After its safe return to the BBC Archives late last year, Second Doctor classic The Web of Fear is released on DVD this month. We pick some of our favourite moments of the Doctor’s second encounter with the Great Intelligence…
In The Snowmen (2012), the Eleventh Doctor encounters the Great Intelligence in Victorian London – but the Intelligence that hasn’t met him yet. Handing him the shards of the shattered Ice Mistress in a biscuit tin adorned with the 1960’s London Underground map, he remarks that such a system is a “key strategic weakness in metropolitan living”:
Does the Eleventh Doctor inspire the Intelligence to invade the Tube in 1968, with its Web of Fear? A wonderful moment of timey-wimey, backwards Doctor Who retro-continuity is born.
Space is dangerous.
At least it is if you're actor Frazer Hines (Jamie). While the Doctor and Victoria intently observe the web shrouding the TARDIS scanner in Episode One, Jamie can be seen hastily whipping his hand off the console after nonchalantly leaning on a hot lightbulb! Ever the pro, Frazer carries bravely on with the scene.
Landing in a quiet and dead London Underground, the crew are separated. Jamie and Victoria are caught by the army and held in their underground fortress, where they meet and old friend in the form of Professor Travers – now an old man. His assertion that Jamie and Victoria have a time machine, leads his daughter Anne to question poor old Victoria, and we just love her tight-lipped response:
London Underground, 1968-style.
The Tube sets were so convincing that London Underground allegedly wrote to the BBC accusing them of breaking in - and it makes Web a joy for London transport nerds. Aldwych, Trafalgar Square and Strand are three station names you no longer see on the map in 2014 but are present on the snazzy illuminated one in the army's HQ.
Aldwych closed in 1994, and has since been used as a location for numerous films and TV programmes (including the most recent series of Sherlock) while the others became part of modern-day Charing Cross. There's also no Victoria line (opened 1968) or Jubilee line (1979). #nerdy
All joking aside, The Web of Fear is a spooky and atmospheric story, where the Doctor tries to work out first how the Yeti are being controlled, and then who amongst the misfit selection of soldiers and civilians has been taken over by the Great Intelligence. The eventual result is surprising, brilliantly written and well played by all concerned. Especially worthy of note is Patrick Troughton, who continually shows how utterly magnetic he is as an actor – owning the screen with often just a flick of the eyes.
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
Web also introduces us to one of Doctor Who’s most iconic characters – and a format for the future. One wonders whether Nicholas Courtney could have had the first idea his debut here as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart would lead to twenty years of shooting at various aliens in assorted industrial locations, not to mention a lifetime of conventions and fan adoration – but lead to it, it did.
Episode Four sees a pitched battle between troops and the Yeti robots, in the streets around London's Covent Garden - which in 1968 was an increasingly dilapidated area. We love the little puff of hot breath coming from the neck area of one of the Yeti, as it ambles up Shelton Street on a cold December filming day.
One of them was played by John Levene, who'd return very soon as a semi-regular UNIT soldier, Sergeant Benton.
(SPOILER ALERT) Episode Four ends on a cracker of a cliffhanger, as the Intelligence temporarily inhabits Professor Travers. The subsequent confrontation between the Doctor and the whispering, constricted Intelligence crackles with excitement, and is one of the best moments of the adventure:
The Web of Fear will be available on DVD from the following dates: