Inferno

Brigade Leader

Listen to that! It’s the sound of the planet screaming out its rage!

Third Doctor

Synopsis

While accompanying U.N.I.T and the Brigadier, the Doctor investigates an attempt by Professor Stahlman to drill through the Earth’s crust.  The drill begins to leak a green liquid which turns anyone who touches it into a primaeval creature with a lust for heat.  The Doctor accidentally ends up in a parallel universe whilst experimenting with a partially repaired TARDIS console, and finds the project more advanced than in his universe, and antagonistic alter-egos of his friends.

Review

Inferno brings Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor to a fantastic finale.  It fantastically evokes the feeling of a disaster movie, and despite being a seven-parter, it doesn’t feel as though there is a lot of filler here.  The cast also seem like they are having a lot of fun with the dual roles the story demands of them here, and the story rather excellently shows that there are parts of each character reflected in their alternate universe selves.  The Primords, some shaky make-up aside, make for a great opponent for the Doctor, seeming practically unstoppable at times, and there are some great guest performances.

Primord

Due to the fact that the director’s chair was inhabited by two directors, I want to praise the fact that the story feels very coherent narratively and that you cannot notice the join, as it were.  Letts attributes this to Douglas Camfield’s meticulous preparation for directing the story, which he simply followed, however, I feel it deserves praise.  As mentioned above, this is a story which has a fantastic frenetic pace to it and there is a sense of impending disaster which looms over the majority of the running time.  There is brief exposition covered in the first episode, covering the basic premise of the experiment and the fact that there are concerns about Stahlman overlooking concerns from Sir Keith, causing him to bring in inspectors, such as Greg Sutton.  From this point on, the story really speeds through the gears superbly without really stopping for breath.  I like how subtle Stahlman’s transformation into a Primord is portrayed by music cues and it is slower than the other transformations that we see.  There are a number of fight scenes which take place high up on gantries and you can really feel the danger and stakes.   I love the story and the idea of the Doctor becoming trapped in a parallel universe which is running slightly ahead and Don Houghton deserves a lot of credit for this story.

Dr Williams Elizabeth Shaw

The guest cast here are largely magnificent.  Olaf Pooley plays the reckless and arrogant two versions of Stahlman superbly and it is a really lovely performance from the actor, frustrated with the interference of Gold, the Doctor and Sutton into his life’s work.  It is a shame that he has little to do later on as he transforms into the Primord, but what we do see of him if great.  Derek Newark and Christopher Benjamin are equally superb as Greg Sutton and Sir Keith Gold, and Sheila Dunn is also good, although I prefer her alternative universe version of her character to the version in the Doctor’s universe.  The original version seems a bit bland, perhaps because she is only Stahlman’s assistant rather than being a doctor in her own right in the alternate universe, but Dunn does do the best with the material she is given to work with.  The relationship between the ‘original’ and parallel Sutton and Petra is a bit shaky in places but the two good enough chemistry to allow you to overlook this.  The story really makes the most of this cast, and allows the majority of them to stretch their acting muscles and it does seem as though they make the most of this opportunity.  Some of the characters are more different than others, with the two Greg Suttons being quite similar, however, there is a feeling that his dissent has more potential to get him in trouble in a parallel universe.  Petra also seems much more willing to listen to the Doctor’s concerns from his arrival than her counterpart in the Doctor’s universe.

“Pompous, self-opinionated idiot”, I think you said, Doctor.

Yes, well, we don’t want to hold a grudge for a few hasty words, do we?  No, not after all the years we’ve worked together.  Now come along, my dear fellow.  Put on a smile…

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Third Doctor

The core cast of the Doctor, the Brigadier, Liz and Benton are also great.  There are some lovely moments which establish that the Doctor and the Brigadier do have some form of a relationship, for instance, the scene in the first part where the Doctor tries to spot the Brigadier in the photograph on his desk, which also acts as foreshadowing for us seeing the moustache-less Brigade Leader.  Additionally, when the Brigadier walks in on the Doctor threatening Professor Stahlman, the Doctor respects him enough to unhand the Professor and temporarily disappear from Central Control.  Courtney and Caroline John seem to really enjoy their parallel selves, and Courtney, in particular, deserves credit for making the Brigade Leader so completely unlikeable.  It is really jarring when he does the distinctive chair turn, one of many high points in a great story and we do see similarities between these two versions, especially when he is barking orders to Benton.  Liz’s counterpart is slightly softer, with the Doctor able to play on the similarities between Section Leader Shaw and Liz, especially the fact that the Section Leader had the opportunity to study science at Cambridge.  Moments like this, and when Gold survives the car accident meant to kill him in the Doctor’s universe stress the importance of free will.  Benton doesn’t have very much to do except for order troops around in both universes, but his transformation scene into a Primord is a really horrifying piece of body horror.  Benton is perhaps the most expendable of the core cast, so it makes sense that he would be the one chosen by the production team to undergo the transformation, but it does help to bring home the threat packed by the Primords.

Doctor Brigade Leader Stahlman Liz

I’m going to dedicate a paragraph to Jon Pertwee, as he is the one consistent throughout the story.  This is the first time where we see the Third Doctor separated from his support network of the U.N.I.T. family, and his resourcefulness has to come to the fore.  Pertwee is superb when he is outraged, and I love his delivery when he tells Stahlman that he is a nitwit – a really underrated word!  There are small moments in Pertwee’s performance that I really like, such as stroking the TARDIS console with his hand, and he does seem to look at it with a great deal of affection, and when he says that he feels lost without his TARDIS to Liz early in the story, you utterly believe him.  I’m not a fan of the moment where the Doctor tells the Brigadier what he thinks of him at the end of the final episode, but is nice to see his pompous bubble popped when his flight with the TARDIS goes wrong.  Pertwee does probably have the most to do in this story, and his performance really does not disappoint.

Verdict: Inferno is a great first delve into the worlds of parallel universes from Doctor Who, with a story that really zips along nicely over a seven episode runtime.  I love practically everything about this story.  10/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline John (Liz Shaw/Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart/Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton/Platoon Under Leader Benton), Olaf Pooley (Professor Stahlman/Director Stahlman), Christopher Benjamin (Sir Keith Gold), Sheila Dunn (Petra Williams/Dr. Williams), Derek Newark (Greg Sutton), David Simeon (Private Latimer), Derek Ware (Private Wyatt), Walter Randall (Harry Slocum), Ian Fairbairn (Bromley), Roy Scammell (RSF Sentry), Keith James (Patterson), Dave Carter, Pat Gorman, Walter Henry, Philip Ryan and Peter Thompson (Primords)

Writer: Don Houghton

Director: Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts (Letts is uncredited)

Parts: 7

Behind the Scenes

  • Final appearance of Caroline John as Liz Shaw, and her departure is not depicted.
  • This is the first Doctor Who story to cover the idea of parallel universes, as well as being the first story that Barry Letts had any say in commissioning and developing.  He and script editor Terrance Dicks were concerned that Houghton’s story did not have enough to fill a seven part story, and so the Primords and scenes featuring Venusian aikido were added.
  • Barry Letts directed the studio scenes for the final five episodes after director Douglas Camfield suffered a minor heart attack following completion of location shooting and studio footage for the first two episodes.
  • Houghton based the story on attempts by both the Americans and the Russians to penetrate the Earth’s crust which was abandoned.  As part of his research, Houghton attempted to find out why the American project, Project Mo-Hole, was stopped, but was unsuccessful as the information was classified.
  • This marks the first appearance in Doctor of Christopher Benjamin, best known for playing Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng Chiang, and he has also appeared in The Unicorn and the Wasp.  Derek Newark had previously appeared in An Unearthly Child and Ian Fairbairn had been in The Macra Terror and The Invasion and would go on to appear in The Seeds of Doom.
  • The part of Petra was originally given to Kate O’Mara, who would go on to play the Rani against the Sixth and Seventh Doctor. Sheila Dunn, Douglas Camfield’s wife, was cast in the part instead.
  • Caroline John enjoyed playing an evil version of her character, as she found the ‘good’ version of Liz quite boring to play.  She was, however, uncomfortable with the scene in which she shoots the Brigade Leader as she was pregnant at the time.  As a result, the gun is fired from out of shot.
  • Nicholas Courtney was also fond of this story, stating that playing the Brigade Leader was his favourite thing he did on Doctor Who.  He frequently recalled the scene where he turns around with the eye patch and scar to find the assembled cast and crew also wearing eye patches.  Courtney proceeded to perform the whole scene without reacting.
  • This story was so closely associated with Courtney that Steven Moffat wrote scenes where everyone was wearing eye patches in The Wedding of River Song as a posthumous tribute after his death in 2011.
  • The final story to feature the original TARDIS console prop, which had been deteriorating for a while.  The TARDIS console would reappear in The Claws of Axos, redesigned by Kenneth Sharp.
  • The leader of the British Republic is seen in photographs in the alternative universe.  The man in the pictures is BBC visuals effects designer Jack Kine, and is a homage to the images of the face of Big Brother in the BBC’s adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four being a picture of Roy Oxley, the BBC’s then head of television design.

Best Moment

Either the reveal of the Brigade Leader, or the cliffhanger at the end of Episode 6.

Best Quote

I keep telling you, Brigade Leader, that I don’t exist here!

Then you won’t feel the bullets when we shoot you.

Third Doctor and Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart

Inferno The Doctor and Liz

The Ambassadors of Death

liz doctor console

Something took off from Mars…

Charles Van Lyden

Synopsis

The Doctor and Liz join the investigation regarding Mars Probe 7, which has not communicated with Space Control since setting back from Mars seven months ago.  A further vessel, Recovery 7, is encountering similar problems.  When Recovery 7 returns to Earth, the ship is found to be crewed by three alien ambassadors…

Review

Sadly, and perhaps understandably, Ambassadors of Death is a bit of a mess, and certainly the worst story of Jon Pertwee’s first series as the Doctor, although, considering the standard of the stories around it, this is certainly not shameful.  I still enjoyed this one, although it does suffer with pacing issues and it definitely feels as though it needs a couple of episodes for the story to really get started.  However, there are some superb examples of model work in the space scenes, whilst there are some great moments of tension and the episode is perhaps notable for a sympathetic portrayal of Carrington’s madness, along with benevolent aliens.  There is some fantastic model work in this story and Dudley Simpson’s score is simple but really effective.

Doc Brig Liz

The Ambassadors (OF DEATH) is an episode which features no overtly hostile aliens, with the titular aliens instead being vilified by humans such as Reegan and Carrington.  The species of aliens are capable of killing with a single touch who encountered General Carrington on a previous Mars mission and accidentally killed his partner, triggering a xenophobic grudge between them and the new head of the Space Security Department.  Despite being benevolent, the Ambassadors really look sinister, especially in the spacesuits with blacked out visors, and certainly feel like a threat, although they are being exploited by humans.  The idea of a simple touch being able to kill is particularly effective and helps with the fear factor.  A particularly good example of this is the scene where the three Ambassadors surround Liz in their containment cell.  We only get brief glimpses at one is under the helmet, which makes them all the more spooky.  Carrington’s xenophobia, paranoia and madness increases as the story goes on, culminating in his reaction when the United Nations refuse to sanction the nuclear first strike on the Ambassador’s ship and his decision to arrest UNIT as being alien collaborators.  I think what makes the conclusion all the more effective is the fact that the Doctor actually gently tells Carrington that he understands why he did what he had.  This is by far the most effective part of this story and sold by the performance of John Abineri.

Jon Pertwee delivers another assured performance as the Third Doctor, and I particularly enjoy his facade of being a doddering old man in the scene where he reclaims the stolen truck carrying Recovery 7.  I also appreciate the fact that at the beginning of the story, the Doctor is still harbouring resentment and bitterness towards the Brigadier for his actions at the end of The Silurians.  This story does go some way to mending this relationship, with the Doctor and the Brigadier’s scene when they say goodbye to each other before the Doctor goes into space, which also shows their mutual respect for one another.  The Third Doctor, despite being quite an establishment figure, really prickles against figures of authority such as Quinlan, and demonstrates that beautifully here.  The Brigadier demonstrates that he is one to shoot first and ask questions later, especially towards the end where he acts effectively when moving to rescue Liz and the Doctor.  Additionally, Liz gets some good scenes, especially with her attempted escape from Reegan’s men and helping Lennox escape, although this is ultimately futile.

Sadly this story does suffer from pacing issues and does feel very heavily padded to get it up to seven parts.  The opening episodes of the story feel particularly slow and padded, with the gunfight at the end of part one really goes on a bit too long, as does Liz’s chase and the sequence around the retrieval of Recovery 7.  There are also a number of elements that feel like they are unnecessary, such as the presence of Taltalian sabotaging the Doctor’s initial efforts to help Cornish, which feels unnecessary – and not just the actor’s strange French(?) accent.  That being said, it is perhaps notable for being a story in which the Doctor and the Brigadier are almost consistently one or two steps behind their adversaries for the entire course of the story.  The scenes in space are quite gripping and the model work is really well done, especially with the docking sequence, evoking a sense of apprehension.  I also feel that every Doctor Who story requires a bearded newsreader sitting in the corner of the studio explaining the story!

ambassadors model shot

Verdict:  A good if not exceptional story, which does suffer from some pacing issues.  I like the aliens and the handling of Carrington’s madness though and the model shots and general idea are good. 7/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline Johns (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Ronald Allen (Ralph Cornish), Robert Cawdron (Taltalian), John Abineri (General Carrington), Ric Felgate (Van Lyden), Michael Wisher (John Wakefield), Cheryl Molineaux (Miss Rutherford), Ray Armstrong (Grey), Robert Robertson (Collinson), Dallas Cavell (Quinlan), Bernard Martin (Control Room Assistant), Juan Moreno (Dobson), James Haswell (Corporal Champion), Derek Ware (UNIT sergeant), William Dysart (Reegan), Cyril Shaps (Lennox), Gordon Sterne (Heldorf), Ric Felgate, Steve Peters and Neville Simons (Astronauts), Max Faulkner (UNIT soldier), John Lord (Masters), Tony Harwood (Flynn), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), James Clayton (Private Parker), Joanna Ross (Control Room Assistant), Carl Conway (Control Room Assistant), Roy Scammell (Technician), Peter Noel Cook (Alien Space Captain), Peter Halliday (Alien Voices), Steve Peters (Lefee), Neville Simons (Michaels), Geoffrey Beevers (Private Johnson)

Writer: David Whitaker

Director: Michael Ferguson

Parts: 7

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the last story written by former script editor, David Whitaker.  It is also his least favourite.  Whitaker originally started writing the story for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor but proved incapable of adapting it for the new format and cast that had come in with Jon Pertwee.  Eventually, Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray rewrote the story but agreed to give full credit (and the fee) for the story to Whitaker.
  • The story depicts the first occasion on which the Doctor travels to space without his TARDIS.  It is also the first story to show the TARDIS console in colour, with the Doctor having disconnected it from the machine and put in a study at UNIT H.Q.
  • This story marks the first appearance of John Benton since The Invasion.
  • The UNIT uniforms worn by everyone other than the Brigadier are solely seen in this story.
  • There are two actors who appear here who would return in more significant roles later.  Michael Wisher would go on to be the voice of the Daleks during the Third Doctor’s era, as well as going on to reappear in Terror of the Autons and Carnival of Monsters, eventually going on to be the first actor to play Davros.  Geoffrey Beevers would go on to play the Master in The Keeper of Traken and for Big Finish.
  • By a strange coincidence, this story was being broadcast during the Apollo 13 crisis.
  • This is the first and only time that the opening credits would be interrupted for a recap of the cliffhanger, to be followed by the story’s title.  It is also the first to feature the now common sound effect at the cliffhanger.

Best Moment

Pertwee’s acting as the doddery old man is a personal highlight, but I also enjoy the cliffhanger with the Ambassador reaching out towards the Doctor as he inspects the body of  Quinlan.

Best Quote

My dear fellow, I don’t have a pass!  (pause) Because I don’t believe in them, that’s why!

Third Doctor

John Wakefield

(Doctor Who and) The Silurians

silurians 5

Synopsis

The former rulers of Earth have awoken and are causing power drains on a nuclear testing facility at Wenley Moor, so The Doctor and Liz go to investigate with U.N.I.T.  However, what they find will put the Doctor and the Brigadier’s relationship under considerable strain.

Behind the Scenes

This story is the only one televised to feature the prefix of “Doctor Who and…”, which had been included on production notes since the programme’s inception in 1963.  The commonly agreed upon reasoning for this was that, due to the director, Timothy Combe, having never directed a story before, he instructed the art department to include it.  There was no producer to correct the error before broadcast, as the incoming producer, Barry Letts, was still committed to another programme, and his predecessors, Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant, left the show at the end of the preceding story, Spearhead From Space.  Script editor Terrance Dicks was therefore in charge of production, and this error slipped through the net, and in future, the production paperwork omitted the prefix to prevent the error occurring again.

Additionally, this story is still technically “missing”, as the master tapes were wiped by the BBC.  Fortuitously, it was also recorded in several other formats, and so survives to this day.

Bessie

This serial is notable for several debuts, both off and on camera.  On camera, this is the first appearance of the Doctor’s canary-yellow Edwardian roadster, part of the Doctor’s agreement with the Brigadier to work for U.N.I.T during his exile on Earth, and the Silurians, who went on to reappear in Warriors From the Deep, and returned to the revived show in the Chris Chibnall penned The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.  Although we are not given a date for The Silurians, it was broadcast in 1970, and they go into hibernation for fifty years, whilst Chibnall’s two-parter is set in 2020.  Behind the camera, this marks a debut for colour separation overlay, a precursor to blue screen, and videotape recording.

Peter Miles, Paul Darrow and Geoffrey Palmer make their first appearances in Doctor Who in this serial, going on to reappear numerous times in different roles, whilst Norman Jones had previously appeared in The Abominable Snowmen opposite Patrick Troughton and would go on to appear in The Masque of Mandragora opposite Tom Baker.  Fulton Mackay, best known for his role in Ronnie Barker penned sitcom, Porridge, also appears in this story.  Despite never reappearing in the programme, Mackay was considered to replace Jon Pertwee in 1974. There are cameos for Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and, most notably, Trevor Ray in the scenes at Marylebone Station.

The Silurians is also one of only nine stories to date not to feature the TARDIS in any way, and at the time of broadcast, just the second not to have the famous blue police box appear.

Review

Despite having a complete runtime of around two and a half hours, The Silurians feels much shorter, thanks to strong central and guest performances and a gripping story.  The main heart of the story is the friction between the Doctor and the Brigadier, new colleagues as of the end of the last story, and this tension combined with the climax serve to deliver a truly great episode.

silurians 1

Due to the length of time in which Malcolm Hulke has to tell the story, the story has time to breathe and allows us to see the difficulties in the Doctor and the Brigadier’s working relationship, before introducing the central antagonists of the story.  This allows for several great scenes featuring just Pertwee and Courtney sparring, the free-spirited Doctor’s reluctance to conform to the needs of the establishment fully seen early on.  One of my particular favourite scenes comes in part one, where the Doctor is frustrated that the Brigadier is not taking his concerns about events at Wenley Moor seriously, leading the following exchange:

Brigadier: Then I suggest you discover something I can’t dismiss.

The Doctor: You’re not exactly a little Sherlock Holmes yourself, are you?

The lights dim and the air conditioning goes off.

The Doctor: What the devil’s that?

Brigadier: It’s another power failure.  Come on, Doctor Watson.

Despite this, there are still signs of mutual respect between the two men, such as when the Brigadier tells Dr. Lawrence that the Doctor is qualified to do “almost anything”.  Part of the Doctor’s frustration must come from the fact that he is no longer free to come and go as he pleases, and he is now utterly reliant on the Brigadier and U.N.I.T.

Silurians

The strength of this part of the story means that we don’t need to have a full glimpse of the titular creatures until the end of Part 3.  We get the sighting of the dinosaur at end of Part One, when the Doctor goes into the caves on his own, and various glimpses and point of view shots from the wounded Silurian, especially effective at the end of part two, where they sneak up behind Liz.  When the story allows us that first full glimpse of the Silurian, the story continues to escalate towards its climax: Lawrence calls in the government in the shape of the Permanent Under Secretary, Masters, and disagreements between those who favour attacking the Silurians head on and those who want to attempt to ensure peace, namely the Doctor and Liz.  The Silurians show themselves to be quite a threat to the human race, especially with the virus that they unleash towards the end of the story, and the scenes shown in London of the victims almost look like something out of a horror story.

What has been created here by Hulke and the production team is a multi-layered and morally ambiguous story.  I find it easy to see where both the Doctor and the Brigadier are coming from: rather than fighting with this re-animated previous occupier of Earth, we should look to seek peace and share the Earth with them, as both races have an equal claim.  However, the Brigadier’s viewpoint is understandable – the Silurians possess dangerous technology and there is no guarantee that peace between the two races would succeed.  We see the Silurian Elder who the Doctor discusses peace with killed by the younger Silurians.  To Hulke’s credit, the Brigadier remains a sympathetic character, who is seen to be under multiple pressures, from both Dr Lawrence and from Masters, which leads him to eventually ordering the destruction of the Silurian base at the end of the story.

silurians7

There are also themes that tap into the contemporary concerns of the adults who were watching, such as the Cold War, nuclear technology and an increasing distrust of politicians and scientists.  Fulton Mackay’s Dr Quinn and Peter Miles’ Dr Lawrence embody distrust of public servants, who were seen to be looking to further their own concerns.  Quinn is looking to utilise the Silurian technology to further his own career, whilst Lawrence refuses to take the threat of the Silurians seriously and refuses to allow the closing down of the Wenley Moor plant because of the damage it will do to his reputation.  Even when he is dying from the Silurian virus, he is still furious at the Brigadier for ruining his work at Wenley Moor.  Meanwhile, Geoffrey Palmer’s Masters, who unlike in later Pertwee stories, does not turn out to be a disguise for the Master, reflects a changing attitude towards the establishment following scandals such as the Profumo Affair in 1963, thanks in part to a rise in scrutiny of politicians by the media and satire as a medium.

The final scene of the story is also perfectly done – we don’t see the Doctor’s immediate anger at the Brigadier addressed, which will remain to have an impact on the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier for the remainder of the Third Doctor’s life, and perhaps for the Doctor’s continuing distrust of the military to this day.

Verdict: The Silurians is rightfully seen as a classic story in Doctor Who history.  The relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier is sufficiently expanded and it shows how well the Earth-based Doctor can work. 10/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Fulton Mackay (Dr Quinn), Norman Jones (Major Baker), Peter Miles (Dr Lawrence), Thomasine Heiner (Miss Dawson), Ian Cunningham (Dr Meredith), Ray Branigan (Roberts), John Newman (Spencer), Bill Matthews (Davis), Paul Darrow (Captain Hawkins), Nancie Jackson (Doris Squire), Gordon Richardson (Squire), Peter Halliday (Silurian Voices), Geoffrey Palmer (Masters), Richard Steele (Sergeant Hart), Ian Talbot (Travis), Dave Carter (Old Silurian), Nigel Johns (Young Silurian), Harry Swift (Private Robins), Pat Gorman (Silurian Scientist), Alan Mason (Corporal Nutting), Derek Pollitt (Private Wright), Brendan Barry (Hospital Doctor), Pat Gorman, Paul Barton, Simon Cain, John Churchill & Dave Carter (Silurians)

Writer: Malcolm Hulke (3rd story written)

Director: Timothy Combe (1st story directed)

Parts: 7

Best Moment: The end scene, with a broken down Bessie and the Doctor seeing that the Brigadier has blown up the Silurian base.

Best Quote

“I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life – and that covers several thousand years.”

The Third Doctor

Spearhead From Space

We deal with the odd…the unexplained.  Anything on Earth…or beyond.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

Spearhead from Space - Auton

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.

Spearhead from Space - Doctor and Liz

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

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • 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 real waxworks were filmed at Madame Tussauds.
  • 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.

Best Moment

The shop window dummies coming to life and bursting out of their shopfront displays.

Best Quote

What are you a doctor of, by the way?

Practically everything, my dear.

Liz Shaw and the Third Doctor

Next up: The Eleventh Hour!