Production code: N
The one on drugs.
Written by Bill Strutton. This six-episode serial first aired from February 13 to March 20, 1965.
Episodes: "The Web Planet", "The Zarbi", "Escape to Danger", "Crater of Needles", "Invasion", "The Centre".
Continuing the series' general policy at this point of alternating history and science fiction-themed stories, we head to the planet Vortis, populated by the butterfly-like Menoptra and ant-like Zarbi. The latter have fallen under the influence of the Animus, a parasitic creature which is slowly enveloping the whole planet in webs.
While the camera lens gets a bit foggy from the sheer weirdness of this planet, the TARDIS crew are split up. The Doctor and Vicki try to keep themselves alive while dealing with the Animus, while Ian ends up in the underground home of the Optera. Barbara spends the serial in the company of a scouting party of Menoptra. Ultimately everyone converges on the lair of the Animus and (barely) manage to defeat it thanks to an untested weapon built by the Menoptra.
Novelized under the title Doctor Who and the Zarbi. It was the second novelisation to be released, right after Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks. It was also tremendously popular when it aired, with episodes 1 and 4 getting more than 13 million viewers, among the highest the series has ever gotten, only surpassed by some episodes of the Tom Baker era and the modern Christmas specials. Episode 1, with 13.5m people watching, was the single most-watched episode of 1960s Who.
- Alien Sky: Vortis has multiple moons, drawn there by the Animus.
- All Webbed Up: Well, only their heads and upper bodies, but the Doctor and Vicky get this treatment.
- Ant Assault: The Animus arrives on the planet Vortis and takes over the native Zarbi—who resemble giant ants—and use them to attack the other native species the Menoptra.
- Anti-Villain: The Zarbi are actually being brainwashed by the Animus.
- Badass Adorable: The larva guns are deadly, but also very cute.
- Beneath the Earth: Ian meets pale, flightless descendants of the Menoptrans, who'd survived underground for generations since the Zarbi took over the surface of Vortis.
- Big Bad: The Animus.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Zarbi and the larva guns.
- Blinded by the Light: The Animus gives off quite a bright glow.
- Bug War: In this case, bugs versus bugs rather than bugs versus humans.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Invoked by the Doctor. He learns the details about the Menoptra invasion force early on, but feeds the Animus just enough information to convince it he needs more time to determine the specifics. This gives the Doctor enough time to formulate and enact an escape plan without the potential consequences of revealing too much or too little.
- Clip Its Wings: The ant-like Zarbi from the planet Vortis (who have been made militant by the evil Animus) remove the wings of captured Menoptra (a race of humanoid butterflies) as a matter of course.
- Clothing Damage: The Doctor uses Ian’s Coal Hill school tie to test for acid. Ian is not amused.
- Comically Missing the Point: Meta example. The BBC retains the late-Sixties Spanish dub of Episode 6, wherein the Animus, whose voice is supposed to be soothing and hypnotic, sounds like a man talking into a staticky walkie-talkie.
- Continuity Nod: Barbara finally gets on the same page with Vicki about her adventures in Rome. The gold bracelet that Nero gave her plays a small part in the first two episodes.
- Conveniently Timed Distraction: Barbara and the Menoptra confront the Animus to save the Doctor and Vicki and kill it, but the Animus overpowers them with its light and blocks their attack. The Animus then gets briefly distracted when Ian and the Optera arrives from under the ground and Barbara quickly uses this opportunity to kill the Animus.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Vortis' natural ecosystem is compared to a single living organism. The Animus is constantly growing and sucking the life out of it. Its home base is called the Carcinome.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Animus qualifies both in terms of its powers and in terms of its appearance. The Expanded Universe makes this explicit, naming it one of the Great Old Ones.
- Foreshadowing: Ian comments on ants eating through a house and being threatened by the ant-like Zarbi. In the next story, he is almost eaten by an ant colony.
- Handicapped Badass: Hrostar and Hlynia's wings were cut off when they were taken to the Crater of Needles. They still can kick Zarbi ovipositor.
- In-Camera Effects: The unique, misty look of this serial was achieved by attaching a distorting lens to the camera.
- Insectoid Aliens: The four regular characters are the only humanoids in this story. For six episodes they spend time on a planet where every other living thing is an Insectoid Alien.
- Light Is Good: The Menoptra believe in gods of light, and convince the Optera that light is not bad. But when they see the light of the Animus, they have to remind themselves this creature is not good simply because it is light.
- Meaningful Name:
- Animus is a word meaning both a spirit and hatred or hostility.
- In the French slang verlan, which reverses syllables, Zarbi means "bizarre".
- Mind-Control Device: The Zarbi have a gold collar that they put around people's necks to control them, since the Animus can use gold to exert mental control over someone. Barbara is forced to leave the TARDIS in a trance-like state in Episode One because she's wearing the gold bracelet that Nero gave her.
- Non-Mammal Mammaries: Averted; some of the Menoptra are female, but you'd never know it but for their voices.
- Obscured Special Effects: Outdoor scenes were shot with a special distortion lens that had been greased with a special lens to communicate the planet's strange thin atmosphere to viewers. This unfortunately does not have the added bonus of making the Zarbi costumes look any more convincing despite probably being a secondary goal.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Everything - the Menoptra, bee-butterfly humanoids with Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable speech that communicate partially through hand gestures; the Zarbi, bipedal giant ants that communicate through synthesised beeping sounds and have a larval stage with a long nose that it can fire like a gun; the Optera, grunting trogladytic creatures that speak in barely comprehensible metaphor; and the Animus, a spider-like Eldritch Abomination that communicates through web tunnels. The surreal look of the serial is the point here.
- People in Rubber Suits: The Zarbi: giant ants with two very, very humanoid legs.
- Puppeteer Parasite: The Animus.
- Starfish Language: The Zarbi.
- That Old-Time Prescription: Since she was from the twenty-fifth century, Vicki has schooling in many advanced degrees, including medicine; however, she has never heard of the drug that Barbara gives her for her headache: As-pir-in. She asks Barbara how she'd feel if Vicki prescribed leeches and blood-letting.