50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #7

Long before I was born, in fact the year my parents got married, there was a Doctor Who story which would become the benchmark for all following, even up to this day…A story that works in story, characters, sets, special FX, music and tone. Generally even the best stories have that little something that drags it down, certainly in classic Who. Genesis has it’s clam monsters(!), Caves has it’s Magma beast, Talons has it’s giant rat….but this story, if only we could see it in it’s entirety again…..Sitting on it’s own throne in Tooting Bec, it’s The Web of Fear at my No.7.

Following up very quickly on it’s prequel, The Abominable Snowmen (this had never been done before either…even the Cybermen didn’t return to menace the Time Lord so quickly as the Yeti did), Web has such a completely different setting to that adventure,that if the furry fiends didn’t appear in the very first scene, then you wouldn’t have guessed they were the foe of the month. Moving them from their native setting, wandering the mountains of the Himalayas, then this adventure deposits them in the shadows of the deserted London underground. Even using the Daleks to invade Earth was surely not as bold a move as this?!  But Web’s setting is used to it’s every dark, echoey advantage. Spooky doesn’t cover it.

Bringing back Professor Travers too, though sadly for him, he hasn’t aged a few months like the TARDIS crew, for him it’s 40 years…superb make-up job on Jack Watling, couldn’t still tell it was him, apart from voice! Sad, distraught Travers, so happy to see Jamie and Victoria again, that at least they’ll listen to his story, that he has reactivated a Yeti control sphere. Why he has, isn’t really made clear!  He must have known it would lead to nothing good…Some other excellent characters too….Jon Rollason, is excellent as the weaselly Harold Chorley, you’re never quite sure which side he’s on. Ralph Watson as the dependable Captain Knight, but surely he’s trustworthy?  The mysterious newcomer, hiding in shadows to begin, this Colonel Lethbridge Stewart…surely he can’t be trusted?  Could be any of them, working for the Great Intelligence, an enemy within.

Best performance of all, I think is Jack Woolgar as stalwart army plod, Staff Sgt Arnold…so nice to Victoria and Jamie, the one to keep the other soldier’s spirits up.  To have him turn out to be the insider, is a great twist, his mind taken over, and used. It begins to make you think that perhaps this time the Doctor won’t win….Troughton’s portrayal, something that wasn’t ever done again to such a degree as here, is such that it’s totally believable to think that the Intelligence has outwitted the Doctor this time, and that the world will fall.  Only for him to reveal that he knew what was going on all the time….a manipulative, dangerous man, who uses people to his own ends…quite chilling. Wish they’d remake this, if they haven’t found it!  — Andy

Alan’s #7 — The Caves of Androzani
David’s #7 — Utopia
Steve’s #7 — School Reunion

Missing episodes found?   Great!  But we’ve been re-discovering stories for 43 weeks now, and the 44th follows… next week.