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(Note: This is a review of all four episodes of the story.)
January 1970 found the start of a new era of Doctor Who and the stage was set for a new beginning. Spearhead From Space, the first story of the 1970 season, proved to be just that and more. It was a story of many firsts from the first appearance of the third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee), to the first episodes made in color to the first appearance of the Autons, Spearhead From Space set the standard for which the Pertwee era would be judged.
The story finds the Doctor exiled to late twentieth century Earth (it's hard to get much more specific but we fans do try) by his own race as punishment for interfering in the affairs of others (the final Patrick Troughton story The War Games) in the midst of a meteor shower. With the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) investigating, the newly regenerated Doctor comes back into contact with its leader Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the newly recruited scientist Liz Shaw. Together they investigate the meteors, the strange orbs they left behind, and their apparent connection to a factor making plastic mannequins. It all leads to an invasion by the collective mind of the Nestene.
Jon Pertwee slips in the role of the Doctor with so much ease that, like Tom Baker in 1974's Robot, it is sometimes hard to believe this is his first story. All the hallmarks of his Doctor are here from the classic combination of shirts and capes to gadgetry and classic cars. Backing him is the ever impressive Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier for the third time (having played the role in the Troughton story's The Web Of Fear and The Invasion) and Caroline John as Liz Shaw. John plays Liz well and makes a very believable scientist and it's a shame she was only in the four stories of this season. The supporting cast of Hugh Burden and John Woodnut as the men who run the factory plus Hamilton Dyce as General Scobie and Neil Wilson as a trapper make for as fine a cast as the show ever had. Robert Holmes' script plus the direction of Derek Martinus and the music of Dudley Simpson helps to create a taught and suspenseful opening for the Pertwee era. The Autons are one of the series' best creations one of the worst nightmares come true: shop window mannequins that come not just to life but kill you as well. While their controller, the Nestene creature, looks very unconvincing, the Autons and the other elements of this story make it one of the very best stories of the series.
With strong performances from the cast backed by Robert Holmes' script, the direction of Derek Martinus and the music of Dudley Simpson, Spearhead From Space is more then just Jon Pertwee's debut story. It is a taught and suspenseful science fiction yarn that nightmares are made of.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space: Episode 1 starts as some radar
operator tracks around 50 small meteorites as they land on Earth in
formation somewhere in Essex (!), special task force UNIT & Brigadier
Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) is informed & he brings in
meteorite expert Liz Shaw (Caroline John) to assist his investigations.
Meanwhile the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) has landed the TARDIS & is
unconscious from his regeneration & is taken to a nearby hospital where
a doctor (Antony Webb) is baffled at what he sees, word of the unusual
patient gets around & Lethbridge-Stewart realises that it must be the
Doctor & sets out to meet up with him. However an attempt to kidnap the
Doctor is made although he manges to escape only to be mistakenly shot
by UNIT soldiers...
This Doctor Who adventure was episode 1 from season 7 & was Jon Pertwee's first story, directed by Derek Martinus I liked this episode. I've always liked the Pertwee era although I have to say some of the mammoth stories do drag a bit, the next three adventures all have seven parts! The script by Robert Holmes introduces the new Doctor reasonably well although he's confined to a hospital bed for most of the episode, the basic story that is taking place behind the introduction of the new Doctor hasn't quite got going yet & the only thing of note to happen is that some strange glowing meteorites have landed in an Essex wood but the episode has maintained my interest & I definitely want to follow the story through the next three episodes. So far Spearhead from Space has a pretty serious tone about as does a lot of the Pertwee era.
Surprisingly this is quite well shot considering the budget must have been low. Spearhead from Space is one of only two Doctor Who adventures to be shot entirely on film rather than video, apparently because of industrial action at the BBC the time it was shot. The new opening titles & rearranged music are petty cool. There are no bad special effects to criticise during this episode.
Spearhead from Space is a decent opener to the Pertwee years although not that much has actually happened during his opening 25 minutes.
Jon Pertwee's debut as the Third Doctor coincides with Robert Holmes
introducing the Autons for one of only three television stories they
would be prominently featured in (if I recall correctly, they are the
only three they would be featured in, period). Ah, Robert Holmes.
Always good to see that name at the start of a story, isn't it? In many
ways this was the first story in which he really showed his knack for
creating solid dialogue and characterization as well as keeping the
science fiction, horror, or adventure plot fresh every episode of the
story ('The Krotons' was average and 'The Space Pirates' is missing,
but apparently not a hidden classic based on reconstructions). I don't
want to give any of the plot away but it will suffice to say that the
Autons are really bloody good villains, and so is the intelligence
behind them, the Nestenes. There are some pretty violent scenes in this
story and I remember being very scared upon watching this story for the
first time when I was five or so, which is always good in a Doctor Who
It was ingenious to actually have Doctor Who villains who are ACTUALLY made of plastic within the confines of the story, and one of the reasons this doesn't seem particularly dated. The character of the Third Doctor is brilliantly introduced over the course of this four parter, as is Liz Shaw, and there is also some excellent character development for the Brigadier. The story was shot on film rather than video for some reason and does look fabulous and is directed well.
Episode 1: 7/10 Episode 2: 8/10 Episode 3: 8/10 Episode 4: 9/10
Overall: The average rating amounts to 8 out of 10 stars, but I will give it an 8.5 out of 10 overall.
Although my earliest recollections of first watching Dr Who are of
Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee's was the first I watched regularly and
so I consider him "my Dr Who". Although almost as eccentric as the
memorable Troughton, he brought more stylishness, scientific nous,
physicality (his famous karate chops would develop in time) and,
through his travels in his vintage car "Bessie", sheer mobility to the
part. I was so disappointed when he left in 1973 (plus I was
incidentally growing up at the time), that I never watched a single Tom
Baker episode and still haven't to this day, only catching up again for
the Peter Davison regeneration.
This first Pertwee adventure made for a great introduction with the memorable menace of the Autons, it's little wonder that they're breaking out of shop windows as activated mannequins rates so highly in the list of scariest scenes in the whole history of the show. At 10 years of age, it scared me and obviously resonated with Steven Moffat who since has created danger out of other inanimate "human" objects, such as statues and most recently, snowmen.
It would have been nice to see an actual regeneration scene between the two Docs, plus it takes a while for Pertwee to appear and dominate scenes, but given that this afforded us time to get reacquainted with the redoubtable Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and new assistant Liz Shaw, it's not a great loss.
The story is well-paced and the idea of replacing politicians in power with alien copies is one that would be used again in the Moffat era. Yes, the climax with Pertwee engaging (I'm being polite) with a rubber octopus is about as realistic as Adam Batman West's similar encounter with a shark in the 1966 movie, but everything else is good and boded well for the new Doctor's more earthbound adventures for the next few years at least.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A swarm of fifty meteorites lands in Southern England. Poacher Sam
Seeley digs one up. It pulsates and emits an unearthly trilling sound.
The meteorites are not the only visitors from space that day. The Tardis lands nearby, and an ill-looking Doctor steps out, before collapsing.
Meanwhile, boffin Liz Shaw is whisked away from Cambridge to a secret meeting with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of U.N.I.T ( United Nations Intelligence Taskforce ). The organisation was set up to protect Earth from attacks by creatures from outer space. Man's attempts at space exploration have attracted attention apparently. He tells her that on the two previous alien invasion attempts, Earth was saved by a strange man known only as 'The Doctor'.
The Doctor has been taken to a country hospital, and appears to be in a coma. His unusual physiognomy ( two hearts, no known blood group ) confound the medical staff...
No sooner had the '70's begun than 'Dr.Who' was back on our screens, this time with a new leading man ( Jon Pertwee ) and in colour ( I didn't upgrade until 1974. hence was unable to appreciate the new show in this medium ). Pertwee was mainly known for his comedy roles, on the radio ( 'The Navy Lark' ) and films such as 'Carry On Cowboy' and 'The Ladies Who Do', so to see him as everyone's favourite Time Lord came as quite a shock. He confounded expectations by playing the role straight, almost like an Edwardian version of James Bond, who in his frilly shirt, smoking jacket and cape made a dapper contrast to his scruffily attired predecessor, Patrick Troughton.
He spends most of the first episode in bed, recovering briefly to talk to Lethbridge-Stewart. His character remained an unknown quantity right up to the end credits.
As Liz Shaw, Caroline John was a radical departure from the 'Who' girls of the past, being both intelligent and independent. She would not have seemed out of place in 'Doomwatch'.
This was Nicholas Courtney's third appearance as 'Lethbridge-Stewart'; we first saw him ( as a Colonel' ) in 'The Web Of Fear', then promoted to 'Brigadier' in 'The Invasion'. He was established as a regular character in this story. Exiled to Earth, the Doctor had no place in society, and U.N.I.T. provided him with a place to work in return for his becoming their Scientific Adviser.
Had the internet existed in 1970, the 'Dr.Who' forums of the day would doubtless have seethed with outrage over the reformatting. The thing is, it worked. The 'cosmic nomad' format had been in place since 1963 and was in need of a temporary rest. Needless to say, within a few years, it would be revived.
The villains of this story - the Autons - are glimpsed only briefly, but when revealed in all their plastic glory terrified a whole generation of British children ( myself included ). In 2005, Russell T.Davies resurrected 'Dr.Who', using the Autons in his first script - 'Rose'. He was right to do so because the concept - animated plastic mannequins - is a frightening one even now.
Due to industrial action, the first Pertwee adventure had to be shot entirely on film, another thing that worked in its favour. It came across as slicker and looking more like an adult show than a children's one, as if 'Dr.Who' was now being made by I.T.C instead of the B.B.C.
This was Robert Holmes' third 'Who' script, his others being 'The Krotons' and 'The Space Pirates'. The new format and doctor seemed to do him the power of good. 'Spearhead' was the first of several Holmes-scripted classics. It got '70's 'Who' off to a flying start.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's a saying that DOCTOR WHO is at its best when its roots are
showing " and this is probably true . It's considered that that the
classic series reached its creative peak in the mid 1970s with Philip
Hinchcliffe as producer and Robert Holmes as script editor who both
showed little shame in copying styles and themes from other sources .
The Brain Of Morbuis is a reworking of FRANKENSTEIN , Planet Of Evil
copies FORBIDDEN PLANET while The Seeds Of Doom rips off THE THING and
simplifies DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS . There's no shame in doing this and
adds adult horrifying imagery to a show that's considered to be for
Spearhead From Space has obviously been inspired by Nigel Kneale's QUATERMASS 2 . Both scripts start with a military tracking station finding a shower of meteorites entering the Earth's atmosphere and as the story progresses a factory is used as a base for aliens to subjugate mankind . Where as Kneale's 6x30 minute episodes tend to drag Holmes script is superbly paced helped in part by the fact that there's so many elements being played out over the running time . There's a new Doctor in the casting of the wonderful Jon Pertwee , a new assistant Liz Shaw and the reintroduction of UNIT commanded by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart
Spearhead From Space was the victim of an industrial dispute by the BBC so director Derek Martinuis was forced by necessity to shoot the story on 16mm film which gives the story a cinematic feel . One problem though is that the sound mix is very poor and episode one sees the Brigadier sound like a chipmunk in one brief scene ! But this is a minor flaw . The story is famous for the scenes in episode four when showroom mannequins suddenly jump to life and precede to zap people standing up a bus queue , a scene of horror that any child who saw it will remember it for the rest of their life . The Nestene itself is disappointing being basically a rubber tentacle but the Autons are truly the stuff of nightmares and would appear 35 years later to kick start the new series of DOCTOR WHO that became even a bigger success than the classic series
Review of all 4 episodes:
Spearhead From Space marks perhaps the biggest combination of changes in Doctor Who history:
- the change from the Patrick Troughton era to the Jon Pertwee era.
- the change from black and white to colour.
- the change from constant time and space travelling to an exile leaving The Doctor stranded in contemporary Earth.
- the change from two or three traditional companions to a whole organisation (UNIT) regularly working with The Doctor.
These changes are made even more striking by the fact that Pertwee's Doctor, having been forced to regenerate as a punishment from the Time Lords, spends much of the early part of the story inactive in a hospital bed. Yet the story manages to be interesting enough and contains enough action, humour and thrills to make this big transition go very successfully.
The story involves the new Doctor finding himself stranded on Earth and suffering from regeneration then having to deal with an invasion attempt by the Nestene Consciousness using their power to control plastic, creating armies of shop dummies.
The production is a peach with a superb look (recorded beautifully on film rather than the usual video), excellent direction, well executed and thrilling special effects (shop dummies coming to life and attacking through shop windows etc.) believably and excitingly executed.
The acting and dialogue is very good and Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart) and Caroline John (Liz Shaw) do well in their roles beginning already to get audiences to sympathise and relate to them.
It is not perfect but it is perfectly entertaining and interesting with thrilling, scary moments.
SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE is a well-remembered and classic DOCTOR WHO story,
and for good reason. It contains one of the entire series' most
frightening pieces of imagery ever, in the form of shop mannequins
coming to life and wreaking havoc on the high street.
Of course, the said dummies are part of a sinister alien plan to invade earth, but a newly-regenerated Jon Pertwee is on hand to thwart them. SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE isn't perfect - it is quite slow and it takes a while to get to the action, partly because a lot of it's about Pertwee "discovering" himself - but it has a timeless charm that makes it irresistible to this viewer.
The entire alien invasion plot is familiar but workable, and the story is enlivened by the dedicated performances from the supporting cast. Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier is on particular top form here, but here's merely a highlight of a generally well-made and inventive story overall. When it comes to DOCTOR WHO, SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE is one of the very best.
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