C051 Spearhead from Space



Browse Classic Who reviews

 

We get space quaffles, the mannequin challenge and some good old-fashioned tentacle porn in Pertwee’s first go as The Third Doctor



Jon Pertwee excels in his first jab at playing The Third Doctor in this iconic 4-part serial.

The first serial to be shot in full colour – and coincidentally on film – and the first to feature not only Pertwee, but Autons and the Nestene Consciousness, Spearhead from Space in many ways feels a lot more dynamic and fast-paced than prior serials.

Plastic balls from outer space are crashing into Epping Forest in the outskirts of London and U.N.I.T. is called in to investigate. To aid them in their work, our old friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart, aka “BAGLS” (pronounced “bagels”) — Big hand to our listener, Chris Z, who thought of that nickname! — recruits soon-to-be-a-regular-companion, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, Liz to her friends.

And serendipitously, The Doctor materialises in Epping at the same time, loses consciousness and has a chance to do his own thing for a while before joining BAGLES and Liz.

It turns out it’s the Nestene Consciousness who, after conquering worlds for “a thousand million years” has come to Earth to execute a dastardly plan of we’re-not-entirely-sure-what and ultimately to take control.

 

9 Responses to “C051 Spearhead from Space”

  1. Stephen | @sgamer82

    This is the one that starts off the Jon Pertwee era. I’m honestly excited about starting these episodes, as Pertwee is one of my favorites among the Classic Doctors. This episode is a solid introduction, once we’re past the initial post-regeneration, clutching shoes like a teddy bear phase. That said, I think those initial episodes introduce us to some of the patterns we see in future Doctors, such as picking out his first outfit, which I don’t recall Troughton ever doing, or the commentary on their new faces.

    Pertwee is a charmer as the Doctor. A suave gentleman very unlike his predecessors. He’s also a bit of a dick at times, which I know Ponken will like. I have only ever seen about half of the Liz Shaw stories, but I always appreciate seeing a companion who is competent at what they do, so that wins me over with her.

    For the serial itself, I feel compelled to give props to whoever did the makeup. Particularly for the Auton copies like the fake general or that secretary in episode one. They had a plastic-ness to their faces and expressions that I thought was good touch and sold the plastic double angle nicely.

    I’m giving a rating of 3.9 for Spearhead in Space, losing a decimal or two simply for “thousand million”.

    One final question: Will we ever see Capaldi reference the planet where people speak with eyebrows?

    Twelfth Doctor: I went to Delphon. Just wanted a quiet meal, but apparently everyone else complained I was too loud. “Deafening” they said!
    Nardole: Why did you raise your eyebrows so high when you said that last bit?
    The Doctor: It’s the Delphon equivalent of doing quotations with your fingers.

    Reply
  2. Trenton Bless | @trentonbless

    Hello once again, Podcast land! I’ve returned once more to take a look at the beginning of the Pertwee era with “Spearhead from Space”. Not only are we in color now, but the Doctor is in exile. So, we have Earthbound stories from Season Seven all the way to Season Ten (with a few exceptions here and there.). So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

    One of the odd things about this serial is that it’s the only four part story of Season Seven, the rest being seven parters.

    Another strange thing about this serial is that it was filmed almost entirely on location and it was filmed entirely with 16mm film. There was a strike on at the time (the people who ran the color cameras wanted more money or something like that), and the decision to film it with 16mm film was perhaps one of the best decisions ever made, because it made converting this serial to Blu-Ray even easier.

    Spearhead from Space is Robert Holmes’s first truly great script. Not only does it expertly establish the revised format, it moves with swift remorseless precision – rather like the Auton we see crashing through bracken as it homes in on a missing energy unit.

    There’s something inordinately nightmarish about the plain boiler-suited Autons. Even now their shiny heads and leering rictus give me the heebie-jeebies. The cliffhanger where an Auton jerks into life in the factory to confront Ransome retains its power. Even more disturbing is the moment when Meg Seeley finds one ransacking her cottage. When the Autons resurfaced for Christopher Eccleston’s debut in 2005, they were devoid of this horror.

    The production sparkles. Bernard Lodge’s fabulous diamond-patterned title sequence was aimed to dazzle the few Brits who’d invested in colour television sets. The Doctor looks great in his ruffled shirt and red-lined cloak – a collaboration between Pertwee and designer Christine Rawlins. Dandies were everywhere in late 60s pop culture.

    The only real disappointment is the lacklustre representation of the Nestene. Its cellophane sphincter twitching behind perspex is decidedly peculiar and, later, the sight of rubber tentacles “strangling” a boggle-eyed Pertwee always warrants a snigger.

    So, what can I give this serial? I’m gonna give it a 4.0/5. This serial is so great. With the 70’s bringing the show down to Earth, this makes for a great jumping on point for Classic Who. Not only that, but it introduces viewers to a new era of the series, marking the start of what many call the “Golden Age” of the show.

    I swear, these mini’s are gonna start getting shorter! The last one was 700+ words. This one has a little over 400. I’ll work on it.

    Reply
  3. Paul Fauber | @wordsmithpaul

    The seventh season of DOCTOR WHO opened in black and white starlight and transitioned into a color broadcast as a mysterious formation of meteors descended through Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the woods on the planet’s surface. At a hospital, the physiology and blood of an unconscious man baffled doctors. Searching the woods, soldiers from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce found the mystery man and a police box. Their commander, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart ordered the blue box guarded upon arriving with leggy Elizabeth Shaw. The Brigadier didn’t recognize the mystery man, but he, the Doctor, whom the officer had met during two previous crises, recognized him. The Doctor retrieved a key and used a wheelchair to escape kidnappers. As he approached the police box, his TARDIS, he fell when the guards shot at him.

    The Brigadier’s investigation of the attempted kidnapping revealed the lead kidnapper, Channing, was assumed to have been with the press investigating the meteor shower. He organized a search for two unrecovered meteors from a plastics factory. One of the meteors had been discovered by a poacher and UNIT had the other as well as a previously discovered fragment. The Doctor recovered, showered, borrowed some clothes, made off with a hospital official’s car, and tracked the TARDIS to UNIT headquarters, where the Brigadier held the key. Upon arriving, the Doctor immediately noted the meteor fragment Liz was studying had once contained something. Channing’s alien searchers had found the associated meteor and brought it to the plastics factory.

    The fired plastics employee, Ransom, narrowly escaped Channing’s Autons while exploring his former workplace, and fled to UNIT in order to complain as the poacher with the second meteor asked them about a reward. While they studied the meteor fragment, the Doctor tricked Liz into getting the TARDIS key from the Brigadier, but the TARDIS would not take off because the Time Lords had banished the renegade Gallifreyan to Earth. The Doctor became interested in the plastics factory after hearing Ransom’s story, but the poacher admitted he had the last meteor. An Auton attacked as UNIT arrived to retrieve it and escaped after a firefight. While investigating the plastics factory, UNIT was put off, but the Brigadier recognized Channing. Back at headquarters, the Doctor determined the recovered meteorite was part of a group intelligence that would need to build a shell for itself. The Brigadier contacted his army liaison, General Scobie, to get permission to raid the plastics factory just before the General was replaced by a plastic duplicate created at the factory.

    The duplicate General canceled the Brigadier’s planned raid and took the meteorite the Doctor and Liz had been studying to the plastics factory. As the Brigadier began the time consuming process of reversing his orders, the Doctor and Liz learned the plastics factory had made the facsimile of the General displayed at the waxworks. There, they discovered plastic facsimiles of several civil servants. The Doctor noted figure of the General wore a watch keeping the correct time. After closing , all the facsimiles except the General moved off to take the places of real people. The Doctor and Liz built a weapon to combat the alien Nestene Consciousness as manikins came to life all over London, broke shop windows, and spread terror. At the plastics factory, the Brigadier and his troops couldn’t convince General Scobie’s men their leader was a fake and a firefight started. The Doctor and Liz moved off to face the Nestenes, who attacked the Doctor until the device he and Liz built destroyed the aliens. Back at the UNIT lab the Docter told the Brigadier what happened and began negotiating compensation for his continued assistance, which would begin with a distinctive car.

    This serial was shot on film for the first time in color as the lead actor as well as the regular and supporting cast all changed. Jon Pertwee became known for portraying the Doctor seriously, but his first two episodes were marked by physical comedy. The Brigadier, who was later frequently used for comic relief, in this story, like UNIT, was notably competent and professional. This characterization may be due to the influence of former Script Editor Derrick Sherwin, who created UNIT. He also put the the Doctor’s banishment into place and gave him Liz Shaw, a scientist with whom he could discuss problems instead of having to constantly explain their details. Future producer Barry Letts took this setup, tweaking and expanding it into one of the most fondly remembered eras of DOCTOR WHO. This five year run of serials began with this enjoyable story, which introduced the Autons; the Nestenes; and a new, colorful Doctor.

    Reply
  4. John Robie | @jrobie_1970

    Doctor Who is back, now in glorious color (and velvet)! And to go with the new decade (the 70’s) there’s a new doctor, and a new foe.

    The Autons are a fantastic enemy. If their closest cousin, the Cybermen, represent the primal fear of aging and infirmity, the Autons represent the more modern fear of obsolescence and replacement. In this episode people are replaced both literally – as in the case of General Scobie – and in the workforce (because as Scobie himself gleefully says “machines can’t go on strike”).

    The serial is slow off the mark – nothing much happens in the first two episodes while the Doctor’s in a hospital bed aside from some blatant violation of patient confidentiality laws by a greedy janitor. However, once Pertwee is on his feet the last two episodes are a brisk and enjoyable ride.

    The good
    • Pertwee! Though what was up with that shower scene?
    • The Brigadier and UNIT
    • The shifty poacher and his shrewish wife
    • The wheelchair escape was hilarious, even if Pertwee hated it.
    • The Autons design is extremely simple and extremely creepy. It hits the uncanny valley even more effectively than the Nu-Who Autons from “Rose.”
    • The Visuals – beyond just being in beautiful color, the camerawork is much more dynamic, even going hand-held in a couple of scenes. This serial just looks great.

    The Less Good
    • The army shoots the Doctor for trying to escape from a hospital, but later are happy to let him (as far as they know) kill General Scobie with a weird device.
    • Liz Shaw is over-the-top acerbic, though if I were an attractive female scientist in 1970, I’d probably be pretty over dealing with men and their bullshit too.
    • Two episodes where nothing happens except a poacher arguing with his wife.
    • The “the perfect form to conquer the earth” that the Nestenes evolved was a plastic sphincter. WTF?

    Quibbles aside, I loved this serial. Final Score: 7.6/10

    Reply
  5. I love Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (BAGLE) – I hope that nickname catches on – he is such a integral part of the show.

    The Doctor on the other hand has too much attitude for my liking. Is it uncouth to request a sound clip during a mini? If so, sorry. (Episode 2, 18 minute mark) “Alright, I suppose that you’d want to see my pass, well I haven’t got one. And I’m not going to tell you my name either. Now you just tell Brididere Leftbridge Stewart that I want to see him. Well don’t just stand there arguing with me man! Get on with it!”

    First impressions: The third doctor is an asshole!

    “Doctor of practically everything,” “Not that you would understand.”

    And arrogant.

    Then he tricks Liz Shaw, so he could escape without helping anyone.

    And lacks empathy!

    He treats Dr. Liz Shaw like shit. Calls her Ms. when she’s a Dr. and deserves that title and cuts her off when she is telling BAGLE what was going on in episode 4.

    If it wasn’t for The Twin Dilemma (Colin Baker), I’d call this the worst introduction to a Doctor. I miss Troughton!

    Enough complaining:
    The serial if fairly good. We get more Time Lord lore. He has two hearts, weird blood, and sometimes the regeneration goes funky and he needs to pass out for a while. This creates the trope of MDs not knowing what to do with him. We also get the trope of the doctor looking at himself in a mirror after regeneration.

    The acting was really good from the ensemble cast. I like the acting of country bumpkin and who finds the meteorite, particularly the bickering with his wife. They remind me of my grandparents. I liked the campy wheelchair escape in episode 1. The doctor was wonderful in episode 1, mostly because he was either unconscious or had tape over his mouth. There was something incredible creepy about watching the dolls get made in episode 2, but that was probably intentional. I like the Autons better here than in new who, but feel like the Nestene Consciousness is a rip off of the great intelligence. I did however like that the Nestene’s actually have a physical form. I also liked watching 3 get choked-out by it. Can you tell I don’t like the third Doctor all that much or am I being too subtle?

    Trivia:

    Caroline John who played Liz Shaw, took advantage of the sexism at the BBC by auditioning by allegedly photographing herself in a bikini and sending the picture around to BBC producers.

    This serial is the only one this season to show the Tardis, because the producer thought that it was too run down to be filmed in color. They wouldn’t have it in the budget to build a new one or build a new console room this season.

    This serial also featured real Madame Tussauds replicas and was actually filled at their London location in part.

    Score: Story gets a 3.8. The Third Doctor gets a 2.0 for being an ass. I average it as 2.9 and through in an extra point for the production team having Doc and Shaw (DS) hiding in episode 4 behind a curtain instead of Voord-hiding as we’ve come to expect. Total 3.0

    Reply
  6. Grant (aka Rudolph)

    Hi guys, long time lurker and first time reviewer, breaking his usual habit of posting after a podcast is released.

    So, yeah, Spearhead from Space – The TARDIS somehow transports the Doctor into the X-Files for the next couple of years. A fantastic opener with a great new Doctor who has instant chemistry with his new companions, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw.

    Anyway, a few bits of obscure trivia of no relevance whatsoever – if you look closely when the Doctor is taking a shower, you can see a tattoo of a snake on Jon Pertwee’s forearm. This is the result of a drunken misadventure Pertwee had during his time in the navy during the second world war, which led to him waking up very hungover with a tattoo he had no memory of getting.

    Speaking of the shower scene, the Doctor can be heard humming La donna è mobile from Rigoletto by Verdi. Interestingly, the Eleventh Doctor hums the same song whilst taking a shower in The Lodger.

    This is also the first serial to mention that the Doctor has two hearts.

    Anyway, this story is a cracking opener and a real favourite of mine, 10/10.

    Lots of Love, Grant (aka Rudolph)

    Reply
  7. Gallifreyan Buccaneer | @aluntrussler

    Dear Ponken and co.,

    Mini:
    Spearhead From Space is still one of my favourite Who stories ever, and it’s easily the best ‘first story’ for any classic Doctor. I mean Power of the Daleks is great but does it have Jon Pertwee in a high-speed wheelchair chase? …I thought not!

    Best thing about the episode (and it’s a hard choice as everything is superb), has to be the chemistry between The Doctor and Liz, one of the best companion-Doctor duos, due in part here to Holmes’ sparky dialogue. Shame they only had a season.

    The Autons are creepy, the Nestene is hilarious, and the new blu-Ray looks gorgeous!

    I’d give it a 4.8/5.0.

    -Gallifreyan Buccaneer

    P.S Long time no speak! Still listening even if I can’t contribute – keep up the good work chaps :)

    Reply
  8. This is arguably the first regeneration refresh episode, where the story’s downplayed to allow time to reintroduce the show with a new lead. John Pertwee is high on my list of favorites. He’s serious, active, cool under pressure, mercilessly out the pompous at large. Also new is the under-recognized Liz Shaw, a character whose stark contrast to all previous female companions is often overlooked. Finally, this story also introduces new showrunners and color imagery. While I love the Black and White era, I feel we’ve been missing the full impact of the artistic design before now.
    The story itself is simple, ultimately amounting to hide and seek, a chase, and a shootout. The topic was perfect for its time as plastic manufacturing was coming into its heyday. The mannequins are unsettling, and truly representative of the uncanny-valley. They’re too different from humans to be appealing, and yet too similar for comfort.
    The climactic battle is the only major problem, as the plastic hive-mind gains organic tentacles to pantomime strangle the doctor. It’s a silly-looking non-sequitur. How is the Nestene suddenly organic? Let’s rewrite the mannequins closing in on our heroes about to crush or absorb them instead.
    One thought-provoking production note: Watch the street massacre scenes closely and you’ll notice that not a single female is shot, and there’s no child to be seen anywhere. It’s nice to know that some invaders have moral standards.
    Spearhead is an good story, neither phenomenal nor disastrous. Thus Andrew McCarthy and Kim Catral give it a 3.3

    Reply

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>