This Tom Baker story is a prime candidate for the strangest story ever attempted. Strange because it contains some interesting aspects that could have worked quite well – androids impersonating real life people, an astronaut tricked into betraying his own kind, and an alien race committed to destroying the earth through a hideous virus. It’s pretty standard fare for Doctor Who.
Rather uniquely among the episodes reviewed so far, I had no real prior expectations when it came to watching this adventure from William Hartnell’s first season. Obviously The Daleks had left a lasting impression upon me, but I had been less impressed by The Keys of Marinus and The Aztecs – so really wasn’t sure what to expect.
This story carries novelty value as the one and only time I’ve actually felt embarrassed while watching Doctor Who. On the whole I was quite looking forward to watching The Web Planet – I had vague hopes that it might be similar to Planet of Evil in terms of feel and menace. So when I bought a big stack of DVDs as a Christmas present to myself in late 2010, this was one of the first I popped on. Rather unfortunately I chose to watch the 6 part serial in the living room of my shared accommodation, and didn’t really have a ready made defence when my housemates began ridiculing the costumes and the acting.
I have only the haziest memories of first catching glimpse of this serial – my dad was watching it on UK Gold, who very helpfully liked to insert ad breaks into the middle of 25 minute episodes. Being quite young I was greatly amused by the sight of what I thought then was a filing cabinet (now know was a massive computer) materialising into the middle of what I took to be Ancient Greece. Later researches of course revealed that the serial was none other than The Time Monster and I felt suitably intrigued.
If there were a Doctor Who story-writers’ FAQ then one entry might read like this:
Q: I want to write a story featuring the largest monster ever seen in the show. What should I do?
One of my most enjoyed experiences of watching Doctor Who as a child was the gradual introduction to the ‘Key to Time’ story arc of Season 16. The entire season was given over to the Fourth Doctor tracking down the six segments of the eponymous Key To Time – conveniently one segment per story! The Key was meant to be an extremely powerful artefact that could be used to bring equilibrium to the universe. And thus Tom Baker is dispatched by the White Guardian to assemble the Key so that he can bring order back to the universe.
It is fitting I think to mark the first anniversary of the speculation made fact – when at midnight (or before the embargo in the case of one northern newspaper) the news fans were waiting for was confirmed: nine previously missing episodes of Doctor Who had been recovered, restored and (best of all) released. If one were of an unkind disposition, one would say the finding of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear made for an even better 50th anniversary gift than The Day of the Doctor – I perhaps would not go that far, but I would venture that it was undoubtedly a wonderful anniversary gift to the fans.
I am sure many fans remember the breathtaking moment when the BBC ran with this story. Speculation had been rife, but BBC confirmation that several episodes had been found and would be revealed sent this into overdrive. Like many of those fans, I spent a very long time on Twitter endlessly refreshing and wondering what had been found.
One embargo breaking news item confirmed the good news – The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear had been found. Now … if I’m honest, the first one didn’t catch my imagination at all – I had previously taken no interest in the serial whatsoever. But I still pre-ordered the DVD – simply because I wanted to go through the same experience my dad did when he bought The Tomb of the Cybermen back in 1992.
I’m so very glad I did. Until that point my Troughton collection was rather on small side – partly because (like everyone) there aren’t many serials to go around, but mostly because I hadn’t yet been persuaded of the charms of his era. Rather like with The Claws of Axos, I ran the risk of misjudging an era by a small sample! Watching the sheer genius of Patrick Troughton portraying the Doctor and Salamander changed all of that – I think most fans went through the similar experience of discovering Enemy to be a hitherto unexpected hidden gem.
So hip hip hurrah for 10th October 2013! And here’s hoping that many more hidden gems remain to be found …