One Of Doctor Who's Creepiest Stories Is Now On DVD

The 1967 Doctor Who story "The Web of Fear" is best remembered as the first appearance of Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart, the Doctor's steadfast friend. But now that it's finally on DVD, the thing you'll remember most about it is how skin-crawling the whole thing is.


It was a huge big deal last fall when "Web of Fear" and "Enemy of the World" were rediscovered, and made available on iTunes pretty much immediately after the announcement. These are two stories from one of the most under-represented years of Doctor Who — 1967's "monster season" which until recently consisted of "Tomb of the Cybermen" and a few incomplete tales.

Of the two stories, "Web of Fear" holds together amazingly well. ("Enemy of the World" turns into a sloggy mess after a bravura first episode, similar to writer David Whitaker's other late Who story, "Ambassadors of Death." But that's a topic for another day.) In any case, "Web of Fear" is up there with "Tomb" and a few other Troughton stories, that still pack a punch 45 years later.

In "Web of Fear," the Doctor has a rematch with the Great Intelligence, which he faced in "The Abominable Snowmen" and a few recent Matt Smith stories. The Intelligence is once again using an army of yeti to terrorize people — but this time it's in 1960s London. They've taken over the subway system and driven everybody out of town. Except a plucky band of soldiers, led by Lethbridge-Stewart.

Legend has it, the London Underground refused to let the BBC film this story in actual subway tunnels — so they built their own. And the tunnels they built were so realistic, the Underground complained about unauthorized filming on their property. In any case, the dark disused subway stations and tunnels are endlessly scary and atmospheric. And even though this is the first Who story to give the Doctor actual soldiers to team up with (apart from "The War Machines") the Army feels outclassed and on the run from the beginning.

In fact, Lethbridge-Stewart isn't the smirking master of sang froid that you remember from the Pertwee era — he's twitchy, jumping at his own shadow, on the edge of losing his nerve. It's a version of the character that's actually quite startling to see, after years of the later, suaver version.


And yes, the yeti look sort of like owlbears and are a bit cuddly — until you see them advancing remorselessly through the dark tunnels, and nothing can stop them, and they're spreading a toxic web of nasty ick everywhere they go.

The other thing that's marvelous about this story, in particular, is that it shows Patrick Troughton's Doctor at his most cunning. He's planning a few steps ahead for a lot of this story, and it's even clearer than in a lot of his other surviving episodes that the Doctor's childish oaf act conceals a brilliant, somewhat ruthless mind.


Anyway, if you didn't buy "Web of Fear" on iTunes, or if you want to have it in your permanent collection, it's worth scooping it up on DVD. For once, there are no extras at all — but that's probably for the best. We don't really need a 45-minute documentary featuring dim remembrances of long-ago sets — this is one story that absolutely speaks for itself.



I would have preferred a few extras on the DVD release (since I also bought it digitally when it came out) but I'm proud to be able to add it to my DVD shelf anyways.

By the way, in related news, BFI just announced that they'll be releasing a bunch of classic sci-fi programming on DVD in the coming year, including a whopping 6-DVD boxed set containing every surviving episode of the BBC anthology series Out of the Unknown. If you're unfamiliar with the series, just take a look at the list of writers, and you'll see why I'm so excited.

Most of these episodes haven't been seen since their original broadcast in the late 60's, but unfortunately, like so many Doctor Who stories from the same era, the BBC ended up wiping the master tapes, and out of 49 episodes, less than half now remain. (which sadly, doesn't include the majority of the Isaac Asimov episodes, or the Nigel Kneale episode starring Patrick Troughton)