Thursday, 20 June 2013

Spearhead from Space

Jon Pertwee is the Doctor!
Bam! I’ve hit colour! And wow it really does make a difference. ‘Spearhead from Space’ not only introduces us to colour, but also a brand new Doctor in Jon Pertwee, and into a new format of being exiled on Earth and being part of the UNIT team. He cuts a dashing and somewhat different figure to the two previous Doctors with frills and a cape, a great contrast to Troughton’s Doctor immediately.

The UNIT team for Spearhead from Space.
This story has quite a unique feel. Completely shot on film, the DVD release has wonderful picture quality – hard to imagine it being that enhanced by the blu-ray which has not been released yet as I write this blog entry. The feel of this story is like no story before because of all the factors already mentioned. The musical score, provided by Dudley Simpson, is orchestral and quite understated compared to the sort of score used in today’s television and movies, but even for a show produced in 1969 does sound a little dated, or not quite right. Perhaps better suited to a show like ‘The Avengers’. Still it’s not BAD.
It’s a pretty well done story, and benefits from not being shot on video, which provides a more washed out feel. This clearly feels like a film! Which is why it was chosen for blu-ray release. We see the Doctor almost at the start, falling out of the TARDIS, and then he is taken into a local hospital where he spends much of the next two episodes bar one escape. To be truthful, I felt a bit disappointed that he doesn’t feature so much in the first half of this story.
Caroline John

Caroline John is the new ‘companion’, or perhaps ‘assistant’ is the more apt term in her case. A scientist herself she is very good in ‘Spearhead from Space’, offering a sceptical view and even a little cynical humour to role. Nicholas Courtney is back as the Brigadier, but we don’t see any other people from UNIT that featured in ‘The Invasion’.
Where the story excels is in being creepy and scary. Manikins or shop-dummies coming to life was a brilliant idea from Robert Holmes (or possibly it was Derrick Sherwin), and it was something that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to do. They even had the chance to film in Madame Tussaud’s which was a nice touch. Andrew tells me he remembers the scene of the figures coming to life there as one of his earliest Doctor Who memories. Again the music is understated, which is not a bad thing at all. As the Autons walk down the road shooting people, we have a rather well directed scene that adds to the fear of the audience. A very real threat.
Autons invade London!
Finally, the story concludes at the plastics’ factory. Simple dolls have never looked creepier! John Woodnutt plays Hibbert, controlled by the head Auton, Channing, a wonderfully creepy performance given by Hugh Burden. In fact think it’s not until episode three that he actually speaks on camera. Kudos for Holmes for this, and kudos to him for a far better script than his previous two.

The real let-down is the finale. Firstly the Doctor builds a machine to destroy the Nestene Consciousness, which isn’t very dynamic. Then the story ends with a very comical fight with some very poor tentacles coming out of the machine which houses the Nestene. As the foam tentacles are desperately pulled around his neck by Jon Pertwee, not fooling anyone, Liz Shaw operates the machine. It doesn’t work. The reason why is not given. Then she fiddles with it a bit, and it does work. The Autons looked great throughout the story, wonderful ideas, but the final confrontation needed better scripting and effects. Otherwise it was a fantastic start to the third Doctor, and the colour era of Doctor Who.


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