January 30: "The Zarbi" / "Escape to Danger"

(The Web Planet episodes 2 & 3)

"So that's where they've taken the ship to," Ian says during "The Zarbi", indicating an indistinct white haze among the indistinct grey-white haze, and it takes quite a bit to even realize that the indistinct white haze is what he's referring to.  The filters were a nice touch last time, but they're starting to wear out their welcome here: it's not just that they rendered that aforementioned shot virtually incomprehensible, but they also start to hurt the eyes as they try and fail to focus on the image.  And not all of the cameras have the filter: this is presumably to show a difference between interior and exterior shots, but then Richard Martin uses cameras with filters for interiors and cameras without for exteriors, so it does rather start to look like there's a problem with one of the cameras more than anything else.  There's also the amazing scene of the TARDIS wandering across Vortis on its own, with the shot of the Zarbi looking on worthy of particular mention.  Yes, it's supposedly being dragged, but the wiggle motion that the model makes ruins that impression somewhat. 

Barbara is held by the Menoptra. ("The Zarbi") ©BBC
Sadly, things are also about as slow here as they were in the last episode.  There's a lot of slow conversations with the Menoptra, owing to the way they speak -- a nice thought, but it doesn't help the pacing any.  Meanwhile, the Zarbi can't speak at all, so there's no hope of sustaining interest there.  The fact is that you begin to stop seeing them as giant ants and start to pity the poor people hunched over inside the costumes.  That said, there's a scene where Barbara and an Menoptra called Hrostar are captured by the Zarbi, and then Barbara watches in horror as the Zarbi rip the wings off Hrostar, that's really quite horrific.  But sadly that's an exception for this episode, rather than the rule.

Admittedly, things do get a little better in "Escape to Danger" (and how wonderful is it that there's actually an episode called "Escape to Danger"!  Particularly for anyone who grew up on the Target novelizations and greeted chapter titles like "Escape to Danger" like fond friends), in no small part because the Zarbi have been given a voice through their controlling force, the Animus.  And full marks for casting Catherine Fleming as said voice -- she delivers a silky smooth performance as the Animus, improving things dramatically.  There also seems to be more incident in this episode, as the Doctor looks at his astral map and Ian makes a dramatic escape (...into danger!).  Things may finally be picking up.

Of course, this is also the infamous episode where a Zarbi runs into the camera; it's a whacking great collision too, but part of the problem is that the scene seems to exist purely to have a Zarbi crash into a camera -- there's no narrative reason for the scene to be present at all.  Then there's an odd shot of a wall inside the Carcinome that goes on uncomfortably long with nothing happening -- perhaps a Zarbi missed its cue, but that doesn't change the fact that we're staring at a wall for five long seconds.  And if you look closely you can see a camera operator through the Carcinome's webbed walls as Ian makes his escape.  So things may be picking up, but they still could be going better.  And make no mistake: just because we're doing better than the last two episodes doesn't mean that "Escape to Danger" isn't slow -- it's just not as slow.  But given the current direction of this story, I'll take what I can get.