What-to-watch

Doctor Who: The Web Of Fear available to watch On Demand!

Wind instrument: Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor contemplates the power of a recorder

As if the 50th anniversary celebrations weren't enough, there's another special treat for Doctor Who fans this month as The Web Of Fear comes to Virgin TV Anywhere.

The 1968 story was feared lost for decades, with only the first episode surviving from the BBC's then-habitual wiping of old tapes. But last month unexpected news came from Nigeria, where four more of the missing episodes had been found, and the BBC has lovingly restored the serial for full release.

Episode three hasn't been recovered, but the audio tape remains along with enough extant on-set photographs to piece together a viable 25 minutes. Its absence doesn't detract from one of the Doctor's more thrilling stories.

Second helpings

Our Doctor this time around is Patrick Troughton, the second to fill the role. If you're unfamiliar with this particular Time Lord – many of his stories have been lost, after all – he's the series' nearest precursor to Matt Smith. Troughton plays the part as a brilliant eccentric, at first a seemingly suspicious interference, but later an unlikely saviour. All attention is pulled towards him as his kindly face folds into the features of a serious hero.

The Great Intelligence

The immediate enemies are the Yeti, robotic facsimiles of the legendary beast, who are now stalking the London Underground and driving everyone out of the city. The Doctor has encountered them before. Decades earlier, he and companion Jamie McCrimmon had faced them in the Himalayas along with Professor Travers (Jack Watling) who reappears here. Travers is surprised to see his old ally, but his daughter Anne is astonished to be told that our old Doc hasn't aged a day.

But the Yeti, once more, aren't acting alone. They're controlled by the Great Intelligence, a sentient cloud of nothing that floats in Time and Space. Modern viewers will know the evil fog crops up again in 2012 with the voice of Ian McKellen, activating bloodthirsty snowman, and returns in 2013 in the shape of Richard E Grant, aiming to undo all the Doctor's victories.

Staunch companions

The Doctor's assistants here are old Scots warrior McCrimmon and Victorian orphan Victoria Waterfield. Respectively, they tackle the classic Who roles of feisty male and screaming female, but there's an even more significant character waiting in the wings. The Web Of Fear sees the debut of Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart, who has just the right gravitas, authority and pencil moustache to provide an efficient army response to the menace.

Quick! Behind the sofa!

Doctor Who doesn't mean a thing if it isn't terrifying, and The Web Of Fear chills the spine in all the right places. The Yeti – so very nearly shaggy rugs on top of Metal Mickey – are genuinely scary, their relentless march and brutal strength a scourge of the streets of Covent Garden, and the webbed human corpses are horror-movie calibre. The real killer though is the fungus. When it oozes out of the tube tunnel at the end of episode two, it's a truly sickly, eerie moment in a richly atmospheric tale.

All told, The Web Of Fear is an excellent piece of Doctor Who noir and a creepy showcase for Troughton's rarely matched talent. Catch it while you can.

Watch The Web Of Fear on Virgin TV Anywhere now.

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27-11-2013