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.
In terms of storyline it isn’t actually anything unusual or bad – and I would be intrigued to watch the story in proper sequence having watched all the prior episodes to this one (which, with the exception of Marco Polo, is entirely feasible). For me, one of the biggest challenges in watching William Hartnell as the Doctor was the failure to see his character or relationship with the TARDIS crew develop over time – it’s harder to have the same attachment to the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vikki, as one would to the Doctor with Sarah-Jane Smith. I think this is certainly true here – when I watched The Web Planet I certainly had less affection for the characters, and especially for Vikki, who is often borderline annoying!
But even allowing for all of this, it is very difficult to get past the costumes, props, and sets. Yes, I know it was 1965 and they hadn’t much budget or the means of spectacular special effects – but The Web Planet takes the deficiencies of the era to a whole new level of cringeworthiness. Particular favourites are the Zarbi – oversized ants with two human legs to compliment the four fake plastic ones; the fuzzy suits of the Menoptera; and the impression that their cousins the Optera are basically gigantic sleeping bags. When two Menoptera appeared in the background of An Adventure in Space and Time I’m not sure whether the fan reaction was fond reminiscence or shame by association. And the less that is said about their voices, frankly, is for the better.
So sadly this story is deservedly the worst Hartnell. But it is certainly a story that may gain better enjoyment when watching Season Two as a whole, as I may well do someday. I think it says a lot that I have greater patience for the known limitations of Hartnell’s second season, than for the obvious failings of Doctor Who in the 1980s.