Doctor Who: The Web of Fear (parts three and four)

Part three of this story is still missing; the DVD contains a reconstruction using the audio and a large selection of photos. It’s as good as can be expected for a filmstrip, but it certainly was a slog. It’s a shame that it’s still gone; it introduces Nicholas Courtney as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. But he’s not introduced as a beloved supporting character of the future, but as one of the main suspects in the mystery of who in the base is in league with the Great Intelligence and dropping Yeti homing beacons in everybody’s pockets.

We paused several times in part three to help our son through it, taking care to explain what a homing beacon is. A few minutes into part four, he said “Pause it. Hey. What’s a homing beacon?” He also didn’t understand why the Yeti keep stopping the heroes from blowing up the tunnels. We explained that we didn’t actually know that ourselves yet. He ran this information around his head for a second and said “So they don’t know what the Yeti are doing or why the Yeti want to stop them blowing up the tunnels. What we do know is if they can stop the Yeti, then they can blow up the tunnels!” That’s true, but I think adding the additional fact that stopping the Yeti will mean they won’t have to blow them up might just confuse him.

Part four contains one of the all-time greatest action scenes in the entire series. Lethbridge-Stewart takes it on himself to retrieve the Doctor’s TARDIS from Covent Garden Station and goes above ground with several soldiers, and a freaking mob of Yeti descends on them. Years ago, some snippets from this sequence were returned to the BBC. New Zealand’s TV station had censored the scene, labeling it too violent and frightening, and trimmed the episode, leaving the cuttings behind in their own archive after they returned the film print to the UK, where it was later junked. These censor clips were returned in 2002 and included in a DVD release called Lost in Time. My eyes popped about out of my skull when I saw those too-short sequences.

In 2013, when this story was recovered, restored, and released, I made like Fry from Futurama, shouted “shut up and take my money,” and downloaded it immediately. I watched the second half of part four with my jaw on the floor. I don’t know that there’s a better action sequence in the whole of classic Who. As if all of his other amazing work for the series that we could rewatch didn’t cement Douglas Camfield as the program’s most popular and beloved director.

And does it work for kids, as Lethbridge-Stewart’s soldiers are tracked down and mercilessly, brutally killed by the Yeti? Ours was transfixed. This is really powerful. The last guy with the colonel is dragged away, the Yeti grabbing him by the ankle and tugging him like a rag doll. He was under his blanket, eyes wide with surprise and shock.

Our son revised last night’s mixed opinion. Was this exciting? “YES!” he shouted. He also thinks that Professor Travers is the mystery turncoat. He does turn up again in the end, seemingly controlling the monsters, with a very strange expression on his face. Hmmmm…

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