Doctor Who: THE WEB OF FEAR Special Edition Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: THE WEB OF FEAR Special Edition Review

Tony’s feeling less special than expected.
There’s a thing about releasing “Special Edition” versions of content that already exists for commercial sale.

To some extent, the wow factor of, for instance, having the story at all, has already been expended by the original release, so reviews tend to focus on what’s new, what’s extra, and what might conceivably lead you to buy a new version of a thing you’ve probably already got.

We’re going to be in trouble with The Web Of Fear, Special Edition.

When The Power Of The Daleks was first released in an animated form, there was lots of glee about having the story at all, and quite a bit of “Mmm, but everybody moves like they’re paper puppets stuck to lolly sticks” about the animation.

When the Special Edition version was released, the animators were able to freely admit that the first version had been an enormous amount of work achieved in a ridiculous hurry, and that they’d subsequently gone back and masssssively improved it. Which turned out to be entirely true, leaving the Power of the Daleks, Special Edition well worth the money to buy, even if you felt just a little narked about having had to pay out for the original version.

When the Web Of Fear was originally released, along with The Enemy Of The World, the second Yeti story had all its episodes intact, bar episode 3. In its place, episode 3 was rendered in telesnaps and audio, which, while never entirely a real substitute for the moving footage, gave a good, pacy idea of the action that bridged the gap between episodes 2 and 4.

Now the Special Edition version has been released, with a fully animated episode 3 (in both colour and black and white) taking the place of the telesnapped version.



And yes, absolutely, it breaks our hearts more than a little to say that, because while never probably quite as good a story in reality as it in common fan memory, there’s no getting away from the fact that as Doctor Who stories go, The Web Of Fear is a bit of a belter.

Patrick Troughton goes far beyond the cosmic hobo stereotype and you can rarely look at anything else when he’s on screen. Frazer Hines as Jamie and Deborah Watling as Victoria are both actively useful in the story, despite lots of people, including the Doctor, telling them to essentially stay put and shut up throughout the running time. Jack Watling and Tina Packer are joyously familial as Professor and Anne Travers.

There’s a regular army troop that lays the basic grounding for future UNIT stories, stuffed with fabulous performances from the likes of Nicholas Courtney in his first appearance as Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, Derek Pollitt as Driver Evans, and Jack Woolgar as Staff Sergeant Arnold. And the Yeti (redesigned in a sleeker form for the story after wobbling around Snowdonia throughout The Abominable Snowmen) are impressively terrifying at least when they’re well lit. Granted, when they emerge out of the London Underground network and start bumbling about the streets getting shot at by troops, they look less effective and more absurd, and the actual plot is fairly batfink crazy, but in general, the story is much more effective than you might give it credit for as a mid-Troughton era earthbound take on the base-under-siege format.

That’s one of the things that makes it so depressing that the animation of Episode 3 is the way it is. The Web of Fear deserves its episodes to be the best they can be, and you’re only moments into the episode 3 animation from Shapeshifter Studios before your every instinct screams that that’s not what you’re watching.

Every character in the episode 3 animation moves almost like a Thunderbirds puppet. That’s actually slightly unfair to the genius of the Andersons, but it’s an approximation for the permanent bouncing or jiggling they do, even when standing theoretically still, for the universal thickness and straightness of characters’ arms, and for the wiiiild gesticulations with which they fill every single shot. It’s as though if the characters stand too still, they’re afraid they’ll disappear into the background of the animation, so they seem to throw exotic shapes, even while they’re doing something as mundane as walking down a corridor. Jamie at one point, simply getting from A-B, looks like he’s hitting the chorus of a famous Proclaimers song.

The thing is, it’s more than distracting. Where, with the telesnaps, you were kept in the drama and the pacing of the episode, the animation actively breaks your suspension of disbelief. Think about that for a second – the rest of the story, made by the BBC in 1968 on a budget of about sixpence ha’penny, keeps you in there and frequently on the edge of your seat, for five episodes. You can use photographs and audio and STILL stay connected to the storytelling and the unfolding drama.

Within MOMENTS of starting the 2021, extremely clever, motion-capture 3D-style animation, you’re begging it to stop and fast-forwarding through.

It’s THAT distracting – which is doubly unfortunate given that episode 3 marks the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney’s Lethbridge-Stewart.

The thing is, there’s a glorious nobility about what it’s TRYING to do. Standard animation, especially on the Doctor Who range, has been a little hit or miss. For us, Power of the Daleks Special Edition, The Macra Terror, and The Faceless Ones have been the high points, while others have been a little dubious. Fury From The Deep is one we’d never rush back to on the strength of its animation.

The problem has been trying to deliver impressively immersive animation in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable cost. The process from Shapeshifter is a new paradigm in the possible, using advanced motion capture, 3D world-building scene by scene, and effective texturing to rapidly speed up the process and crunch the costs. It will, with only the vaguest shadow of doubt, be the way forward for the future animation of stories with more episodes and more characters. But it will be that way forward when it works out quite a sizeable number of kinks and quirks – that Thunderbirds feeling being first and foremost among them.

This is a technology that could make it possible to animate things like The Daleks’ Master Plan. But right now, this Special Edition of The Web Of Fear feels distinctly like the ORIGINAL release of The Power Of The Daleks – released WAY before it was ready. It feels like it was released before the product was shown to anyone outside the creative process itself, because fans would not have been shy about pointing out the illusion-breaking grimness of the sub-Thunderbirds movement patterns and the Standing Boogie vibe. It feels like a proof-of-concept release, rather than any kind of finished product.
Is there anything else to recommend the Special Edition of The Web Of Fear? Well, yes - there’s one extremely competent brand new documentary about the making of the story, anchored by Frazer Hines and featuring lots of the surviving cast. Weirdly enough, the documentary feels more worth the money than the animated episode. There’s a great selection of audio clips of Jack Woolgar trying out various voices for his character, which give an interesting insight into the process of finding a classic and distinctive tone. And there’s a re-run of a Nineties documentary that has appeared on a couple of previous releases, about the missing episodes. That provides an unexpected delight, in that it has Ian Levine confidently predicting that there will always be 110 missing episodes. Any day on which Ian Levine is captured being wrong is a pretty good day, so there’s no doubt the Special Edition gains from having that documentary added to its extras.

But ultimately, what makes this the Special Edition is the animated episode 3.

What that feels like is a Special Edition that’s significantly less special than the standard version, and one that might yet require you to buy ANOTHER version of it in the future – the Extra Special Edition? – and that’s before we get to the fact that the filmed version of episode 3 is believed to exist out in the wild somewhere, for the Extra Extra Special Edition.

There’s great hope and positivity in the technology behind the animated episode 3. But right now, it feels like an overly raw release that might well make some fans feel like they’ve been cheated.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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