No. of Episodes: 6 (“The Web Planet”, “The Zarbi”, “Escape to Danger”, “Crater of Needles”, “Invasion”, “The Centre”
Writer: Bill Strutton
Director: Richard Martin
Producer: Verity Lambert
Season: 2, ep. 5 (eps. 16-21)
Companions: Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien)
Summary: The Doctor and his companions find themselves on the planet Vortis, which is populated by insects divided into various tribes. The Menoptera, who look like giant moths, are attempting to free Vortis from the god-like Animus, who has already turned the ant-like Zarbi into his mindless followers. The Doctor and companions align themselves with the Menoptera to eliminate the threat Animus has over them.
Review: This was the first episode from the Hartnell era I ever watched. One thing you have to realize about his era is that it was starting from scratch. Much of the stuff we’re used to–the sonic screwdriver, Gallifrey, the Time Lords–didn’t exist yet.
For me, what I really like is the ambition of this story. The costumes look great for their time. They even hired someone to design the speech and culture. Animus is a good villain because it seems like a genuine threat and Catherine Fleming plays the part well.
You can see shades of a typical strategy that the Doctor would use in later stories. Here he attempts to trick Animus into believing it has already won and that he is trying to appease the god. But in reality, he is secretly plotting and analyzing Animus’s weaknesses. Ian and Barbara also do good here, with Barbara attempting to form a plan with the Menoptera while the Doctor is in peril. Vicki, however, seems to take up space, which often happened with her anyway.
The story is not without its flaws. The lens was distorted to make the world seem more alien and to show how thin Vortis’s atmosphere was supposed to be, so that may make things blurrier than it should. To be honest, the story hasn’t really aged well, and the costumes may seem silly by today’s standards, but I like the effort that was put into making Vortis seem as alien as they could within the limits of their budget. Is it a perfect story? No. But I enjoyed it.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Continuity: The Doctor tells Ian that Vortis is in the Isop galaxy, which in New Who is home to the Face of Boe (cf. “The End of the World”). The Fifth Doctor revisited Vortis in the audio drama Return to the Web Planet, available from Big Finish. Barbara wears a bracelet she received from Emperor Nero in the preceding story, “The Romans”.
Trivia: Roslyn de Winter designed the Menoptera’s movement and speech. As thanks, she was invited to play Vrestra, the only female Menoptera in the story. In the novels based on Doctor Who, Animus is supposedly an elder god from Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos, just like the Great Intelligence.