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Recap / Doctor Who S5 E5 "The Web of Fear"

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Hey, it's Grimace's evil twin!

Captain Knight: What's a girl like you doing in a job like this?
Anne Travers: Well, when I was a little girl I thought I'd like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist.

Production code: QQ

The One With… deadly silly string and the debut of DW's resident Badass Normal with the (fake) moustache.

Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. This six-episode serial first aired from February 3 to March 9, 1968.

More Yeti, this time in modern-day London.

Travers, who we last saw in Tibet in 1935, has brought a Yeti control sphere back to England to study and accidentally reactivated it. This gives the Great Intelligence a foothold, and he takes over the London Underground using a web-like substance and attacks by Yeti. (As for where it got the idea...) The military are sent in to try and deal with the problem, along with Professor Travers and his daughter Anne.

After hastily resolving that little issue of the TARDIS flying through the Time Vortex with the doors open, the Doctor is drawn into the Yeti situation when the Intelligence reaches out into space and traps the TARDIS in the web. When it finally lets go, the Doctor is able to land somewhere other than where the Intelligence intended. By the time the Doctor works out what is going on, he's cut off from the TARDIS and very definitely caught in the trap set by the Intelligence.

The Intelligence plans to drain the Doctor's mind, but the Doctor sabotages his machine, so instead of the Intelligence draining the Doctor, the Doctor would drain the Great Intelligence's mind and put it out of business for good. Unfortunately his plan was a last minute improvisation that no one else knew about, and Jamie uses a yeti reprogrammed by the Doctor and Traver's daughter Anne earlier, to rescue him before he can defeat the Intelligence. The Great Intelligence is flung off into space, the Doctor deeply distressed that it's still out there, biding its time...

Leaving the army under Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart to do the clearing up, the travellers depart for new adventures...

For over 40 years, this story was considered by many to be one of the holy grails of lost episodes. In October 2013, it was announced that film copies of all but part 3 were found at a TV relay station in Jos, Nigeria. It emerged in September 2015 that all six episodes were in fact present, but the third disappeared during the negotiations to get the prints back; almost certainly stolen.

Unfortunately, since he first turns up in Episode 3, the first appearance of the soon-to-be Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is therefore still lost. The story was released on iTunes with a telesnap reconstruction of part 3. A DVD, also featuring the reconstructed part 3, was released February 2014. A Special Edition DVD / Blu-ray with an animated version of the missing episode followed in August 2021.


  • Arbitrary Scepticism: Everyone accepts the idea of Yeti and the Great Intelligence. But the the Doctor having a time machine? Nonsense
  • Big Bad: The Great Intelligence.
  • The Brigadier: Averted— This is the first story for Lethbridge-Stewart, and he's a Colonel Badass, not a Brigadier.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Robot Yeti that carry web-guns, admittedly, but still Yeti.
  • Bland-Name Product: In the animated reconstruction, Evans's chocolate bar is modelled on a Cadbury's Dairy Milk, but the logo says "Camfield" after the serial's director.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: The Doctor is not happy that he's been rescued from the Intelligence since he's convinced that he could have completely defeated it.
  • Damsel in Distress: The Intelligence takes Victoria hostage to convince the Doctor to give himself up.
  • Dead All Along: After Arnold's lifeless body is revealed to be the Intelligence's puppet, the Doctor muses that the real Arnold might have been killed during one of the early skirmishes from before the serial.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Anne Travers.
  • Death by Materialism: Silverstein refuses to give up his Yeti out of pride in owning something unique, and rapidly gets killed when it upgrades and reactivates. To be fair, it had been sitting harmlessly in his museum for 30 years.
  • Dirty Coward: Evans and Chorley.
  • Disconnected by Death: The reporter records the scream of a dying soldier over the telephone.
  • The Ditz: Evans, and he even admits it:
    Evans: I may be stupid, but I'm not daft.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Staff Sergeant Arnold is only ever referred to as "Staff" by his subordinates.
  • Early Instalment Weirdness: Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is significantly less competent or admirable than he would later become, throwing away most of his soldiers' lives in an inadequately-planned operation to capture the TARDIS (purely as a potential escape route), collapsing into shock afterwards, and actively trying to pressure the Doctor into sacrificing himself for everyone else.
    • To his credit, though, he also takes everything he learns about the Doctor and the Yeti in stride, showing none of the Arbitrary Scepticism that he would become known for five seasons later. Keep in mind by then he had become a seasoned Brigadier with a lot more responsibilities on his plate and was now dealing with a much more irascible incarnation of the Doctor that loved to showboat, upstage him and his authority and frequently got on his nerves.
    • Also, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is almost unrecognizable because he held that rank for all of one appearance. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is automatically recognizable because of how well he took to the role.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Great Intelligence strikes again, upgrading its robot yeti and arming them as well.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Staff Sgt. Arnold.
  • Fake Shemp: In the close-up of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart's boots, an extra named Maurice Brooks fills in for Nicholas Courtney.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: At the time of broadcast, the story was considered so scary that before the first episode aired, The BBC broadcast a Content Warning speech delivered by Patrick Troughton in character, warning children that this was going to be an especially scary one and asking them to hold their parents' hands if Mum and Dad get too scared.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In all episodes save the last, the web appears partway through the credits.
  • Genre Blind: Julius Silverstein, the museum curator
  • Girly Skirt Twirl: Victoria shows off her new skirt this way in the first episode, but Jamie is determined to continue his argument with the Doctor and barely notices.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Chorley, much to the annoyance of everyone around him.
  • Greedy Jew: Julius Silverstein, played in a highly ethnically stereotyped manner, is far too proud of owning a "priceless" artifact and gets killed by it.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Professor Travers, though he cheers up somewhat over the course of the story.
  • Idiot Ball: The Second Doctor, who is normally The Social Expert, is completely unable to read who is and who isn't a Great Intelligence puppet. Granted, he was stressed out at the time (and an object of suspicion himself) and the actual identity of the puppet is someone very easy to overlook, but it is rather odd for a character who can usually detect liars just by looking into their eyes and read group social dynamics just by watching people when he asks a question to act with distrust towards Col. Lethbridge-Stewart.
  • Immoral Journalist: Chorley very clearly doesn't care about anything but what can bolster his professional profile. When the men hear the screams of the soldiers in Holborn being massacred over the phone, he can only gloat about what good material it will make for the news.
  • Immune to Bullets: The Yetis were very bullet resistant, but not quite bullet proof.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: This was intended at the time as a sequel to "The Abominable Snowmen". The impact is massive - here is where the Brigadier gets introduced (in fact, he's the prime suspect for being the Great Intelligence's vessel for most of the last four episodes, something that would not have been done had they known he would be a regular), here is the start of the UNIT arc and here is the start of the "Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec"-style horror that would form the Pertwee era of the show.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Doctor surrenders to the Great Intelligence so it can absorb his mind. He really hoped to use this to defeat them. Unfortunately the others aren't aware of this.
  • Jerkass: Chorley is amoral, sexist, classist (he insults Anne as "redbrick"), cowardly, and solely into getting the best story possible regardless of its truthfulness or effect on others. His one redeeming feature is his willingness to accept a role helping the fight as a coordinator (a safe desk job). Admittedly, it's a non-job to get him out of the way, but at least he accepts it.
  • Just Train Wrong: Despite the convincingness of the sets, there are are couple of problems around the Episode 2/3 cliffhanger and its resolution. The Circle Line is not a deep-level tube, as it is depicted, and Jamie's and Evans's off-screen trip from Monument back to Goodge Street would have been much harder to achieve underground than is suggested.
  • Lampshade Hanging: All of the scenes in the Underground tunnels were filmed on a single set. In the final scene, they are a bit lost trying to find the Tardis and Victoria remarks that "all these tunnels look the same to me".
  • Lovable Coward: Evans approaches this at times, with his garralous frankness about how he's mainly looking for an escape and wasn't meant to be here meaning he comes across as oddly likable, even when he's advocating sacrificing the Doctor to save everyone else (i.e. him).
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Professor Travers has one, Anne Travers, who is also a Mad Scientist herself. She and Victoria appear to bond somewhat over the similarities between their fathers.
  • Mind Rape: This almost happened to the Doctor. The Intelligence's plan is to draw all of the Doctor's memories from his brain, leaving him an empty shell. There's even some discussion that if he gets his mind wiped, Jamie has to promise to look after him until he learns to walk and talk again. Jamie saves him, spoiling the Doctor's plan to do the same to the Intelligence.
  • The Mole: The Doctor realises one is present. It turns out to be Arnold.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: One of Professor Travers's lines about his previous meeting with the Doctor suggests that this story takes place at some time in the 70's. However, to any Londoner it obviously takes place in the 60s, as the Victoria Line (opened 1969) is not shown on the big glowy tube map in the control centre. (It was under construction at the time the story was made, so the creators could have added it in if they wanted to.)
    • Though it kinda hinted Travers's memory had been a tad off (Just a tad mind you).
    • There's also a poster for In the Heat of the Night in one of the Underground stations, something nobody remembered until the episodes were recovered.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Played with. Jamie proves a Spanner in the Works for the Doctor's ultimate plan to stop the Intelligence. This doesn't stop the Intelligence from being defeated, but does prevent it being destroyed, which was the Doctor's goal. On the other hand, the Doctor never filled anyone in on the change in plan so Jamie was ultimately doing what he'd been told to do.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Chorley has a habit of doing this, with Victoria, "Arnold", and others.
  • The Nth Doctor: The Intelligence somehow causes the Yeti in Silverstein's museum to upgrade itself on-screen from the original "The Abominable Snowmen" design to the new design. (The Discontinuity Guide, one of the best-known reference books on the series ever written, insisted this could not possibly have been intentional and listed it under "bloopers". However, it was scripted and it's hard to see how the cross-fade between the two costumes could have happened by accident.)
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor's reaction when Victoria reveals that she told Chorley about the TARDIS.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: We never see the historic moment when the Doctor meets Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time. It's worth stressing that this would be the case even if Episode 3 were not missing. The novelisation of course has the benefit of hindsight, so plays up its importance accordingly.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: When Jamie and the soldiers are surrounded by Yeti, Jamie tells them not to attack, as they wouldn't stand a chance and shows an interest in studying it. Seeing as how the Doctor is absent from the second episode, Jamie fills in for him.
  • Plot Hole: The revelation of Staff Sergeant Arnold as the Great Intelligence's vessel does not really match up to some of the events blamed on a mole in the earlier episodes. Rather creepily, the most logical explanation is that multiple characters were temporarily possessed by the intelligence at different times.
  • Red Herring: Chorley, Evans, and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart are all set up to potentially be the person under the control of the Intelligence. None of them are actually the true culprit.
  • Reverse the Polarity: The Doctor reverses the wiring in the helmet that the Intelligence intends to use to drain his mind of knowledge. This would have allowed the Doctor to drain the Intelligence instead of the other way around. Sadly, since Jamie didn't know, he followed the original plan and used the controlled Yeti to attack the Intelligence, ruining the Doctor's new plan.
  • Scooby Stack: The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria peering round the corner of a tunnel.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Professor Travers. He would definitely get along with the First and Twelfth Doctors.
  • Sequel Episode: To "The Abominable Snowmen".
  • Sequel Hook: The Intelligence has been driven away, but there's always the possibility it will return. Turns out it took forty-four years of real time for this particular hook to catch. Or twenty-seven if you count spin-offs, with the Doctorless video Downtime.
  • Shown Their Work: The production crew was forbidden from filming on location in the London Underground, citing safety concerns. The sets that were constructed were so authentic, the BBC received complaints claiming that they had disregarded the Underground's warnings and filmed down there anyway.
  • Skewed Priorities: Evans would rather stop at a vending machine to get a chocolate bar than escape the Yeti.
  • The Slow Path: It's been 30 years since Professor Travers last saw the Doctor. It's been a couple of weeks since the Doctor last saw Professor Travers.
  • Stupid Evil: The Great Intelligence's vessel turns out to be Arnold, who we learn is actually dead due to being killed by the Yeti, the Intelligence's foot soldiers under its direct command. This means that the Intelligence murdered its own vessel with its own weapons for no apparent reason (by the end of the story, Arnold is clearly beginning to rot). This got a bit of a Fix Fic in the novelisation, which established that Arnold was dead and under the Intelligence's control the whole time.
  • Tuckerization:
    • When Driver Evans takes a chocolate bar from a platform vending machine, the bar's wrapper is shown to read "Camfield's Fairy Milk Chocolate"— a reference to director Douglas Camfield and to comply with the BBC's policy of not displaying brand named products on screen.
    • During the interview between Harold Chorley and Captain Knight in Episode One, it is mentioned that the army task force's commanding officer, who has been killed in an earlier Yeti attack, was Colonel Pemberton. This was an in-joke referring to former story editor Victor Pemberton, who worked with Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln on "The Abominable Snowmen".
  • What's an X Like You Doing in a Y Like This?: Captain Knight actually asks "What's a girl like you doing in a job like this?" to Anne Travers in reference to her being a scientist. She simply replies that when she was a little girl she wanted to be one, so she became one.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: During Episode 2 the military group wonder what happened to the explosion. (Unaware the Great Intelligence had its Yeti use their webguns on the bomb.)
  • Written-In Absence: The Doctor is absent from the second episode (supposedly wandering disorientated in the tunnels after being concussed by the explosion in the first-episode cliffhanger) in order to give Patrick Troughton a holiday.
  • The X of Y: "The Web of Fear"