Welcome to The Doctor Who Classics Guide! This is a special series that aims to take an objective look at each Classic Doctor Who story. If you’re new, please read the introduction first.
The Web Planet
Ian: What do you think they are, Doctor?
Doctor: Well, to use the term of Earth, I suppose we should call them insects.
(art by willbrooks)
A strange power drain forces the TARDIS to materialise on the planet Vortis. There, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki become involved in the plans of the butterfly-like Menoptra to reclaim their planet from the parasitic Animus that is slowly enveloping it with its web-like domain, the Carsenome.
I don’t want to say The Web Planet is awful, but…well…The Web Planet is awful. I mean that affectionately and out of no disrespect for the minority who I’m sure love this story, but as I sit here and try to conjure up nice and fair comments I’m coming to the realisation that it’s near impossible. Sorry.
Basically, this story is boring. I’ll be clear, normally I’m quite fair to classic stories (particularly the 60s ones) in this regard, because I understand that they were made in a different time for a different audience and designed to be watched in a different way. However, The Web Planet just feels like it drags on and on with a badly explained plot, a series of weak and poorly executed cliffhangers, and an apparently real-and-present danger which doesn’t really feel real-and-present at all. Emphasis is put in all the wrong places, and the protagonist and antagonistic alien races are totally don’t fit the story. I mean, giant insects at war? Give me a break.
I don’t like to sit here and bash particular Doctor Who stories, because I know that there’s people out there that love them in the same way I love The Sensorites or Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. For this reason I’ll mention that this story does have a few decent points – for example, episode one features some cool continuity stuff that follows on from The Romans, even to the point where it becomes pivotal to the plot (which was a first for Doctor Who). However, I just feel that the positives of this story far outweigh the negatives, and the contribution to the legacy just doesn’t justify the time commitment it demands.
Is it worth your time? Look, this is one where it’s up to you. Does a giant alien insect war sound cool? Go for it – I will admit that this story is far more entertaining the first time around when you don’t know what to expect. But will you miss anything if you skip it? Not really – it offers little to the characterization of the TARDIS crew and the overall continual narrative, bar the heavy references to The Romans in the first episode. The Zarbi are, in fairness, a surprisingly popular 60s monster, but if you take a few minutes to read the plot on TARDIS data core then you’ll be filled in on that legacy aspect as well.
Doctor: Did you hear what that man called him? Saracen…Malek Ric! Yes, that was the name the Saracens had for King Richard, Coeur de Lion!
Vicki: So we’re in the Holy Land?
Also known as: The Saracen Hordes
Number of episodes: 4 (2 missing)
Setting type: Purely historical Earth with significant historical figures
DWM “The First 50 Years” poll ranking: 128th of 241 (top 54%)
(Art by hisi79)
The TARDIS arrives in 12th Century Palestine, where a holy war is in progress between the forces of King Richard the Lionheart and the Saracen ruler Saladin. Barbara is abducted in a Saracen ambush and the Doctor, Ian and Vicki make their way to King Richard’s palace in the city of Jaffa. Ian is granted permission to ride in search of Barbara, while the Doctor and Vicki stay behind and try to avoid getting involved in court politics.
The Crusades is another beautiful historical story, which this time places Doctor and his crew in the middle of the Third Crusade. Quite uniquely, it endeavours to tell both sides of the story between King Richard and Saladin by featuring an interesting sub-plot (based on real events, of course) in which they attempt to end the war and make peace. It’s worth noting this can be particularly enjoyable if, like me, you don’t actually know much about the Third Crusade (well, everything I know came from Age of Empires II).
Not unlike The Aztecs Barbara is given a true chance to shine in this story, with the Doctor and Vicki somewhat pushed to the side and Ian almost disappearing while William Russell took a holiday during filming. The story itself deals with some of it’s darkest themes yet, many of which centre around Barbara making some tough decisions and leave us respecting her even more. There’s a good balance of action, politics, and quiet, emotional moments, something that many serials from this time seemed to lack. The story may not be a total standout, but it’s definitely enjoyable all the same.
How can I ‘watch’ this story? There’s hope that the two missing episodes from this story will be animated in the near future, but perhaps they haven’t been because The Crusades is the single most accessible incomplete Doctor Who story. For more information, see the “Guide to “Watching” the Lost Episodes“, specifically the following sections: Lost in Time DVD Boxset, Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition – The Missing Episodes, Official ‘Photonovels’, Loose Canon Recons and Official Full “Audio Stories”.
Is it worth your time? I’ll be honest, this story takes a little bit of time to warm up, and episodes one and two are a bit in the “meh” category. But episode three is something else entirely – there’s action, drama, and Barbara faces perhaps the best morality battle yet. Yes, recons are hard, but I believe that if you’re going to try and brave them then this is the story to watch. And, at the very least, I think everyone should watch the two surviving episodes with William Russell’s bridging material, just because the story really is a great pure historical.
The Space Museum
Time, like space, although a dimension in itself, also has dimensions of its own.
Also known as: None
Number of episodes: 4
Setting type: Futuristic alien planet
DWM “The First 50 Years” poll ranking: 232nd of 241 (bottom 4%)
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki arrive on the planet Xeros, where they discover a deserted museum filled with futuristic exhibits. However, they soon realise that time has gone wrong and they’re not really there at all, and are given a disturbing look into a near future they must do everything in their power to avoid.
Up until this point, time travel was a mechanism used purely as a means of getting the Doctor and the TARDIS crew from one setting to another. What The Space Museum cleverly does is take the idea of travelling through time and twist it into a somewhat fascinating plot point – you could call it Doctor Who‘s first ever “timey-wimey” story. But don’t be fooled by the exciting premise; in the fandom this story given pretty bad rap. As Robert Shearman pointed out in the DVD extra “Defending the Space Museum”, nobody really wants it, and it “didn’t even have the decency to get junked”.
You might be asking why a story with a format that was rare back then but bountiful today gets so much hate. Here’s the root of the problem – episode one is brilliant and promises a fantastic story, which episodes two to four completely fail to deliver. In essence, it quickly goes from being a gripping tale about the dimensions of time and down to yet another ‘baddies vs rebels’ story. As we know, there’s nothing more disappointing than a Doctor Who story that gets worse as it progresses.
But, like me, there’s a few advocates out there who love this story for it’s comedy-gone-wrong element and interesting comments on the consequences of time travel. As was argued by Mr Shearman, much of this story is very misunderstood; it’s pretty clear that it’s essentially making a mockery of the traditional Doctor Who format, but wasn’t directed and acted in that way and as a result it kind of falls flat on it’s face. Its’ a shame, really.
Is it worth that watch? It depends on what you plan to gain by watching this story. If you’re seeking a quick, entertaining and memorable adventure, then by all means skip The Space Museum. But if you want to see Doctor Who done differently and are willing to take an “almost-bad-its-good” view of the story, then take some time to sit back and appreciate one of the infamous stories that helped to break the show out of it’s shell and become the series we know and love today.
Dalek 1: Our great-est en-em-ies have left the plan-et Xer-os. They are once a-gain in time and space.
Dalek 2: They can-not es-cape! Our time ma-chine will soon foll-ow them. They will be ex-ter-min-ated! Ex-ter-min-ated! Ex-ter-min-ated!
Also known as: The Pursuers
Number of episodes: 6
Setting type: Several, including alien planets and Earth in the past, present and future.
DWM “The First 50 Years” poll ranking: 175th of 241 (bottom 28%)
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki are forced to flee in the TARDIS when they learn from the Time/Space Visualiser taken from the Moroks’ museum that a group of Daleks are equipped with their own time machine and are on their trail with orders to exterminate them.
Much like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Chase does what it says on the tin – throughout the entire story the Daleks are fixed on following the TARDIS through time and space and ensuring it’s habitants are ex-ter-min-ated so they can’t mess around with their evil Dalek-y plans again. The story is very much in the same vein as The Keys of Marinus, in that the travellers find themselves in the different setting almost every episode; the difference being that instead of being in a race against time, they’re in a race against their deadliest foes. It’s an exciting story for every
Dalek-obsessed Whovian child, but the level of engagement it provides for it’s older audience is a bit of a different matter.
The Chase is fun, but it could have been so, so much better – the issue I find is that the travelers don’t stay in any one place long enough to really let the story develop in a satisfying way. Just when they start to get settled in it’s time to pack up and leave again; it verges on tiresome and frustrating. And then there’s the comedic Daleks…yeah, no. It’s definitely hilarious to watch what is essentially an undermining of the show’s historically terrifying monsters, but the giggles don’t outweigh the time-cost of the story. However, the advantage of the setting changes is that it makes the story quite fast-paced, and the constant threat of the Daleks tends to keep the viewer on edge. There’s also some colourful supporting characters – including Steven Taylor, who in the next story goes on to become a member on the TARDIS crew. And then there’s Ian and Barbara, who, of course, depart in this story – and I’m not going to tell you how, because it’s something that makes the first viewing all the more exciting.
Is it worth the watch? While the storyline could have been better, The Chase is still a classic that does a lot for the show’s legacy and overarching story. Two much-loved companions leave, another arrives, and there’s some adorable “domestic” scenes in the TARDIS…it’s all happening in this serial, people. Watch it or be left behind.
The Time Meddler
Doctor: What do you think of that now, eh? A Viking helmet!
Steven: Oh, maybe.
Doctor: What do you mean, maybe? What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?
The Doctor, Vicki, and new companion Steven Taylor arrive in Saxon Northumbria on the eve of the Viking and Norman invasions. It’s 1066, a pivotal moment in British history; but after discovering a wristwatch, gramophone and toaster, the team begin to realise that something doesn’t quite add up…
Rounding off season two, The Time Meddler is a uniquely brilliant serial that shows that even as early as 1965, Doctor Who was being pulled closer and closer to the style of the 2005+ series. This four-parter takes on another ‘experimental’ format, becoming the show’s first ever proper ‘puesdo-historical’ story – that is, a historical story with other extraterrestrial elements besides the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS. In essence it set the blueprint for just about every single historical story we know today, where the Doctor shows up and realises that there’s an extraterrestrial being who shouldn’t be there. It’s no wonder that the story still stands up incredibly well today.
Basically, the entirety of the serial is perfection; it’s easily one of my most favorite Doctor Who stories ever. The beginning introduces Steven Taylor as the newest member of the TARDIS team perfectly, the middle has me in fits of giggles every time, and the end sums up everything I love about this era of Doctor Who. Everything flows perfectly, and is supplemented by balanced doses of humour; the story is funny, but not really made as if it’s a comedy; it does this bizzarely brilliant thing where, because of the way it’s been set out, it sort of invites you to laugh with it. It sounds stupid, but you’ll understand when you watch it – it’s almost as if the show is mocking itself, but in the kindest and most entertaining way. It really does feel like something out of the 2005+ era.
Is it worth the watch? In my humble opinion this story needs to be seen by every Whovian on the planet – it’s well-paced, hilarious, and manages to capture almost every much-loved element of the William Hartnell era. If you still need convincing, this line will hopefully help you to understand what I mean, in that it’s a great concept by a great writer with brilliant execution.
Steven: You know, I’m beginning to like the idea of being a crew member on a time machine.
Vicki: A crew member? You’ll be lucky! He’s the crew, we’re just the passengers!
(Coming Soon) Series Three, Part One →