The Web of Fear is one of the most highly-regarded stories in Doctor Who‘s sixty-year history, and it’s easy to see why. The premise is quintessentially Who: an army of robotic Yetis have taken over the London Underground, and only the Doctor and friends can stop them – and the Great Intelligence controlling the creatures. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln‘s script is the perfect sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, bringing back the elements that worked (the Yeti, the Great Intelligence, Professor Travers) but transporting them to a new time and place. There’s no waiting for the big reveal of who the monsters are – instead we’re treated to one of the best Who openings ever, as a Yeti comes back to life in a museum and attacks the curator. It’s a chilling sequence, with some terrific camera angles and an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Douglas Camfield‘s direction is stellar throughout, with some great shots of the Yeti, some dynamic close-ups and some fun action set-pieces. The lighting is constantly atmospheric, and the underground sets are so good, people actually thought they filmed at real stations! The redesigned Yeti costumes are very menacing (especially the glowing eyes, which work wonders with the low-light black and white cinematography), while Patrick Troughton delivers one of his more sombre performances, albeit not without his usual touch of humour. Nicholas Courtney makes a solid first impression as Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart, while Jack Woolgar delivers a terrific dual performance as Staff Sergeant Arnold.
If there’s one main issue I have with the story, it’s that I don’t think the actual invasion is particularly well-handled. There’s a newspaper stand saying that “Londoners flee” from the Yeti, but there’s no indication of how far the invasion has gotten, how long it’s taken, or even how it started. How did one Yeti turn into so many? What was Travers doing with the technology to reawaken it in the first place? You’d think the writers would use Travers tinkering with alien technology as a key story beat, a follow-on from his recklessness in The Abominable Snowmen, but he’s already realised his mistake and move on before the story even begins. Having said that, The Web of Fear is indisputably a classic Doctor Who serial, a thoroughly enjoyable and atmospheric tale, and well worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.
As for the Blu-ray set itself, this is a marked improvement over the barebones 2014 DVD release. Peter Crocker‘s picture restoration looks great (particularly Episode 1), and while it may not be “proper” HD, the added resolution brings out some of the details in the image, while the contrast looks more dynamic and there’s less compression than on the previous DVD release. Mark Ayres‘ sound restoration is very good as well, although disappointingly a 5.1 surround sound mix is not present on this release – perhaps either due to the condition of the material, or a desire to hold off for a subsequent release. Nevertheless, The Web of Fear has never looked or sounded better than this!
The special features include a new making of documentary Going Underground, which features a nice variety of contributors from across the production. Despite being made under various Covid safety measures, the film doesn’t feel too restrained, with sequences following Frazer Hines (Jamie) exploring a disused tube station, as well as an interview filmed in the USA with actress Tina Packer (Anne Travers). There’s some fun anecdotes – including one humorous story told two very different ways by Frazer Hines and John Levene (Yeti, later Sgt. Benton). Going Underground offers a nice insight into the production process, as well as the story’s discovery and unveiling in 2013. Also included in this two-disc set is a brand-new telesnap reconstruction of the still-missing Episode 3 (which is a marked improvement over the 2014 recon), featuring an optional narrated audio track. There are new commentaries on every episode (as well as the 2004 commentary not included on the 2014 DVD) a photo gallery, PDF scripts and a small featurette on Jack Woolgar but no production subtitles, which will be disappointing for some fans. The original 2013 DVD trailer also isn’t included, although strangely The Missing Years documentary has been added to this release, despite being available on the Lost in Time box set. As far as I can tell, the documentary hasn’t been updated since 2004 and thus feels very out of date all these years later.
This new special edition release also features an animated version of the missing third instalment, produced by Shapeshifter studios with a new 3D motion-capture technique. The animation is available in 4:3 Black and White or 16:9 colour, alongside a recreation of the original 1967 trailer and a Making the Animation featurette, in which Shapeshifter Managing Director David Devjak explains how wonderful and versatile this new animation process is. Unfortunately, the animation itself just doesn’t look very good. There’s more fluid movements than in previous Who animations, but the character models feature poor likenesses, no facial expressions and don’t interact very well with one another on-screen. I appreciate the effort, and I must admit that the 4:3 Black and White version looks marginally better, but I’m really not a fan of this new style.
Overall, The Web of Fear special edition is a mostly strong release from BBC Studios. The animated Episode 3 may be a dud, but the new remaster, commentaries and making-of documentary make this set well worth a purchase – even for those with the 2014 DVD release. Lee Binding‘s artwork on the standard edition DVD and Blu-ray is gorgeous, while the Steelbook artwork looks terrific – particularly when seen in person. For those who don’t own the previous DVD though, this special edition release is a must-buy: The Web of Fear itself is a great story, and this new presentation is absolutely terrific.