Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who and the Zarbi

(1965 / 2016) Bill Strutton, BBC Books, 9.99 / US$13.99, hrdbk, 174pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94054-5


In this adventure, the fifth from the series second season and first broadcast in 1965 as 'The Web Planet', sees the Doctor (Hartnell), Barbara, Ian and Vicki materialise on a planet populated by huge, fearsome giant ants called the Zarbi. But there are also other creatures too, and as the TARDIS travellers split into two groups one is captured by the Zarbi while the other encounter the butterfly like Menoptera. It turns out that the Zarbi have controlled the Menoptera's world bringing a dark age. Can the Doctor and friends escape and will they be able to help the Menoptera? However it transpires that there are other forces at work manipulating both the Zarbi and the Menoptera.

This book is part of a series of reprints of the original Dr Who novelisations published by Frederik Muller Ltd: in fact it was the second such novelisation. The author Bill Strutton was also the script writer for 'The Web Planet' and so more than qualified to bring us this adaptation. (Beyond Doctor Who he is perhaps best known for his work on the British SFnally riffed television series The Avengers. Indeed 'The Web Planet' was his only involvement with Doctor Who.)

This BBC Books re-print includes the original edition's illustrations by John Wood.

The story for the television series had the working title of 'The Webbed Planet'. Episode six, 'The Centre' was initially titled 'Centre Of Terror' and this novelisation restores this original title for the sixth chapter. The first episode of the television adventure was watched by 13.5 million viewers, the highest number for any Doctor Who episode in the 1960s.

I do remember the Zarbi and being terrified of them the first time around when they were originally broadcast. I have seen pictures of them and the Menoptera since and you can take it from me that special effects and make up have come along way since the 1960s. Though the Zarbi never became a regular foe, this episode at the time was a bit of a hit. The Zarbi never again appeared on the television show but did feature, with a Menoptera, on cover of the first Doctor Who Annual (1965).

This is therefore a bit of a classic adventure from the William Hartnell days and, especially as a hardback under a tenner, this is something of a 'must have' for dedicated Dr. Who fans.

Jonathan Cowie

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