The Web of Fear
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read by David Troughton
Released by BBC Audio August 2017
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So I suppose I should be honest and up-front, The Web of Fear is one of my all-time favourite stories. The bizarre mix of cosmic horror, the underground setting and a likeable and amusing cast of characters completely work for me. I was utterly delighted when the story was discovered in 2013, but I first experienced it, like many others, through this novelisation by Terrence Dicks. My father had a friend at work who being a doctor who fan and discovering I was one, would occasionally give me old magazines and books. One day he returned with an almost complete set of target novelizations. Naturally I first went for the missing episodes and this story in particular. However having since had all but a single episode discovered, does this new reading still retain the stories original power?
First off we have David Troughton reading the novel, familiar to viewers from his performances in several stories including The Curse of Peladon and Midnight. David’s voice has a very low, eerie quality to it that works well with the subject matter. The most effective moments include a sequence in which our characters return to base, to find the bodies of soldiers covered in web. David’s description of these events genuinely is terrifying, slowing down his dictation so that every horrific detail is inched out bit by bit. His impersonations of the regulars are not too bad either, even if his Lethbridge Stewart sounds more like a general from any number of 60’s war films than Nicholas Courtney. His impression of his father, whilst not up to the level of Frazer Hines’s, is unmistakably the second doctor and he gets the comic timing just right. His impression of Jamie however is the one that steals the show is and at points it did sound exactly like Hines.
Terrence Dicks prose follows the television story almost exactly. After all by 1968 Terrence Dicks had joined the show as a Junior Editor when Web was in production. He does add a few nice little references, for example hints at the future friendship between the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart. He also omits the opening cliff-hanger to the previous serials Enemy of the World and (thankfully) remains the troubling Julius Silverstein to Emil Julius. One particularly nice addition is a few phrases giving an explanation of the events that take place between the reactivation of the Yeti and the Doctors arrival as London is taken over. With Troughton’s low tones, and a sumptuous score and roaring sound effects, this has a suitably apocalyptic feel.
The story is helped by a wonderful soundscape and music score. As far as I could tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) none of the original sound effects were used. This is actually somewhat refreshing, the new Yeti roars work wonders and help this version to stand on its own without conjuring memories of the television adaptation. The music especially seems to take more inspiration from horror movies than classic Doctor Who and it works in this versions favour. One odd omission is no version of the Doctor Who Theme, instead over the credits we get a bizarre ‘swashbuckling’ theme. Furthermore there’s no ‘wheezing and groaning’ sound played over the description. I suspect this for some odd copyright reason and I have no idea if this is the same with the other audio-book readings.
All in all if you’re a fan of the story, then you’ll find much to enjoy in this new adaptation. A splendid new version of an already established classic.