I can’t tell you how excited I was when I tore off the cellophane wrapper, opened the box and slid the disc in the player. The long lost Yeti down the Underground episodes of Dr Who, long thought to have been wiped in the BBC’s mad drive to save money by reusing expensive video tape in the 1960s, that I had watched on an old black and white telly after tea at my grandparents house. Sod the Daleks, the Yetis were the stuff of this kid’s nightmares.
Now, thanks to the remarkable discovery of nearly all the lost episodes at a TV studio in Nigeria, the BBC have lovingly restored most of the episodes (episode three is still missing and has been reconstructed for the DVD release from stills and the audio track). So after 46 years is it still the business? Well it still works for me, sure it creaks a bit in places and Victoria (Deborah Watling) the female companion is really annoying, but I’d forgotten what a delight Patrick Troughton was as the second Doctor. Far from his irascible predecessor Trougton injects a dose of childish mischief into the character, a trait that was to be perfected by the great Tom Baker in the 1970s.
The story is a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, another lost set of episodes, where the Doctor foils an attempt by an alien life form known as the Great Intelligence to establish a bridgehead in Tibet with his army of robot Yetis. Naturally the Intelligence is pissed at the Doctor for that and draws the TARDIS into the tunnels of the London Underground where the British Army are fighting a losing battle with an all enveloping fungus spread by the Yetis. Scientific support for the army comes in the shape of a Dr Travers (played by Deborah Watling’s dad Jack), the same scientist the Doctor helped overcome the Yeti threat back in The Abominable Snowmen.
Now, I’m not about to give any more of the plot away, but there are some good reasons why any horror fan should enjoy The Web of Fear. As the story is set up Professor Travers entreats Julius Silverstein (Frederick Schrecker) a collector of curiosities to return him the Yeti that he brought back from Tibet. The scene is pure Hammer horror with the candlelight casting shadows off the stuffed animals and other curios in Silverstein’s house. Even the music is redolent of the great James Bernard’s score for Dracula (1958). The Yeti’s attack on Silverstein as he puts out the lights after the departure of Travers is a splendid touch of the Gothic frighteners comparable to Christopher Lee’s savagely stumbling Kharis in The Mummy (1958).
Then the setting in the disused underground tunnels and their wartime bunker were some of the most convincing and scary sets ever used for the show in the 1960s, as someone who grew up in London it was all horribly familiar and I can often remember wondering what was out there in the claustrophobic dark depths beyond the safety of the tube cars. It was a much more realistically scary and atmospheric world than the gravel pits that usually doubled for alien worlds in other stories.
The other notable feature of The Web of Fear was the first appearance of the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) though he was only a mere Colonel them. Sadly that is part of the lost Episode Three, although I can still vividly remember seeing it back in 1968!
I give The Web of Fear a 555/666. It’s an atmospheric burn with some nice cliff-hangers only let down by a whingeing female companion (even is she does fulfil the role of the person everything has to be explained to in order to keep the viewers up to speed).
The London Underground has had a few chills:
Deathline (1973) People start disappearing from the underground, Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance on sparkling form) and DS Rogers (Norman Rossington) discover something really quite nasty.
Creep (2004) When Kate (Franka Potente) nods off and finds herself locked in at Charing Cross Station following an office party little does she suspect that she’s a potential lunch.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.