Web of Fear

Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln

Directed by Douglas Camfield

Agatha Christie has sold around 4 billion books. To me that number is incomprehensibly huge. Anything past about 10 million stops having any meaning in this context and just becomes a fuckload. 4 billion if four hundred fuckloads. That’s a shitload of fuckloads*. Its easy to see why. Her books may mostly be poorly written, about nothing and latterly somewhat formulaic**, but there is no arguing that she was a complete master of structure and suspense. There are better mystery writers, such as Christie’s good friend, Dorothy L Sayers, but few could plausibly keep the mystery going right up until the last second the way that she did.

I’m not sure if Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were deliberately attempting to create an homage to Christie in The Web of Fear, but deliberately or subconsciously the end result bears all the hallmarks of one of her best: a finite group of characters, all suspicious, are trapped in a closed off area, and one of them is a criminal. And in the end, of course, the butler did it, or rather, Staff Sgt. Arnold, whose apparent no nonsense, order obeying, demeanour makes him very much the butler of the piece.

This also marks the first recurring non-villain character in Doctor Who in the form of Travers, who probably looks more like a real yeti than those robot things do. Much as he is great, and everything, far more exciting is appearance halfway through of another recurring character, though at the moment he would appear to be little other than just another red herring to throw the Doctor off the scent for a little longer. Yes, this is the first appearance of Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, or Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart as he is for the time being. I don’t think that anyone had any notion of keeping the character around quite as long as they did at this point***, but they clearly like putting Nicholas Courtney in military roles, as his last appearance was a rather similar character in the Dalek’s Master Plan. Clearly, the Vyons are descended from the Lethbridge-Stewarts.

I have to admit, much as I like Deborah Watling as an actress, Victoria is beginning to rather get on my nerves as a character. She seems capable of very little other than screaming. Its a real shame that some of the potential for actually doing things shown earlier in the series never came to anything. Clearly, Watling herself was feeling similarly, because the next story would be her last on the show. Can the writers give the character anything that me might miss as viewers in her final romp? Probably not, but join us next time anyway for Fury From the Deep.

*I am actually quite good at maths.

**The formula she devised is actually a really handy writing tool, and well worth learning to use if you ever want to write a mystery story like this one.

***If you count spin off shows like the Sarah Jane Adventures, the Brig’s last appearance was only a few years ago, shortly before Nicholas Courtney’s death.

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