Russell T Davies, the architect of the recent triumphant DOCTOR WHO revival, was quite adamant that his new version of the venerated show always had to relate to Earth, that the stories had to deal with human beings and relate to the trials and tribulations of the human race. Alien planets and other-world civilisations were resolutely out. ?ho cares about the planet Zog??was his reasoning. Yet in the black-and-white days of 1965 things were different and the second season of DOCTOR WHO was determined to fully explore the format of the BBC? newest hit and nowhere is this experimentation more evident than in ?he Web Planet? Bill Strutton? impossibly imaginative adventure set on the barren planet Vortis. Over 12 million viewers were gripped too?n

?he Web Planet?is about as alien as DOCTOR WHO is ever likely to get. Apart from the four leads there are no other recognisably human characters in the cast and this is one of the serial? strengths as well as one of its weaknesses.

The TARDIS lands on the desolate lunar landscape of Vortis which has seen its ruling elite ?the softly-spoke butterfly-like Menoptra ?deposed by an invading force of vicious ant-like Zarbi and their controlling force, the mysterious Animus. The Doctor and his chums do what they do best ?and team up with the oppressed to help defeat the Zarbi and reclaim their planet.

It? incredible to think that, with a budget of around ?,000 per episode, the BBC could even contemplate mounting a serial as lavish and complicated as ?he Web Planet?and it? a testament to the pioneering spirit of early 1960s broadcasters that they were willing to give it a go. Viewed 40 years on, the story will leave new DOCTOR WHO admirers slack-jawed with disbelief and, ultimately, only the real hardcore fans are going to spend nearly three hours of their lives wading through the sometimes laborious narrative and making allowances for what are, by modern standards, dire visual effects. But in actual fact, ?he Web Planet?remains surprisingly enjoyable if you turn a blind eye to the production? obvious deficiencies. It? a good story, extremely atmospheric, quite dark and menacing and its total alienness manages to add to its sometimes disquieting tone. The Zarbi, quite clearly men staggering around with wardrobes on their backs, are a decent enough effort and there? no faulting the imagination on show in both the design and realisation of the Menoptra (although their underground cousins the Optera are rather harder to admire). Strutton? literate script gives the lead cast and the supporting performers plenty to get their teeth into ?or, in Hartnell? case, to ad lib to with varying degrees of success ?and there are even a couple of acceptable fight sequences and some genuine moments of nastiness.

Of course ?he Web Planet?starts to lose its appeal by about episode five. In an effort to disguise production problems the camera was smeared in Vaseline (ostensibly to add to the unearthliness of the piece) but this does little to make viewing the episodes a palatable experience. Despite admiring the ingenuity and vision of these pioneers, it? hard not to feel slightly relieved when the TARDIS crew bundle back aboard the Ship and set off for pastures new and more familiar. So top marks for effort and imagination and only middling marks for realisation and enjoyment. But approach with caution and an open mind and you might just get something out of ?he Web Planet? If you prefer your SF slick and modern, stick with the new series DVDs.

THE DISC: The restoration team have again worked wonders here. Sound and picture have both scrubbed up well (although much of the good work on the latter seems a bit pointless when the Vaseline comes outUif you get my drift) and, with six episodes on one disc, there? a healthy amount of extras. The best by far is the 38-minute ?ales of Isop?documentary where cast and crew simultaneously enthuse about and apologise for the serial. There? a hearty moderated commentary, Bill Russell read an old DOCTOR WHO Annual story (it does the trick; I was asleep in seconds), some stills and a contemporary kid? slideshow affair which tells the whole story effortlessly in about five frames.

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