Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Web Planet

  • The Web Planet 1:
  • We all know what we think about the Web Planet. Overlong, cheap looking, and over-ambitious. I dunno. As I've said several times before our whole conception of the series is usually wrong. For several years now, I've never watched more than one episode at a time, usually no more than two a day. It's just how the series was designed to be watched (well, with week long breaks in the middle in stead of days, but that's by the by). A six part serial wasn't designed to be watched over two and a half hours, but a month and a half - so complaining that it seems a bit boring when watched consecutively seems to miss the point. In deed, I think it was an early watch of the Web Planet that drove this home to me. I started to get bored round about episode four. There aren't a vast amount of stories that can sustain that amount of time, so no wonder.Seen episodically - well, it'll be interesting. This is one of the stories I've been looking forward to. It's never been a major favourite of mine, but I haven't seen it for years, and I think, having liked the scale of DIOE I might find this rather good.Certainly the first episode is excellent. It's more than a little disturbing and strange, especially after the joyful exuberance of the Romans. After having had a story so lightweight and jolly, the sudden shift to something psychologically disturbing jars wonderfully. There's a real sense of oddness, or alieness if you like. The lack of any real music bar that with the title cards is unusual, and the bizarre chirping, whistling noises are sufficiently unusual and oppresive to be really rather creepy.In fact, the whole episode is reminiscent of the Edge of Destruction. There's a real sense of the crew being threatened and attacked by something powerful, unseen, and incomprehensible. In deed, the seemingly meaningless barrage of threat (webs, sounds, Barbara's levitating arm, the acid, etc.) disturb greatly as they seem supernatural and disconnected (like, say, the original film version of the Haunting - the terrors that torment in that: loud thuds, etc. are completely meaningless. There's no obvious explanation of what it could possibly be, or what it means. It doesn't seem to be logical for ghosts to do. This is precisely why it's terrifying. We cannot figure out what it is or what it does. Its a barrage of oppression and intimidation). This is the scariest, oddest episode in some time.Out of nowhere, the sense of a linked series of journeys is back, with Vicki still in the process of being introduced, detailing her world in a lovely scene with Barbara; and Barbara's gift from Nero playing a vital part in the plot. Strange that the Doctor has turned into a bit of a loon this week (I've just been watching the DIOE commentary, and can see him in the background - the severe intellectual therein isn't exactly present after a mere three stories). And strange that the TARDIS has suddenly picked up an equipment area we ain't seen before.The Zarbi aren't as bad as I remember - sure the legs are a bit offputting, and the arms could do more, but it is a nice design. And it really feels like an alien world for the first time. No sign of anything remotely human, the clear uniqueness of the planet really singles the TARDIS crew out, increasing the sense of oppression - they don't belong here, this place works by different rules.A genuinely creepy and unnerving episode then. The cliffhanger is one of the best so far, with each of the regular's getting their own distinct cliffhanger. Symptomatic of the ambition that the received view suggests hampers the serial, I suppose, especially since Ian's capture in web is a bit awkwardly realised. But you've got to admire the effort - especially seeing that criticising a Who episode for poor effects seems a particularly pointless thing to do. I have a sneaking feeling I'm going to like this one.

    Web Planet 2:The main thing that's struck me over the past eight episodes or so is this: sod any talk about a 'Beginning box set'. We've had digitally remastered versions of them for some time now. This is where we need the money spent. The Rescue, The Romans and the Web Planet. This episode in particular is in atrocious quality, some detail impossible to see, and a clearly scratchy print. If anyone doubts the wonders the RT do, show them this and show them the remastered Unearthly Child - just to demonstrate how far it goes on video alone!Besides that, what about the episode itself? It's a bit of a letdown after yesterday's frankly. The incomprehensible oddness of the story is getting more clearly defined, so it loses it's mystery and creepiness. Suddenly the disturbing controlling force of the first episode becomes a bunch of ants. Who can't talk. Whilst ok as a concept in itself, combined with the pacing of the episode, this is what lets it down. The whole episode is terribly slow, with the entire contents - for three of the crew at least - being describable as: the Zarbi capture them and take them to there base. Vicki quite literally does nothing (I think 'Ian!' is practically her only line), whereas the Doctor and Ian faff around for a bit before being captured themselves. It's hard to take their capture by the Zarbi terribly seriously, as they seem to be rather feckless, vague creatures, lacking in inelligence - exactly like ants, I suppose. There doesn't seem to be a specific plan, or logic to what's going on and the incomprehesibility of the Zarbi themselves doesn't help. It's a nice idea having the crew unable to communicate, but it does make the monsters rather hard to respond to from a viewers perspective. With no obvious intelligence, or threat, it's had to see why we should worry for the Doctor and his crew - and they are quite frankly tedious to watch. One really does dread the concept of further episodes of them shoving the regulars into corners and twittering at them with no particular aim or purpose. Of course, the very last moment of the episode, the fantastic cliffhanger, belies this somewhat. The strange, ethereal voice does imply some organization to the Zarbi, some focus and direction to the plot that had not previously been apparent. But this turnaround late in the day should not be used to justify the aimlessness of the first twenty four minutes or so.Barbara does get the only interesting bit of the plot - meeting the Menoptera (incidentally, I can't give a toss about how their names are properly spelt according to what scrap of paper from the production office turned up this week). If you can forgive the time wasting rambling padding of the episode, the continued attempts to make something truly alien are worthy of much praise. The Menoptera do not move, or talk like us. Their communications devices do not remotely resemble ours. There is something slightly half hearted about some of it though - it's all very well flapping your arms about, and rocking like your on a boat, but the lower halfs of the bodies are usually very much human, as if the legs have forgotten that they are supposed to be from a different planet. With the time and the resources, it would have been hard to do any different I suppose, good movement work takes time, but it's a shame. The costume and makeup are superb, however.The stuff with the Menoptera does slightly counteract the problems of the other threads - their defeat by the Zarbi is admirably brutal (one of the Zarbi walks over a Menoptera wing tearing it with his feet as if it isn't there). And the 'hobbling' of another at the end is nasty. Shame that the design of the Zarbi, and the Venom Grub makes it difficult to pull off a good fight scene, and it does seem rather inexpertly done and messy.So all in all, a grave disappointment after a terrific first part. But a very creepy voice in the dying seconds makes me feel there's still hope yet.

    Ultimate Foe
    I love the cliffhanger to Part's very spooky, as you watch the tube lower over the Doctor's head. The Menoptera get such awful things happening to them throughout the story (the worst is yet to come I think), and it does help add a lot of threat to the Zarbi.I love the planet, even if it is all polystyrene rocks and painted back drops. The effect on the camera to show the heat is excellent as well.I only saw this for the first time last year (the first time I brought an NTSC Who video),a nd was very impressed by it... a tad slow, but lots of ideas and a great plot. I hope you like the rest.

    odoru tardis
    I had been waiting for your reviews of Web Planet. Still thoroughly enjoying your efforts, Dorney. Your reviews have become nice andsubstantial, and I have to say I like the way they focus on the storyand don't go too much into acting, sets, etc.Quote:
    The main thing that's struck me over the past eight episodes or so is this: sod any talkabout a 'Beginning box set'. We've had digitally remastered versions of them for sometime now. This is where we need the money spent. The Rescue, The Romans and theWeb Planet.
    Well, I've suggested a Rescue/Romans/Web Planet boxset (but the ideadidn't seem to catch on.) As I don't have remastered versions of the firstthree stories, I still want the Beginning more (by a hair.) I get giddy at thethought of any of the B&W's coming out in their restored glory, though.So more, please. Sooner and faster.

  • Dorney
    Seeing as I write plays, story is always what interests me most. I like a well told story. Now you mention it, I haven't really covered the acting that much, which suprises me as I also act. Maybe it's just cos I've found it all fairly good to acceptable so far. Hartnell is charismatic, has vast rage and can sure work a camera, the rest of the regulars are fine (CAF doesn't get a good character to play, but she gives it her best shot).If there is a truly atrocious or excellent performance, I'm going to mention it.The sets, costumes, etc. usually don't bother me - and it does help that they can be roundly split into two types, good, if a little stagey; unconvincing; usually going respectively with the historicals and the sci-fi. But neither are terribly effective by today's standards, so judging them on that basis seems to me a waste of time.Indeed, my standard defence for the lame sfx and wobbly set quips are that we have to suspend our disbelief. We know they're not on an alien planet and these aren't real spaceships. Just because a CGI X-Wing looks more realistic than the Dalek spacecraft doesn't make this less fundamentally true. If, however, you need all the photo-realistic detail before you are prepared to make the imaginitive leap into pretending it is real, doesn't that suggest a paucity of imagination? That you need more help before you can surrended to the story? Likewise the sets. Do they have to look 100% real before you are prepared to buy what the programme makers are selling?So, generally, assume all acting is adequate or good unless otherwise stated. Likewise on the sets.On a further note, my friend, mentioned many moons above, who borrowed the first season, has now watched An Unearthly Child. I'm trying to get some more detailed thoughts from him, but so far his main opinion is that 1) He is amazed how unlikeable the Doctor is and 2) as an Asian male, he is thoroughly chuffed that the first director was too.Anyway, enough waffle. I'll be back tomorrow.

  • SHELEN London England
    Dorney, do you have any normal friends or a life at all?

    I enjoyed Web Planet, when I went through all the Vicki stories for research last year. I think it's main crime in fandom's eyes is not being quite as convincing as the drawings and descriptions in Bill Strutton's novelisation! Oh and the hoppity Optera!
  • Dorney
    Dorney, do you have any normal friends or a life at all?
    None at all.I'm an actor and writer so I have a lot of free time on my hands. However, I do usually combine my episode watching with my breakfast, to save on time.I've been stuck in a bit today, with the weather though...So most of my friends are actors, so not what you'd consider normal. And my life varies from moment to moment - I've had a quiet patch for the last month or so...

  • Dorney
    Web Planet 3:Substantially better than the last episode, but the Zarbi still seem to be the major problem. They're just not terribly imposing. They're awkward and ungainly, and they come across as just a bunch of dumb animals, frankly. Not very threatening at all. As a result it's hard to tell how they managed to dominate the planet - Ian can knock one over without too much struggle and it can't get up again. You get the sense that all the Menoptra need is a giant kettle and they'd be fine.The Animus is intriguing and creepy, but it's very intangible nature hardly helps. The story is quite interesting, but we need a genuine threat! Not a bunch of ants who don't seem to know a damn thing, and run away scared at a dead spider! It really needs some incidental music to give it some weight.If we ignore all that - how's the story itself going. Well, Vicki still hasn't had anything to do, and the Dr's left to have dramatic duologues into, as he says, a hairdryer. Barbara is, of course, not here. I think that this is the best use of a regular's holiday period. None of the pretence that she's actually there, just hidden away, or apart (like the clumsy film inserts of Reign, or the contrivance of Sensorites). Her non-appearance is used as a motivating factor for the plot. Ian fares better, but the awkwardness of the Zarbi still negates any dramatic weight.You see, I'm trying to like this story, I really am, I think it's conceptually intriguing. It's just very difficult to ignore how little weight it is being given by the production values. I don't mind the Zarbi costumes, or the sets, or any of that - it's more how they impinge on the storytelling. We begin to get a sense of what's going on on this planet. There's a potentially interesting idea that it's hard to tell who is good and who is bad, but this is negated by the script with the Doctor immediately going against the Animus (surely it would have been more interesting if he didn't realise the Animus was the true invader and worked with him?)It's all a bit slow so far, but it's important to remember that this still hasn't become the action adventure show yet. It's about exploration now, and the story's attempts to create a disconcertingly alien world are very effective. Shame it's not terribly dramatic yet, but it is interesting.

  • Dorney
    Web Planet 4:You know, it's a real shame that the production of this one really lets it down - not so much the costumes, or the design as such, just the way this all impinges on the storytelling. The awkwardness of the Zarbi means they can't be used effectively in the fights and chases; the balletic grace of the Menoptera means they can't move terribly quickly - as a result, set piece battles like those at the end of this episode feels terribly undramatic, slow stagey and not particularly thrilling. Likewise the lack of incidental music doesn't really add anything, just takes away drama.It's a shame really because the story proper is getting quite interesting. The Animus has gone from being mildy creepy to out and out menacing with threats to kill Vicki. And we begin to really appreciate how powerful this unseen creature is - drawing in energy through acid lakes. As the adventure takes place over three different areas, dealing with several different races, it's hard not to admire the scope. Like DIOE this is a story that takes advantage of the six part length to really explore its world, rather than just pad out the story (though both are guilty of that at points, here much more so). Both are epics in the truest sense. It is however a shame that the Doctor and Vicki have remained trapped in pretty much the same spot for two and a half episodes, but you takes what you can.In fact, and this is going to sound like the most fatuous comparison ever, this sort of reminds me of a really really really low budget Lord of the Rings. The Menoptera are the Fellowship, the Animus is Sauron. I would go on, but the comparison isn't actually all that great. The relation is that we have a growing evil, largely unseen, trying to extend its Talons over the world, sending out its armies. OK, it is rather a daft comparison, but it goes some way to explaining the appeal of the story. It's a simple tale of war - where DIOE gains for placing this in a recognizable context, we have no such luck here. In deed, my one main gripe about LOTR is its ignoring of its villain (I never really got a sense of who this guy was beyond a stereotyped one word character note of: evil - he was just the bad guy, and we never even really saw him). Amazingly, for me at least, the Web Planet, by giving an identity to the Animus, even if not a particularly complex one, scores higher for me. In this field if nothing else.The story is beginning to gain focus with the invading Menoptera, but Ian, the Dr and Vicki are still slightly treading water. The Doctor and Vicki are merely trying to stay alive from one moment to the next without a real aim; and Ian is rather sidelined in this episode by being sent of with the bizarre Optera. There's a lack of a strong narrative drive in these threads - Ian meets the Optera by chance, for example. There's no direction in the non-Barbara threads (though Ian is at least doing something - it isn't clear yet if this is mere window-dressing or if it has a plot function).Having said all that, I'm not bored yet. It's relatively enjoyable, and I find it hard to define why. I'm going to have to have a bit of a think about this...

  • Dorney:
  • Well, I had a bit of time off over the weekend - went to see a superb play called the Pillowman on Saturday much recommended - and have to be fairly swift today.
  • Web Planet 5:Couple of oddities: why do the Menoptra need codewords? What do they think Hilio is, a Zarbi in disguise? Also considering these temples are so mysterious and hard to find that everyone thinks they've been lost isn't it a bit strange that the Doctor can find one just by going for a quick stroll?To be honest, I don't have much to add about this episode. It's all amiable enough - again, hugely padded, with none of the threads really going terribly far. The Ian thread is perhaps most interesting as it does at least seem like his part of the adventure is arduous, and has some cost - Nemini's death is very unpleasant. It is all faintly reminiscent of the Daleks 5-7 though (admittedly, cut a bit tighter). However, we do need to feel that the Animus is a dangerous enemy and difficult to overthrow and this sort of helps.Having said all that, it's a very quiet episode without any real sense of threat - outside of the reprise and the cliffhanger we hear nothing from the Animus and only meet the tame Zarbi. Therefore it is a little hard to get too excited about it.If I like the story, which I still sort of do, it must be because of its scope, its determination to be epic. It does feel like an entire new world, with layers and depth. These aren't aliens as metaphors for us. I suppose it's because at this moment the series is less about adventure than exploration.Ironically, I'm reading 20,000 leagues under the sea at the moment, and rather liking it. I wonder if it draws from the same well - the book is rather episodic and frankly lacking in plot, but its chief joy is in the detailing of an unknown world and exploration.So I like the Web Planet because it has an adequate plot to keep me interested, grand scale (everything is given weight here, the story is important) and because of a sense of wonder. Perhaps. I really don't know.Not much help am I?
  • Web Planet 6:Isn't it fab? Ian's trekked underground for nearly two episodes, and arrives just in time to do nothing. It does neatly demonstrate that the guy's been trapped in a storyline cul de sac. One question that no-one ever asks though - precisely what is he planning to do when he reaches the Animus? Is he going to wrestle with it or something?Once again, one character is killed and Richard Martin chooses to stay with the corpse rather than cut away (he does the same with Nemini in episode five). It's scenes like this that prevent this story from being the flop of its reputation - the determination that this is a story with weight and consequences. It is not an adventure, it is a journey. The fight has a cost. It's nice to see that the show isn't shying away from this, like modern kids shows would do. People fight and people die. The lack of a recognizable threat, or context perhaps prevents this story from working as well as DIOE did, but shots like this show that it has similar concerns. It is not a fantasy show, if you like.Are the final episodes underrunning or what? This is the third story in four that has a rather long epilogue sequence. Admittedly, DIOE really needed it, but not sure what it adds here. It does really point out that there's not a great deal of distance for this episode to go - we know how the Animus is going to be defeated half way through part five, this episode is all about putting that into action - and it would be much simpler but for a barking and out of character bit of stupidity from Vicki. So it doesn't come as a suprise that that defeat doesn't exactly take long. The final victory is terribly disappointing and rushed - especially seeing that the Animus prop is rather appealing, and combined with the excellent voice work is rather a fetching villainess. Maybe it should have arrived in episode five, and a twist or two added in its defeat. As it is, defeat by technobabble is not terribly great. It's a bit odd that Barbara gets to defeat the Animus - in the series context it's usually Ian or the Doctor. But this seems only fair, as she's the most proactive regular in the story - despite being on holiday one week.The final sequence, bar the waffling to get the episode to length, is rather sweet. I may be mad, but I like the Optera, their odd voices and hopping. They're fun. Yes, you can't take them seriously, but I very much doubt you're really supposed to. To see them joyfulling gallavanting around and the Menoptera playing with the docile Zarbi and grubs is really great. It shows how much the world has changed already; a real example of vanquished evil. So all in all, strangely enjoyable. Cheap as hell and weirdly designed, padded beyond belief; but nonetheless entertaining and epic - there's nothing wrong with the plot particularly, and the attempts to show truly alien races and cultures cannot fail to impress, even if it all looks cheap now. There's a conviction to the storytelling and production that makes this story good, solid Who. Not a classic by any means, but enjoyable, smart and serious, and better than its rep. Honest.

1 comment:

  1. Odd I should talk about the Pillowman there. The lead in that was the young David Tennant. Ah, the benefits of hindsight...