasons unknown, fans in the United States got the second of these two stories, “The Web of Fear,” released on DVD first. Not that I’m complaining in the slightest but the opening of this story does spoil how The Doctor, Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) managed to defeat the villain from the previous story, “Enemy of the World.” Unlike other incomplete stories released on DVD, the still missing Episode Three has been recreated using screencaps and still photography rather than being fully animated as has been the norm.
“The Web of Fear” is the sequel to the still mostly missing (only one episodes survives) 1967 adventure “The Abominable Snowmen” which saw The Doctor battle The Great Intelligence (a formless entity from the astral plane) and its army of robotic Yetis in Tibet. “The Web of Fear” takes place forty years later with The Great Intelligence having forced the TARDIS to land in the London Underground. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria soon discover the Underground is being filled with a foaming web-like substance, the streets above are covered with a mysterious mist and his old friend from the previous adventure, Professor Travers (Jack Watling) is having Yeti problems again. Has The Great Intelligence gone through all this trouble merely for revenge against The Doctor? Or does it have an even greater goal?
Not only is this an excellent, fast paced adventure with the always wonderful Patrick Troughton, “The Web of Fear” is a key story in the annals of classic DOCTOR WHO for introducing one of the most beloved characters in the series’ entire history: Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). Here Lethbridge-Stewart is only a Colonel working an ammo detail but the next time we see him (in “The Invasion” broadcast later the same year), he has been promoted to Brigadier of the newly formed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, or UNIT.
Not only does a great Second Doctor story return, but the source material is in exceptionally good condition. The 1.33 transfer shows the newly discovered episodes were kept in excellent shape with nary a scratch, speck or any kind of flaw to be seen. The gray scale is as good as any other DOCTOR WHO story from the era and the detail is surprisingly sharp, particularly with close-ups that reveal quite a bit of textural information.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is also as clear as can be. The original recording suffered from some excessive echo in the underground scenes (not to mention hearing rather loud footsteps on the wooden floors used for the subways). As a later Doctor would say, this release is simply “fantastic!”
If there is a complaint to be lodged at this release of “The Web of Fear” it would have to be the complete and utter lack of supplements. All you get a trailer to next month’s release of the other recently discovered Second Doctor story “The Enemy of the World” and that’s it. No commentary, no production notes and no featurettes about the recovery of the story… nothing. Hopefully a “Special Edition” with a fully animated version of Episode Three is in the works for a future release.
“The Web of Fear” is pure classic DOCTOR WHO of the highest order and a story not to be missed. Highly Recommended!
– Jeff Allen