What a tangled Web Planet we weave

Dear (dare I say it?) web master,

The stories "The Lost Ones" and "The Lair of Zarbi Supremo" (from the Doctor Who Annual 1966, included on the DVD of The Web Planet) mark the Doctor's first and second visits to the planet Vortis. It is stated that he saw little of the Zarbi prior to "The Lair of Zarbi Supremo", so his visit to Vortis in The Web Planet must therefore come afterwards (the websites Outpost Gallifrey and The Doctor Who Reference Guide agree on this).

However, in The Web Planet, although the Doctor recognises the Menoptra and has heard of Vortis, he says of the planet's surface: "I've never experienced anything in my life before like this." When he meets the Zarbi, he tells Ian: "These creatures on this planet are completely unknown to me."

Can you explain this - and what is the correct sequence of events?

Steph Kearley

Johnny Fanboy replies:

Though the Doctor initially fails to recognise the setting of The Web Planet, during the second episode he admits that both its rock formations and the presence of the Menoptra "suggest the planet Vortis" to him. Evidently at this point he is not yet convinced that the planet is Vortis, however, due to its large number of moons and other celestial bodies (which, it transpires, have been attracted by the power of the Animus). True, Vortis also has moons in "The Lair of Zarbi Supremo" (by which time the planet has travelled outside of its native Isop galaxy and into our own solar system) but maybe these are different moons and perhaps not as many of them, some having been shed since the events of The Web Planet.

When the Doctor encounters the Zarbi a few minutes later in the same episode, note the particular way in which he phrases his comment to Ian: "These creatures on this planet are completely unknown to me." I presume, therefore, that he doesn't mean the Zarbi are unknown to him, but rather that he is still unconvinced that the planet is Vortis. If the planet is not Vortis, then the creatures, despite their resemblance to the Zarbi, might not actually be Zarbi. In "The Lair of Zarbi Supremo", the Doctor makes a point of not prejudging the species based solely on its likeness to another species (Earth ants), so it's not uncharacteristic of him to be so pedantic. Ultimately, of course, the Doctor learns that the planet is in indeed Vortis, though the Zarbi are now under the control of a new form of life, the Animus.

The list that follows shows the Doctor's landings on Vortis in the order in which I believe they take place. The list also includes the comic strip "On the Web Planet" (TV Comic issues 693-698). In this strip, the Doctor says that he has visited Vortis before and helped to defeat the Zarbi. However, this could easily refer to the events of "The Lair of Zarbi Supremo". The Menoptera [sic] state that the Doctor has been a part of their history for generations and that the Zarbi used to work under their control after the Zarbi "brain" had been defeated. Again, this could refer to events in "Lair". Even if it is a reference to The Web Planet, the Doctor would simply assume that the Menoptera are referring to the events of "Lair", because the TV serial hasn't happened for him yet.

The chronology also includes the Missing Adventures novel Twilight of the Gods, which, since it features the Second Doctor, obviously comes last. According to page 209 of this novel, this is the Time Lord's first visit to Vortis since the events of The Web Planet...

The Doctor's landings on Vortis (from the Doctor's point of view):
"The Lost Ones"
"The Lair of Zarbi Supremo"
"On the Web Planet"
The Web Planet
Twilight of the Gods

From the viewpoint of the Menoptra and Zarbi, the order of events is somewhat different. The Animus's wish to possess mankind's "mastery of space" in The Web Planet could be inspired by the Atlantean space travellers in "The Lost Ones", or it could simply indicate that the Animus is assuming that the space- and time-travelling Vicki is a typical example of contemporary humanity...

The Doctor's landings on Vortis (from Vortis's point of view):
"The Lost Ones"
The Web Planet
"The Lair of Zarbi Supremo" (the Doctor observes several of Vortis's moons, which it acquired under the Animus's influence)
"On the Web Planet" (atmospheric density jackets are no longer necessary)
Twilight of the Gods
(Vortis is now covered in lush vegetation)

I hope that's straightened the matter out for you, Steph, and that it won't bug you any longer!

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