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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who and the Web of Fear


Author: Terrance Dicks
Read by: David Troughton
Publisher: BBC Audio
RRP: £20.00 (CD), £7.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78529 618 5
Release Date: 10 August 2017

For 40 years Professor Travers’ Yeti has been quiet, a collector’s item in a museum. Then, without warning, it awakes and savagely murders. Patches of mist begin to appear in Central London, those who linger in it found dead, their faces smothered in cobwebs. When the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive in the London Underground, they find that the web is remorselessly spreading. What’s more, hordes of Yeti are roaming the misty streets and cobwebbed tunnels, killing everyone in their path. London has been gripped tight in a web of fear. The Doctor and his friends unite with the army, led by one Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, in defence of planet Earth. But an old enemy is lurking in the shadows…

“Why, that’s over forty years ago!” So said Professor Edward Travers in The Web of Fear, regarding his previous encounter with the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria in The Abominable Snowmen. It also happens to be the length of time that has elapsed since Terrance Dicks’s novelisation of the television story was originally published in 1976 (which, coincidentally, is around the time that the serial was supposed to be set).

As usual with his adaptations of six-part stories, Dicks tightens up the narrative – for example, skipping the part where Victoria serves tea to Travers and his daughter Anne, instead cutting straight to her decision to venture into the tunnels in search of the missing Doctor. The author also misses out the resolution of the cliffhanger from the previous serial, The Enemy of the World, making this more of a standalone piece. It’s a bit of a shame to lose some of the nice character moments that Dicks excises, such as Anne Travers berating the sensationalist reporter Harold Chorley for interpreting things in his “own inimitable style” and Corporal Blake ribbing Craftsman Weams about the “right old Fred Karno’s Army” (meaning a chaotic organisation) the combination of civilians, soldiers and engineers make.

However, Dicks adds far more than he takes away. In his opening chapter, for instance, he describes what happened to Travers and the single robot Yeti he managed to recover between 1935 and the ‘present day’, explaining how the Professor ended up penniless and discredited following his expedition to Tibet, how he was forced to sell his Yeti to a museum, after having become an expert in electronics while trying to get the thing working again. Following the opening museum scene, there’s another passage of time before the TARDIS arrives, and the novelist fills this in, too, describing the police investigation into the mysterious death of the museum owner, and the arrival in Central London of the mist, the web and the army of Yeti. Some of the latter details are brought forward from Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart’s briefing later on in the story (the briefing scene itself is told in summary).

The introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart (later promoted to Brigadier and put in charge of the British division of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) is, of course, of huge significance to the mythology of Doctor Who, though the television production team didn’t know it at the time. Dicks knew it well enough when he penned the novelisation, and accordingly adds a new scene in which the Doctor and the Colonel have their first uneasy encounter (in the original serial, this meeting took place off screen, because Patrick Troughton was on holiday that week). The author throws forward at this point, mentioning the fact that one day these two strangers would become close friends and colleagues. There’s more foreshadowing towards the end of the book, when the Colonel thinks to himself that there really ought to be some kind of international taskforce to deal with alien invasions…

The writer also rationalises some of the narrative’s technical details and implausibilities, such as why the TARDIS crew set off through the tunnel to reach another station rather than try to batter down the barriers at Covent Garden, and why the soldiers use a cable rather than radio control to detonate their bomb (on screen, the explanation that the web absorbs radio waves comes much later in the story). In a neat touch, the set-up at the Goodge Street fortress is described via Harold Chorley’s voice recordings.

Cultural stereotypes in Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln’s original scripts have been toned down. The avaricious museum owner Julius Silverstein is renamed Emil Julius here, and is described as being Eastern European rather than specifically Jewish. The Welsh Driver Evans remains comically cowardly, but this is mitigated by the Colonel considering that Welshmen usually make fine soldiers.

As with the audio book of The Abominable Snowmen, Patrick Troughton’s son and fellow actor David reads this unabridged novelisation, providing a nice touch of continuity. Troughton lends a wide range of voices to the characters, being particularly good as Jamie, Emil Julius, the crotchety Edward Travers, the gruff Sergeant Arnold and the sardonic Corporal Blake. He also has great fun voicing Driver Evans (“There’s lovely”), while his impersonation of his father’s performance as the Doctor goes from strength to strength.

Have no fear, this is a great release. There’s lovely!


Richard McGinlay

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