Thursday, 25 January 2018
Inspirations - The Web of Fear
The inspiration for this story is pretty straightforward, as it's a sequel. Sequels in the classic run of Doctor Who were, however, a very rare event. Some monsters and characters make return appearances - the Daleks, Cybermen and the Meddling Monk for instance - but only the latter of these was in any way a sequel, in that the Monk was specifically out to get revenge for what the Doctor did to him in his previous story. A sequel has to be a continuation of a storyline, or have a plot which directly shows the consequences of events and outcomes which occurred in the previous episodes.
Before we take a closer look at the story itself, a quick word about changes going on behind the scenes, for there are several things happening here.
Innes Lloyd has now stepped down as producer, and Peter Bryant has taken over that role full time, after getting a shot at it with Tomb of the Cybermen. Replacing Bryant as script editor is Derrick Sherwin, who will be with the programme in one capacity or another up until the advent of the Jon Pertwee era. Sherwin brings an assistant along. You won't see his name on the closing credits, but this is the first story to have input from Terrance Dicks. Victor Pemberton, who had also been trialed on Tomb, was offered the chance to become full time script editor, but declined. He'll write the next story, however.
The Web of Fear is written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, and was commissioned on the strength of their earlier contribution The Abominable Snowmen. In fact, it was commissioned before that story had even been broadcast, such was the enthusiasm of Lloyd and Bryant. The writers were asked to come up with a rematch featuring the Yeti and the Great Intelligence, and a reunion for the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria with Prof Edward Travers.
Another adventure in the mountains of Tibet was ruled out, as that scenario had been thoroughly mined, so the writers chose to set it in contemporary London. The UNIT dating controversy really kicks into gear here, as the earlier story was said to have taken place in 1935, and Travers claims that was 40 years ago - making this circa 1975. Were we to take this as gospel, then every Brigadier-UNIT story takes place in a 12 - 18 month window. If you like to think that all the novels and short story anthologies are canon then beware, because they say this story takes place in 1966, 1968, 1969 or 1975.
The truth is on screen the whole time, as we see movie posters for films that were in the cinema in the winter of 1967/8, and there is also the small matter of the Underground map, showing the network as it was then, and not as it was in the mid 1970's. I'll also draw your attention to the tin with the Tube map on the lid which the Doctor brandishes in The Snowmen.
Episode One sees one of the Tibetan Yetis ensconced in the private museum of Julius Silverstein (who is painted in very broad stereotyped hues). Initial drafts were going to have these scenes take place in the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. No explanation is given on screen for its transformation into a slimline "Mark II" version, even when the difference in remarked upon. From a production point of view, the change was because director Douglas Camfield wanted to make them less cuddly and more scary. They now have glowing eyes, as they are going to be doing a lot of lurching in the darkened Underground tunnels, and he also wants them to roar. They were silent in their last outing. This is how we know that Terrance Dicks has come on board, as one of his oft-repeated anecdotes on many of the DVD extras is how they used the sound of a flushing lavatory to help get the roar. Camfield gets referenced in the 2013 telesnap reconstruction for the still AWOL Episode Three. The chocolate bar which Driver Evans takes from a vending machine is labeled Camfield's Dairy Milk Chocolate - a play on Cadbury's famous brand, The BBC's ban on product placement extends to a poster for the film In The Heat of the Night, which they have re-titled "Block-Buster". Another production in-house reference to look out for is the name of the commanding officer of the Fortress who has been killed off screen before the action starts - Colonel Pemberton.
Talk of commanding officers brings us neatly to the first appearance in the programme of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who turns up in Episode Three. He is only a Colonel when he gets introduced here, belonging to a Scottish regiment, and his full name won't be heard for a year or two yet. Nicholas Courtney was part of Camfield's regular pool of actors. He had been in reserve to play King Richard in The Crusade had Julian Glover turned the part down, and Camfield later gave him the role of Bret Vyon in The Daleks' Master Plan. For The Web of Fear, Camfield had cast him as the doomed Captain Knight, with the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart going to David Langton. Langton had to withdraw, so Courtney was quite literally promoted - and the rest is Doctor Who history.
The Colonel was inspired by Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Campbell Mitchell - known as "Mad Mitch" - who in July 1967 had led the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in action in Aden, going into battle accompanied by 15 pipers. Photos show him wearing the same sort of tartan-trimmed Glengarry hat which Lethbridge-Stewart sports, so viewers at the time would have known exactly where the inspiration came from.
Another character whom the viewers might have recognised is journalist Harold Chorley. He is a smarmy and unctuous individual, and people might have been put in mind of David Frost. He had come to prominence during the satire boom of the early 1960's, presenting That Was The Week That Was, having previously been a member of the Cambridge Footlights group which spawned many a British comic genius. Peter Cook thought that Frost tended to steal others' ideas - dubbing him "the bubonic plagiarist". Visually, Chorley has the look of Robin Day about him. Day was for many years the BBC's political Grand Inquisitor. He sported thick rimmed spectacles and a bow tie (when they weren't at all cool).
Much of the action centres of the Goodge Street Fortress. The most famous of the World War II bunkers in London is Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms built beneath Whitehall, which are open to the public and run by the Imperial War Museum. Churchill had another, rarely used, bunker built away from the city centre, up in Dollis Hill. The Admiralty had their "Citadel" which you can see beside Horseguards Parade just off The Mall. A number of tunnels linked these bunkers to the Underground network. There really was a bunker at Goodge Street. It is now The Eisenhower Centre, entrance on Chenies Street, and houses a D-Day museum. Eisenhower was never actually based there, it being used as an Allied communications hub.
The idea of London being shrouded by a mysterious and deadly fog would appeal to overseas viewers, as they were always being led to believe that London looked like this all the time. We have the Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper films, plus a number of Gothic pot-boilers (usually starring Stewart Grainger) to thank for this notion. In the USA TV viewers were still being presented with this image of London in the 1980's. I refer you to an episode of Murder She Wrote, where Angela Lansbury plays Jessica Fletcher's look-a-like English cousin, as just one example. Up until we introduced smoke-free coal varieties we did have what was known as the "London Particular" - a sulfurous smog which killed thousands every winter. Also known as a "pea-souper" these annual fogs hit crisis point in 1952 with the Great Smog, in which some 12,000 people are thought to have died in only a few days.
Lastly, it may just be a coincidence, but two of the Fortress personnel are named Arnold and Lane.
Pink Floyd's song "Arnold Layne" had been a hit for them in March 1967, so might still have been ear-worming the writers of The Web of Fear. It's a song about a man who steals women's underwear, and was supposed to be based on a real person. It has nothing to do with robot Yeti, as far as I know.
Next time: Victoria screams her way out of the show after an encounter with not so deadly seaweed, as Victor Pemberton raids a BBC radio drama for inspiration. It's okay though, as it is his own BBC radio drama...