Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Starring: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline Johns (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtenay (Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart), Hugh Burden (Channing), Neil Wilson (Mr Seeley), John Breslin (Captain Munro), John Woodnutt (Hibbert), Derek Smee (Ransome).
The new Doctor finds himself banished to Earth, following the events of The War Games, to find mysterious events occurring around a plastics factory…
Spearhead From Space is an incredibly important episode in the history of Doctor Who. The star, Patrick Troughton, who had taken over the lead role from William Hartnell, had quit, citing a heavy workload, and viewing figures had fallen to the three million mark, which was a bigger problem then than now, with no catch-up television. In fact, the BBC would have cancelled it, however, they were unable to find a suitable replacement, so Doctor Who was given a new series, with the production team deciding that constricting the stories to Earth would both save on the budget. A new Doctor was announced, with Jon Pertwee, best known for his comedy role in radio sitcom The Navy Lark, which also featured Ronnie Barker.
However, problems did not stop with this. The studio crews were on strike, which necessitated the entire story to be filmed on location, however, this would prove to be a godsend – the story was the first to be shot entirely on film and in colour. This change helps Spearhead feel like a breath of fresh air, which reinvigorates the programme and would be a strong start to this Earthbound relaunch.
Jon Pertwee’s performance in this episode is great. He almost instantly inhabits the role as the Doctor and plays it almost completely straight, the only exceptions being when he is escaping in the wheelchair and when he is examining his new face in the laboratory. Apparently, Peter Bryant, one of the previous producers who left early in production on this episode and had cast Pertwee, saw the early footage of the wheelchair escape and felt certain that Pertwee would be sticking to his comedic background. The costume is superb, and as soon as he puts the outfit on, Jon Pertwee is the Doctor.
The main supporting cast is very good too. With the decision that the Doctor would be Earth-bound having been floating around in the production team’s ideas for the show going forward, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart was introduced in The Web of Fear, and reappeared in The Invasion, played by Nicholas Courtney. Courtney has a fantastic line in repressed frustration which he plays superbly, especially when the Doctor is in the hospital, and in his discussion with Liz. The Doctor also needed a new companion, with Elizabeth Shaw, a Cambridge University scientist, who is more of an intellectual equal for the Doctor, who disapproves of U.N.I.T but is sufficiently intrigued by the Doctor to agree to assist him. Liz Shaw is perhaps an under-appreciated companion, who didn’t have as much of a tenure on the show as she perhaps deserved.
This episode also introduces the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness. One of the remarkable things about the Autons is that the design is so simple but yet so effective, and the design did not fundamentally change when they were brought back in 2005. The Autons are a seriously creepy threat, and that scene where they burst through the shop window in Part 4 sends shivers down my spine. There is also Channing, played effectively by Hugh Burden who has an almost spectral quality about him. This is most effectively displayed when the Doctor, Brigadier and Liz go to investigate the plastics factory, and he is staring at them through a window.
A strong opening to a bold new era of Doctor Who, Spearhead From Space kicks off a personal favourite era of the show for me. 10/10
Best Quote – Liz: What are you a doctor of, by the way?
Doctor: Practically everything, my dear.
Best Moment – The shop window dummies coming to life and bursting out of their shopfront displays.
Next up: The Eleventh Hour!