Chapter 2. Doctor Who and the Zarbi (1965)

aka Doctor Who – The Web Planet (1990)

Synopsis: The Tardis crew land on a rocky alien world occupied by a variety of insects being controlled by a malevolent parasite. Susan has disappeared and she’s been replaced by Vicki. And after Ian’s suggestion for a nickname for their pilot, it seems ‘Doctor Who’ is his actual name now.

Chapter Titles

  • 1 The Web Planet
  • 2 The Zarbi
  • 3 Escape to Danger
  • 4 The Crater of Needles
  • 5 Invasion
  • 6 Centre of Terror

Background: Bill Strutton adapts his own scripts from a serial broadcast just six months earlier, in February to March 1965. Published by Frederick Muller Ltd in September 1965, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973.  At 174 pages, it remains the longest of the adaptations until Fury from the Deep, though this includes the 15 illustration plates too.

Notes: Although this is a follow-on from The Daleks and was in production alongside The Crusaders, there’s no attempt to explain where Susan has gone or who Vicki is, aside from ‘the youngest member of the Tardis inhabitants. There are a few references to past episodes – Barbara’s gold bangle, which was a gift from Nero; Vicki’s crashed rocket on the planet Dido; using ‘like poles’ to repel magnets on the Dalek saucer – so unlike An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, this isn’t part of a series of books so much as an extension of the TV series.

Ian describes his tie as that of the ‘Coal Hill Old Boys’, suggesting he was a pupil there too. Maybe this is why he was tired of teaching in the first book? Strutton assumes that the light on top of the police box is in fact a Tardis searchlight (possibly the one mentioned in the first book). A couple of the female characters on TV are male here, even though there are other female Menoptera and Optera. And of course, the ‘larvae gun’ are renamed ‘venom grubs’, which makes much more sense.

Cover & Illustrations: The first cover, for Frederick Muller, is a black-and-white illustration with a red background and a weird non-canonical, shimmering  “Dr. Who” logo. White Lion did another odd one with Tom Baker for the 1975 hardback and Alister Pearson’s VHS cover was used on a 1990 paperback reprint. Once again it’s the Chris Achilleos cover that endures, using the same photo reference as his cover for The Daleks, a pair of mahogany Zarbi and a startled Menoptera. There are 15 illustrations by John Woods and they depict the world of the novel, not the TV show. For some reason his Vicki is terrible but the others look spot on and the Zarbi look particularly impressive directing an attack from the edge of a cliff. My favourite pic though is of the Doctor and Ian looking up at a creepy statue in the rocks. Really helps create a sense of vastness on the Vortis landscape.

And we get our first chapter title called ‘Escape to Danger’ too!

Final Analysis: In contrast to David Whitaker’s approach, Bill Strutton appears to be writing for a much younger age group. Is this because that’s who was buying the books or just who he assumes would be buying them? Also, Whitaker was writing when the programme was still in its first series and many things were still being ironed out; despite calling him ‘Doctor Who’, Strutton’s Doctor is more recognisably the one from TV than Whitaker’s, complete with umms and ahhs, even if he does fix Hartnell’s fluffs in the original recording. Also, his descriptions of the motivations and movements of the  Zarbi really help to make sense of the TV episodes – for instance the beginning of episode two, where Barbara is walking around the pool of acid, where the book explains that the Zarbi is controlling her, as opposed to waggling an arm and beeping.

It might seem an odd story to adapt but it was the highest rated serial of the programme so far and Strutton takes every opportunity to make Vortis seem so colourful and beautiful, especially on the very last page.