DOCTOR WHO: 10 Things You Might Not Know About THE WEB PLANET - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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DOCTOR WHO: 10 Things You Might Not Know About THE WEB PLANET

Geek Dave grabs the bug spray.

1. When planning began for Doctor Who series two, one of the wishes of the production team was to introduce a new monster to captivate viewers in the same way that the Daleks had, so Verity Lambert and original story editor David Whitaker (who had left the role by the time this serial was eventually produced) were happy to take a meeting with Australian writer Bill Strutton to hear his pitch for, what he hoped would be, a new monster to equal the popularity of the Daleks.

Strutton recalled a childhood experience of being badly bitten when he interfered in a fight between two bull ants, and he suggested that giant, venom-spraying ants might make an effective opponent for the Doctor.

So impressed were Lambert and Whitaker by this idea that they decided to forego the usual request for a storyline from Strutton, and instead, on September 28th 1964, went straight to commissioning him to write a six-part script, which Strutton originally entitled "The Webbed Planet".

2. Apart from the word "Zarbi", which was invented by Strutton's wife Marguerite, many of the names the author used had biological origins. "Menoptra" (originally “Menoptera”) and “Optera” were both derived from lepidoptera, the name for the order of insects which includes butterflies. “Prapillus” (originally “Papillus”) and “Hilio” came from papilio, a Latin word for butterfly.

3. In late 1964, Whitaker's successor, Dennis Spooner, made some changes to Strutton's scripts. Spooner removed the idea of the Zarbi being able to spit venom, and instead gave them the ability to spit out smaller, grub-like creatures. These monsters, variously referred to as “Zarbi Guns”, “Zarbi Venom Guns”, “Zarbi Cannons”, “Zarbi Larvae” and “larvi guns”, were intended to be immature Zarbi. Spooner also slightly amended the story's title to The Web Planet.

4. During casting for The Web Planet, director Richard Martin was very impressed by one particular performer who he felt was too talented to be relegated to the role of a Menoptra. The young actor in question was named Peter Purves. Martin remembered him and eventually cast Purves as companion Steven Taylor in The Chase.

5. Richard Martin decided that dancers should play the Menoptra, and hired Australian mime Roslyn de Winter to choreograph them. She was also asked to develop the ornate speech patterns for the Menoptra and the Optera. Martin felt she did such a great job that de Winter was then given the central role of Vrestin.

6. To portray the thin atmosphere of Vortis, director Richard Martin placed a distorting lens on the camera, giving the appearance of shooting through a thin, petroleum jelly-like smear.

7. Filming of The Web Planet proved to be quite troublesome. Most episodes overran their time allocated at the Ealing Television Film Studios, this was down to a variety of issues including flubbed lines, missed cues, equipment problems, and troubles with the Zarbi costumes, one of which broke and had to be repaired. The action in some scenes had to be rearranged when it was found that the Zarbi costumes were not flexible enough. then, during filming of episode three, Escape To Danger, it was found that some of the sets had not been delivered to the studio. The delay caused taping to go 37 minutes beyond the schedule, during which time one of the Zarbi operators, his vision impaired by his costume, ran right into the camera. With the recording session already overrunning this 'blooper' ended up in the finished episode.

8. During filming of The Web Planet, William Russell, who had played Ian Chesterton since the very first episode of Doctor Who, felt his enthusiasm for the series had waned and he was in need of a change. Before completing this serial, he informed the production team he would be leaving Doctor Who with the expiry of his contract, which encompassed just three further serials.

9. Clearly The Web Planet is no masterpiece. Even by the standards of early Doctor Who it's a tad on the embarrassing side. The 1965 budget just couldn't do the ambitious idea justice, and despite the production team's initial optimism for the Zarbi, their impractical design ensured that the monsters would not make a return appearance in Doctor Who.

Yet, for all its visual faults, episode one of The Web Planet was watched by 13.5 million viewers! Making it the highest rated episode of Doctor Who throughout the whole 1960s, and the fourth highest rated of the show across its entire 56 years (only three episodes from the Tom Baker era achieved higher ratings).

10. One of those viewers, who was likely hiding behind the sofa, was a young Peter Capaldi. It seems the trip to The Web Planet was one of his earliest memories, as he explained shortly after being cast in the role of the Twelfth Doctor...
I was five when the show started. I don’t remember Doctor Who not being part of my life, and it became a part of growing up, along with The Beatles, National Health spectacles, and fog. And it runs deep. It’s in my DNA.

People look at them now and, understandably, mock the bargain-basement monsters, and the accidents and collisions that came from having virtually no time in the studio to shoot fantastically ambitious stories. But those old shows were only made to be watched once, on a flickering monochrome telly that smelled of valves and furniture polish. In that context, they succeeded immeasurably. They were triumphs of imagination.

It may surprise you now, but something like The Web Planet lived powerfully and expansively in my head for decades… until the DVDs came along and spoiled the party. But I’m glad to say that the Menoptra eventually flitted back into my dreams, where they belong.
Dreams? Or perhaps nightmares??

Next time, it's The Crusade.

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