Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space

Directors - Paddy Russell

Cast - Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen

Country of Origin - U.K.

Discs -1

MSRP - $24.95

Distributor - BBC Home Video

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

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" iteration of the Doctor.  He 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.  When they arrive the next day to investigate the orbs, they find the unconscious Third Doctor, and bring him to a hospital to recuperate completely unaware he is the same entity which helped them with alien invasions in the past.

   As it turns out the Meteorites are power sources for a disembodied alien entity known as the Nestene Consciousness. Who was used his 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 feels like a regeneration story in the fact that we are slowly revealed the character of the Third Doctor.  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 70's and 80's, 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 (4/5)

   Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space has been presented in an absolutely brilliant 1:33:1 full frame transfer preserving the original aspect ratio of the original presentation. I would like to start by saying if you are contemplating even slightly upgrading your older edition of Spearhead from Space, just based on the visuals it truly is a must. The visual upgrade alone is worth the price of admission. The earlier transfer was very washed out and soft looking. The special edition is bright and colorful, the level of fine detail is increased dramatically, and flesh tones are accurate.  There is a nice bit of grain due to the 16mm source material.  There is still a bit of production related softness, but overall this is a startling upgrade, and a must buy for fans of Spearhead from Space.

   BBC Home Video have presented Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space with a similarly solid Dolby Digital Mono track in English with Optional English subtitles (or a trivia track).  The dialogue is clean and clear throughout, with music, and effects mixed well.  There is nothing overpowering, and no audio defects that I could detect during my viewing.

 

Extras (3.5/5)

   BBC Home Video and the Doctor Who Restoration Team have put together a fantastic slate of extras for the special edition release of Spearhead from Space.   The disc kicks off with 2 commentary tracks one with the late (sadly both) Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John. The 2nd track features producer Derrick Sherwin, and script editor Terrance Dicks. This is followed up by a making of entitled Down to Earth.  We then have a documentary featurette called Regeneration from Black and White to Color, which discusses the difficulties in moving Doctor Who into the color era. We then have a UNIT Recruitment film, basically a joke film made in 1993.  The disc is rounded off with a photo gallery, trailers, and PDF Materials.

 

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 A/V restoration looks absolutely outstanding, and the extras are quite elaborate, and interesting.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.