Originally broadcast in 1965 during the middle of Doctor Who‘s second season, The Web Planet is one my favorite First Doctor stories. William Hartnell shines as the crotchety, yet lovable old time traveler. William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Maureen O’Brien play the Doctor’s traveling companions, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright and Vicki. Originally titled The Zarbi, this six-part story was broadcast by the BBC from February 13th through March 30th, 1965.
The Doctor’s TARDIS is seized by a mysterious force and brought to a planet called Vortis. Here, the time travelers get caught up in the struggles of the Menoptra, a moth-like race, as they fight to regain control of Vortis–originally their home–from an alien parasite. The Animus (voiced by Catherine Fleming) has invaded the planet and taken control of the Zarbi, an ant-like race. Once docile, the Zarbi have been turned into vicious automatons who enforce their master’s will using organic venom guns.
The Doctor and his companions join forces with the Menoptra and the underground-dwelling Optra to confront the Animus and free the Zarbi from its control and release the TARDIS from its influence. Fleming gives a delightfully villainous performance as the voice of the Animus, and director Richard Martin manages to get great performances from many of his principal and supporting cast for this six-part adventure. The script is well-written by Bill Strutton. The Web Planet was Strutton’s only involvement with Doctor Who.
While it may seem silly or even cheesy by today’s standards, The Web Planet was quite imaginative and ambitious for its day. This story is unique in that the Doctor and his companions are the only humanoid characters seen here. The rest are all insect-like, and then there is the Animus, which is more akin to an arachnid-a spider, to be more precise-lurking at the heart of its web.
This DVD has some great bonus features, including the commentary track with actors William Russell and Martin Jarvis, along with producer Verity Lambert. Also included is the featurette “Tales of Isop,” featuring interviews with William Russell, Martin Jarvis, and Maureen O’Brien along with many other members of the cast and crew. Other features include a photo gallery, pop-up production notes, a 1960’s film strip show based on The Web Planet called “Give-A-Show,” and the 56-minute audio production The Lair of Zarbi Supremo, a short story read by William Russell. There is also a Spanish soundtrack option for Episode Six. The Web Planet is a great story from the First Doctor era, and this is an excellent DVD package for such a fascinating adventure.