Spearhead from Space

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051 – Spearhead from Space
Doctor Who serial
Spearhead from Space.jpg
The Auton invasion begins.
Cast
Others
Production
Writer Robert Holmes
Director Derek Martinus
Script editor Terrance Dicks
Producer Derrick Sherwin
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code AAA
Series Season 7
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 3 January 1970
Date ended 24 January 1970
Chronology
← Preceded by Followed by →
The War Games Doctor Who and the Silurians

Spearhead from Space is the first serial of the seventh season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 3 January to 24 January 1970. It was the first to be produced in colour. The serial introduced Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor and the first to feature the Autons. It also introduces Caroline John as the Doctor's new assistant, Liz Shaw. Nicholas Courtney reprises his role as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and becomes a regular cast member beginning with this serial.

Plot[edit]

The Doctor, having had a change of appearance forced upon him by the Time Lords (see The War Games), has been exiled to Earth. The Doctor collapses outside his TARDIS and is taken to Ashbridge Cottage Hospital in Epping, where his unusual anatomy confounds doctors.

Simultaneous with the Doctor's arrival, a swarm of meteorites falls on the English countryside, and a poacher discovers a mysterious plastic polyhedron at the crash site. In the meantime, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT is trying to recruit Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw as his scientific advisor and investigate the unusual meteorite falls. Shaw, however, is sceptical of the Brigadier's claims of alien invasion and is resentful of being taken away from her research at Cambridge. Soon, the Brigadier is faced with another mystery; not far from where the meteorite impacts were reported, a man in hospital claims to be the Doctor (whom Lethbridge-Stewart last encountered in The Invasion). However this Doctor looks nothing like the Doctor the Brigadier knew.

The plastic polyhedron is actually a power unit for a non-physical alien intelligence known as the Nestene Consciousness. Normally disembodied, it has an affinity for plastic, and is able to animate humanoid facsimiles made from that material, known as Autons. The Nestene have taken over a toy factory in Epping, and plan to replace key government and public figures with Auton duplicates. The Auton in charge of the factory sends other, less human-looking Autons to retrieve the power units from UNIT and the poacher.

After a failed attempt at escaping from the hospital when the Autons try to kidnap him (which results in his nearly being shot dead by an overzealous UNIT trooper), the Doctor discovers that his TARDIS has been disabled by the Time Lords and he is trapped on Earth. He convinces Lethbridge-Stewart that he is the same person who aided him before to defeat the Yeti and the Cybermen, despite his change in appearance. Together with Liz, he uncovers the Nestene plot, just as Channing activates Autons across Britain which start killing people. However, the Doctor creates an electroshock device that he believes will disable the Autons.

UNIT attacks the plastics factory, but the Autons are impervious to gunfire. The Doctor and Liz make their way inside and encounter the octopus-like plastic creature that the Nestenes have created with the power units as the perfect form for the invasion. While the Doctor struggles with the creature, Liz manages to use his machine to shut the creature down, and all the Autons "die" as well, being part of the Nestene gestalt consciousness.

The Brigadier fears the Nestenes will return and asks for the Doctor's help. The Doctor agrees to join UNIT in exchange for facilities to help repair the TARDIS and a car like the sporty antique roadster he commandeered during the adventure. At his insistence, Liz stays on as his assistant.

Continuity[edit]

The concept of regeneration had not yet been named when this serial was made. It was finally named in Planet of the Spiders. The Doctor's exile would last until The Three Doctors, although the Time Lords would move the TARDIS through space and use the Doctor as their agent in Colony in Space, The Curse of Peladon and The Mutants. The Doctor tells Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart that his name is Doctor John Smith, an alias first used in The Wheel in Space.[1]

While the Doctor is taking a shower, a mark is clearly seen on his forearm (this was the tattoo of a cobra that Jon Pertwee obtained while serving in the Royal Navy). No explanation is given for the mark in the television series, and it does not appear on any other Doctor; it has been theorised in fandom that it is a Time Lord criminal brand,[2] a theme expanded upon by the spin-off novel Christmas on a Rational Planet. The Doctor claims to be conversant in the eyebrow-twitching language of the planet Delphon.[1] This language also features in the Big Finish Productions audio play ...ish, when the Sixth Doctor says a word in Delphon while reflecting on words of the same pronunciation and spelling with different meanings.

This is the first time in Doctor Who history that it is learned Time Lords have two hearts.[3] The Doctor had previously undergone a medical examination in The Wheel in Space and no comment was made about this anomaly.[citation needed] In addition, the Doctor is revealed to have blood that cannot be identified by Earth doctors, and a heartbeat that can lower to as little as 10 beats per minute.

The Autons would return in Terror of the Autons (1971), "Rose" (2005), and "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" (2010). They also have a cameo in a specially-shot flashback scene in the 2006 episode "Love & Monsters".

Production[edit]

The working title of the serial was Facsimile, and was based on a story that Robert Holmes wrote for the 1965 film Invasion, which featured an alien crashing in the woods near a rural hospital, where a medical examination reveals his alien nature. The hospital is later visited by other aliens, seeking a fugitive criminal. Some of the exact lines of dialogue used by human doctors to describe the physiology of the injured alien were re-used.[citation needed]

Industrial action by certain elements of BBC staff meant that this serial was filmed almost entirely on location, with the majority being undertaken at BBC Wood Norton and the pub in nearby Radford. Lacking videotaped studio material, this also meant that it was the only story, to date (excluding the TV movie), to be shot entirely on film (other stories in the original series intercut material from either source as required or, especially in the last four years when film was eschewed even on location, were entirely on tape).[citation needed]

The change to colour production also necessitated changes to the program's opening titles. Designer Bernard Lodge, who had produced the previous sets of titles used up until Spearhead from Space, originally intended to produce a new set using the same 'howlaround' technique that he had for the previous titles. Tests showed, however, that the technique did not produce satisfactory results when used with colour equipment and so the final set were produced in black and white before being manually tinted. These were completed in August 1969, a month before work began on the serial.[4]

The new titles also introduced a new logo for the series. Unlike the logos used for the First and Second Doctor's eras, which used a generic typeface, the new logo was an attempt at being more stylised, particularly in the presentation of the initial "D" in "Doctor" and the "H" in "Who." This logo would be used until the final episode of The Green Death in 1973, but would make an unexpected return in 1996 when it was adopted as the logo for the US-produced 1996 TV movie. It subsequently became the official logo of the Eighth Doctor, and of the franchise itself, being used on original novels, video releases (1996–2003) including the alternate Ninth Doctor's animated Scream of the Shalka, DVD releases, and Big Finish Productions audio plays. As of 2013 it continues to be the official logo of the 1963-1989 series and Big Finish's Doctor Who productions, while a new logo was introduced to symbolise the 2005-2010 series and another for the most recent (post-2010) series.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
Archive
"Episode 1" 3 January 1970 (1970-01-03) 23:38 8.4 16mm colour film
"Episode 2" 10 January 1970 (1970-01-10) 24:21 8.1 16mm colour film
"Episode 3" 17 January 1970 (1970-01-17) 24:16 8.3 16mm colour film
"Episode 4" 24 January 1970 (1970-01-24) 24:47 8.1 16mm colour film
[5][6]

The story was repeated in its entirety on Friday evenings on BBC1 in July 1971.[7] It became the first ever broadcast of Doctor Who outside of its typical Saturday evening slot.[8] The story was later repeated on BBC2 in 1999.[9]

Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times described Spearhead from Space as an "extroardinary debut for the third Doctor" and also a good performance from Courtney; while positive towards John, Mulkern criticised the way Liz was "severely styled." He also commended the production, particularly Dudley Simpson's score. He wrote that "the only real disappointment is the lacklustre representation of the Nestene" and the "boggle-eyed Pertwee" at the end when he is strangled by the tentacles "always warrants a snicker".[10] Christopher Bahn of The A.V. Club felt that the Autons were secondary to the serial's main goal of introducing the new cast, but commented that they "provide some effectively chilling moments". Bahn wrote that the "major flaw" was the pacing, as it spent too much time establishing "the new status quo before getting into the action".[11] IGN's Arnold T. Blumburg rated the DVD special edition release 9 out of 10, describing the serial as "an amazing feat – a nearly complete top-to-bottom reinvigoration of the show that feels like a full-blown feature film".[12] Den of Geek's James Peaty called Spearhead from Space "easily the best 'new Doctor' story" until Matt Smith's "The Eleventh Hour" (2010), and felt that Courtney and John were "so good ... that you barely miss the Doctor from episode one".[13]

Reviewing the original DVD release in 2002, DVD Talk's J. Doyle Wallis gave the serial three out of five stars, describing it as a "nice exploit" with "pretty neat villains", but criticising the little the Doctor had to do, despite it being his introduction.[14] Ian Jane of the site was more positive when reviewing the serial for its 2012 re-release, giving it four stars. He praised Pertwee and John, as well as the suspense and pacing.[15] SFX '​s Ian Berriman was positive towards the serial when reviewing it in 2011 with Terror of the Autons, though he noted that Liz was "so snarky she's annoying", the climax with the tentacles was "risible in the extreme", and it was a "shame it looks so dull" as it was shot on film.[16]

In 2009, SFX named the Autons smashing out of the shop windows the second scariest Doctor Who moment, only behind the Weeping Angels in "Blink" (2007).[17] The magazine also listed the serial under the 25 silliest moments, citing the scene when Pertwee's eyes bug out as he is being strangled by the Nestene Consciousness.[18] In 2013, Ben Lawrence of The Daily Telegraph named Spearhead from Space as one of the top ten Doctor Who stories set in the contemporary time.[19]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Chris Achilleos
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
6
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
17 January 1974
ISBN 0-426-10313-0

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in January 1974, entitled Doctor Who and The Auton Invasion. This was the first novelisation commissioned by Target following the successful republishing of three books originally published in the mid-1960s; the Target Books novelisation series would run for the next twenty years and see all but a half-dozen Doctor Who serials adapted. This book was translated into Finnish, in the seventies, as Tohtori KUKA ja autonien hyökkäys, although Doctor Who never appeared on Finnish television until the 2005 revival series was sold to the country. There were also Dutch, Turkish, Japanese and Portuguese editions.

An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Caroline John was released as four CDs in June 2008 by BBC Audiobooks. The original Target books artwork by Chris Achilleos is featured on the cover.

Home media[edit]

This story was released in an omnibus edition on VHS in the United Kingdom in early 1988. In early 1995 it was re-released as an unedited episodic version (the previous omnibus VHS version remained as the release for the United States, Canada and Australia). A DVD release followed on 29 January 2001,[20] with a re-release with new outer packaging on 2 July 2007. It was re-released on DVD in "special edition" format, boasting additional special features and improved remastering, on 9 May 2011 together with Terror of the Autons, the pair comprising the "Mannequin Mania" boxset. All four episodes of this serial have been issued for sale on iTunes.

The all-film production makes this the only classic-series Doctor Who serial where a complete high-definition release (with no upconversion) is feasible. The serial was released on 15 July 2013 on Blu-ray Disc.

In the original broadcast of episode 2, the first 15 seconds of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well (Part One)" can be heard during scenes of dolls being manufactured at Auto Plastics. This was removed from most of the video and DVD releases due to copyrights issues. It is present on the 1995 episodic VHS release and also on the 2011 DVD re-release as the track is now covered by the PPL agreement.

Reviewing the Blu-ray release of the serial in 2013, Phelim O'Neill of The Guardian praised the film look of Spearhead From Space, claiming, "It sounds like a small thing but it made an incredible difference; this is the only one of the vintage stories to have the picture quality worthy of a HD transfer. The Blu-ray looks superb, as if they shot a (very) low-budget Doctor Who movie late in 1969, which is pretty much what they did. The sets look sturdier, more colourful and far better than their usual overlit, studio-bound video camerawork."[21] The film cameraman was Stanley Speel.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Spearhead from Space". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "Spearhead from Space". The Discontinuity Guide (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website). London: Virgin Books. p. 109. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  3. ^ "The Girl Who Waited: The Fourth Dimension". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Spearhead from Space DVD production subtitles, 2011
  5. ^ "Spearhead from Space". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (18 May 2008). "Spearhead from Space". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  7. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1996). Doctor Who The Handbook - The Third Doctor. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 49. ISBN 0-426-20486-7. 
  8. ^ This is confirmed on the production notes for the DVD release of the special edition of the story and noted in the DVD commentary by Terrance Dicks, the show's script editor. Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania Box Set - Spearhead from Space / Terror of the Autons [DVD]. BBC Video/2|Entertain 2012. ASIN: B004P9MROY
  9. ^ "Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor". Mentalis.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  10. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (14 September 2009). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". Radio Times. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Bahn, Christopher (19 June 2011). "Spearhead from Space". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  12. ^ Blumburg, Arnold T. (27 September 2012). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space Special Edition DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Peaty, James (9 May 2011). "Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania DVD Box Set review". Den of Geek. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Wallis, J. Doyle (14 August 2002). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  15. ^ Jane, Ian (8 September 2012). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Berriman, Ian (6 May 2011). "Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania — DVD review". SFX. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "21 Scariest Doctor Who Moments 7". SFX. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  18. ^ O'Brian, Steve (November 2010). "Doctor Who's 25 Silliest Moments". SFX. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  19. ^ Lawrence, Ben (30 March 2013). "Doctor Who: the 10 best contemporary tales". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  20. ^ Roberts, Steve (16 November 2000). "Spearhead from Space — DVD". Doctor Who Restoration Team. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  21. ^ "Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space: this week's new DVD & Blu-ray". The Guardian. 13 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 

External links[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]