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The Web Planet
A strange force draws the TARDIS to the desolate planet Vortis. Barbara is compelled to leave the time machine, and is rescued by the butterfly-like Menoptra, who have returned from outer space to retake their planet from an alien force called the Animus. The Animus has ravaged Vortis and taken control of its lower animal life, including giant ants called the Zarbi. The Zarbi steal the TARDIS with Vicki inside, and carry it to the Carsenome, the Animus' terrible lair. There the Doctor is compelled to assist in repelling the Menoptra invasion: the final stage in the Animus' global conquest.
Doctor Who's first season firmly established the Daleks as a national phenomenon. In mid-1964, discussion turned to the creation of a new monster to captivate viewers during Season Two. Around the same time, Bill Strutton met with producer Verity Lambert and outgoing story editor David Whitaker; Strutton had watched Doctor Who and was keen to write for it. Lambert noted that they wanted to develop a popular new monster different from the robot-like Daleks. In response, Strutton recalled a childhood experience of being badly bitten when he interfered in a fight between two bull ants. His memories had been stirred by watching his own sons, aged six and four, fighting in a similar fashion. Strutton suggested that giant, venom-spraying ants might make an effective opponent for the Doctor.
The production team was enthusiastic about Strutton's idea and, on September 28th, he was commissioned to provide six scripts under the title “The Webbed Planet”. Strutton was required to omit Barbara from part three, to allow Jacqueline Hill a week's holiday. Apart from the word “Zarbi” for the giant ants, suggested by Strutton's wife Marguerite, many of the invented names had biological origins. “Menoptra” (originally “Menoptera”) and “Optera” were both derived from lepidoptera, the name for the order of insects which includes the butterfly. “Prapillus” (originally “Papillus”) and “Hilio” came from papilio, a Latin word for butterfly. The Carsenome (sometimes spelt “Carsinome”) took its name from “carcinoma”, referring to a cancerous tumour. “Animus” was another Latin term, literally meaning “angry spirit”.
Late in 1964, Dennis Spooner -- who had now succeeded Whitaker as story editor -- made some changes to Strutton's scripts. Originally, the Zarbi had the ability to spit venom, but Spooner instead created smaller, grub-like creatures to fulfil this function. These monsters, variously referred to as “Zarbi Guns”, “Zarbi Venom Guns”, “Zarbi Cannons”, “Zarbi Larvae” and “larvi guns”, were intended to be immature Zarbi. Spooner also took the opportunity to link Barbara's initial possession by the Animus with the preceding serial, his own The Romans, by making Barbara's gold bracelet a gift from Emperor Nero.
The Zarbi story would be directed by Richard Martin, replacing an assignment on The Romans. By now, Martin had experience working with monsters, having handled the Daleks on some episodes of the original The Daleks and, more recently, the entirety of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. Keen to establish a consistent, alien presentation to the Menoptra and the Optera, Martin hired Australian mime Roslyn de Winter to develop their style of movement and speech; she also played Vrestin. In order to best realise de Winter's choreography, Martin decided to hire dancers to play the Menoptra. One performer under consideration was Peter Purves, whom Martin felt would be wasted as a costumed alien butterfly; several months later, he would instead cast Purves as companion Steven Taylor in The Chase.
Filming at the BBC Television Film Studios in Ealing, London began on January 4th, 1965, by which time the story's title had been amended slightly to The Web Planet. To make Vortis seem more alien, Martin decided to place a distorting lens on the camera. Unfortunately, his budget would not accommodate the recommended lens, prompting the use of a cheaper alternative that wound up giving the appearance of shooting through a petroleum-jelly-like smear. Highlights of the pre-filming included the scenes involving the acid pools and the Menoptra invasion of Vortis. Such was the complexity of the material that it required not only all of the planned filming days up to January 7th, but both the reserve day on the 8th and extra time on the 11th.
Production then moved to Riverside Studio 1 in Hammersmith, London, where recording took place on consecutive Fridays from January 22nd. By this time, it had been acknowledged that the cumbersome Zarbi costumes were not flexible enough to permit the monsters the agility Strutton had originally envisaged. The action in some scenes was rearranged accordingly. On January 28th, Maureen O'Brien's contract was extended for fourteen more episodes, covering The Crusade, The Space Museum and The Chase.
The following week, the demanding nature of the serial started to take its toll. Part two, The Zarbi, required a sixteen-minute overrun, brought about by a variety of flubbed lines, missed cues, equipment problems, and issues with the Zarbi costumes, one of which broke and had to be repaired on the spot. On February 5th, the start of camera rehearsals on the third installment, Escape To Danger, was delayed when it was found that some of the sets had not been delivered to the studio, and the Carsenome floor had not been painted. Lighting and camera problems continued to plague the increasingly frazzled cast, and this time taping finished more than half an hour late. The same day, the poor visibility afforded by the Zarbi costumes caused one of the operators to run right into the camera. So rushed was the recording, however, that the blooper wound up being retained in the finished episode.
Meanwhile, Lambert was becoming frustrated with Martin, whom she felt was overly permissive in allowing his actors to make last-minute dialogue changes, many of which she suspected were due to the performers simply not remembering their lines. In a February 9th memo, Lambert instructed Martin to confine major alterations to script readthroughs, and to seek Spooner's approval for any subsequent modifications. That Friday, February 12th, cast and crew had to contend with powerful odours when the seaweed used to dress the eponymous Crater of Needles started baking under the heat of the studio lights. Even the recording of the final episode, The Centre, on February 26th could not escape the plague of problems and delays, as sound issues prompted an overrun lasting a quarter of an hour.
It was around this time that William Russell decided to leave Doctor Who with the expiry of his contract, which encompassed three further serials. Russell felt that his enthusiasm for the series had waned, and he was in need of a change. Jacqueline Hill, meanwhile, was surprised to discover that she had not been credited on the February 27th broadcast of Escape To Danger, the episode during which she had gone on vacation. This was contrary to the practice employed during the previous season, when all the regular cast members had been credited regardless of whether they actually appeared in a given installment. On March 1st, Hill protested this decision in the hope of seeing her credit restored when The Web Planet was sold for transmission overseas, but her request was ultimately denied.
Episode one of The Web Planet was watched by 13.5 million viewers, the most of any Doctor Who episode in the Sixties. Yet despite this milestone, and the production team's initial optimism for their new monsters, the Zarbi's impractical design ensured that they would not make a comeback. Although they would live on in tie-in media (such as the Doctor Who Annual published by World Distributors), their final televised appearance was in The Centre on March 20th. The same day, an extended edition of Grandstand pushed Doctor Who back twenty-five minutes to 5.55pm. Dixon Of Dock Green had concluded its season and so, for this week only, the news update which followed Doctor Who led into an American Western called Temple Houston, which had previously been airing after the exploits of PC George Dixon.
|Updated 21st May 2020|
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