The Doctor is banished to Earth by his own people, with a new face and the knowledge removed. He lands in 20th Century England where he is found and brought to the attention of the Brigadier.
Meanwhile, the Autons are attempting an invasion and are replacing senior members of government and the army and it is up to the Doctor, the Brigadier and newly appointed member of UNIT, Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, to stop them.
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 there. 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
Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline Johns (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart), Hugh Burden (Channing), Neil Wilson (Mr Seeley), Talfryn Thomas (Mullins), George Lee (Corporal Forbes), Helen Dorward (Nurse), Tessa Shaw (UNIT Officer), Ellis Jones (Technician), Alan Mitchell (Wagstaffe), Prentis Hancock (2nd Reporter), Hamilton Dyce (Major General Scobie), Henry McCarthy (Dr. Beavis), John Breslin (Captain Munro), John Woodnutt (Hibbert), Derek Smee (Ransome), Betty Bowden (Meg), Clifford Cox (Sergeant) & Edmund Bailey (Attendant).
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Derek Martinus
Broadcast Dates: 3 – 24 January 1970
Behind the Scenes
- The working title for this story was Facsmilie.
- The broadcast of this story marked the debut of the show’s first colour opening titles sequence, designed by Bernard Lodge, who had designed the previous opening titles. It is the first to feature an accompanying closing titles sequence, rather than having the credits in front of a black background.
- Due to the technician’s strike at Television Centre, it is one of two stories to be recorded on film along with the TV Movie. This meant that it was easier to convert for a release on Blu-Ray.
- The scenes featuring waxworks were filmed at Madame Tussauds. Caroline John’s reaction to the scenes shot in the dark on location here were genuine and described by her as “not entirely acting”.
- The Third Doctor is revealed to have a tattoo on his arm, which was Jon Pertwee’s dating back to his days in the Navy. This was revealed in a shower scene, as the location where the show was being filmed had an interesting shower that was too good not to use in the production. The Third Doctor’s tattoo would be explained away later in the Expanded Universe as labelling it as a Time Lord brand denoting someone who had disobeyed their people.
- This is the last story directed by Derek Martinus, who wished to distance himself from the show. This perhaps was detected by actors, as Nicholas Courtney found him to be “very distant” and did not feel that he was easily approachable. Coincidentally, this was the first story that Nicholas Courtney appeared in that wasn’t directed by Douglas Camfield.
- This story marked the first involvement of Peter Grimwade, although he was not credited.
- This is the first story to mention that the Doctor has two hearts. This was an idea taken from Robert Holmes’ script for a film called Invasion, in which the aliens had two hearts.
- Derrick Sherwin’s final story as producer, as he left to join Paul Temple, which was a BBC detective drama being worked on by his predecessor, Peter Bryant.
- This story and The Silurians were filmed in 1969, and were therefore the last stories to be produced in that decade and the only two to be filmed in colour.
- This is the first of two occasions where a new incarnation of the Doctor would face the Autons, the other being Rose. The Autons have also appeared in three stories opening seasons (Spearhead, Terror of the Autons and Rose), making them second only to the Daleks in appearing in the opening stories, who have appeared in five (Day of the Daleks, Destiny of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, Asylum of the Daleks and The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar).
- Derrick Sherwin appears as a UNIT soldier, making him one of five people to write for and act in a Doctor Who story, although Sherwin is the only one to be uncredited. It also gives him the distinction of being the only person to produce and act in Doctor Who.
- Nicholas Courtney had previously appeared in The Daleks’ Masterplan as Brett Vyon, and is reprising his role of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart from The Web of Fear and The Invasion.
- Talfryn Thomas would go on to play Dave in The Green Death.
- George Lee would appear in The Time Monster as a farmworker.
- Tessa Shaw would go on to voice the Bordinan in the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audio play Faith Stealer.
- John Woodnutt would play the Draconian Emperor in Frontier in Space, the Duke of Fothergill in Terror of the Zygons and Seron in The Keeper of Traken.
The shop window dummies coming to life and bursting out of their shopfront displays.
What are you a doctor of, by the way?
Practically everything, my dear.Liz Shaw and the Third Doctor
Next up: The Eleventh Hour!