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18 July 2013
a Day 199: The Web of Fear, Episode One

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 199: The Web of Fear, Episode One

Dear diary,

Hooray! It's the welcome return of Douglas Camfield to the director's chair! It feels like an absolute age since we last had some of his work on the series (it is: the last Doctor Who he directed was The Daleks' Master Plan, which finished broadcast just over two years before this story began), and he's managed to completely by-pass the entirety of Innes Lloyd's time on the show. Over the course of Seasons Four and Five so far, I've often had Camfield's style in mind when listening to the soundtracks, but it's lovely to see his return to the series actually surviving in the archives.

And what a return it is! The direction of this episode is, to but it bluntly, stunning. It has the feel of an old 1930s film, and the use of both candles in the museum and shadows in the Underground really help to sell the effect. It's miles ahead of the stuff seen in The Enemy of the World Episode Three (our last surviving episode), and had me completely gripped.

The style is spot on for me right from the opening of the episode, with the shots of the Doctor and his friends caught in the TARDIS console room as it spins out of control. I'll admit, it's tricky to watch the way the Doctor and Victoria cling to each other as they write about on the floor and grunt a lot without something of a raised eyebrow, but the whole scene is filed with a real sense of tension, which isn't always easy. The crowning moment has to be when Jamie finally manages to find the right switch on the TARDIs console and get the doors to close - and the camera returns to a proper position as the doors shut. It's such a simple thing, but it really works.

Cut to the inside of Silverstein's museum and right into the face of a Yeti! It's so abrupt that it really strikes you, and had I not known that the creatures would be making their return in this story (I'm a Doctor Who fan, of course know the Yeti are back in this one, but just in case I didn't, there's a handy trailer at the end of The Enemy of the World, in which the Doctor directly address you and warns you that these Yeti are scarier than the last lot we encountered), I'd have been absolutely flawed by it. I'm one of the few people who actually quite likes the appearance of the creatures in The Abominable Snowmen, but even I'll admit that they're not the most terrifying thing we've ever had in the series. The use of angles and lighting here really sells the effect of the dormant one here, before we get the switchover to the newer, more powerful version that we'll be dealing with for the next few days.

It's strange to have the reveal of the Yeti come so early on into the adventure - indeed we know that the Yeti are involved long before the TARDIS has arrived on Earth - but it means that we get a very different type of episode once again. It's not about the Doctor and his companions getting caught in a base under attack from the monsters (well, not yet, anyway), but about the anticipation of our heroes discovering what we already know. The scene where the Doctor hides beneath the Underground platform, peering round to see the new-and-improved Yeti is fantastic, and a great chance for Troughton to pull one of his trademark faces.

Ah, yes, the Underground stations. It's a well-known anecdote about this story that having been given a cost for filming on the Underground, the BBC decided instead to build their own replica sets so convincing that they ended up being reprimanded by London Transport. I can't say I fully believe the story, but seeing what they've managed to build here… well, I guess there could have been cause for concern! They're fantastic, and it's hard to believe that most of this episode isn't shot out on location. The details are absolutely spot on, and the tunnels in particular are gorgeous. Indeed, my only complaint (having been in Covent Garden's Underground station just last week) is that it's in too good of a condition!

There's loads that I could rave about for this episode (my notes are overloaded with things!), but I'll hold off for now - there's still another five instalments to go, so there'll be plenty of time to discuss all the other aspects that make this so good. The Web of Fear is another one of those Season Five stories with a very high reputation, and I've not really fallen in step with the common feeling towards some of them so far - here's hoping that this one can buck the trend. If it carries on like this, I'd say there's a pretty good chance of that happening!

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