Twining's Tea, Rolls Royce, Dyson, Kit Kat, FedEx and Apple Computers; a selection of reliable and trusted products/brands with a heritage - not matter how short in the case of technology companies - that defy criticism and can be regarded as 'definitive' within their marketplace. They are purveyors of a quality, inherent temerity and astute professionalism that are embraced by a discerning audience, and to which you can add DOCTOR WHO - THE WEB OF FEAR DVD (released 24 February 2014 by from BBC WORLDWIDE. Previously released online via iTunes from 11 October 2013).
A six-part, black & white grainy release that, like those iconic global companies, defy criticism and, nearly 46 years on, defines the DOCTOR WHO brand. It would be criminal for DOCTOR WHO fans not have THE WEB OF FEAR on their DVD shelf. And even with one (the third) of the six episodes remaining errant, it unequivocally commands attention.
It's a prerequisite whether your merely a devotee of the CGI-laden, fast-paced, loud NEW SERIES episodes or the perceptively engaging, laconic and cerebral CLASSIC SERIES adventures, and even without the (usual) 'value added material' (read: extra content, such as "a making of." documentary, cast & crew commentary, 'Now and then' location documentary, or pdf documentation) that we've become accustomed to Patrick Troughton's second encounter with robotic Yeti drones controlled by the Great Intelligence remains magical, beguiling and completely ravishing.
(Rapidly) Released by BBC WORLDWIDE as part of their persistent commitment to locate & restore "lost" episodes, DOCTOR WHO - THE WEB OF FEAR has had an almost mythical status over the decades since its original 1968 broadcast. It had a winning recipe; Troughton's manipulative Imp, Nicholas Courtney's first appearance as Lethbridge-Stewart, the return of the relentless Yeti, and a unassailable set design of the London Underground that even 'fooled' that organisation in thinking the somehow the DOCTOR WHO film crew had infiltrated their tunnel system overnight without permission.
Certainly, and I hope to speak for the majority of DOCTOR WHO fans, a release replete with 'value added material' should have been issued even if the DVD format was postponed until late 2014 or, even, 2015. A single-disc, 'vanilla' version for this iconic story is a disservice but, however, lends itself to a financially-insightful 'special edition' release in 10-years' time, and, with that said, let's hope that a Toby Hadoke-hosted studio commentary track will be shortly recorded by the (aging) cast & crew.
Skipping over episode one as its previously released as part of the highly recommended BBC DVD boxset, DOCTOR WHO - LOST IN TIME (2004), what can you expect from THE WEB OF FEAR's remaining content?
Following his tour de force in the previous weeks story, DOCTOR WHO - THE ENEMY OF THE WORLD, Patrick Troughton's noticeably absent in episode two (no doubt taking a well-earned two week holiday from recording) and the plotting revolves around the Doctor's companions, Victoria & Jamie, building relationships with the 'base under siege' personnel and being reunited with Professor Travers (with whom they had first met over 40-years previous during the incident at Detsen Monastery [Tibet]. This was set in 1935, and, therefore, it can be certain that events of THE WEB OF FEAR take place in 1975 or soon after. However, this story's Incident Room's animated Underground map shows Aldersgate station which was renamed Barbican station on 1 December 1968). Effectively, it's a "Doctor-lite" episode but is as relentless, absorbing and thrilling, and it even contains a fleeting, tantalising glimpse of Courtney's military boot.
Still 'missing' (or was it recovered from the Nigerian rely station storeroom but was too damaged to restore?), episode three should have been animated but has the indignity of being represented by a series of off-screen photographs (known as 'telesnaps') accompanied with a restored (by Mark Ayres) audio soundtrack. LOOK OUT FOR: Private Evans purchases a chocolate bar from an Underground station's vending machine. The bar's brand is CAMFIELD'S as an appreciative acknowledgement to the story's director, Douglas Camfield. LOOK OUT FOR: A number of the 'telesnaps' are flipped horizontally in error, frequently showing Nicholas Courtney's facial 'pimple' sometimes either on his left-hand (correct placement) or right-hand cheek.
If there was one of the six episodes that characterises THE WEB OF FEAR it would be its fourth. Starting with the chilling abduction of Travers at the claws of the Great Intelligence's drones, there is a subtlety that may require a second viewing (Camfield's superb direction of not only character development & motivation [see Staff Sgt Arnold's ephemeral wry smile hints at his true ambition], action scenes [see (1) the siege of Covent Garden, (2) the Doctor's comical thumping attempt to undermine a robotic Yeti, and (3) the horror of witnessing Lane's cobweb entombed gasmask as he is retrieved from the Yeti attack] and special effect model-work ).
Jack Watling's performance as Professor Travers' mental possession by the Intelligence is the highlight of episode five. Camfield's direction has Watling echoing the movements of the Yeti themselves; the actor's hands mimic the powerfully articulate talons of the creatures as if he had been afflicted with a painful arthritic attack.
Stunning as episode six's denouement is it is the hapless military Driver, Evans (actor, Derek Pollitt) that steals the episode with his confrontation of the Intelligence's aides. This carefree disregard of his potentially life-threatening predicament is initiated with a simple "Hello" as the Yeti tower above him and continues as he attempts to rationalise with the single-objective robots with a charade-like 'driving' hand-movement that had become a running gag throughout his five episodes.
Overall, the restoration is clinically impressive and so clear that you can, during the attack in Covent Garden you can see the zip tags on the reverse of the Yeti costumes.
Like FORREST GUMP's chocolate box assertion that ".you never know what you're going to get." could be assigned to DOCTOR WHO - THE WEB OF FEAR. Undoubtedly, every episode is singular; perfectly-formed, tautly-directed and hand-crafted that delivers an unique exposition that remained true to the essence Sidney Newman's original 1963 conceit and remains as consistent as today's NEW SERIES values and ambitions.
DOCTOR WHO - THE WEB OF FEAR is not an essential purchase for fans but 'the essential' purchase.