Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space

Directors - Derek Martinus

Cast - Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney

Country of Origin - U.K.

Discs - 1

Distributor - BBC Worldwide

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 8/21/13

The Serial (3.5/5)

 

When Doctor Who came back on the air with the debut Series 7 serial Spearhead from Space the shows future was far from certain. Patrick Troughton had left the role after 3 years as the "cosmic hobo" version of the Doctor. Troughton had left on a critical high with the wonderful serial The War Games, unfortunately, viewer ship for his last season was not up to prior standards, and the show was almost cut from the BBC lineup entirely. If it weren't for the fact that no other show existed to take it's place, we might not have any Doctor Who today.

 

   Spearhead from Space introduces a new Doctor in veteran character actor Jon Pertwee (The House that Dripped Blood).  It also brings the show into the color era, and of course to compensate for that new cost The Third Doctor is left Earthbound for most of his tenure. Spearhead from Space is not only another regeneration episode in Doctor Who history, it could practically be seen as a complete reboot of the series up until that point, a reboot of this scale we were unlikely to see again until the first 9th Doctor episode Rose (which coincidentally also features the Autons).

 

   Regeneration has never been an easy process for the Doctor, and Spearhead from Space shows The Doctor in the midst of a difficult one. As the serial begins he opens the TARDIS doors, and promptly passes out in a field. The night prior to this occurrence, glowing orbs began to fall from the night sky in the area adjacent to where the Doctor would land.  This gets the attention of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), and its leader Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.  Who calls in meteorite specialist Liz Shaw (Caroline John) to help with the investigation. During the investigation, they also discover that a man presumed to be the Doctor was found by a police box in the middle of the woods near where the meteorites had landed.

 

   As it turns out the Meteorites are power sources for a disembodied alien entity known as the Nestene Consciousness. Who had used it's influence to take over a toy factory, and use the facilities to create plastic facsimiles under its control (Autons).  It is up to the Doctor, his new scientific advisor and companion Liz Shaw (Caroline John), and UNIT to stop the Auton Invasion before it takes over the Earth.

 

   The script by Robert Holmes takes a typical B-Movie conceit, and applies it to early 70's Doctor Who. I would like to say he broke some new ground using this particular alien invasion formula, but alas it is a fairly standard treatment of the material. That being said the serial itself is quite good, and seems to overcome the limitations of the framework. This is more than likely due to a combination of excellent visuals, and a great burgeoning chemistry between the leads.

 

   The script by Holmes definitely hits certain regeneration story cliches (or what would become them later on) as the character of the Third Doctor is slowly revealed through a difficult uncertain regeneration process.  When I first came to this story a number of years ago, I was familiar with Pertwee's characterization of the Third Doctor already having already seen a number of his serials, and found Spearhead from Space to be quite slow going for the first 2 episodes (The duration of time the Doctor is in the hospital). When the Third Doctor has recuperated and joined UNIT, the story, and the Third Doctor's era as whole truly begins to take off.

 

   Spearhead from Space definitely fits the bill for truly classic Doctor Who. It doesn't quite reach the heights of one of the many masterpieces that would come throughout the remainder of Pertwee's era, but it is a fantastic introduction to one of the greatest of all Doctors. Also elements of this story can still be seen trickling into modern Who today, for example The Doctor getting his wardrobe in the hospital during the Eleventh Hour feels like a callback to this specific episode.  It is a serial that introduces the viewer to one of the most memorable of all Who villains, the Autons, and has what could be considered one of the scariest moments in all of 70's Doctor Who.

 

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

   BBC Worldwide have issued Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space in a fantastic looking 1:33:1 MPEG4 encoded 1080p transfer preserving the serials original broadcast aspect ratio. Spearhead from Space, has never looked this good on home video.  The colors are brighter, blacks are solid, and detail is vastly improved. It even comes with much warmer tones than I have previously noted in prior viewings.  That being said I did notice some issues with it, but first a little history.

     Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space is quite likely the ONLY classic Doctor Who serial to legitimately need a Blu-ray release.  The reason being is that due to the nature of it's production it was shot on 16mm film stock, rather than a blend of 16mm (for exterior and location shooting) and video (for interior studio shooting) as most classic Doctor Who is. That is why unless the BBC plans on releasing upscaled versions of these (which will not make them HD, just improve the picture ever so slightly, and possibly expose the limitations of the source material) this is the only proper Blu-ray release that should be in the classic series range. 16mm film for those who don't know about such things is a very grainy film stock, so when sitting down with Spearhead from Space I expected a transfer which interpreted the natural 16mm grain structure of the material. I did see a decent amount of grain present especially in episode 3 and 4, but I do suspect some minor de-graining efforts on the serial.

   The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Track in English. The track is very good with the dialogue coming through completely clear, music and effects come through loud, and are very present as well.  I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.

 

Extras (3.5/5)

   This is where things become difficult. Spearhead from Space had an excellent DVD special edition last year restored with a slew of extra features from the first release, and the SE. The Blu-ray has it's own exclusive extras without porting over the old ones. The 2 primary extras on the release are a lengthy documentary on the life and career of Jon Pertwee entitled The Dandy and the Clown, and one on Caroline John called It's Carry On: The Life of Caroline John. We also get test title sequences, and 17 minutes of silent footage. We get a before and after restoration featurette , and a coming soon trailer for the Green Death rounding off the set.

 

Overall

Spearhead from Space is a fine introduction to the Third Doctor, the UNIT Family, and the Autons. It helped spearhead (no pun intended) the change from black and white to color for Doctor Who, and helped bring the show into a new era. The story itself from Doctor Who Master-Writer Robert Holmes is a little bit cliché, but aside from a slow start tends to overcome it's typical framework with a great cast, and some outstanding visuals. The Blu-ray restoration is quite good, but I do suspect some moderate degraining to give it a more modern look,  and I would have preferred a more natural transfer. Also, while I suspect certain extras would have carried over some information from the new ones, I would have preferred to have the SE extras carried over on this release.  Regardless, this release comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for improved A/V, and the documentaries on Jon Pertwee and Caroline John.