The Web Planet: The Zarbi
Broadcast on February 20th 1965 @ 5.40pm (12.5 million viewers)
There is something truly wonderful about ‘The Web Planet’. Straying into the fantastical world of the planet Vortis, the TARDIS crew encountered a variety of memorable creatures which created a visual feast the likes of which had never been seen in Doctor Who before or since. It also proved popular with viewers as all six episodes were watched by between 11.5 and 13.5 million viewers. Although the creatures seen on screen may appear dated by the lofty standards of today’s technologies, the undeniable result is that over the course of six episodes, ‘The Zarbi’ being the second installment, an interesting script is brought to life spectacularly.
All of the memorable moments of the story feature the beautiful insect creatures, from the ant-like Zarbi to the butterfly-esque Menoptera. This episode, in particular, features a Zarbi looming into view on the TARDIS scanner and the first appearance of the Menoptera which linger in the memory. Choreographer Roslyn De Winter was brought on board to assist in creating the distinctive movements of the Menoptera and would even take on the role of Vrestin. This has since been replicated by modern Doctor Who which utilises the skills of choreographer Ailsa Berk in order to have their monsters moving uniformly. However, the aliens in ‘The Web Planet’ are just one aspect of a wonderfully visual story. The planet’s surface is impressively alien, heightened by a misty effect created using special camera lenses and the less technical vaseline smeared on those lenses. Model shots of the TARDIS being dragged by an invisible force across the surface of the planet are also convincing. Even dialogue between the Doctor and Ian in this episode is full of echo, adding to the feel of a desolate planet.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
Towards the end of the episode, the Menoptera are attacked by the Zarbi. What follows is a truly horrific moment, perhaps in all of Doctor Who. Hrostar the Menoptera is held by two Zarbi and has his wings ripped off his body as Barbara watches on. The true horror of this would not be obvious until episode four, Jacqueline Hill enjoying a week off from filming during the production of ‘Escape to Danger’, when we next see the two characters in ‘The Crater of Needles’. However, it is by focusing on Jacqueline Hill’s horrified and despairing expressions that we understand what is happening and that it was too graphic to be shown at tea time. As we have praised the beautiful Menoptera costumes it is horrible to have the ornate wings damaged and truly disturbing to have them brutalised in such a way, in a very dark moment for Doctor Who.
It would be interesting to see how the Cardiff production team would approach the same script 50 years on because it remains one of the most ambitious and challenging stories ever attempted on Doctor Who. However, the final result is a wonderful achievement, the Zarbi in particular, are fantastically brought to life and utterly convincing, as are the smaller grubs. The Menoptera are as impressive a humanoid butterfly as you are ever likely to see and it is because of them and this story generally which demonstrates the wild imagination of Doctor Who and contributed to the show continuing for another 50 years.
Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Barbra Wright- Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton – William Russell
Vicki – Maureen O’Brien
Hrhoonda – Arthur Blake
Hrostar – Arne Gordon
Vrestin – Roslyn De Winter
Animus Voice – Catherine Fleming
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – Robert Jewell
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – Gerald Taylor
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – Hugh Lund
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – Kevin Manser
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – Jack Pitt
Zarbi Operator/The Zarbi – John Scott Martin
Director Richard Martin
Producer Verity Lambert
Writer Bill Strutton
Also first aired On This Day…
- The Mind of Evil: Episode 4
- Torchwood: Dead Man Walking