With the Doctor finally taking the situation seriously, the serial seems to be moving from ‘exploring a weird environment’ to actually telling a story where the planet’s features (acid pools, thin atmosphere, strange creatures) that were mildly threatening last week start to be actively menacing.
Barbara is captured by moth people, who snap her out of her trance, while the Doctor and Ian continue to explore the planet’s surface. They find a chrysalis which the Doctor believes identifies the planet as Vortis, ‘many light earths – light years from Earth.’ Hartnell struggles with his lines quite a lot, and for once William Russell doesn’t seem inclined to play along, making for a couple of uncomfortable moments.
The Doctor also claims, ‘History doesn’t mean anything when you travel through space and time.’ Again, there’s the suggestion that under Spooner’s stewardship the strict ‘not one line’ edict of the first season is being rewritten.
There’s a decent attempt to make Vortis a truly alien environment. The TARDIS is dragged into an organic structure by twitching tentacles. The Zarbi behave like animals, surrounding and studying the Doctor and Ian, chirruping and herding them towards the organic structure, where Vicki is being menaced by a power that can force its way into the TARDIS (something that’s beyond even the Daleks). Faced with such an unprecedented threat, the Doctor’s mixture of curiosity and rising panic is quite effective.
Most of the exposition comes from the Menoptra, whom we learn are trying to stage an invasion of the planet, although they fear the Zarbi and their larva gun. The Zarbi attack on the Menoptra’s base is pretty grisly – especially when one of the Zarbi tramples the broken wings of a killed Menoptra. And although the Doctor’s attempt at miming to the Zarbi looks ridiculous, the cliffhanger – a tube descending over the Doctor’s head and a disembodied voice demanding information – concludes this curiously spectacular episode on a suitably ominous note.
Next episode: Escape to Danger