Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

weboffearHello everyone!

I was devastated not to be on this special Verity! Episode because the New Old Episodes Festival of Squee is so very dear to my heart.

To answer Deb’s first  question, I did download Enemy of the World right away, at midnight in the UK which was about 10am Friday Australia time, and I spent the day watching it (cos CONVALESCING FROM PNEUMONIA HOORAY). Then I bought Web of Fear straight after that.

I will admit that I was about 50 times more excited about The Enemy of the World than I was about Web, because I loved the novelisation as a kid. It wasn’t quite at the top of my Desperate Wish List of episodes (that would be The Myth Makers, The Highlanders and The Daleks’ Master Plan But Especially The Feast of Steven) but it is definitely one I was hanging out to see for reals.

Which explains why I downloaded it first, and watched it immediately, just in case it disappeared again.
Can I just say that while the reclaimed missing episodes have brought me incredible joy and glee, one of the most gleeful experiences associated with them was in fact listening to Deb make her Dread Troughton Reveal on this episode, and Liz’s reaction to it. Oh, I love you both so much. And Deb, you have SO MUCH to look forward to!

Ahem, but we’re talking about The Web of Fear, right? I had previously listened to the audio of Web of Fear a million years ago but had forgotten most of it luckily. I don’t think I had read the novelisation, and I don’t think I’d even seen the existing ep – or if I did, it was before the age of 10, so barely counts.
Unlike Enemy of the World, which I hoarded to myself on my laptop, I watched The Web of Fear with my family. My partner who likes Who but is a tad less hardcore than me about it, watched it cheerfully enough all the way through (we only took one coffee break!). The girls managed until the reconstruction episode, then wandered off, and drifted back occasionally after that. Both were fascinated by the Yeti, and little Jem was slightly obsessed with the whereabouts of Chorley the TV interviewer, regularly asking me if he had turned up again. By the last couple of episodes, they were hooked again.

So, what surprised me about The Web of Fear? Well, I did like it very much, and considering the collective fan adoration of this one (and despite having also listened to the Writers’ Room takedown of the plot recently) I was expecting it to be more of a letdown. But the performances were great, the design was excellent, and I actually liked the actiony horror vibe of the piece despite generally not enjoying shooty or scary stories as much as funny ones with rockets, dopplegangers, space jodphurs and gyrocopters. As it happens, I got the newly-complete-with-animation The Ice Warriors DVD a couple of weeks ago, and only the previous weekend had watched *that* for the first time, which I also loved to bits, and put me in the peculiar position of getting to watch three brand new (to me) Troughton serials in a row, in the correct order. Of the three, The Web of Fear is my third favourite.

But it’s still terribly good.

Obviously I knew the Brig wasn’t evil, but I don’t think that ruins the party as much the Writers Room seemed to believe, because it is so very enjoyable to see this early performance of Nick Courtney, all his twinkles and earnestness and the fact that he knows he’s not the bad guy but doesn’t entirely mind people assuming he might be.

It’s sad that the one still-missing episode is the one where we first meet the Brig, but isn’t it intriguing (and I didn’t notice this before now) that his actual meeting with the Doctor happens off screen? No one has EVER seen them meet! It’s also weirdly synchronistic with The Invasion where the Brig’s first appearance is once again one of the animated/lost episodes.

The London Underground set was fabulous and re-used over and over again with great style and different signage – I honestly wasn’t sure if I believed it was a set at all until reading the Michael Troughton testimony. I thought the Yeti were brilliant, so much better realised than I ever imagined given that my main prior experience with them was in The Five Doctors. (Though Jem and I have watched the extant episode of The Abominable Snowmen)

So yes I really liked the Yeti, and how actually intimidating they were, and the fear of the soldiers, and the brilliant effects of webs and foam which made fantastic use of the black and white footage.

I expected to like Anne Travers (her classic “when I was a little girl I wanted to be a scientist” speech is a Tumblr gif favourite of mine), and I agree absolutely that she must have been a blueprint for Liz Shaw, especially for her combination of no nonsense competence and mocking sense of humour when it comes to the military.

I am a little sad that not one of you commented on the rather adorable Captain Knight, who did a great job of being the harried, dealing-with-too-much soldier, and carried a lot of the military scenes. I liked the fact that we got to see a lot of he and the Brig trying really hard to do their job under difficult circumstances. I also adored the Staff Sgt and his own world weary view of the situation – he reminded me of William Hartnell in Carry On Sergeant which made me happy!

The Web of Fear does a much better job of making the soldiers feel like real people to me than in The Invasion where they are all basically wallpaper against which the Brigadier gets to twinkle and bark (apart from the whole weird issue where the Brig keeps calling his Captain “Jimmy” which is weirdly intimate and makes you wonder about the backstory – a godson, perhaps?). I am fond of The Invasion but I don’t know that UNIT (or pre-UNIT) is as interesting there as the poor doomed baby soldiers in this one.

Evans was seriously annoying but a great, memorable character who only suffered because of the hilarious turn of Griff the Comedy Cook in The Enemy of the World, who puts all other comic characters to shame. I particularly enjoyed the way that Nick Courtney visibly twitched with irritation around Evans.

Victoria was quite melancholy in this – I agree that it isn’t a great episode for her and it was disappointing after the magnificence of The Enemy of the World (plucky espionage Vic! Getting cross at nasty men shouting at her, and flinging tea trolleys around!) and The Ice Warriors (kidnap victim is brave in the snow caves!) to see her so subdued. But I think it works very well if you watch these serially – as noted by some of our commenters, the next story is The Fury of the Deep in which she comes to the conclusion that travelling and being terrified of monsters isn’t the lifestyle she wants any more, and you can see that foreshadowed here in how desperately worried and stressed she is, with little in the way of humour, adventure and relief.

Having said that, one of the loveliest things about this story is the look on Victoria’s face when she recognises Professor Travers (played by her own dad, awww). Her smile is just wonderful, and I love how she notices, and Jamie doesn’t, that this is their old friend.

Speaking of which – how awesome and fabulous is Season 5 ? I think it’s spectacular that we get a ‘forty years later’ story within the same season, bringing back an aged supporting character as well as the monsters he was associated with. The only equivalent thing they had done before really (apart from getting some characters back to their own time zone) was with The Ark where they skip ahead centuries within the same story. I love how serial-y this season is, though my new appreciation of this probably has to do with the whole watching a bunch of stories in order thing. I might have to do more of that…

Oh and UNIT DATING AHOY – if this story takes place 40 years after 1935 that means it’s 1975.

If someone doesn’t write an epic fanfic about Jamie and Victoria living in 1970’s London and raising the child-brained Doctor as he rebuilds his intelligence over a decade or two, then what is the point of Doctor Who fandom?

Now, some terrible untrue fact to correct from this Verity! Episode…

ENEMY OF THE WORLD IS SO REPRESENTATIVE OF SECOND DOCTOR, ERIKA! I think The Web of Fear is representative of what old school fans THINK Troughton is all about, but that’s mostly because old school fans have been banging on about The Web of Fear for forty-five years, and because they’ve watched The Tomb of the Cybermen a bunch more times than they have watched The Krotons or the Dominators. Yes, Season 5 was the monster season, and the “base under siege” season, but there wasn’t much of that at all in the other two years of the Trought, so why are we defining his entire era by one of the seasons that has until recently had so few extant episodes available to watch?

If it was Wheel of Space we reclaimed in the 1990’s instead of Tomb, perhaps we would talk a lot more about shiny chrome futures and a lot less about bases and sieges?

My take on this is that the definitive Troughton style of story is actually a Swinging Sixties style of science fiction, the kind that can genuinely be named SciFi, complete with technobabble, mini-skirts, pop art design, ray guns, mad scientists, and especially the relationship of humans to technology and computers. There are examples of these in all three seasons, especially 5 and 6 – in fact I’m pretty sure we get more different takes on the future of humanity in those three years than any other three years of the show.

The Ice Warriors, for example, is science fiction drama all the way, with characterisation and plot emanating from three really important futuristic story points: climate change leading to a horrid ice age on Earth, aliens attempting to reclaim their technology and escape Earth after being stranded, and a societal over-reliance on computers. Most of the confrontations and tension from the story are political, between the humans and the Ice Warriors. The monster movie subplot involving Victoria’s kidnap and Jamie getting shot/rendered unconscious a lot is basically a subplot which allows for great visuals and upping the stakes, but isn’t the point of the story.

Also OMG The Ice Warriors features some of the best Swinging Sixties Space Age outfits of all time. Eat your heart out, Star Trek, Doctor Who’s pop art black and white collection leaves all your mini skirts in the shade…

The Enemy of the World, coming straight after The Ice Warriors, is likewise very futuristic (in an unabashed Sixties way) with some fantastic world building and some very far-out concepts. Yes, the Barry Letts direction does foreshadow the Pertwee era but  it’s the political drama and science fictional tropes that really stand out for me in the story – the things that I loved about it even when it was still a book.

The story also provides the Doctor with a brilliant Nemesis in Salamander. Plus espionage, lots of sneaking and disguises! Which even ties it to The Highlanders, the only non-Sfnal story of the Troughton run. I also feel that the family in the TARDIS thing is vital in this era. The Ice Warriors really genuinely conveys the way that the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria adore and worry about each other, but The Enemy of the World does a fantastic job of showing their brilliant teamwork, both apart and together.

So yes, to me, serialised space age goodness with gratuitous Swinging Sixties eye candy, at least one if not more of our main characters pretending to be someone they’re not, and/or a plot that engages with the relationship between people and their technology, is far more representative of the Troughton Era than monsters, or bases under siege.

PS: And in defence of picking The Mind Robber, despite all its crazy awesome unique fairy tale nonsense, it is AGAIN a story about humans taken over by their technology, plus it gives the Doctor a nemesis (who is also a wacky bearded professor, something else we get a lot of in this era), and it uses the three regular cast members brilliantly, giving them lines and plot threads that only work because of who they specifically are. It gives us a bunch of monsters in the White Robots, Medusa and the Minotaur, it has a focus on intellectual challenges over physical ones (though occasionally giving Jamie a purely physical one to make them feel appreciated), and it balances comedy and drama within the same story. The Mind Robber also had to rise above some serious production problems, such as adding a wonderfully weird episode up front, and having another episode with a different actor playing Jamie. It’s really not a proper Troughton story unless one of the main actors is missing for a whole episode… which, I suppose, is one in the column for The Web of Fear after all!

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Comments on: "Tansy’s Two Cents – Episode 26" (1)

  1. Ray Adamson said:

    Sorry to note your recent health difficulties,Tansy.Watching the Ice Warriors with pneumonia is a bit above and beyond the call of duty.Hope you’re feeling better.Would have to agree that there is much more variety in the Troughton period than it’s generally given credit for.I like the Ice Warriors quite a bit too,was genuinely awestruck by Vargas’ costume at the BBC’s convention in Cardiff.It’s giant and amazing.

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