Return to the Web Planet, by Daniel O’Mahoney
As we approach the end of my self-proclaimed “second season” of 5th Doctor audios, it’s time for a quick bout of 60s nostalgia. The Web Planet… Vortis… home of the Zarbi… in fact, I’ve never seen The Web Planet episodes, so my encounter with the Zarbi and the Menoptra comes with no baggage at all. Having genned up on the continuity however, I’m pleased to note that the cover for this audio adventure fits in very nicely with the old Target novelisation. Time for some old-school adventure then, methinks. And indeed this play cracks along at a fair old pace, with no breaks. Drawn – again – by some mysterious force to Vortis, the Doctor and Nyssa are separated by a horde of stampeding Zarbi and rescued – eventually – by the Menoptra scientist Acheron and his wingless daughter Hedyla. The remainder of the rather short 70 minutes is spent investigating the source of the mysterious force that is pulling starships from the skies to crash on Vortis…
So far, so good. In hindsight the set-up looks very similar to the original Hartnell-era serial, but from my point of view, that’s no bad thing. The Zarbi are portrayed as cattle-like rather than hive-mind creatures, and refreshingly there are no real “bad guys” as such. This is problem-solving Who; the negotiating, scientific side of the Doctor and Nyssa that works very well in their partnership. As such the episode is just about the right length for the problem-investigation-crisis-solution formula to lie nicely. The only thing that doesn’t really work for me is the Xanthi-Yanesh plot device that seems to be almost a deus ex machina (though one that could be developed in other ways in the future – what if the seeds interacted with other, more aggressive species? And what reprecussions does humanity face from sending out these seeds?).