Mention The Web Planet to almost any Who-er, and you’ll likely as not get a great big smirk in response. It was a story written in the Hartnell days before anyone really ‘knew’ what Doctor Who stories were supposed to be like. A rather brave attempt at hard SF, it involved the planet Vortis, a world populated entirely by various giant-sized species of insect and absolutely no humans other than the Doctor and his companions.
Yes, giant butterflies, ants and larvae on a budget of £2 7s 6d, back before anyone had anything like the technology to do it properly. You can imagine what it was like, even if you’ve never seen it. Go on, imagine it.
Fortunately, audio plays don’t have this problem so Big Finish, throwing the fifth Doctor and Nyssa at the world of the Menoptera, Zarbi and Venom Grubs, can let their imaginations run wild, content in the knowledge that we’ll do the rest of the work.
Yet somehow, it’s almost impossible not to think one thought while listening to Return to the Web Planet: “Tee hee”.
Plot (tweet tweet click click prrppp aaahhhah from the Big Finish web site)
“It’s an ancient name. From the dark time…” It’s been hundreds of years and several regenerations since the Doctor last visited the insect world of Vortis. Much has changed during his absence, but not necessarily for the better. This now green and pleasant land isn’t the paradise it first appears. Something malevolent is living out in The Desolation… And the Doctor and Nyssa must solve the mystery before the City of Light is overrun.
Is it any good?
Obviously, you have to get to grips with the funny butterflies, the funny ant/termites, etc. That’s the big stumbling block. If you could do that with The Web Planet, you should be able to do it with this. Trouble is, if you had even the slightest problems getting over The Web Planet‘s obvious lack of budget, you’ll have problems here.
You see, it’s very faithful to the original. From the front cover that does an excellent job of recreating the feel of the Target novelisation to the poetic talk of the Menoptera (space travellers are “sailors in the oversea” – or something), your favourite Web Planet highlights are there. It’s all quite lovely to have Doctor Who having a brave stab at completely alien cultures and ways of thought again, but having one of the the Nazis from ‘Allo, ‘Allo talk in a high-pitched voice for an hour, while the Doctor and Nyssa ride a tame insect, is as risible as a menoptera in tights, dangling from bits of wire over some blokes who can’t sit down because they’re wearing giant ant outfits whose tails are too long.
To be honest, it’s a real credit to the entire cast that they avoid laughing at every line – even Peter Davison. I imagine there was a number of re-takes…
The story itself is also as bizarre as the original, although again, it’s nice to have a bit of hard SF that stimulates the brain and doesn’t mean you guess what’s up within the first five minutes. But there’s a handy, one-in-a-million-chance Macguffin that spoils things a little towards the end and the humans who land on Vortis are a bit rubbish in the acting department (although they have my sympathy)
Since it’s free, it’s a bit hard to be too scathing and it’s probably worth a second listen, just for its sheer ambition. In fact, I did actually quite like it, to be fair. But you’ll need to be able to suspend your disbelief an awful, awful lot.
CastPeter Davison (The Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
Sam Kelly (Acheron)
Julie Buckfield (Hedyla)
Matthew Noble (Yanesh)
Claire Wyatt (Speaker)
Writer: Daniel O’Mahoney Director: Barnaby Edwards
Available only to Big Finish subscribers whose subscription includes The Girl Who Never Was.