Reimagining Doctor Who

The Web Planet 

Episode notes

The TARDIS team are now a true team, and it is tempting to put a break here between stories to suggest that those bonds have been strengthened through an unseen period of time (and possible adventures, such as “The Keys of Marinus”!). 

This is Susan’s story.

There is an aspect of “The Sensorites” that allows Susan both agency and character development through her latent telepathy, and her burgeoning belief in doing what is right.  In fact, in many ways, this serves to remind and inspire that within the Doctor.  Perhaps, like Vikki’s range of hearing in “The Space Museum”, Susan’s telepathic abilities are commensurate with her youth (thought the Doctor’s telepathic abilities are not unadvanced relative to humans). 

As Susan’s story, this is about empathy and idealism, and it is that shared sentiment that aids her and those she meets along the way.  We see this ultimately in the resolution, when the dominance of the Animus is proven inferior to Susan’s ability to harness the collective will of every living soul on Vortis – which is one of a deep wish to live in peace, free from the mind control of the Animus – including the minds of those it has consumed over the many generations during its long tyranny over Vortis. 

In that way, it echoes Jungian thought that the key to controlling one’s own animus (or anima) is to recognise when it manifests (i.e., through its control over the Zarbi and its physical spread across the planet, and to turn against this), and to exercise our ability to discern the (force of) the animus (or anima) from reality – which is to say that the inhabitants of Vortis – and the TARDIS team – can be free from the Animus if they will it collectively

Susan’s pre-eminence comes through the immobilisation of the Doctor in this story.  It serves to heighten the stakes in that the Animus is able to so easily contain him, encasing the Doctor in that wonderful image of its web for the majority of the story.

Cold Open

Some time has elapsed since the events of the previous adventure, and the TARDIS team are at rest – all except the Doctor who is hunched in concern at the controls on the console of his Ship. In the lowlight, he mutters to himself as he tries to fight a mysterious, powerful influence that is now violently dragging the TARDIS out of the vortex down to the striking but barren, moonlit planet of Vortis in the Isop Galaxy.

Act One


Barbara is cutting Ian’s hair. Some time has clearly elapsed and their wounds from their time in Cathay have healed, and there is a subtly-communicated intimacy between them, of which Barbara cutting Ian’s hair implies. At the moment that their intimacy is about to become apparent to the viewer, they are thrown around by what we saw in the cold open. Upon the juddering halt on its surface upon arrival, the others soon emerge congregate in the console room to join him. Susan hears a chittering noise on an ultra-high frequency all around that psychically overwhelms her. The Doctor informs them all that the TARDIS is stuck on the planet so long as the influence exerts itself over his Ship. Ian is press-ganged by the Doctor to explore the surface outside, leaving Ian and Barbara to exchange a regretful look that speaks to the bond that has developed between them as a result of the events of the previous story, leaving the ailing Susan to be tended to by Barbara.

As the Doctor and Ian explore the still, echoing surface of Vortis, they come across a massive, decaying monolithic structure that points to a long-fallen civilisation and hints of a winged creature.

Meanwhile, Susan has been put to bed and Barbara returns to her room. It is not long, however, before Susan, still unconscious and as though in a dream, holds at her gold bracelet and sleepwalks her way unnoticed out of the TARDIS and across the desolate plain in response to a telepathic signal that now exerts control over her.

The Doctor and Ian come across a pool of what they discover to be acid – Ian losing his gold pen to some bizarre gravitational pull and Coal Hill School tie to the acid – before they are ambushed by giant ants.

Barbara is awoken in the TARDIS by the ship being moved. She begins to panic inside as, outside, an army of ants are carrying her and the Ship away.

Susan’s almost sleepwalks into the same pool of acid discovered earlier by the Doctor and Susan, but is saved by a winged flying creature, which takes her to a high rise that overlooks the crater beneath in which the TARDIS was brought down. From there, Susan can see in the distance the Doctor and Ian and further away the TARDIS all being taken away by a swam of huge ants. She screams out to the Doctor and Ian, her voice rebounding off the internal walls of the crater, before a stick-like, insectoid hand covers her mouth to cut her off.

The Doctor and Ian hear Susan’s voice and scream echoing around them. Ian says that they must find and rescue her, but the Doctor says that it would be impossible to locate her given the acoustics of the crater, that if she is now captured she will be taken to the source of the same influence that is holding them here, and that they must be also find the source.

Susan looks on helplessly, and begins to back away as she becomes surrounded by more large winged creatures whose exact nature and shape she can’t quite make out. A grasping voice cuts the tension: “Kill her!”


Barbara is relieved when the rocking in the TARDIS finally stops, but is alarmed when the view on the scanner reveals her destination; the floor of an enormous chamber filled with thousands of crawling giant ants!

There is a schism between Susan’s captors when the winged creature who rescued her from sleepwalking into the pool of acid, Hrostar, argues that perhaps she can help them. Vrestin, their leader agrees, stating that they can use all the help that they can get, but Hroonda – the aggressor of the group of butterfly people – remains unmoved, even if he is now outnumbered and overruled.

The Doctor and Ian are brought to same location that Barbara and the TARDIS have been, and are relieved to find the TARDIS, hoping that Barbara is still within and that Susan is nearby. Barbara runs out of the TARDIS upon seeing Ian, and they embrace as Ian fights off the intruding ants, while the Doctor is alarmed to discover that Susan isn’t present in the chamber and that she must still out there somewhere. At that point, a transparent cylinder descends over the Doctor’s head and a giant voice booms: “Why do you come now?”

Susan explains to Hrostar, Vrestin, and the other winged creatures how she and her friends came to be on Vortis, pleading her and their innocence. She also explains that she was in communion with an overbearing psychic power that only she amongst her travelling party could hear on account of her youth and her finely attuned natural psychic abilities (as we see with the Doctor later, these lessen with age, just as our range of hearing does, but he is able to rely on his ring to amplify his latent though diminishing abilities). Accepting Susan’s innocence (but also her usefulness as a latent telepath who picks up on the same signals that the Zarbi do), Vrestin then tells Susan of their fight against the giant ants – the Zarbi – and the Animus; their queen intelligence who controls the previously docile herd creatures. We see in flashback the history of the Menoptera and the devastation caused by the coming of the Animus to Vortis, and – after one hundred generations – how now the Menoptera will return to free their home planet from the influence that has poisoned their planet, starting with the spearhead of the invasion that will arrive once the vanguard led by Vrestin gives the signal to land.

The Doctor and the Animus are conversing through the cylinder, though no sound penetrates it so as to allow Ian and Barbara to understand what is being said. The Doctor assures the owner of the disembodied voice that they come in peace, but the voice believes him to be aiding the Menoptra spearhead. It vows to make a show to him of the fate which awaits all the Menoptera ships. The clear tube retracts into the ceiling and the Doctor is herded over to join Ian and Barbara. An appendage in the wall comes to life and points at the TARDIS. It is clearly a weapon; however, when it fires, there is no damage to the ship. The power of the weapon feeds back and causes a small explosion in the room. The Zarbi scatter, chirping madly, as smoke fills the air. The travellers attempt to escape but are overwhelmed by the sheer number of giant ants. The Doctor is connected again with the voice via the helmet-like tube, while Ian and Barbara are kept at bay by the Zarbi. The voice threatens him again and asks to know how the TARDIS withstood its gun: He refuses. They are in a stalemate, and the voice is certain now that she is not dealing with the simple Menoptra. She instead offers him freedom in exchange for his help in defeating her enemies. The Doctor is informed that Susan is at the Crater of Needles “beyond the great web”. The voice wants to find out the exact position of the Menoptera fleet, which is hiding from its scanners out in space. Without overtly agreeing, the Doctor tells it he will use the Space-Time Visualiser in the TARDIS and investigate the situation. But he will need help to do so. The tube retracts and the Doctor believes he has given the voice something to think about for the moment. He rejoins his friends and tries to take them to the TARDIS to speak in peace. However, the Zarbi hold Barbara back, who bravely agrees to stay here while the other two go into the ship.

Outside, Susan leads Vrestin and the Menoptera to the entrance of the Carcinome, the great underground web structure of the Animus, which is heavily guarded by Zarbi. Upon arriving in the web complex, the Menoptera signal to the spearhead amassing around the constellation of Pictos the exact location of the complex’s entrance at the southern end of the Crater of Needles. The spearhead is on its way to at last liberate Vortis of the Animus and the Zarbi.

The Doctor and Ian work to begin their work on calibrating the Space-Time Visualiser to a portable screen that they will be to take out to the voice, which the Doctor calls “The Queens of the Ants”. At the same time, they conspire how Ian can escape with Barbara to find Susan outside in the Crater of Needles. They bring the portable screen outside and the Doctor busies himself with it. Ian goes to warn Barbara of their plan. The Doctor feigns annoyance that the map will not work and shouts out to be put in contact with the “Queen”. The tube drops and the Doctor announces that some force of hers is affecting his Ship’s instruments. If she does not neutralise it, he will be unable to help her locate the invaders. Grudgingly, she agrees to immobilise her force fields around the TARDIS, but warns him that death awaits him if this is a trick.

Shortly, the lights in the walls pulse and fail and the Zarbi guards go nearly dormant, scratching around on the ground like the earth-dwellers they in fact are. Ian and Barbara seize their chance, hurrying off to find Susan and to find Susane and to warn the Menoptera that the Animus and the Zarbi know about their planned invasion spearhead.

Turning Point

The voice is furious with the Doctor, but he maintains that killing him will do her no good if she is to learn where the Menoptera force is to land. An uneasy truce is established, with the Doctor playing for time. But the voice is too clever and can see through into the Doctor’s mind, which reveals he has already completed his calculations – the screen reveals that the invasion is already en route from Pictos to the southern end of the Crater of Needles: The Menoptera have discovered the entrance to the web structure of the carcinoma.

Ian and Barbara have trouble even getting out of the complex as it is organised like an insect burrow, its walls and corridors mazelike and identical. Added to that, the Zarbi are now very much active in other parts of the complex. Ian must try to remember the way he and the Doctor came in, retrace those steps, and evade the patrolling Zarbi with Barbara.

The Animus musters her Zarbi army to gather in strength and prepare for the invasion that she insists will fail. The Doctor, meanwhile, is to be punished. The clear cylinder now extends down the length of the Doctor’s body and opens into a tunnel that drops into the depths of the planet beneath.

Just as Ian and Barbara sight Susan and the Mentopera near the entrance, they are ambushed by the Zarbi who swarm out of the mouth of the entrance of the Carcinome on heightened alert. The Menoptera believe this to be a trap on Susan’s part, but soon they are all surrounded at the base of a cliff wall by the growing Zarbi army that encircles the entire Crater and that is now preparing its arsenal to obliterate the imminent arrival of the spearhead.

The Doctor finally lands at the bottom of the tunnel, in the centre of the Carcinome where the physical existence of the Animus resides and is revealed to the Doctor. In the clear tube, the Doctor is being engulfed by the same web seen on the planet and in the tunnel elsewhere as the voice speak: “What Vortis is, I am. What you are, I will become.”

Outside, the invading fleet is shot down by an army of giant ants. The spacecrafts of the Menpotera begin to breakup and burn in the thin atmosphere of Vortis above Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Menoptera, who are are now backed against the giant walls of the Crater of Needles by the hundreds of Zarbi who hold their larvae gun on them: There is no escape.

Meanwhile, we see the final effect of the gun on the Doctor, who is now entirely covered by the web, utterly immobile, unbreathing, perhaps even dead.

Act Two

Rising action

The ground beneath Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the Menoptera gives way just as they are about to be shot by the Zarbi’s larvae gun. Once they come to a final stop and the dust from the collapsed ground gives way, they are burrowed out by strange grub-like creatures who have been watching them from beneath. The group has landed in one of the Optera’s Temple of Light, where they are addressed by the leader of the underground creatures, Hetra. He tells them that his people – the Optera – know only of death from above; the “liquid death”, “the creeping destroyer” and creatures which do not stand upright. Hetra plans to consult the “chasm of light” as to whether they are to be thrown into the chasm of fire to determine their fate. If they are found to mean harm to the Optera, they will be killed. Susan tries a desperate gamble to save them, pointing to cave drawings on the walls of the Temple of Light that reveals forms with spread wings from which light emanates, and she asks the Menoptera to spread their wings – these “Optera” are really Menoptera who devolved underground for generations. The Optera are stunned, realising that the Menoptera are their gods in real form. Vrestin reiterates that they are kin, not gods, to the Optera and that the wretched underground dwellers were born to freedom, peace, beauty, and light on the surface. Hetra is beginning to believe, and Vrestin urges him to join with her to fight the Animus and regain their birthright. The Optera bow in homage to her and they are released. Hetra explains that the underground tunnels are dangerous, but they lead to the centre of the Carinome. There lies the evil that Hetra calls Poiderrach but that Vrestin knows as the Animus. They decide to split into two groups; the first will reach for the Centre underground with the help of the Optera, while the second, led by Susan and Vrestin, will attack through the Carcinome’s maze via the surface. Hetra agrees to take Ian and Vrestin to the centre, placing his second in command, Nemini, in the lead of the expedition, while Susan, Vrestin, and Hilio return to the surface.

Susan is flown by Vrestin and Hilio to the surface in moments after having been shown the tunnel back by one of Hetra’s Optera, whom they bid a farewell and promise to return to bring them back into the light after they defeat the Animus. The party emerge on the plateau overlooking the Crater of Needles, where they find the remnants of the Menoptera spearhead regrouping after the earlier devastating Zarbi attack.

On the long trek underground, Ian, Barbara, and Prapillus reach a place where stalactites and stalagmites choke the tunnel. The Optera attack the “teeth of stone” with their clubs to clear their path. Ian notices that the air is growing foul with acid vapours. The Optera choose a tunnel that looks clearer but their path leads to a blank wall and the Optera propose to dig through it to go on. Prapillus flies back to check the other path but is stuck when some rocks in the ceiling start to give way. Ian returns to help him, but cannot stop the ceiling from caving in. There is no choice but to go forward, but they must break through the wall quickly – there is no air entering the closed-off tunnel and the choking vapour is increasing all the time.

Susan and the Menoptera plot to have the Menoptera return to Vortis when Susan, Vrestin, and Hilio are able to send the signal that the Animus has been defeated. Susan does not know exactly how they will do this, but soon hears the Doctor’s faint voice telepathically communicating with her. She can ‘see’ the Doctor enmeshed in the web, a fleck of light weakly pulsing in his sapphire ring as they establish a telepathic field. The Doctor is powerless to help them or even move, but he has learned one thing; the mystery of the gold, which is how the Animus holds her mental influence over the Zarbi and that each Zarbi wears as a golden collar. If Susan can disrupt that connection, then she can perhaps replace the commands of the Animus over the Zarbi with her own. They resolve to ambush a Zarbi.

Breaking through the underground walls, the party are relieved to be breathing more easily. Hetra has opened a small hole in the wall, letting in better air and clearing the choking vapour. Nemini takes her turn next, but does not dig very far before she shouts a fearful warning – the liquid death! Ian knows it is the acid from the pools he and the Doctor encountered when they first landed on the surface above and tries to get to Nemini to pull her away. But Hetra stops him and watches as Nemini forces herself further into the hole so that she may block the acid. She dies as she does so, but stops the flow and saves the others. Ian and Barbara are appalled at the sacrifice, but Hetra assures them it was the only way. It is a danger they face daily. The Optera say a silent prayer for their fallen comrade, then move to another part of the wall to start again. Ian and Barbara look sadly over Nemini’s body and embrace. Soon Prapillus calls to them. Their journey must continue.

The ambush on a lone Zarbi is successful. As Vrestin, Hilio, and the other Menoptera are able to wrest physical control over it once they have separated it from its larvae gun, Susan is then able to command the Zarbi – whom she has named ‘Zombo’ – herself upon touching its gold collar.

Ian, Barbara, Prapillus and the remaining Optera have reached the tunnel directly below the Centre. They must now break through the ceiling above them to reach it, but they are delayed when a liquid begins pouring from the web-choked wall. Ian thinks it is acid again, but it is actually water. Vrestin explains that all the surface water was drawn deep underground by the Animus, who uses it to sustain her and the Zarbi. The Optera feed on it too, in secret. Once the Animus is destroyed, they can drink and grow plants on the surface once again. Hetra is hesitant to begin the climb, fearing the “blinding heart of Poiderrach”. Ian is in favour of leaving the nervous Optera behind while the travellers and the Menoptera climb, but she will not hear of it. She exhorts “her people” to believe that they are stronger than the evil of the Animus and that they will regain the goodness of light on the surface. Hetra agrees to join them, but the other Optera elect to remain below. If they survive, the party will return to them. Thus settled, the climb to the centre of the Carcinome begins.

The Zarbi appears to have captured Vrestin, Hilio, and Susan and is taking them back into the Carcinome. As they approach, they are investigated by other Zarbi, who Susan is in turn able to bring under her control. They are brought further and further into the depths of the Carcinome, chamber upon chamber of Zarbi worker drones converting to Susan’s rule who then battle and overpower the other Zarbi still controlled by the Animus until they are overpowered and join the rebel cause.

Ian, Barbara, Prapillus, and Hetra continue their climb. It seems endless and they are all tired. Ian, in the lead, starts to go on, but part of the wall gives way, nearly hitting Prapillus as it falls. Ian catches him and they stop to rest, but Hetra says the Centre is not far and after a short rest the party continues.

There is a last pitched battle in the ante-chamber to the centre of the Carcinome, as Zarbi battle Zarbi and the Menoptera fly to disarm and convert their enemy.

Crisis point

Susan, Vrestin, Hilio, and the surviving Menoptera are at last overwhelmed by the sheer number of mindless Zarbi drones when Susan’s telepathic control over them is finally overcome in the last chamber before that of the Animus.

In the lead, Ian crawls along a narrow tunnel on his back, parallel now to the floor of the Centre. The “ground” above him is soft and spongy but incredibly resilient. It is at that moment that they can hear Susan and the others being brought into the Centre above them. Ian scrambles desperately to break through before grabbing the sharpened stone spur that Hetra carries. With Hetra, Prapillus, and Barbara urge him on but it looks to be hopeless.

Act Three


Susan, Vrestin, Hilio and the other Menoptera are brought in front of the Animus, sighting her true horror for the first time; a terrible, spider-like being of tendrils and lit from within by a strong and sickening overwhelming light. Susan attempts to reach for the Doctor’s mind to help but he is unable to respond. Instead, she channels her own psychic attack against the Animus but is brought to her knees.


Suddenly, Ian, Barbara, Prapillus and Hetra burst through the tendrils from below. Their presence seems to steady Susan for a moment and she tries again. The Animus seems unconcerned, pleased that all her enemies are in one place. However, it appears that the presence of Vrestin, Barbara, and Nemimi provide Susan with the strength she needs to make one last psychic assault on the Animus; something that is amplified exponentially when Susan then uses that chink in the armour to fold in the Zarbi drones – all females – in their collective will against the Animus. A sound like a heartbeat becomes audible in the chamber. As the Animus talks of victory and success, and Susan increases the magnitude of her psychic blast, the heartbeat sound becomes more rapid and the Animus’ voice beings to slur. Susan falls to her knees but doesn’t drop her concentration, also now folding in the Doctor’s own mind that has been freed by all the others, linked to Susan’s and amplified through the ring he wears. They all will the Animus’ control broken. Soon the heartbeat is one thundering noise and the spider-like creature twitches violently. Her rantings turn incoherent and smoke pours from the light well beneath her. The heartbeat and the evil voice then fade away to nothing and the intense light dies as the Animus dies.

All of the Animus’ victims recover quickly. Susan is near tears as she realises the evil creature is now dead. Even the Doctor begins to stir. They have won.


Some time later, Vortis begins to revert to its former state. The Carinome is gone, crumbled into the surface dust, and the Zarbi are once again docile scavengers. Susan and Barbara set about removing the collars around the Zarbi nearby her, as Susan explains to Vrestin that this will ensure that the Zarbi are unable to ever again fall under anyone’s control or will. Ian tells Hilio that the Menoptera and Optera should keep the gold collars, saying that they might come in useful one day. One of the Zarbi senses something below ground and digs at it. A stream of liquid sprays up from the ground, pooling nearby. But it is not acid. Hilio and Hlynia drive off the curious Zarbi gathering around the small pool and discover that the liquid is water, finally returning to the surface after the death of the Animus. Hlynia, ecstatic, calls Susan over to see the miracle. Hilio is certain that with clean water returning to the surface, crops can flourish once again. Susan calls to Barbara to look, who is playing with one of the now-docile venom grubs as she would with a cat. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Prapillus talk as grandfathers about their pride in their respective granddaughters and of the hope they represent for their people’s own futures.

Elsewhere, Vrestin is welcoming a group of Optera to the surface for the first time in generations. They are having some difficulty adjusting to the bright light and hide their eyes against its glare. She urges them to be strong and to embrace the goodness of the light. They do so, Hetra in the lead. He wonders, with all the miracles he has seen recently, if the gift of flight will be given back to the Optera as well. Vrestin tells him that it will take a generation or so before that can happen. But she reminds him that Vortis and its light gods provide for all the creatures here, regardless of flight. They shall all live together again on the surface. Prapillus, too, is pleased to have lived long enough to see the planet free again, but he is more stoic in expressing his feelings. He tells the Susan that Vortis owes her a great deal for all her help.

Ian joins Vrestin, watching the Optera hopping happily about. Vrestin asks if Ian and his friends will ever return to Vortis. Ian thinks it unlikely, but has learned during his time with the Doctor that the future is never certain. As Prapillus takes Vrestin and the other Menoptera to look at their communications device to summon the return of the Menopteran fleet, Ian rejoins the Doctor. The old man is pleased that they’ve not only succeeded in defeating the evil Animus, but that they have done so unscathed. Ian reminds him about the loss of his old school tie. The Doctor feigns forgetfulness, and only laughs when Ian reminds him in detail of the tie’s origin and value.

The Doctor moves off into the TARDIS, still chuckling to himself. Ian follows, beckoning Barbara to join them. Susan is the last to make her goodbyes and board the TARDIS. The gathered denizens of Vortis back away from the police box and watch as it disappears with its distinctive grinding engine noise.

Vrestin is dumbstruck at this, but Prapillus takes it in his stride. These people have many unknown powers. The songs of their great deeds will be sung forever in the Menoptera’s temples of light. And whenever Pictos aligns with the Crater of Needles, all Vortis shall remember Susan and the others who came to help them in their time of need. And even as Vortis’ delicate web of life returns to normal, the Menoptera must be on guard that its lushness does not conceal another lurking evil like the Animus.

Vrestin activates the communicator to at last contact the main Menoptra force. The response comes back loud and clear and Vrestin announces that the dark power is now dead. The main force may fly into the Delta of Light. The rest of Vortis will be waiting for them to return home.

Remember to share your thoughts in the comments section below, please.

(Available 23 June 2023)


(Previous episode: Marco Polo)

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