7.1 – “Spearhead From Space”
Having been forced to regenerate by the Time Lords as a punishment for disobeying their rules and meddling in the affairs of others, The Doctor is banished to Earth with his TARDIS rendered inoperable. Arriving in Oxley Wood at the same time as a mysterious meteor shower, with no memory of what had just happened to him, The Doctor must once again team up with UNIT to prevent a Nestene invasion of earth.
Throughout its 50 years, Doctor Who has been replete with landmark moments – a new Doctor, new companions, production team changes – that all contribute to the ever changing feel of the programme. In 1970, “Spearhead From Space” was a major landmark for the show, featuring the biggest changes to happen since the idea of regeneration was first introduced to allow Patrick Troughton to replace William Hartnell three years earlier. Falling ratings (through what is now seen as a golden age of the show), combined with budget cuts were forcing the production team to look for new ways to make Doctor Who and Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks came up with a money saving idea; strand The Doctor on Earth and put him to work for UNIT (first introduced as an organisation in “The Invasion” after Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had appeared in “The Web Of Fear”).
The end result was a new look Doctor Who, with a new team for The Doctor to work with, fighting alien invasion on Earth and not having to spend money on extravagant alien planet sets. And finally, in another landmark difference to how the show had previously been presented, The Doctor’s adventures would now be filmed in colour.
Through episode 1, the unconscious Doctor spends most of his time in a hospital bed as we are re-introduced to UNIT and the Brigadier and meet new companion, scientist Liz Shaw, alongside the alien threat in the shape of mysterious meteorites. Strange things are afoot at the Auto Plastics company and, with local poacher Sam Sealy having stolen a meteorite, UNIT have their work cut out for them getting to the bottom of it all.
Jon Pertwee gets to properly kick off his characterisation of The Doctor with an escape bid from the hospital and the Nestenes. Accidentally shot at by UNIT soldiers during the escape, he is briefly back in bed before a more successful second attempt has him suited and caped from the hospital Doctor’s dressing room. With the theft of an old car, he’s soon back in business and cutting a fine dash on his way to UNIT headquarters to get back in on the action.
The Autons look so sinister (even if the masks look a little hokey by today’s standards). Simple but effective use of the mannequins and dummies and the plastification effect on the faces of the bad guys works well. The seminal scene of the shop display models coming to life still looks awesome and is such a massive part of Who folklore that it was re-imagined in the first show of the New Series when it came back in 2005.
“Spearhead from Space” is Doctor Who at its best. Pertwee gets to grips with his Doctor, UNIT seems like a natural home for him and there is a new dynamic to the show. It looks great in colour and, despite the budget cuts, the production team use what budget they have to the best advantage of the story. Watching this now in HD, it looks fairly stunning, with the dubious looking Nestene Brain being the only visual let down (but it’s still funny). Its a great template for the next few years of Who. A classic 10/10.
Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar