I’m not sure how I feel about this story. It had an air of uniqueness about it, and was certainly ambitious for its time…but the alien beings on Vortis (the web planet itself) were kind of lame. I wanted to like it….but I feel kind of ambivalent toward it. The TARDIS is sucked down onto the planet by some unknown force. It turns out that the animus, a large, evil creature who has enslaved the planet’s inhabitants is responsible for this and creating the web that encases the planet (or most of it at least). Since the TARDIS cannot take off, Ian and the Doctor go to explore.
This is the first time when I couldn’t decide how I felt. The light on the planet makes everyone look blurry or luminescent or something. It was like when you have a smear or water on your glasses and then look at a light and everything streaks. It gave a bit of mood, but it kind of made my eyes uncomfortable. I kept trying to focus. It was like those Claritin commercials before they take the allergy medicine.
The planet is inhabited by the Menoptra and the Zarbi and the Zarbi’s pet dust ruffles. And some Menoptra descendants that live underground. For, I think, the first time, there are no humanesque characters in the story. And, also for the first time, we have a race that does not speak English. The Zarbi, giant ant-like creatures, communicate via squeals and beeps and other noises. The Zarbi are the animus’s slaves and they and the dust ruffles apparently roam around, take prisoners, then put them to work shoving organic matter into the animus’s furnace. I like the Zarbi. They’re a little corny…men with ant bodies on running around. And there’s a nice spot where one runs into the camera. But I found the fact that they didn’t speak a human language and seemed to be best friends with the dust ruffles kind of a nice touch.
The Menoptra, however, are the source of my discomfort with the story. They’re kind of like the Sensorites in their timidity…but why did they keep moving their hands like they were performing magic at a birthday party? And they seemed to give up so easily. They figured that since their special guns didn’t work that the animus would just control the planet forever. I guess this isn’t that different from some of the other races the travelers have encountered (remember the stupid Thals?), but it kind of irritated me this time.
What I did like about the story was how we learned a bit of the history of Vortis. We learned that the menoptra had some sort of religion, and that their ancestors were split up, some of them forced to live underground. Those underground were afraid of the light and dreamed of flying like the surface Menoptra. I also liked the bit of redemption for the Zarbi. They were cruel only because they were enslaved. Once the animus was dead, they stopped trying to capture.
What I also liked about the story was an increased role for Vicki. I like that she paniced and tried to steal the TARDIS, only to have it dragged away. She played a consistent role in the plan to defeat the animus and escape, although she succumbed to its bizarre power at the end, leaving Barbara to throw the snitch or whatever it was in the final confrontation. She showed some cleverness in fooling the Zarbi by putting the broken paralysis necklace on. It was a key part of her and the Doctor’s escape. This escape was orchestrated by the Doctor delaying his report to the animus, who communicated with him by speaking English through a tube-like device. There was a key Doctor moment when he said in his most cantankerous of voices “Bring down that hair dryer or whatever it is.” Which, by the way, the Doctor could use. His hair seems to be getting a bit unruly. It was an interesting way to set up communication between the two…but where did the hair dryer come from? Maybe the web was closed at the top? The animus was below them…who knows.
We got a chance to see the TARDIS interior from a couple of new angles. It seems that the producers have now built an entire room rather than just a backdrop. It gives the ship a better feel. It seems more real, although I was slightly disoriented at first. I was convinced that the ship had changed. But I don’t think it has, there’s just more of it. Although the melted clock from the Edge of Destruction is gone. They must’ve thrown it out since it was melted.
In another first (I think), the episode did not end inside the TARDIS with the travelers. Instead, we saw the Menoptra talking about the future of their race and planet while the Zarbi wander about. It was a different kind of ending. The graphic told me the next episode is The Lion, but Wikipedia tells me that in Arab regions (is that the correct way to say that?), the next story (The Crusade) was not shown, so it had a different graphic there. A neat bit of trivia. Since I am not living in an Arab country, however, The Crusade, apparently another historical story, is next for me.