The DVD release of The Web of Fear is another victory in the battle to restore all of the “lost” Doctor Who serials. As a cost-cutting measure, the BBC erased and reused the tapes during the 1960s. Since the quest began in earnest, copies of missing episodes have been found all over the world. This has been an extraordinary effort, and when something as significant as The Web of Fear is restored, it is a real event.
In some instances, not every episode of a serial can be located though, and this has forced the company to become creative. With the six-part The Web of Fear, all but the third episode have been found. That third chapter has been reconstructed by using the surviving original audio track coupled with stills for this DVD release.
The serial was first broadcast from February 3 to March 9, 1968. Patrick Troughton stars as the Second Doctor, who is traveling with companions Victoria (Deborah Watling) and Jamie (Frazer Hines). One big reason The Web of Fear is such an important serial in the franchise is that it marks the first appearance of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task force).
Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and his UNIT team would become a huge part of the show in the early ‘70s, when the BEEB basically “grounded” the Doctor to Earth to save money. With “The Web of Fear” we get to see the introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart and the team to the mythos. It is also a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen serial from earlier in the season.
The opening scene features Professor Travers (Jack Watling), who led the Tibetan excursion in “The Abominable Snowmen,” and his daughter Anne (Tina Packer). He is trying to convince the man he is visiting to return the Yeti robot, but the man refuses. After the Professor and Anne leave, the Great Intelligence activates the Yeti through a control sphere, and it kills him. This serves as an ominous foreshadowing of things to come.
While this is happening on Earth, The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria are traveling in the TARDIS when it suddenly stops in space. After the Doctor fiddles with some controls, the TARDIS materializes in the London Underground, circa the then-present 1968. Strange things are happening in the deserted tube, and the trio see a group of soldiers preparing to blow something up.
There are Yeti robots all over the place, and they are busy making the whole system inoperable by shooting a cobweb-like substance out of their guns. The military is there in an attempt to stop them. Anne suspects the Doctor of being in league with the Yetis, while Victoria and Jaime think it might be the Professor who is working with them. Neither are correct, for it is the Great Intelligence who is responsible. It was the Great Intelligence who brought the TARDIS there as well.
As mentioned, this is the first story in which we meet the elite UNIT group, who are led by Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. His men discover that some of the Yeti have gone up and out, and are now busy wreaking havoc on the streets of London. The bullets the men fire have no effect on the Yeti, but thankfully their hand grenades do. The Doctor eventually figures out that the Great Intelligence is controlling the Yeti with a control box, and is able to control them himself by reprogramming one of the boxes.
This being a six-chapter serial, there are plenty of cliff-hanger moments to be sure. The long-term importance of The Web of Fear is the introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT, although it would be a couple more years before they were used regularly in the show.
In many cases, the real-life story of Doctor Who can be as interesting than the serials themselves. With that in mind, I was a little disappointed that there are no bonus features at all included with The Web of Fear. The backstory of it is fascinating though. For decades, the only surviving episode of the six in the BBC archives was the first one. Then in 2013, episodes two, four, five, and six were found in Nigeria (of all places). With the surviving audio track and some well-chosen still photographs, the serial was restored.
Unlike many of the BBC DVDs that were initially released on VHS, this is the first time The Web of Fear has been seen since it was broadcast. The serial itself is fairly average, probably not the greatest Second Doctor adventure of all, but not bad. To be able to chalk up another one in the “found” column is very cool indeed. For serious Doctor Who fans, The Web of Fear is definitely a cause for celebration.