Number : Season 7, serial 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

Written By : Robert Holmes

Produced By : Derrick Sherwin

First UK Broadcast : 3 January – 24 January 1970.

Length : 4 x 25 minute episodes.

Plot : The newly regenerated Third Doctor, is exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. However, it is 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’s disappointing look and execution detracts.

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 feeling right – after an enforced regeneration, following sentencing by the Time Lords – 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 two seperate 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. The Autons are 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 (so far) meant a recent full HD 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.

“What are you a doctor….of… 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 Doctor Who.

The Nestene is less well executed 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. However, it stands out – as a sore thumb, due to the rest of the episode’s 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 on 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 some cases – it made the show even better; as there was more genuine location work, than the usual 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 Brigadier and Liz Shaw to carry out much of the early precedings; which they do rather well.

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Old Doctor Who

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