The Web Planet
The Web Planet was the fifth story of Season 2 of Doctor Who.
As with the Voord before them, the creatures of Vortis were designed to be memorable, as the show was yet to produce a monster to rival the Daleks. Web had the highest average viewing figure for the Hartnell era with a rating of 13.5 million.
The concept first came to Bill Strutton as he recalled being bitten by a bull-ant as a child and seeing insects fight. He also recognized the merchandising opportunities Doctor Who afforded, with Terry Nation’s Daleks being his point of comparison. Script editor Dennis Spooner latched onto the idea, believing it could be a parable about socialism, with the Zarbi and the Menoptera as the oppressed and the oppressors respectively.
Web was by far the most technically ambitious and experimental story produced by Verity Lambert. While some believe it nobly tried to extend the possibilities of Doctor Who, others felt it was simply over-ambitious.
It was also novel in terms of its advertising, since it was the first Doctor Who story to ever have a trailer. Director Richard Martin was irked by this, as he felt it gave away too much of the plot as clips from later episodes were shown. Verity Lambert believed he was upset over the inclusion of a scene showing a Zarbi entering the television studio, justified by her as the application of a familiar setting, designed to stop children from fearing the alien.
Part 1: The Web Planet
The TARDIS is forced to land on a desolate planet, dragged down by some invisible force. The Doctor discovers, once the ship has landed, that it has had all its power taken away from it as well, with only the scanner left working. The Doctor begins to work his magic at the console, but can’t make the motors work even though the energy is available. While they are fixing the TARDIS, Vicki hears an ultrasonic noise which causes her great distress. The Doctor suspects that she can hear it due to her relatively young age.
The source of the noise is an ant-like creature emitting loud beeping noises as a means of communication. Unbeknownst to the travelers, two of these creatures, accompanied by a smaller species, attack the TARDIS, causing it to rock wildly — much to its inhabitants’ surprise.
Barbara takes Vicki, who is most perturbed by the noise and the battering of the TARDIS, to bed whilst the Doctor, resigning himself to not being able to sort his ship out, asks Ian to come and explore the planet. Ian and the Doctor don atmospheric density jackets, inform Barbara of their plan, and set off, using the Doctor’s ring and a device in the TARDIS to open the door without power. Left to their own devices, Barbara and Vicki have a conversation about Vicki’s futuristic schooling.
Out on the planet, Ian and the Doctor discover some very strange goings on. Ian takes his gold pen out of his suit jacket, only for it to literally disappear out of his hand. The echoes of their voices seem to take on lives of their own and linger for much longer than normal echoes. Ian confides in the Doctor that he feels he is being watched. The Doctor states the only way to prove that theory is to go exploring.
Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS, Barbara is tidying up when she seems to lose all the strength in her arm, which appears to be dragging her out of the door. Just as she reaches the door she regains control. Scared, she goes to sit with Vicki, where the sensation happens again. Vicki, thinking she is joking, laughs, and Barbara leaves her.
Outside, Ian and the Doctor discover a large stone pyramid that is obviously not natural and has been built by some sort of creature. The two marvel at this. They discover a pool of what Ian thinks is water, in which he is about to wash his hands, when the Doctor, borrowing Ian’s tie, discovers it’s acid. They decide to head back to the TARDIS, when Ian sees some sort of light in the acid. As the Doctor inspects it, the ant creature scuttles away, beeping. The Doctor and Ian head back.
Whilst Barbara is alone she again loses power of her arm and is dragged out of the door after using the console to open the door. The beeping wakes Vicki and as she enters the console room, she loses control of her limbs and calls out for Barbara.
The Doctor and Ian, hearing the echo, rush to the TARDIS, but Ian gets caught up in a net made of webs which lifts him off the ground. Ian orders the Doctor to leave and help Vicki. As he approaches the TARDIS, it begins to move. As he rounds the corner, he sees that the TARDIS has gone.
Episode 2: The Zarbi
The Doctor returns to find Ian lying prostrate on the floor. He wakes him to inform him that the TARDIS has gone. The men set off to look for the ship.
Meanwhile, on another part of the planet, Barbara is being led by the unseen force that caused her to leave the TARDIS. As she walks, she is accosted by a large, butterfly-like creature. It leads her into a cave where two more of the creatures wait. They take off Barbara’s bracelet and throw it into the acid, which awakens Barbara from her trance. She tries to escape but is detained by the creatures.
Meanwhile, Vicki uses the TARDIS’s scanner to discover that it is the ant-like creatures that are controlling the ship — using their minds to drag it to another place on the planet.
On the trail of TARDIS, Ian stumbles across a chrysalis. On close inspection, the Doctor discovers that it is from the Menoptera species. This, combined with the rock formations implicit on the planet, leads the Doctor to believe they are on the planet Vortis.
Back in the cave of the Menoptera, the butterfly-creatures discuss what to do with Barbara. They say they need to kill her, as a creature they refer to as the Zarbis will extract the information of their whereabouts and hunt them down. Overhearing this, Barbara uses a stick to help her break out, and escapes onto the surface.
Whilst the Doctor and Ian search for the TARDIS, they are accosted by the ant-like creatures. Ian tries to fight back, but the Doctor urges him not to. The Doctor states that he has never before seen these creatures, so they should be treated cautiously. The creatures herd the men towards their den. This is also where Vicki and the TARDIS have been brought. Once the ship has been brought to a halt, Vicki goes out and explores her surroundings. No sooner is she out of the TARDIS than she is set upon by the ant-creatures. One of them keeps her penned in the corner whilst the other tries to explore the TARDIS, but as soon as it enters the ship, the creature is distressed and leaves. When Vicki is joined by the Doctor, he is indignant that someone has tried to board his ship and tries to tell the creatures that his TARDIS is not to be boarded.
Back in the cave, the Menoptera try to send a signal to the rest of their species, warning them that the Zarbi and a being they call the Animus are still on the planet. They are interrupted by an attack by the Zarbi, led by Barbara. She wears a gold harness that controls her in the same fashion as the bracelet did earlier. Whilst the Zarbi attack the rest of his species, one of the Menoptera removes the harness from Barbara’s neck and informs her those they don’t kill are taken to the Crater of Needles where they are forced to work against their will and in great pain. As he explains this, he is set upon by the Zarbi.
Back at the den of the Zarbi, the Doctor is trying to communicate with them. An alarm starts to sound. A cylinder falls from the ceiling onto the head of the Doctor, proclaiming, “Why do you come now?”
Episode 3: Escape to Danger
The disembodied voice is hostile towards the Doctor, assuming that he is an emissary from the Menoptera. As a show of force the voice fires a laser beam towards the TARDIS, but Vicki, in her earlier efforts to stop the ship from moving, accidentally re-aligned the fluid link and restored power, enabling the ship’s shields to combat the attack. The Doctor convinces the voice that he is not part of the Menoptera force. The voice asks if he has a way of monitoring the stars, to which the Doctor replies in the affirmative. The voice agrees to free the travelers if he will help them garner information on the Menoptera. The Doctor asks the voice, which he refers to as the Queen Ant, where Barbara is. The voice tells the Doctor that she is in the Crater of Needles. The Doctor and Ian are allowed into the TARDIS to bring the equipment out to the Zarbi. While they are inside the Doctor hatches a plan whereby Ian should go and find Barbara if the opportunity shows itself. Once the Doctor has got the equipment outside, the power that the Zarbi use to control the TARDIS also stops this piece of equipment from working. The Doctor speaks to the voice and says that he will need this power relinquished. The voice agrees but warns the Doctor that if it is betrayed they will be killed. As the power is restored to the ship the Zarbi also power down, which enables Ian to escape.
As Ian searches for Barbara he comes across a Zarbi. He tries to sneak past it but the Zarbi rounds on him. Ian kills the Zarbi but as he tries to escape he gets caught in a web which triggers an alarm. The other Zarbis are awoken and go to fetch Ian. They try to kill him but the laser beam from the smaller species allows Ian to break free. As he runs from the Zarbis he is saved by a Menoptera, who hides him from the pursuing masses.
Ian’s capture means the other travelers back at the TARDIS have lost the trust of the disembodied voice. The Doctor has uncovered a message from the Menopteran forces saying they are hovering over the Crater of Needles. The Doctor decides to repress this information from the Zarbi. When the Doctor sends Vicki in to get a piece of equipment she returns with the wrong box. This box contains a specimen of a spider. As Vicki returns this to the TARDIS she discovers that the Zarbi are afraid of the specimen.
Ian and his Menopteran savior, Vrestin, lie low and discuss the state of Vortis. Ian learns that Vortis used to belong to the Menoptera. The Zarbi were a species indigenous to Vortis, with which the Menoptera lived at peace; however, they were made militant by a dark power that Vrestin names the Animus. The Menoptera were powerless against the Zarbi and fled the planet to a nearby moon. The Menoptera are now trying to reclaim the planet that was once theirs. They discuss the Crater of Needles. Vrestin tells Ian that the Menoptera that are taken to the Crater have their wings pulled off and are forced to work until they are killed. Vrestin offers to show Ian the way to the Crater of Needles, but on the way there they are set upon by Zarbi. They escape and hide in a cave, but Vrestin slips and falls, causing a cave-in and trapping them.
Episode 4: Crater of Needles
Ian and Vrestin find themselves in an underground cave. No sooner have they dusted themselves down than they are surrounded by unknown creatures.
Meanwhile, at the Crater of Needles, Barbara is struggling under the immense workload that the Zarbi put them under. She has befriended a veteran Menoptera who explains what the Menoptera are forced to do. He explains that they are forcing a raw material into an acid stream which draws it to the main base of the Zarbi, called the Carsinome, and causes it to grow more and more over the face of Vortis. The Menoptera explains that the Animus lives at the center of the Carsinome. The Menoptera informs Barbara that the Menoptera’s primary aim was to free the Zarbi from the Animus’ power but they have since been oppressed by them.
Back at the Carsinome, the Doctor and Vicki discuss when to use the tool of the spider to their best advantage. The Doctor states that he would like to use it in order to escape. The Zarbi accost Vicki and use the mind harness to hold her hostage whilst the Doctor talks to the Animus. They ask him for all he has learnt from his device. The Doctor informs them that the Menoptera are forming on the planet Pictos. However he feigns that he knows no more than that. The Animus warns the Doctor that if he doesn’t present more information to them soon they shall kill Vicki. No sooner has the Doctor been released from the Animus’ tube than an alert is summoned calling the Zarbi to arms against a potential Menoptera attack.
This call to arms is evident at the Crater of Needles. The workers are all herded into their quarters whilst the Zarbi supervisors go to protect Vortis. Here Barbara and the Menoptera discuss the fact that somehow the Zarbi have found out that the Menoptera attack is imminent. This is a big problem because the only success that the Menoptera were to have was through the advantage of surprise. They decide to overpower the single Zarbi and the lesser species, revealed to be called a larvae gun, and warn the Menopteran force of this danger. They break free from their quarters and kill their guards.
In the underground cave, the creatures that are holding Ian and Vrestin hostage appear to be primitive grub-like creatures. They bind their captives hands together with some form of natural adhesive. They are mistrustful of strangers from the surface, which they describe as evil. They say that they are to consult their oracle which they refer to as “the Chasm of Lights” as to whether they should leave or die.
At the Carsinome the Doctor is thinking of a way to overpower the Zarbi. Using his walking stick he inspects the harness that the Zarbi use to brainwash their captives. He discovers that it is made entirely of gold. He speculates that there must be a way of overpowering whatever force it is that controls the gold. In experimentation he tries to use the TARDIS instruments. It seems to have worked but draws the attention of the Zarbi. A Zarbi holds Vicki prisoner whilst the Doctor converses with the Animus. The Doctor tries to blame a piece of his equipment for the explosion, but the Animus seems to be able to draw information from the equipment now. It discovers the landing point of the Menoptera and states that for such betrayal the Doctor and Vicki must die. The Zarbi places the harnesses onto them until they have dealt with the Menoptera.
The grubs return to Ian and Vrestin with the news that they are to be slaughtered. However, Vrestin states that she is a creature similar to them. She says if they were to join her on the surface they too would grow into a strong and mighty creature like her. They seem doubtful but when Vrestin shows them her wings they start to worship her as some form of god.
Up on the plateau the spearhead of the Menoptera land. Barbara and her Menoptera warn the spearhead of the oncoming danger, but it is too late and the rest of the Menopteran army land. The Zarbi set about them, seemingly making light work of their slaughter.
Episode 5: Invasion
Barbara and some Menoptera are chased into a crevice by an incoming horde of Zarbi and larvae guns. They find themselves in a Temple of Light, a series of secret underground temples laced around Vortis. Here they encounter a splinter cell of other surviving Menoptera. The creatures are desolate and state that they are not creatures of war. They turn to Barbara in an effort to help them into the mindset of warfare. Barbara asks what their plan was if the onslaught of Menoptera was successful. One of the Menoptera displays a device called a “Living Cell Destructor”. This would destroy the devices used by the Animus that cast a web of evil over Vortis. Barbara states that the only way forward is to try to use it.
Meanwhile, back at the Carsinome, whilst the Zarbi are distracted by the battle with the Menoptera, it is revealed that Vicki is not actually under the influence of the harness as the Doctor’s experiments rendered that particular harness useless. Vicki releases the Doctor from his harness and the Doctor and Vicki catch a Zarbi using the functioning harness. Somehow the Doctor is able to control how the Zarbi moves and the two friends escape along with the Zarbi.
In the cave, the creatures, now known as the Optera, have agreed to lead Ian and Vrestin to the centre of the Animus, leading the way underground. As they get deeper into the tunnels the Optera try to break through the walls in order to allow air and light in. An attempt at this releases a store of acid which kills one of the Optera. The potholers carry on.
Barbara has decided that the best course of action is for a mock attack. This idea is argued with by a number of Menoptera, but Barbara’s idea is agreed upon. Their meeting is interrupted by an intruder. The Menoptera begin to panic but it is discovered that it is the Doctor, Vicki, and their tame Zarbi. The Menoptera feed back to the Doctor. The Menoptera inform the Doctor that the Animus dwells in the very center of the planet and draws power from the magnetic poles of the planet. It is this, and its subsequent effect on gravity, that are drawing the moons towards Vortis; this is also the explanation as to why the TARDIS was forced to land. The Doctor decides that he will take the Destructor back into the Carsinome and destroy the Animus himself from the inside. The Menoptera gives it to him in exchange for the Zarbi, which they will use in their attack. The Doctor gives them his ring, which is part of the reason the Zarbi is under the Doctor’s thrall. The Doctor returns to the Carsinome with Vicki; however, they are immediately set upon by the Zarbi, who bundle them into a room where a form of bio-gun squirts a web onto them, leaving them stuck in one position.
Part 6: The Centre
The Doctor and Vicki are soon freed from the sticky substance that was binding them and are called to the Animus. The Doctor is informed that the Animus has no further use for him and that he is to be killed along with Vicki. The Zarbi are ordered to bring the Doctor to the center of the Carsinome.
Meanwhile, on the surface, Barbara and her gang of Menoptera are using their tamed Zarbi to confuse and incite the Zarbis that are under control of the Animus in order to create a distraction which would enable them to enter the Carsinome.
Deep underground, Ian, Vrestin and the Optera are making their way to the surface when they discover a pocket of water that the Animus has filtered underground in order to replace the pools and streams with acid. This gives great hope to the Menoptera and the Optera for their future yields if they ever were to overcome the Animus. Eventually they reach the underside of the surface but struggle to get through the thick crust of the planet.
Barbara and her group of rebels come across an army of Zarbi and in an attempt to overpower them one of the Menoptera is killed. The rest of the gang press on.
The Doctor and Vicki are brought to the center of the Carsinome and are instantly blinded by the light cast off by a large web-like brain with many tendrils stemming from it like roots. As soon as they enter the room the Animus informs them that it is going to smother them with its tentacles and absorb their intelligence in order to master space travel. The two travelers seem unable to resist this hypnosis and move towards the Animus.
Barbara and the Menoptera find themselves where the Doctor and Vicki were previously being held. Barbara discovers the astral map and states that she could use this device in order to help the Menoptera communicate with the rest of their force on Pictos. As Barbara attempts to do this they stumble upon the Isotope that the Menoptera gave to the Doctor and deduce that if the Doctor had left this behind he must have been taken by force. They decide to hunt the Doctor out and save him. They soon find themselves at the centre of the Carsinome where they too are overpowered by the light of the Animus. The Animus also is able to block Barbara’s use of the Isotope weapon. It seems that Barbara and the Menoptera are going to succumb to the Animus when he is briefly distracted by the emergence of Ian and Vrestin from under the ground. Barbara uses this split second opportunity to kill the Animus and free the Doctor and Vicki.
On the surface of Vortis, the Menoptera are delighted to find the Zarbi and larvae guns have returned to their previous docile and cattle-like state. They also discover that the pools and rivers that once ran with acid run with pure clean water again. Even the Optera are relatively placated with the promise that their children may grow into creatures capable of flight. The creatures of Vortis gather together to say farewell to the Doctor and his companions, stating that they will speak of the legend of the Earthmen who freed them from the tyranny of the Animus.