The Web of Fear

This story is not known to exist in its original format
(6 black-and-white 25-minute TV episodes)
in its entirety.

Region 1

NEW for
Apr. 22, 2014!
Region 2

NEW for
Feb. 24, 2014!
CD Audio - 3 discs

(Doctor Who Story No. 41, starring Patrick Troughton)
  • written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln
  • directed by Douglas Camfield
  • produced by Peter Bryant
  • featuring library music tracks
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Growing wisps of web in space ensnare the TARDIS, forcing the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria into a nightmare in the London Underground subway train system. The army is working with Professor Travers and his daughter Anne to combat the spread of the Web over the city, suspecting that the Yeti are once more involved. As their every move to keep the tunnels clear is thwarted, they know there is a traitor in their midst. Can it be Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, arriving late to take charge?

The DVD's include:

  • Five digitally remastered complete original episodes! (#1,2, 4,5,6)
  • A "telesnap" recreation of episode 3 using the original TV audio over a montage of still images.
  • "Also Available" trailer for "The Enemy of the World" (the previous story) (1 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Director Douglas Camfield returns to Doctor Who for the first time since "The Dalek Masterplan" (story no. 21) to oversee one of the most mythologically important stories of the series. The results are excellent. It isn't too surprising then, that so many clips from episode one (the only episode known to exist for many years) pop up so frequently in nostalgic documentaries and featurettes about this era of Doctor Who.

Background music has a tendency to upstage dialogue in some of Camfield's productions, and the first episode of "The Web of Fear" dances on the threshold of good taste in music volume. Back when the only way to view the episode was to get a copy from another fan, who got his copy from another fan, who got her copy from another fan..... etc., the fragile sound suffered many generation drops, and the problems were unfortunately magnified.

The story soundtrack on CD audio, however, is a vast improvement and does not appear to have any real problems. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand, and of course Frazer Hines is on hand as narrator to explain all the action. He gets into it emotionally, almost like a sportscaster, and his enthusiasm becomes contagious. This is great stuff. How much of the increase in sound quality is due to Mark Ayres superb re-mastering techniques? This great audio now graces the episode's release on VHS video and DVD. Give thanks and enjoy.

The TARDIS sees more action in this first half-hour than anywhere else in the Troughton era, bar episode one of "The Mind Robber" (story no. 45) and episode ten of "The War Games" (story no. 50), possibly another reason why it remains so attractive to producers searching the archives for good flashback material. It has perhaps a confusing start in having to clean up the loose ends of "The Enemy of the World" (the previous story), but before the first scene is finished, the Doctor and his friends have whetted the audience's appetite for exploring a new wondrous location in hopes of discovering a great adventure. All the right stuff! Sound re-mastering removes much of the initial confusion, as dialogue materializes where only noise and shouting were audible before, and a single quick sentence from Frazer puts it all in perspective right away.

Travers' scene in the museum is a nice little piece, setting up a wonderful atmosphere for the story and linking it to its prequel, "The Abominable Snowmen" (story no. 38). The return of the Yeti is rapid indeed, not wasting any time waiting for the end of the first episode like so many of the Dalek stories. Jack Watling's reinterpretation of the older Professor Travers is a joy to behold, cantankerous and absent-minded and spot-on with comic timing. The music for this scene starts and ends superbly, providing the atmosphere of a classic old horror flick, but the middle of the piece, looped no less than three times in a row, gets a bit silly as its high pitched lead note climbs higher and higher, fighting the dialogue and nearly destroying the atmosphere. Mark Ayres' remastering manages to put the music back in its place, where it can enhance without bludgeoning. As good as this music works on its own in this story, perhaps it is significant to note that it was also used almost exclusively in the three previous episodes of Doctor Who: "The Enemy of the World" episodes 4, 5, and 6. Perhaps it is getting a bit too repetitious?

The absence of a proper audio/visual materialization for the police box is forgivable, thanks to good story beats and dialogue that make the concept of the TARDIS plain for new and casual viewers. The Yeti have many new tricks up their sleeves for this story, allowing the investigations of the Doctor and his friends to remain fresh, furthering their knowledge, and focusing on exploration even more so than in their previous Tibetan story. The base-defense formula is back, coupled with the dynamics of a "bottle-story", all of which work well thanks to a good script, great actors playing likeable recurring characters, and a master director.

Unfortunately, the telecine insert of the Doctor's first meeting with Nicholas Courtney's Lethbridge-Stewart is merely a figment of Terrance Dicks' novelization. While in some ways this off-screen entrance for the series' most important recurring supporting character is most disappointing, it opens the door of another interesting set of possibilities. Is it really the first meeting of the Doctor and the soon-to-be Brigadier? Perhaps it is so only from Lethbridge-Stewart's point of view. After all, the time-traveling first Doctor has already met him across the scanner screen in "The Three Doctors" (story no. 65), not to mention face-to-face in "The Five Doctors" (story no. 130). What indeed is the first meeting from the Doctor's point of view? Perhaps they recognized each other already when they did meet here in this story..... Then again perhaps not. Haisman and Lincoln have set up Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart to be a major suspect. The Doctor really doesn't seem to know him, or at least trust that he isn't under the control of the enemy, in this adventure. Haisman and Lincoln do such a superb job of spreading suspicion onto practically every character that it doesn't make much difference - the "Who done it? Could it be....?" question will still bite and confound cast and audience alike until the end.

Episode two is perhaps the weakest of the six episodes, what with neither the Doctor nor Lethbridge-Stewart on hand, but Jamie and Victoria get to reunite with Travers, and the different viewpoints of soldiering held by likeable old Staff Sergeant Arnold (an exquisitely unique character in terms of UNIT stories, expertly played by Jack Woolgar) and the newly introduced Private/Driver Evans keep the story interesting, as do some of the team's discoveries. The episode also features a very effective, gripping battle-sequence that skyrockets the sense of menace surrounding the Yeti, and the choice of music here ("Spine Chillers" by composer Edwin Braden) perfectly amplifies horror, hopelessness, and tension all at once. Corporal Blake and Craftsman Weams have one of the funniest soldiering scenes in all of Doctor Who, as they shoot the breeze and speculate on where the Yeti menace came from. The weakest episode is still quite strong.

"Doctor, you'd better stay here and get on with your tinkering."

The atmosphere that we've all come to enjoy in the UNIT stories is most definitely present in episode three and beyond. Lethbridge-Stewart takes a scene or two to grow from latest new suspect into taking over the role of lead local good-guy from Captain Knight / Professor Travers, and in comparison to them, and Leader Clent, Giles Kent, Professor Parry, Khrisong, Robson, and Jarvis Bennett, how can he not be the favourite to fill this archetypal role in all of season five's offerings?

Episode Four delivers a lot of plot-impacting action, and with Douglas Camfield in the director's chair, it appears to have been exceptionally good considering the BBC's budget. The sheer energy in the sound track speaks volumes to this effect. Episode Four delivers a lot of plot-impacting action, and with Douglas Camfield in the director's chair, the film sequences turn out to be exceptionally good considering the BBC's budget. Smartly, Camfield seems to have arranged that most action sequences throughout the story will be shot on film, where single camera blocking and precise editing turn out the best results. There are still a few action sequences taped in real time in the TV studio which are of a lesser calibre, but these still work well enough in context. And then there's the audio component - The sheer energy in the sound track speaks volumes to the impact of action sequences and tense scenes.

Mystery and tension continue to mount in the final two episodes, as Patrick Troughton's Doctor shifts more and more towards his devious side. A very satisfying set of revelations, character resolutions, and unusual action brings the adventure to a dramatically satisfying bang of a conclusion.

2014 DVD

We Doctor Who fans have become fairly well spoiled in terms of the lavish bonus features that accompany most DVD releases of this show, when so many other shows feature plain episodes and nothing else. Well, the newly discovered episodes of "The Web of Fear" are coming to us in a fairly plain form this time. They've been given a good restoration and clean-up, and a simple but effective "telesnap"-style recreation of episode three allows us to watch the entire story. That's about it for this release.

There is a bit more "out there" however. Episode One was released previously with an audio commentary by actress Deborah Watling (Victoria), producer Derrick Sherwin, and moderator Gary Russell. To listen to that, you'll have to go back to the 2004 "Lost in Time" box set though. See below for details.

Personally, I'm not going to be too hard on anyone for the plainness of the 2014 release, but rather grateful that other releases have given us so much. I think we have to recognize that most of the special features were put together from interviews planned far in advance.... For example, it is clear that Edward Burnham was interviewed once in an outdoor garden and the footage used in the making-of documentaries for both "The Invasion" (story no. 46) and "Robot" (story no. 75), and whoever interviewed him knew it was best to get his take on both of those stories that he had participated in. But the bonus feature team probably hadn't planned to ask participants all that much about lost episodes, and I'm guessing the interview footage cupboard is pretty bare by now, everything used up elsewhere. Plus, I half-suspect that many of the unofficial "Restoration Team" members are feeling a bit burnt out and keen to move on to other things.

While I do suspect that a Special Edition of this story with many more special features may indeed come out at some point, I don't think it will be soon. And besides, "The Web of Fear" is such a classic, I don't mind so much if I end up double-dipping on this one.

"The Web of Fear" is a true classic, and one of the very best of the Troughton Era, though I think "The Tomb of the Cybermen" (story no. 37) is still better. Though a case could be fairly easily made to give this story absolute top rank among all of Troughton's Doctor Who work, it does still embrace the horror genre a bit too much for my personal tastes, and I think third place still feels about right for it. At any rate, the seed of the UNIT formula was firmly planted here by Haisman, Lincoln, Camfield and Co., to sprout and bloom later on, a more interesting legacy than the Yeti themselves.....

"The Web of Fear" is not known to exist in its original format (6 black-and-white 25-minute TV episodes) in its entirety.

But, four more episodes have just been rediscovered by the BBC!

This now allows five existing episodes from this story (#1,2, 4,5,6) to come to DVD for 2014:

Region 1 U.S.

NEW for
Apr. 22, 2014!
Region 1 Canada

NEW for
Apr. 22, 2014!
Region 2 U.K.

NEW for
Feb. 24, 2014!

The DVD's include:

  • Five digitally remastered complete original episodes! (#1,2, 4,5,6)
  • A "telesnap" recreation of episode 3 using the original TV audio
    over a montage of still images.
  • "Also Available" trailer for "The Enemy of the World" (the previous story) (1 min.)

Doctor Who: Lost in Time - Patrick Troughton
2 DVD discs

(also included in Lost in Time Boxed Sets)

Coverage on The Web of Fear includes:
  • Episode 1
    • (with optional commentary by actress Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), story editor Derrick Sherwin, and moderator Gary Russell)
  • censor clips from episodes 2, 4 & 5 with full sound
More details & buying options for "Lost in Time" DVD's
Audio CD - Doctor Who - The Web of Fear (3 discs).

This audio CD set features the complete audio tracks of all 6 television episodes of this story, narrated by actor Frazer Hines (who also played Jamie) to help listeners follow what used to be visual aspects of the story. This version is playable in any normal audio CD player.
Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror - Collectors' Edition

2 VHS video tapes

Coverage on The Web of Fear includes:
  • One complete episode:
    • Episode 1
    • short clips from episodes 2 & 4
More details & buying options for missing episode VHS videos
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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Fury From the Deep"

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