I’ve been dreading this. Will the Zarbi push Sue over the edge? Will this be the final end? And will Bill Strutton be named in my decree nisi?
The Web Planet
Sue: Is the print damaged? It looks terrible. Couldn’t they clean this one up?
Me: They have cleaned it up.
Sue: So why does it look like shit?
Me: Because they smeared a tub of vaseline all over the camera lens.
Sue: Vaseline! Are you joking?
Me: Fraid not. In fact, there’s a rumour about the DVD being delayed because they accidentally removed the blur when they tarted it up. But whichever way you look at it, whatever they did to the lens, they did it on purpose. It’s supposed to reflect the alien atmosphere on the planet.
Sue: Is that why the Doctor and Ian are wearing Space Anoraks? Actually, in all seriousness, it’s good thing that walking around on an alien moon is shown to be a bit tricky. I like the strange echo on their voices as well; it’s very unsettling.
Sue is also impressed by the pool of acid that eats Ian’s old school tie and she’s throughly engaged by the overall weirdness on display, despite her uncontrollable urge to squint at everything.
Sue: Argh! What is that terrible noise?
I’ll give you two guesses, folks…
Sue: It’s doing my head in! Is that a car alarm or a smoke alarm?
Me: Fans use that sound effect as a ring tone on their phones. That way we can pick each other out in crowds.
Sue: Like gaydar, only gayer?
When a Zarbi finally shambles into view, my deepest fears are realised.
Sue: Oh. My. God.
Me: I’m guessing “ambitious” isn’t the word you’re grasping for here?
Sue: Dear, oh dear, oh dear. I know I’m not supposed to slag off the special effects but come on! What were they thinking? Or taking?
Me: They are pushing the envelope of television.
Sue: They’re pushing their bloody luck.
But it’s not all bad news. The conclusion to the episode is packed with tiny moments that meet with Sue’s approval: the scene where Barbara is forced against her will to leave the safety of the TARDIS is genuinely freaky, while the Doctor discovering that his precious ship has disappeared results in a satisfying “Hmmm…”.
Sue: Well, that was pretty good. The ants were ridiculous but they weren’t in it for very long. The story is quite unnerving and the climax was genuinely scary. Yeah, that’s not a bad start at all.top
Sue: Do you know what I find really interesting about this story?
Me: I have no idea. Is it the set design? The Menoptera costumes? The sound effects?
Sue: No, it’s Vicki’s boots: they are really fashionable these days. Actually, Barbara’s trousers are really trendy, too.
Sadly, I don’t think the Zarbi will ever be in fashion – especially with those knees – and I’m certain that Ian’s “two-in-one-anorak” ensemble isn’t going to catch on anytime soon either, even in the circles I move in, but I have to admit, discussing Vicki’s collar is a lot more engaging than watching a model TARDIS being dragged over a sand dune, or, as Sue describes it, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time meets The Clangers.
Sue: The direction is completely wrong. They should be using careful angles and shadows to make these things seem even halfway-believable but they’re simply pointing the camera at the crowd and hoping for the best. The lack of ambient sound and music doesn’t help either. It’s shockingly bad, like a really boring car crash.
Me: If we can get through this one, love, we can get through anything.
Sue: That’s the third time you’ve told me that since we started this stupid experiment. How many episodes are left?
Me: Four. Look, I’m sorry, love. Really, I am.
Sue: Insect Movement? Insect Movement!! Did I just read that right? Bloody hell, I’ve seen it all now.
Me: Yes, ‘Insect Movement by Roslyn De Winter’ has to be the oddest credit in the entire history of broadcasting. But how could you possibly hate an episode with a credit like that?
Sue: They should fire her.top
Escape to Danger
Sue: Roslyn is really into this, isn’t she? I bet she gives the other insects a hard time when they break out of character. I bet she believes she’s being groundbreaking and artistic, but all she’s really doing is making everyone look ten times sillier than they do already. And that’s not easy.
For large portions of the episode, Sue appears to hold Roslyn responsible for practically everything.
Sue: It’s like we’ve stumbled across an actor’s workshop where they have to express themselves and pretend to be a tree or something. I can’t believe they actually filmed and transmitted this. Oh. My. God. Did that ant really just run headlong into the camera? Did that really happen or did I just imagine it?
We aren’t even halfway through this story but any goodwill built-up during The Romans is dissipating rapidly.
Sue: Why is the Doctor using a hairdryer to communicate with the bad guy?
A few minutes later, the Doctor calls the device a hairdryer as well, but this still doesn’t placate Sue.
Sue: Admitting that it looks like a hairdryer just draws attention to how stupid it looks. They might as well point out that the ants are made of fibreglass and those Dougal Dogs with the guns on their noses are being pulled long by bits of string.
At one point, Vicki returns from the TARDIS with one of the Doctor’s “samples”. The dead spider in the box is so badly defined, Sue misreads the next scene entirely.
Sue: The Zarbi are frightened of the Doctor’s poo!top
The Crater of Needles
Sue: Rewind that bit. Go back. I need to hear that bit again.
Sue has noticed that someone is laughing off-screen. We think it might be Jaqueline Hill losing control of her professionalism.
Sue: If that didn’t call for a retake then all bets are off. What the ****? In fact, enough is enough. Seriously. I feel embarrassed just watching this; it must have been awful for the people who actually took part it in.
Me: There’s a really famous actor hidden under that Menoptera costume on the left. He was a household name in the 70s and 80s. Can you guess who it might be, just from his voice?
Sue: Derek Jacobi? John Hurt? Gyles Brandreth?
She still doesn’t guess when the credits sail past.
Sue: Martin Jarvis? The name rings a bell. What’s he been in again? Oh, you’ve found a picture of him on the internet. Oh, him! Wow. Martin Jarvis, eh? The poor sod.
One isolated moment manages to induce some praise, however. When a Menoptera picks up a larvae gun and squashes it against a wall it’s difficult not to be affected by this bizarre, horrific and just plain wrong moment. But as the Menoptera swoop down on Kirby wires for a shambolic battle against the Zarbi, Sue’s mouth is left gaping open in disbelief.
Sue: This is just silly. Yes, it’s ambitious. Yes, they are trying their best. But it looks amateurish. What was Verity thinking? What was anyone thinking?
And then Sue asks the age-old question that has troubled Doctor Who fans for decades.
Sue: Why couldn’t they have lost this story instead of the one with Marco Polo in it?top
Me: Look, we don’t have to go on with this, you know.
Sue: Are you suggesting that we give up?
Me: No, we just cheat a bit and skip to episode 6. I can just fill out the text for episode 5 with something like this:
Sue: Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh! Please! Make it stop! Please! Argggghhhhhhh!!!!!!! Noooooo!!!!! Roslyn De Winter! Arggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! Help!!! Nooooooooo!!!!
Me: I could string that out for a paragraph or two and Bob’s your uncle. No one need ever know.
Sue: I’d know. We’d be cheating ourselves. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. We have to watch the next one.
And so we watch episode 5.
And it’s ****ing rubbish.
However, it was worth it just to witness Sue’s reaction to an Optera bravely sacrificing herself by sticking her head in a hole in the wall. As her derriere is suspended in mid-air, we are supposed to mourn her heroic passing, but the only tears being shed by Sue are the result of uncontrollable, hysterical laughter.top
Me: I know, let’s treat ourselves! We can watch the next episode in Spanish!
Sue: You never know, it might make more sense. But won’t someone like Rob Shearman accuse us of not really watching them properly if we do this? We won’t have to go back again, will we?
Me: If anyone complains we’ll just give them their money back.
We switch on the English subtitles and then we settle back for some Andalusian Animus Action.
Sue: I love the way they are doing their best to copy the voices of the original actors. Even the Spanish Menoptera sound stupid. Vicki sounds like a Mexican bandit, though.
Brilliantly, there’s a moment where the subtitles declare “BEEPING NOISE” but the Spaniards decided NOT TO BOTHER! In fact, given that they don’t have to use the ambient sound recorded in the studio, the audio is much easier to deal with: the Zarbi are way down in the mix and you can’t hear larvae guns scrapping themselves across the floor. Incredibly, it’s a lot easier to watch.
In fact, when the Menoptera start taunting the Zarbi, it looks a lot like a bull-fight and suddenly everything almost – almost – makes sense.
Sue: The bad guy looks like Itsy or Bitsy from Paperplay. Yeah, it’s definitely Bitsy.
The conclusion baffles Sue. It doesn’t matter what language we’re watching it in, she can’t tell what the hell is going on when Barbara kills the Animus, or what Ian’s role is in this victory (if any).
When the TARDIS finally leaves Vortis, Sue actually cheers. But then we have to endure another five minutes of liberated rebels chatting among themselves.
Sue: JUST STOP!top
The Final Score
Sue wastes no time at all in giving The Web Planet -
Sue: I would have given it a zero if it wasn’t for the Spanish episode.
Me: But you really liked the first episode!
Sue: Screw that. That was months ago.
The experiment continues…top
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