Friday, December 20, 2013

Yeti Don't Ride Trains

As I said when the two previously thought lost Second Doctor serials were miraculously announced recovered and restored a couple months ago, if someone had asked me, if there were one lost serial I most strongly wished would be found, I would have said The Web of Fear. And now, with the exception of the third episode, this six part 1968 Doctor Who serial is back in the world.

Before this year, only the first episode was available and it was one I'd watched multiple times just for its great, gloomy atmosphere as we watch the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria wandering the dark, seemingly abandoned London Underground.

After the simplistic sets of Enemy of the World, the detail of presumably location shots is a welcome change. And I was glad to see this atmosphere is maintained throughout the rest of the serial.

It's a story which connects with other parts of Doctor Who's history in several ways--it's a direct sequel to a serial earlier in the same season, The Abominable Snowmen, of which only one episode survives. A character from that serial, Professor Travers, appears.

He's forty years older and is astonished to see Jamie and Victoria haven't aged a day. The serial also features the yeti from the earlier serial--we don't get a good look at the creatures in the surviving Abominable Snowmen episode. Here it's fascinating to see how little they resemble the popular conception of the yeti.

They look a bit like moths heads on bear bodies. And they're robots, controlled by The Great Intelligence. If you've seen "The Snowmen", the Eleventh Doctor Christmas special from last year, you've seen the events that set up The Web of Fear as, for The Great Intelligence, "The Snowmen" actually occurs before The Web of Fear. So the actions of the Eleventh Doctor have impact on the Second.

But maybe the most significant connexion this serial has to the rest of Who is that it marks the very first appearance of Lethbridge-Stewart, at this point a colonel. When he's seen again in the mostly surviving serial The Invasion, he'll have earned his rank for which he's best known--Brigadier.

He becomes a regular character in the Third Doctor era, appears in two Fourth Doctor serials, in two Fifth Doctor serials, and in one Seventh Doctor serial. No besides the Doctor appears on the show more.

He shows up in the sadly still missing third episode of The Web of Fear. Included with the release of the serial is the reconstruction of the third episode which features complete audio from the episode and one can hear the character immediately standing out from the other amusingly colourful soldier characters. He's both a natural character and very much of a certain type--the rank of colonel isn't the only thing about him that is reminiscent of Colonel Blimp. Maybe it's primarily to actor Nicholas Courtney's credit that he doesn't come off as a caricature but instead a real human being who has internalised this particular kind of traditional military pride in his work and position.

Of course he's a perfect foil for the pacifist Doctor--I think their relationship reflected a real ongoing shifting of outlooks in the writing staff between more sentimentalised support of the British establishment and a sense of the Doctor being someone who bursts Britain's cosy bubble now and then. Both characters are written with love and respect which makes their disagreements all the more effective. The best serials to see this may be the Third Doctor serial The Silurians and the Fourth Doctor's Robot.

In The Web of Fear, the interesting character dynamic is more between Lethbridge-Stewart and Jamie, who seem to bond as courageous fighting men. Which is a little odd considering Jamie, an 18th century Scottish piper, in other serials often expresses his understandable hatred for English soldiers. Then again, as we learn in Terror of the Zygons, Lethbridge-Stewart is in fact Scottish.

Troughton is sometimes said to be the best actor to have played the Doctor but towards the end of his run I feel he gets a bit shouty and broad, though I do like him even then. Web of Fear is a great example, though, of his more subtle work. You hear more of his quiet, thoughtful tone which goes so well with the visual atmosphere.

Twitter Sonnet #577

Used green tables barter with blackened rum.
Chipped paint spies suspend from rounded corners.
Ghost ceiling axes sound a groaning hum.
Blue and pensive veins conduct the mourners.
Sherry emblazons flesh swollen by Thames.
Unnatural turkey came through the door.
Spirits spoil the horned knight's sleeves and hems.
He who was huntsman and beast laughs the more.
Delilah reclines on nets of gold socks.
Christmas scalps draped on chestnut staircases.
A shy, confused cat sleeps outside the box.
Timid satyrs stagger through the paces.
Victorian legs walk dark train tunnels.
Enormous fur dolls weave fungal funnels.

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