“Spearhead from Space” is the first adventure of the seventh season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1970. It follows “The War Games” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Robert Holmes and directed by Derek Martinus.
The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) arrives on Earth, where he was exiled by the Time Lords. Passed out just out of the Tardis, is brought to the nearest hospital, where his alien features confuse the doctors. His arrival was also noticed by UNIT, which is in the area to investigate the fall of a group of anomalous meteorites.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) asked young scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John) for help in investigating the meteorites to see if they can be an alien threat. When notified of the presence of the Tardis, he goes to the hospital to see if the Doctor is back on Earth. The man he finds isn’t the one he used to know in the past and yet he claims he’s really the Doctor.
The original edition is poor in extras while the Special Edition contains a fair amount of them. In both editions there are typical contents such as production subtitles and a gallery of pictures from this adventure. The Special Edition also contains the Radio Times Listings.
There are various comments in the adventure alternative audio track of both editions by protagonists Nicholas Courtney e Caroline John. The Special Edition also has another audio track with comments by producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Terrance Dicks.
UNIT Recruiting Film. A spoof clip that is supposed to promote enrollment in UNIT with clips from various “Doctor Who” adventures.
Trailers. Various BBC trailer that promoted this adventure.
There’s also an “Easter Egg”, an unused version of the title theme.
The Special Edition also contains:
Down to Earth. A documentary on that “Doctor Who” revamp that took place with the seventh season. Includes footage of an old interview with Jon Pertwee.
Regenerations: From Black and White to Colour. A documentary on the problems faced by the production when “Doctor Who” started being shot in color. It pairs with the extra to “The War Games” that talks about the production of the show in black and white.
At the end of the sixth season, “Doctor Who” was a series whose audience were quite low compared to the past. The BBC took advantage of its protagonists’ departure to revamp the show with many new features. The most obvious was the color production of the show and for this reason new theme titles were produced with a new logo.
One of the reasons that convinced Patrick Troughton to leave the role of the Doctor was the huge amount of work the “Doctor Who” production required. The sixth season was composed of a total of 44 episodes but for the new production the number was reduced so there are 25 in the seventh.
The success of some recent adventures set on Earth convinced the production to exile the Doctor on the planet at the end of the sixth season and to have UNIT and its commander, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, reappear. For the role of the Third Doctor they chose actor Jon Pertwee, who had considerable experience for both TV and cinema productions.
A new companion was also introduced, Liz Shaw, a scientist of high intellectual level. The idea was to have a person more mature thatn the companions seen in previous seasons so that a series that had long been targeted to kids only in theory officially became targeted to the entire family.
After a few adventures Liz Shaw proved to be even too competent. The role of the companions was often to ask the Doctor for explanations of what was going on, a narrative trick to allow the audience to understand the situation. Liz didn’t need that, on the contrary she actively contributed to the solution of problems with the risk that many viewers had to struggle to follow the story.
For the first adventure of the Third Doctor, writer Robert Holmes reworked some ideas he had already partly developed for a movie titled “Invasion”. In addition to elements of the plot, he also reused the idea of the Doctor’s alien physiology. In particular, it was the first time the fact that he has two hearts was mentioned.
It was expected that part of “Spearhead from Space” would be shot in studio but a strike within the BBC made the use of any sets impossible. With the risk of having to even cancel the production of this adventure, producer Derrick Sherwin was able to convince his bosses to alter shooting plans moving them all to location. For this reason, this is the only adventure shot entirely on film and therefore the only one that can be converted into high definition for a Blu-Ray edition.
Despite the production difficulties, which were added to the many changes, the result was really good. The return of UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart certainly contributed in a positive way but Jon Pertwee and Caroline John slipped really well into their roles. The guest cast also offered good performances and thanks to them the tension grows in the course of the story.
True, the first part has some really slow moments and the part with the Doctor at the hospital is perhaps too long but slow paced episodes were the norm in the classic “Doctor Who” series. Things get better episode after episode and the direction of “Spearhead from Space” is also good and makes the Autons threatening. It’s a shame that the limited budget hasn’t allowed to create an equally threatening Nestene Intelligence and as a consequence some of the final moments are so so concerning their tension.
Apart from some limit, “Spearhead from Space” is still an adventure really solid and successfully relaunched “Doctor Who”. At the time, the Autons surely made quite an impression, so much that in 2005 they were used for the pilot of the new series with some moments that are a clear homage to this adventure.
The original edition of the DVD is unfortunately rather poor as it contains very few extras. In the Special Edition the pictures of the episodes were cleaned even better so they have a better quality and there are some new extras. It’s this second edition that I recommend to anyone interested in “Doctor Who”.
In Region 2 nations, the Special Edition DVD is part of the “Mannequin Mania” box set – available on Amazon U.K. – so a global judgement of that box set must necessarily be given only at the end of the reviews of the adventures it contains.