Getting to know Who – The Missing Episodes: The Web of Fear

By on | Permalink

Tags: Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, The Great Intelligence, Getting To Know Who, Missing Episodes, Featured

Anne Travers is menaced by a Yeti in Doctor Who The Web of Fear

For many Doctor Who fans, the fact that the BBC has held a copy of The Web of Fear Episode One since around 1978 is almost an unbearable tease. It features the atmospheric beginnings of the Doctor’s second battle with the Great Intelligence. It’s dark, it’s moody, its beautifully shot. And it’s all that was left. Until now…

Doctor

The Second Doctor

Companions

Scottish piper Jamie McCrimmon, and Victorian orphan Victoria Waterfield.

Plot

Materialising in space, the TARDIS is engulfed in a web-like substance. Quickly landing in London, they find the city entirely deserted. Something horrible is lurking in the Underground, and an old enemy has returned to fight the Doctor yet again...

The story so far…

  • Episode One follows directly on from the end of previous adventure The Enemy of the World - when Doctor-doppelgänger Salamander has opened the doors of the TARDIS in flight and been sucked into space.
  • The TARDIS crew have met Professor Travers before: in Tibet, 1935 (The Abominable Snowmen). For viewers, this was only some 12 weeks previously, for Travers, 40 years have passed!
  • In 1935, the Great Intelligence took over the body of a Buddhist priest in Tibet, and used his monks to build robot Yetis. The Yetis are operated by silver ‘control spheres’ – one of which has been reactivated by Travers.
  • In Episode Three we meet one of the Doctor's greatest allies: Colonel - later Brigadier - Lethbridge Stewart. Web, and next season's Cyber-thriller The Invasion, were a test by the production team to see if Earth-bound adventures with UNIT were well received by audiences. The format became the basis of Third Doctor Jon Pertwee's first two seasons.

Trailer

Missing!

  • The Web of Fear was broadcast during February and March 1968 in the UK, and then sold by BBC Enterprises to Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Gibraltar and Zambia. The final sale of this story was to Nigeria in October 1974, along with The Enemy of the World.
  • Episode One was rescued in the late 1970s, by newly appointed Archive Selector Sue Malden, who spotted the film in a pile of newly returned cans from Hong Kong. Because it was ‘orphaned’, it was scheduled to be destroyed. Malden saved it, and issued orders that all returned material was to be retained until checked against archive holdings.
  • Trimmed ‘censor clips’ of the adventure were discovered in archive of the New Zealand censor in 2005. They include Yeti striking people down, troops firing on the Yeti, and shots of dead soldiers.
  • Despite the 2013 recovery, Episode Three remains missing, and so is reconstructed here with the original soundtrack and ‘telesnaps’.

Key quote

The Great Intelligence: Through time and space I have observed you, Doctor. Your mind surpasses that of all other creatures.
The Doctor: What do you want?
The Great Intelligence: You!

Why it’s worth a watch

“When we start out on our next adventure - Jamie, Victoria and I – we meet some old friends. We also meet some old enemies - very old enemies - the Yeti as a matter of fact. Only this time they’re just a little bit more frightening than last time. So I want to warn you that if your Mummy and Daddy are scared, you just get them to hold your hand.”
- The Doctor - trailer for The Web of Fear, 27 January 1968.

The Web of Fear is justifiably held in high esteem by fans, as a dark and spooky adventure with plenty of pacey action and sparkling dialogue – and the return of these episodes does nothing to disprove this. It’s a well trodden anecdote that London Underground refused permission to film, then angrily wrote to the BBC demanding to know how they gained access to their tunnels – and the quality of the sets, lighting and photography bears this mistake out. The “key strategic weakness” mentioned by the Doctor in The Snowmen Christmas Special is a lovely touch, seemingly inspiring the Great Intelligence to launch its 1960’s attack on London in Web. It’s also massively important for establishing the credentials of UNIT and the character of the Brigadier (as he will become), with Nicholas Courtney turning in a fantastic debut performance. The ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the plot – as characters and audience alike try to puzzle out who the Great Intelligence has inhabited - is excellently done, as is their eventual reveal. For Doctor Who, this was the shape of things to come.

The Missing Episodes