Spearhead From Space – 1970 – S7 – E1/4

autondoctorwhoNumber : Season 7, episode 1 of 4.

Which One : Third Doctor’s opener.

Cast : The Doctor : Jon Pertwee
Liz Shaw : Caroline Johns
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : Nicholas Courtney
Channing : Hugh Burden
Ransome : Derek Smee
Hibbert : John Woodnutt
Sam Seeley : Neil Wilson
Meg Seeley : Betty Bowden
General Scobie : Hamilton Dyce
Captain Munro : John Breslin
Sergeant : Clifford Cox
Corporal Forbes : George Lee
Dr Henderson : Antony Webb
Dr Beavis : Henry McCarthy
Nurse : Helen Dorward
Wagstaffe : Allan Mitchell
Mullins : Talfryn Thomas
2nd Reporter : Prentis Hancock
Technician : Ellis Jones
Museum Attendant : Edmund Bailey

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Written By : Robert Holmes

Produced By : Derrick Sherwin

First UK Broadcast : 3 January – 24 January 1970.

Length : 4 x 25 minute parts.

Plot : The newly regenerated Third Doctor is exiled to Earth by the Timelords. But its not long before the Doctor is drawn into a UNIT investigation, concerning plastic Asteroids from outer space.

Whats good : It’s in colour. It’s the best post-regeneration opener. Jon Pertwee. The Auton’s. The Brig.

Whats bad : The Nestene disappointing look.

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Review With Spoilers : The Dynamically sounding Spearhead From Space marks the first adventure of the Jon Pertwee era and the first Who to be shot in colour format.

It also marks the regular appearance of UNIT, new companion Liz Shaw and a new format for the show. With the Doctor confined to Earth, whilst investigating alien phenomena – as special advisor of UNIT.

The Doctor isn’t himself – after an enforced regeneration, following his sentencing by the Timelords – to be exiled on Earth, with a broken Tardis. He ends up in a coma, in a local hospital – where the bemused medics are at a loss to explain why their patient has 2 heartbeats.

Meanwhile, strange plasticy asteroids are reigning down all over the area. An investigation by UNIT reveals that a local plastic factory is manufacturing mannequins with the material, which brings to life the Auton’s. All controlled by the tentacled Nestene – which resides in the factory.

Spearhead From Space has a unique feel to it ), due to having been shot entirely on location. This was due to a BBC Studio strike which meant studio space wasn’t available . It is also the only Who to be shot entirely on 16 mm film, which has meant a recent upscaled Blu-ray release was possible.

The Auton’s have always proved to be a popular monster in Doctor Who, despite only appearing twice. Once in this and once in the other Pertwee follow-up, Terror Of The Autons.

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“What are you a doctor….of…..by the way?” Liz Shaw

The scene of the mannequins breaking out of a shop window display, to go on the rampage around the high-street has to count as one of the most memorable in Who.

The Nestene is less well cast though, as a big rubbery tentacle puppet. One of the least convincing cliffhangers in Spearhead From Space involves the Doctor being attacked by the Nestene. Thankfully, the Nestene is left mostly to the imagination. It stands out so more as a sore thumb, due to the rest of the episodes high production values.

The bizarre Madame Tusseads exhibition of ‘top civil servants’ will also leave you scratching your head. It is also a good hiding place for the facsimilie versions of humans ready for infilitrating government. The actors have been given a cool looking plasticy sheen in their skin to add to the effect.

On paper, the idea of removing the Doctor’s ability to travel in space and time – should fundamentally ruin the show’s whole core ethic.

However, because the Earthbound UNIT stories (usually involving an alien invasion threat anyway!) were so good. It didn’t detract from the quality of the show. Infact, in same cases it made the show better – as there was more genuine location work, than the studio-bound space adventures!

Although the Autons can basically take any form, as they do in Terror Of The Autons. It’s the uniquely effective mannequin form, with blank eyes which gives the Auton the classic appearance we all know and love.

With the Doctor out of commission for at least half of this episode, it is left to the combined double act of the Brig and Liz Shaw to carry much of the esrly precedings – which they do rather well.

Spearhead From Space is the strongest opening Doctor episode from any of his past or future regenerations and heralds in the new more dynamic Third Doctor era. With faster paced episodes, , a bigger budget and a regular strong cast of recurring characters.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Old Doctor Who


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