Chapter 24. Doctor Who and the Web of Fear (1976)

Synopsis: London has been evacuated as a deadly web-like substance has flooded the underground. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are reunited with an old friend and soon realise the web is connected to an old enemy – the Yeti. The presence of the robot creatures also means someone is controlling them, but who? Could it be the neat-looking army officer they find in the underground tunnels? A man called Lethbridge-Stewart?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Return of Evil
  • 2. The Web in Space
  • 3. The Monster in the Tunnels
  • 4. Danger for the Doctor
  • 5. Battle with the Yeti
  • 6. The Terror of the Web
  • 7. Escape from the Web
  • 8. Return of the Yeti
  • 9. Kidnapped!
  • 10. Danger Above Ground
  • 11. ‘I want your mind’
  • 12. The Fall of the Fortress
  • 13. Captives of the Intelligence
  • 14. The Final Duel

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts 1967 scripts by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.

Notes: TV’s Julius Silverstein becomes a marginally less stereotypical Emil Julius, while Travers’ murdered companion from The Abominable Snowmen is here given the full name of ‘Angus Mackay’ (and the events of that earlier story are stated as having taken place in 1935). Although Travers was seen as a failure by his peers, his obsession with the Yeti control sphere led him towards electronics, which made him both rich and famous. The Yeti matches the description from its earlier appearance, with fangs and glowing red eyes, so there’s no mention of the transformation into a new version. There’s no resolution from the previous story (which won’t be published for some years yet), but we do get more details of what happened in the weeks after the first Yeti awakens, and how Central London became ‘gripped tight in a Web of Fear’ (extra points for crow-barring the title in there).

There’s a reminder at the start that Jamie was a Jacobean rebel; when Arnold asks for his help, Jamie’s reticent, as ‘although their coats were khaki rather than red, Jamie found it hard to forget that English soldiers were his traditional enemies’. We’re also told that Victoria had joined the TARDIS after an encounter with the Daleks, abandoning her usual big frocks for more practical clothing (Victoria is wearing ‘slacks’ rather than the mini-skirt she pops on in her first TV scene). As well as the summary of Travers’ first encounter with the time travellers, we also get a reminder of what the Great Intelligence is.

Dicks is both flattering and cutting when it comes to the reporter, Chorley:

He was an impressive looking man with a stern, handsome face, and a deep, melodious voice. He was also extremely photogenic. On television he gave the impression of a sincere, wise and responsible man. Unfortunately, his looks were deceptive. Chorley was weak, vain and in reality rather stupid. But appearances count for a great deal in public life. Chorley’s voice and his looks, together with a certain natural cunning, had enabled him to establish himself as one of television’s best-known interviewers and reporters.

Considering the TV version owed more than a little to Alan Whicker, this is surely a risky detail?

There’s the Doctor’s first meeting with Lethbridge-Stewart, which without too much hyperbole is classed as ‘in its way as historic an encounter as that between Stanley and Doctor Livingstone’, followed by a brief history of what’s already happened for the reader but has yet to occur for the characters (Brigadier, UNIT, etc). Evans says to Jamie ‘Don’t stand there mooning, boyo. Let’s get out while we can!’ which accidentally paints the rather strange image of Jamie lifting the back of his kilt up to taunt the glowing web. Later, when Evans complains about his tobacco tin being taken from him, the Doctor reproaches him, saying ‘Smoking’s very bad for you’.

Corporal Blake is killed by a Yeti’s webgun rather than a vicious chop from its claw. The Intelligence speaks to Victoria through the underground public address system (as opposed to just being a disembodied voice) and when a possessed character speaks, they do so with the Intelligence’s voice, not a version of their own. The Colonel remains brave throughout and doesn’t have the brief wobble he had on telly. The story concludes with him musing about setting up some sort of ‘Intelligence Task Force’, while the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria make it safely back to the TARDIS.

Cover: Achilleos’s original cover art is gorgeous – a huge Troughton looks down as a Yeti (a hybrid of an Abominable one and parts of a Web of Fear one) holds Staff Sgt. Arnold in a blast of golden energy with its eyes. The 1983 reprint had a cover by Andrew Skilleter showing the TARDIS caught in misty space-fog while another Abominable / Web of Fear hybrid-Yeti once again shows off its glowing and similarly inaccurate eye-beams. Alister Pearson’s 1993 cover has an adorably terrified Troughton recoiling from a proper Web-version Yeti while the background shows an underground tunnel that creates a frame around the TARDIS trapped in space inside the space web. Lovely job.

Final Analysis: ‘The huge, furry monster reared up, as if to strike.’ This is Doctor Who-as-action-movie from the tease of the very first line. My childhood library buddy used to claim Troughton was his favourite Doctor based solely on this book and it’s easy to see why. Long considered a classic even before it was rediscovered in 2013, The Web of Fear has all the classic elements of the era. It’s almost the opposite of The Ice Warriors, in that the original scripts are so solid and full of suspense that it’s hard to lose that energy in adapting them for the page.

One thought on “Chapter 24. Doctor Who and the Web of Fear (1976)

  1. One of my absolute faves. I remember reading this on the bus on the way to school.
    It was such an exciting read, and to someone who had never even seen the London underground, the descriptions were particularly chilling and eerie.
    Even now, writing this and looking at my 1980s edition with the orange neon logo, it’s full of nostalgia.

    Liked by 1 person

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