Doctor Who: The Web of Fear (part one)

“Those monsters are so scary,” our five year-old critic told us, firmly, as the Yeti stomped around the abandoned London Underground. “They don’t have mouths!” I have to say that for all the many years I’ve watched and adored part one of this adventure, it honestly never occurred to me that one day the main thing that would frighten my son and send him behind the sofa would be the Yeti’s lack of mouths. Deserted London, abandoned train stations, dead newsvendors covered in cobwebs, big hairy beasts in general, sure. But… they don’t have mouths? That’s the thing?

Anyway, back in October 1967, the Doctor Who production office had a huge hit on their hands with “The Abominable Snowmen,” which introduced the robotic Yeti and their formless alien controller, the Great Intelligence, and hurriedly asked that serial’s writers, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, for another six episodes. The turnaround back in those days was astonishing. Part one aired just four months later, in February 1968.

For decades, this episode was the only one to survive the BBC’s short-sighted culling, and it’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s directed by Douglas Camfield, and it has an incredibly effective and claustrophobic feel. We don’t know what the non-speaking Yeti are doing, and the eerie quiet of abandoned stations and dark railway tunnels works extraordinarily well. I’ve watched it I dunno how many times, but I’ve been saving this new restored and beautiful edition until I could watch it with my son, and it was worth the wait. It looks completely amazing, and he hid behind a blanket as a Yeti came back to life and killed some rich guy with a private museum, laughed as our heroes cut up in the TARDIS, and finally retreated out of sight as the Yeti stomped around on the platform of Charing Cross Station.

Jack Watling, the father of actress Deborah Watling, who plays Victoria, is the first actor in Doctor Who to play a significantly older version of himself, which happens a little more often these days. Watling plays Professor Travers, whom the heroes met forty years previously in the previous Yeti story. As the new production team of Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin found themselves enjoying this modern day adventure, they entertained the idea of making the older Travers and his scientist daughter Anne (Tina Packer), along with a character we’ll meet in a couple of nights, into a secondary supporting cast. More on that later on.

This episode also introduces Jon Rollason, who, six years ago, had played one of John Steed’s partners in the second season of The Avengers, as an obnoxious television reporter assigned to cover the military’s operation to save the evacuated London. He’s really entertaining. There are several other military characters operating from an old Blitz-era underground bunker, and while they all make it out of this episode safely, that’s going to start changing soon.

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