This is madness! Weve wandered off our astral plane, says the Doctor at one point, and hes not wrong. This is Doctor Who - Timothy Leary style!
The Web Planet is often accused of being boring, but apart from episodes four and five dragging a bit, this is highly entertaining stuff. Of course you do need a similar sense of humour to me, and find amusement in things that make absolutely no sense, and on that score The Web Planet is a laugh riot.
Its one big acid trip two years before such things were popular: giant talking insects, a story so garbled you wonder if theyre still speaking English, weird sets and lots of (presumably) coloured flashing lights.
William Hartnell is at his most incomprehensible not just the famous line-forgetting scene in the TARDIS that leaves poor William Russell with a baffled look on his face, but throughout the first few episodes he rambles constantly, often laughing in the middle of sentences for no apparent reason and running around like a monkey, or a toddler with attention deficit order. He only shuts up when hes been hypnotized by a big gold wishbone.
I found Vicki a pleasantly bland presence after having to sit through seven episodes of Carol Ann Fords hyperactivity last week during a viewing of The Daleks. She doesnt scream at all really, which is great, and she gurgles quite horribly when covered in sticky web stuff. Ian and Barbera have pretty much the same roles as in The Daleks, though, clambering through caves and whipping the locals up into the obligatory suicide mission.
The worst bit is where the Menoptra and Barbara annoy a Zarbi by shouting Zarbiiii!! at it, which is all very Tellytubby in execution, as are the Optra who cheapen the whole experience when on screen. By hopping.
The best bit is the Menoptra attack the sight of the Menoptra in flight is graceful, very very psychedelic and oddly moving. No, the best bit is where the Zarbi runs head first into one of the studio cameras not so much because it happens, but because its so obviously going to happen.
Filters: Television Series 2 First Doctor
The Web Planet is an imaginative and ambitious attempt to create an alien world run by insects. The moth-like Menoptera are trying to reclaim the planet that is being controlled by the ant-like Zarbi under the influence of the evil Animus. The plot devise is typical for early Hartnell stories. The TARDIS crew lands, then becomes separated, then the TARDIS is stolen, then the Doctor and his companions help the good guys triumph, then they reunite and retrieve the TARDIS and leave.
However, there are a number of interesting ideas: a totally alien world without any humanoid inhabitants or visitors (other than the TARDIS crew), the evolution of intelligent insects, and the ability of the Animus/Zarbi to control gold objects and those in contact with gold. I also liked the attempt to give the Menoptera insect-like movements.
The story suffers from too much padding and too little story to sustain all 6 episodes, but the novel ideas make it worth viewing. There is one biological problem with the Menoptera and Zarbi. Giant insects and insect-like creatures existed on prehistoric earth only during periods when the oxygen levels in the atmosphere we about 50% greater than our current levels. The reason is that the insect respiratory system is very effective at small sizes but not efficient at larger sizes. Increased oxygen levels allow them to over come this problem that normally limits the size of insects. The problem is that the alien planet has a thinner atmosphere than earth, so large insect-like life wouldnt be possible.
Visually the Web Planet looks like a high school play. The sets, Menoptera costumes, the Zarbi (plastic ants with human hind legs), and Zarbi larvae are awful and look amateurish. Some reviewers say that it was quite good for 1965 but it just doesnt hold up 42 years later. I disagree because the visuals do not hold up to productions from the 1950s and 1960s. Alien insects with good visuals were seen in Them, First Men in the Moon, and the Outer Limits episode The Zanti Misfits.
It isnt just the low budget special effect that let the production down. Scenes set in the atmosphere of the alien world were shot with special filters that were smeared with Vaseline. This made the camera lenses distort the images with the intention to show that the alien atmosphere was different from earth. I understood this only after I watched the documentary that accompanies the DVD. Although I like the reason that they did this I just think that it looks like bad filming.
The Web Planet is probably the most ambitious of the Hartnell years. But the comical costumes and props make this story primarily of interest to longtime fans who really want to see every existing episode. If this was the first 6 episodes of Doctor Who that someone watched, then it is likely that it would their last. It is interesting to note that the viewing audience in Britain peaked during the early episodes of The Web Planet and then dropped throughout the 6 episodes. The audience for Doctor Who was never this high again until a decade later. The story line is imaginative and interesting enough to make The Web Planet a great candidate to be redone with post-Jurassic Park CGI effects.
** out of 4.
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You know youre in trouble when you have to take thirty minute breaks between Episodes in order to watch a story without gnawing your ankles off. At least, Id say that this is a reasonable argument, and its certainly one that sums up The Web Planet for me. I apologise to fans of the story, but in my opinion it really is not very good at all.
The basic story is nothing too terrible- rival alien factions fight for control of a planet- but the execution of said plot is slow, tedious, plodding and padded out, something that would not be too bad in most stories, but when this one lasts for six whole Episodes, then you quite clearly have a problem. It saddens me to write this as deep down I know there is an okay-ish story waiting to be seen, but here no such story is available for public consumption. Bill Strutton has some good ideas, but his script does not do them justice in any way, shape or form.
Of the six Episodes, its arguably the first one- simply entitled The Web Planet- that impresses the most. The title of the Episode sets up the next twenty-five minutes well: mystery, alien worlds, excitement. Well, maybe not the latter but the first two are fulfilled nicely. The cleverest thing about this Episode is the way that it centres pretty much solely around the four regular cast members (i.e. the current TARDIS crew) and every so often throws in an alien to create a bit of horror. However, such moments sometimes fall flat on their faces. The appearance of a Zarbi in the TARDIS scanner works well, largely due to Vickis understated reaction, but they are handled less well earlier on- namely when one of them pops its head up over a rock briefly to take a look at Ian before ducking down again like a naughty schoolboy; whilst the sequence should prompt mystery and maybe a small fright, instead it just looks really, really silly and never fails to make me laugh a little.
The use of Vaseline to make Vortis surface look more alien works really well, and is one of the best things about the entire story as it really does give the alien atmosphere that the story is desperate to create.
The best thing about Episode One for me is the ending- and I mean that in a way that is not offensive towards said Episode. By making Vortis seem very alien and not including any other human characters, the cliffhangers that are witnessed as the Episode ends work well: Vicki is alone in the TARDIS as it rolls around, Barbara is about to walk into an Acid Bath (what is it about Acid Baths and stories with Martin Jarvis in them?), Ian is, err, trapped in a net, and the Doctor discovers that the TARDIS has vanished. As viewers, you genuinely care about the protagonists, so the fact that they are all in danger is a rather thrilling end to the Episode, and is easily the highest point that Strutton reaches in his script.
Alas, despite its good points, even this Episode suffers from having parts that simply feel like padding out- a rather look piece about Aspirins here, the Doctor and Ian wandering around in near-silence there. The whole sequence with Barbaras arm is interesting but again goes on for a little too long, whilst earlier on we have a most painful moment as William Hartnell forgets his lines whilst trying to explain how the TARDIS doors can be opened despite there being no power- full credit to him for slogging through it rather than demanding a re-take, but there is no denying that it is still an awkward moment and a rather painful one to watch.
After the first Episode, things really hit rock bottom; we have moments that are just embarrassingly funny (I have a shock for you. The ships gone- vanished! says the Doctor. Cue shot of Ina looking shocked), moments that ruin the illusions being created (namely the many times cast members cast shadows upon Vortis backdrop, thus making it obvious that it is a set), moments that just make you cringe (the first time you see an Optera in full view), and moments that are just plain dull (yes, Im looking at the Optera again). Maybe its wrong of me to give the Optera such a hard time, but when they first appeared I actually let out a cry of Oh oh boy such was the shock at seeing them for the first time. For a story that was so expensive to make, they dont half look incredibly cheap. Now, poor effects in Doctor Who are normally in my eyes forgivable, but here they really look the pits and the way they speak well, put it like this: it didnt exactly sell the effect to me. Maybe Im just being too harsh on them, or perhaps I just see them for what they are- more than a little crap.
As well as the excess padding, the story also feels extremely lazy. In every single Episode there are numerous moments when you scream I can see a boom shadow! or Thats a Stage Light creating that shine!, and there are often moments where silence passes for a few moments so that the Episode can be just that little bit closer to filling up its running time.
As well as this, there are moments that really stand out as being quite horrific, and such moments are more than a little at odds with the relatively fluffy atmosphere elsewhere. Parts such as a Menoptra having its wings ripped off by a couple of Zarbi, or when an Optera shoves her head in a rock to stop a flow of Acid, stick out as being very, very vicious and are truly shocking compared to everything that is going. Perhaps that is the point- that among everything, something nasty is happening. However, I think it would have been better to stick to just one ambience; despite parts like the lingering close-up of Hrostars dead body being some of the most powerful images in the story, as it stands such moments seem jarring and work against the story rather than for it.
The padding problems really become evident in the later Episodes. How many times can Vicki be put under control of the golden collar before it becomes tedious? Several times apparently, or so this story would have you believe as it doesnt stop shoving it on her when something needs to happen to plug the gaps. It is the ending that really stands out as being overlong though. The actual death of the Animus is decidedly naff, and following this we have some very overlong and drawn out moments with the TARDIS crew milling around on the planet surface. Look over there as Barbara plays with a scrubbing brush sorry, I meant a Venom Grub (or are they Larvae Guns? Or Zarbi Larvae? Somebody tell me for certain because as it stands I dont have a clue!), and now we see Ian and the Doctor talk about Ians Coal Hill tie, a sequence where I can never tell if its meant to be serious, funny, or, well, anything really- it just confuses me and seems to be as pointless as it is confusing. The actual ending once the TARDIS crew have left is not too bad, but its power is somewhat marred again by moments where it could quite easily have been shortened with no loss to coherence.
Its not all bad in The Web Planet. The film sequences in Crater Of Needles when the Menoptra land and fight the Zarbi are entertaining and nicely shot, whilst Ians fight with a Zarbi in the previous Episode is entertaining too but in an entirely different way. Elsewhere, Zombo the Zarbi deserves his own spin-off series and there are some nice touches in the script: the fact that the Menoptra cannot correctly pronounce the TARDIS crews names for instance (calling Ian Heron for example) is rather nice, as are all the scenes set inside the Crater of Needles, which show a real visual flair on director Richard Martins behalf. What a pity then the rest of the story swamps such moments as these.
Acting wise, The Web Planet is again hit and miss. The regular cast are on top form, despite line flubs here and there, and the rather patronising treatment of Vicki throughout (the Doctor giving her chocolate to clam her down is one moment that springs to mind). Of the guest cast, Catherine Fleming as the Animus voice is rather impressive and the Optera well, the Optera are perhaps better best forgotten. The Menoptra are universally good, with Martin Jarvis as Hilio really impressing. Only the odd hissing noise they make to one another when they are arguing lets things down, as does the famous sequence where they taunt the Zarbi by, err, shouting out Zaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrbiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! in a very high pitched voice. No, I dont know why they do this either. Later on, theres a brief reprise of such behaviour- a Menoptra shouting Barbara Barbara Barbara! as if she is about to break into a Cheerleading sequence. Its a pity she doesnt, as that would have lightened things up a bit I suppose.
In all then, The Web Planet, in my opinion, deserves its reputation for being ambitious, creative, and more than little rubbish. Full points to the Production Team for attempting something so other-worldly, minus several points for how dire the actual story is.
Ive never experience anything like this in my life before! cries the Doctor at one point, which is rather like how I felt whilst watching it- thank goodness that I wont have to do so again.
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When I first started my journey of Doctor Who, I tried to keep open minded about certain things, and I still do. I tend not to let the opinions and views of other fans cloud my judgement of any particular adventure. However, I must be in agreement with fandom regarding 'The Web Planet'; it is simply, without a doubt, the worst adventure ever created.
I first viewed this 6-parter on Christmas Day with my girlfriend three years ago, and we nearly didn't survive the experience because we nearly died of absolute boredom.
However, I must say that recently I have watched 'The Web Planet' with a mission in mind; to write responsorial dialogue in the fashion of Mystery Science Theater. Most of the crappy films that exist are usually made enjoyable thanks to MST3K. And so I painstakingly wrote some rather funny lines to say at certain junctions of all 6 episodes, and it does make the experience a bit more enjoyable, simply because you can delight in taking a piss out of what is undoubtably a bunch of great ideas poorly executed. This is my suggestion to everyone, if you wish to enjoy 'The Web Planet', view it and attempt to develop your own witty responses, it's fun.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure that many of the ideas were good when they were written on paper, and a great deal must be commended to going above and beyond the call of duty to attempt a truly alien landscape and environment. However, what ruins it is the pacing, because it literally takes forever for anything exciting to happen. By the time you get to episode four, you really don't care if the Menoptra overthrow the Zarbi and the Animus, you just want it all to be over and done with. What also ruins it are those annoying sound effects used for the Zarbi, they sound like video game sound effects from Atari or even KalicoVision. Not only that, but there are so many fluffed lines, I totally lost count. In addition, what was the deal with the weird hand movements by the Menoptra, it looked like they were conducting an orchaestra or something.
I feel sorry for Martin Jarvis, a highly respected and talented actor, for having to play one of the Menoptra. Then again, this could have been one of his first acting jobs, who knows? Luckily he makes up for it with a marvelous performance years later in 'Jubilee'. I also felt sorry for the regulars for having to trudge through such a horrendously plodded adventure. I feel bad for Bill Sutton, who recently passed away, he had a lot of great ideas. They just weren't translated well to television. I think his ideas were overly ambitious and were a bit too big for the timeframe in which they were used. If his script were proposed a little later on in the years, the result probably would've been slightly better than what we ended up with at the time. Then again, who knows for certain. But take my advice, if you intend on watching this, you may like it, you may not. But first watch it, come up with some cool lines to shout at the screen at appropriate times, then sit back and enjoy your very own MSTied version of 'The Web Planet'.
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'The Web Planet' is of course notorious. When, as a kid during the largely pre-video eighties, I started to learn about past Doctor Who stories from Target novelisations and Peter Haining's Doctor Who A Celebration, the latter of which led me to believe that 'The Web Planet' was a classic, with pioneering special effects and superb monsters that was utterly convincing in its portrayal of a truly alien world and was years ahead of its time. Then it was released on video.
That basically seems to sum up fandom's opinion of 'The Web Planet', which The Discontinuity Guide notes is "slow and silly looking by modern standards". However, if anyone is expecting me to savage it, they are in for a disappointment. The main reason for is that I don't judge Doctor Who by its special effects, and never have; I judge it by plot, script, and acting. My stock pretentious argument for non-Who fans who ask me how I can take Doctor Who's effects seriously is that it is all to do with suspension of disbelief, and that Shakespeare's plays are traditionally performed on an empty stage with minimal props, but that doesn't detract from the plays themselves. My more honest answer is simply that I watch Doctor Who through metaphorical rose-tinted glasses. That said, I'm not blind to crap effects, and so since I mentioned the Slyther when I was rambling on about 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth', I'll get the discussion of the effects out of the way. Vortis itself doesn't look bad it's at least as credible attempt to create an alien landscape as Skaro was in 'The Mutants'. True, there are often shadows cast over painted backdrops by the actors, but on the whole the sets are pretty good, and convey a sense of space quite convincingly. This is probably helped by the oft-criticized use of lenses to blur images set outside on Vortis' surface, which prevent the viewer from focusing too closely on backgrounds, but these aren't used in all the "outdoor" scenes. The rocks and craters really look rather good, as do the occasional pools of acid, and for a series that will later resort to the use of quarries to portray alien planets, it's a laudable attempt. The other sets are also well done, although parts of the Carsenome (mainly the corridors) do look painfully like flimsy plastic. The room in which the Doctor and Vicki spend most of the story however looks reasonable enough, as does the Animus' centre. The Menoptra Temple of Light also looks good, as do the caves of the Optera. Ultimately, I realized that I'd got to the end of episode six without feeling that the action was taking place within a studio. The other big demand on the effects is of course the various aliens present on Vortis.
The Menoptra look like men in costumes, but then so do most Doctor Who monsters and overall they look quite good, probably faring the best of all the creatures present. The bands of hair around their bodies allow them to be flexible without the need for over-ambitious insect like joints, which adds considerably to their success. That said, my mate caught the end of episode four, fell about laughing and exclaimed, "It's just a load of blokes in crappy moth costumes". As I said, rose tinted glasses The Zarbi look much better in black and white photographs than they do on screen, due largely to the fact that their back legs are painfully obviously those of the actor, whereas both sets of forelegs are much more spindly and are clearly just stuck on the costume. The rest of the costume is obviously sat on the actor's back, but in spite of this, they still look quite effective running about. Honest. The Optera are a different matter, since they basically look like cheap polystyrene and the extra arms are utterly absurd, being unconnected to the actor and just dangling unconvincingly. The Larvae guns are even worse, and look like ironing boards with fronds on either wheels or the backs of actors at differing parts of the story. Finally there is the Animus, which vaguely resembles a Dutch Cap with fronds, but on the whole doesn't look too bad. So that's the effects out of the way
On the whole, I think that 'The Web Planet' is to be applauded as an attempt to portray an alien world. Vortis is at least as intriguing as Skaro, with its ancient ruins, acid pools, starry sky and weird lighting. Whilst the Zarbi are basically ants and the Menoptra moths, the actors and director try hard to make them work as aliens, and on the whole they succeed; the chirruping of the Zarbi as they run mindlessly about is striking, as is the weird body language of the Menoptra, which is clearly the result of careful attention to detail notice Hrostar and Hilio squaring off in episode five, by bobbing and hissing at one another. The dance-inspired movement of the Menoptra, including their distinctive arm hand waving, might look like amateur dramatics in retrospect, but shows a real attempt to make them stand out as alien. The real triumph in the alien stakes however is with the Optera, who get some great scripting, referring to blank walls as "silent" ("we must make mouths in it with our weapons, then it will speak more light"), to stalactites as teeth of stone, and to acid vapour "sleeping" at their feet. These are all attempts to show that Optera do not think in human terms, and it's an excellent idea. The Menoptra too are made to feel more alien simply by altering their pronunciation of Ian and Barbara to Heron and Arbara, showing that to them, human names are just as strange as theirs are to us. It has often been noted that 'The Web Planet' is the only Doctor Who television story in which none of the supporting characters are humanoid and however daft people might think the costumes are, it is still highly effective as an idea.
As a villain, the Animus is a first for Doctor Who, since it is unseen for most of the story, but its presence is felt throughout. It's rather more effective as a disembodied voice than it is in the flesh, thanks largely to its dispassionate tones as its sits converses with the Doctor. From the first time that the Doctor talks to it, it gives an impression of being utterly evil, due largely to its obvious disregard for any life other than itself. The Animus is central to the plot of 'The Web Planet', more so than any other single villain seen so far in Doctor Who; it is responsible for the arrival of the TARDIS, the desperate plight of the Menoptra, and the barren state of Vortis, which we are told was once cocooned in flower forests. It is an utterly malignant thing, and this feeling is emphasized by its method of take-over it has slowly extended its web over Vortis, absorbing everything in its path, and the fact that the Menoptra refer to this web as the Carsenome (an obvious corruption of carcinoma) only serves to reinforce this malignant feeling. At no point in this story do the Doctor or his companions get a reprieve until the Animus is destroyed from the moment the TARDIS is forced down, they are forced to split up after which they are all, in one way or another, either enslaved and/or forced to fight for their survival. The feeling of desperation is due largely to reminders that they have landed on Vortis just in time for the Menoptra's last ditch attempt to regain their world they are dying on Pictos, and, unused to conflict, they have been forced into battle with guns that turn out to be useless, and pinning all their hopes on a weapon that they cannot be sure will work. Their plight seems all the more grim due to their physical mutilation the Menoptra captured by the Zarbi have their wings torn off. For a species that is used to flight, this is presumably akin to having ones legs broken or amputated to prevent escape, which is a disturbing thought and one which occurred to me when Hrostar was rendered permanently flightless.
Episode one of 'The Web Planet' is one of my favourite opening episodes of any Doctor Who story up to this point, along with 'The Mutants' and 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth'. As on Skaro, the TARDIS crew find a mysterious and unearthly landscape, rife with strange phenomenon, from the high-pitched chittering of the Zarbi early on which only Vicki can hear inside the TARDIS, to the pools of acid, the Menoptra edifice, and the strange web that ensnares Ian. The success of this episode is due partly to the direction; unusual camera angles make the sudden assault on the TARDIS intriguingly macabre, especially when combined with the bizarre effect of the rotating TARDIS console. Plus, we have the mysterious effect on gold items (which also allows Vicki to find out about Ian and Barbara's visit to Rome in 'The Romans' a nice touch) and the half-glimpsed Zarbi scuttling amongst the crags; I'm not entirely blind to the short-comings of their costumes and the decision to keep them only briefly seen in the first episode is a wise one. The ADJs are also a nice touch, reminding us that not all planets are like Earth, even if they have to be reasonably similar to the constraints of dramatic requirement and budgetary restrictions. Overall, the episode is effective and memorably creepy, and the look of utter loss on Hartnell's face at the end when the Doctor realises that the TARDIS is missing is amazingly convincing. Which brings me to the characterisation.
Rather famously (or infamously), Hartnell has a fluff nightmare in episode one, which at its worst moment results in an obvious prompt from Russell ("What galaxy is that in, Doctor?"). After this however, he is on top form during 'The Web Planet'. When dealing with the Animus and playing for time, the Doctor is at his imperious best, urgently asserting himself to protect him and Vicki. This alternates with his familiar air of bright-eyed fascination as he strives to answer the question of what is happening on Vortis, what the Animus wants, and how it controls the Zarbi. Later, his bickering with Prapillus is a delight, as is the way he effortlessly takes charge during the meeting in the Temple of Light. But he is also vulnerable, as witnessed by his sudden reversion to frightened old man when he loses the advantage of having knowledge that the Animus wants about the Menoptra and is thus placed under its control, and later on when he and Vicki are sprayed with webbing and taken before the Animus. Vicki also comes across well, as in 'The Romans' demonstrating that she is more useful than Susan although obviously frightened at some points, she keeps her wits about her throughout, and is able to defy the Animus even after the Doctor has collapsed before it. Ian and Barbara are the usual excellent selves, Barbara single-handedly rallying her dispirited Menoptra allies to fight their Zarbi oppressors, and ultimately destroying the Animus with the Isop-tope when its light overwhelms them. Ian does similar things with the Optera, helped considerably by Vrestin, and the look on Russell's face when Nemini dies in the acid stream speaks volumes about the hardship faced by the oppressed inhabitants of Vortis, again testament to his acting skills. Of the guest cast, Hrostar and Hlynia are fairly forgettable, but the other Menoptra fare better. The imperious Vrestin maintains her dignity even when she and Ian the Optera imprison them, which stands out because on the whole the spirit of the peace-loving Menoptra is easily broken. Prapillus is another well-defined character, an old man who despite the loss of his wings and a lengthy period of enslavement has kept both hope and curiosity alive. His fascination with the Doctor's mysterious ring is quite endearing, as is his determination to fight the Zarbi and Animus even though he knows that the attack on the Carsenome could prove fatal. His knowledge of the Zarbi and the Larvae guns is crucial to the success of this mission. Finally there is the aggressive (for a Menoptra) and distrusting Hilio, who despite his paranoia about trusting the aliens and losing the only weapon that even gives them a chance, ultimately is forced to turn to Barbara for aid in the Centre when the presence of the Animus proves too powerful for him. Nemini and Hetra represent the Optera, both of who are initially afraid of Ian and Vrestin and want to kill them to protect their people, but who are eventually persuaded to face their fear of Pwadaruk and the surface to aid them in their struggle. Nemini dies in the tunnels, but Hetra accompanies Ian and Vrestin into the Carsenome and eventually leads his people in their first faltering steps onto the surface of Vortis and into the light. Part of the reason that I think 'The Web Planet' has so much to offer is that the actors give it their all, even those inside the Zarbi.
Despite all this praise I'm heaping on 'The Web Planet', it is still flawed even if we look beyond the costumes nobody seems to realize how heavy those gold collars would actually be, there are some strange accents from some of the guest-cast, and the story suffers from padding. And of course there is the infamous moment in episode three when a Zarbi runs straight into the camera one of those cursed moments in Doctor Who when a non-fan mate always walks into the room. Nevertheless, if you can look beyond the budgetary and technical limitations of the time, 'The Web Planet' has much to offer and is at the very least an admirable attempt at creating a truly alien world, even if it isn't quite a success. I'm glad that the attempt was made and that this story survived in the archives.
Now why do I think nobody is going to agree with me
Filters: Television Series 2 First Doctor