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Review of The Web of Fear (#41)

iTunes Release Date: 11 Oct 13
Original Air Date: 03 Feb - 09 Mar 1968
Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling
Preceding Story: The Enemy of the World (Two, Jamie, Victoria)
Succeeding Story: Fury from the Deep (Two, Jamie, Victoria)

The recovery of two back-to-back stories from the sorely underrepresented Troughton era of the show feels almost too good to be true (though them being found together makes a fair amount of sense). Yet here they are, and The Web of Fear starts up where the cliffhanger ending of The Enemy of the World left off.

Episode One isn't what's got Who fans' collective panties in a bunch, though; it's the only one that had remained in the archives. So although watching the cliffhanger resolution is more meaningful in context, having seen Enemy Episode Six for oneself, what follows is the familiar setup we've already seen (that is, if one had bothered to track down a copy). It is, in essence, your basic "our heroes get themselves into a pickle" episode.

The magic begins in the previously unavailable Episode Two. While I've never listened to the surviving soundtrack by itself (there's only so much I can afford!), I know there are plenty of people who have, and have no doubt imagined how it played out on screen (I'm actually curious how many fan recons have been made, and how close they got). As with the other recovery, the decades-unseen effects are one of the key questions to be answered. We get a much better sense of what the Yetis look like (The Abominable Snowmen, their only other story, remains lost), and get to see the (thankfully limited) fungus effects. I'm sure moments like the Doctor and Anne testing out the control box on the sphere were also particularly difficult to envision.

After the first viewing, I'd sometimes close my eyes to listen and get the effect; seeing the actual footage just can't be beat. So much of the artists' performances hinge on little facial expressions or overall demeanor that just can't help but be lost in translation. For example, I'm not sure the soundtrack itself does Derek Pollitt's (driver Evans) bumbling Welsh yokel act justice. Nor do all the visual cues that cast suspicion on even more players come across in the audio-only version, I'm told. For a visual medium like television, only the audio and visuals together provide the full effect.

I was also struck particularly by Jack Watling's performance as Professor Travers. (Yes, that's the same Watling as Companion Victoria; he's her father. In some of the interview clips about the press screening of some of the recovered episodes, you can hear her talk about seeing "Daddy" on screen again.) I don't think [quasi-spoiler] the bizarre, disturbing manner in which he delivers his lines in Episode Five comes across with only the audio. It's... disturbing. Which is, of course, exactly what the story needs at that point. Kudos, sir.

Then there's everyone's favorite military man: one Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, not yet a Brigadier—only a Colonel. It's so hard to remember that he was just as suspicious a character to the audience as anyone else save the Doctor and his Companions. He was meant to be a one-off character, but you can see why the audience took to him so well, undoubtedly contributing to his return. How can you not love his unflappable nature? Anyone else who hadn't seen it for themselves automatically dismissed claims of a craft that travels through time and space—not the Brigad... err... Colonel. Instead, he's willing to keep an open mind and explore any possible solution to the company's rather dire situation.

It's frustrating that despite the exhilarating discovery, there's still a single episode of this story missing, and it's the one in which Lethbridge-Stewart very first appears (part of me wonders if it didn't end up in some Nicholas Courtney fan's private collection). I can't help but wonder what Nick (who played Lethbridge-Stewart) would have thought of that. I'm sure that, like Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Deborah Watling (Victoria), he'd have been thrilled to see the story returned; yet I imagine him not missing the irony of his very first appearance on-screen as that character still being absent. Oh well. The search continues!

So is The Web of Fear the best of all time? Well, it's certainly very well done, and the shadows all in black and white make for an extremely atmospheric serial. I don't know it well enough yet to put it on the pedestal of "best," but it's definitely in my highest echelon. As with Enemy, I have no qualms recommending you invest in a copy either from iTunes now (in the UK or US) or on DVD in February (in the UK; US availability pending). Both the history and the story itself are worth it.

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