Terror of the Autons
Spearhead from Space
|Dates||Jan. 3, 1970 -
Jan. 24, 1970
With Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicolas Courtney.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Derek Martinus. Produced by Derrick Sherwin.
|Synopsis: In the first adventure of the third Doctor, he and UNIT attempt to halt the invasion of the Nestenes, an alien life form which can control any kind of plastic.|
A Review by Jen Kokoski 20/1/98
As with the creation of any new Doctor era, the first story line is often an experiment. Relying on a simply plot of alien invasion and the newly regenerated Pertwee's erratic behavior, Spearhead from Space is no better or worse than most Doctor Who stories. The Nestene is ugly and alien, but not particularly frightening. The mechanized Autons, the generic faceless ones, were about as terrifying as a Cabbage Patch doll. But despite the somewhat weak story and weaker villains, the one shining light of this production is Liz Shaw. While Pertwee struggled to "nail down" his showman-like persona, Caroline John appeared made for the role of a liberated female scientist. Her initial scenes bantering with the Brigadier are particularly fun. One can imagine she, Liz Shaw, had been drafted unwillingly and forced into the predicament of working for a mysterious branch of the military and even more enigmatic nameless Doctor. She is witty, intelligent and shows a great deal of promise as a multidimensional character. Unfortunately, to the show's discredit, the writers never seemed able to get beyond the mindset of "Smart Doctor - Dumb Companion".
Starting Over Again by Michael Hickerson 24/1/98
As I was reviewing the premiere Pertwee story a few nights ago, about halfway through, a thought struck me--watching Spearhead from Space is like watching the pilot for a new TV show. A lot of the elements you will later come to know and love are there, but they just aren't there in the form you recognize yet. In four episodes, Doctor Who is trying to re-invent itself-- taking elements from the past and coupling them with some new ideas for the future.
Possibly the biggest innovation is this is the first Who story made in color. And coming away from the story this time, I observed that it really had the feel of a Troughton era story that had been colorized. And you get the feeling the production staff hadn't quite got the whole process down just yet. There are a lot of moments that where the dialogue is difficult to hear and the sound quality has an echo to it. Add to it that there are a lot of open rooms and spaces and the Auton's factory is identical the one used by Vaughn in The Invasion and you get the feeling that the crew is experimenting and seeing what not only the limitation of this new color filming is but also the new wonders.
Overall, though, the story is a rather sound one, by one of the best Who scribes, Robert Holmes. Holmes finds a balance of the Auton invasion plot and the third Doctor's introduction that works rather well. Holmes will later refine the Autons a bit and give them a bit more depth in Terror of the Autons, but they work rather well here. And they are rather horrifying. The grisly scene in the woods with the Auton stepping out in front of the UNIT truck and the scene where they come to life are two moments from Who that are burned into my memory.
And Spearhead becomes a template of sorts for other regeneration stories -- you've got the new Doctor who must go on a journey of self-discovery while he's lost his memory and must convince those who know him that this change has occurred. Holmes does a good job here of putting these elements into play.
Of course, for me, Spearhead is loaded with unintentionally funny moments, probably the best being when Monroe asks the Brigadier if they can have live ammo. My response is, "As opposed to what? Those fake bullets we'd been using until now?" Seasons seven and eight are when UNIT is at the height of being considered a serious military group and not just a comic foil for the Doctor. I like them here, even if at times they seem a bit unprofessional. (The Silurians will take care of cementing them as feeling like a military unit!)
So, overall, Spearhead frpm Space is an interesting story to view in the context of the Pertwee years overall. It's a pilot that serves to introduce to the new Doctor and tell a decent alien invasion story. All that in just four episodes. Not bad.
A Review by Joseph Nunweek 7/3/98
It's no wonder Doctor Who became popular again and got high ratings, because the first story of the Third Doctor, and in colour, is really very good. The Nestene aren't really the stars of the show, due to a less-than-memorable climax and little development. The best part were the actual Autons, which are well designed monsters, and whose silence and efficient murder would have been terrifying to the children watching it at the time. The disturbing thing is that the Nestene are winning up until the last few minutes of the story-- the Doctor only just saves humanity. Then there was the great scene where the shop dummies come to life. The best part is that it is the civilians who are attacked first (unlike stories where The Doctor and UNIT appear to be the only people involved in the invasion).
The Doctor himself is great-- Pertwee set the style for stories like Robot and Castrovalva with his excellent portrayal of the confusion and self-discovery of the newly-regenerated Doctor. Liz is a rare thing, being a complex, intelligent companion and the Brigadier is neat, notably as he goes up against his orders reluctantly (and again in Devil Goblins From Neptune). Monroe is rather wooden though -- Yates was far better.
One thing I noticed after watching it, as well as Day Of The Daleks and Death to The Daleks-- did the Pertwee era lose its greatness as it progressed? When you look at this, and then the mediocre Death to The Daleks, it certainly seems possible...
More than the sum of its parts by Tom May Updated 11/6/03 (originally 23/4/98)
Spearhead From Space, written by Doctor Who's finest and most persistent writer, Robert Holmes, builds on the foundations laid by the earth-based The Invasion, and successfully introduces Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. While it may not be as unique and as a brilliant a Dr Who story as its preceeding The War Games, or have the quite the same curiously eerie mood as earlier contemporary-set stories, Spearhead is still very good.
The adventure has the feel of a film; which is a distinct novelty for the show, and especially in the first episode this astounds and impresses. The early scenes are vividly paced and seem almost Bond-esque when Liz Shaw arrives at UNIT, accompanied by a musical motif that could only have been made in 1969/70. This sense of a contemporary, if none too 'realistic' ethos, is drastically odds with so much of the pre-1970 show; while in the context of the entire series, the wisdom of this approach could be questioned, it is in this season a perfectly fitting quality. Liz Shaw strikes us from the first as a brave character to use as effectively the companion; a brainy gal sadly given too much of a hinterland by the writers -- but this was a very plot and action focused season. She displays an entertainingly smug attitude and her banter with the Brigadier amuses, but is not in any way overplayed.
Pertwee's entrance is handled with expertise, and really does, in retrospect, serve as a template for future post-regeneration tales. This is the one of the finest post-regeneration stories; of those I've seen only Castrovalva is perhaps as good. Pertwee's Doctor is good but not superb; and as usual with these stories, we don't get a full impression of how he's going to play the part. It's a shame that much of the humour he displays here wasn't more retained; as Pertwee did have comic flair and experience. If truth be told overall, the low-key Pertwee does not out act most of an effective cast. He doesn't actually yet seem too differentiated from Troughton's giddy persona; Pertwee's portrayal, while less of an acquired taste, lacks Troughton's subtlety.
The fine Hugh Burden plays Channing, a very good villainous figure, but an overrated one possibly; the direction is at least very much part of his appeal, and the character fades into insignificance late in the story. It is very true that the promise in his portrayal is not built upon here. Where Channing works especially well is as a silent observer in the early stages of Spearhead From Space, adding an air of mystery to a cracking, if simple tale. The Autons are quite simply the finest, most efficient monsters created in the Pertwee years; a fine creation but they are somewhat similar to the Yeti/Intelligence -- if more frightening in their very facelessness. The attack on those hapless, stereotyped rustic sorts is really very well filmed, as are virtually all of the sporadic Auton attacks.
This story does let us down though, at its conclusion. The manner in which the Nestene Consciousness is defeated is deeply unsatisfying, in view of the rest of the story. The traditional Doctor Who device of technobabble is used, all too glaringly, and the Nestene monster itself is very unconvincing. Pertwee gurning, as well, is frankly ill-advised and detracts from what is largely a very credible production.
While the basic plot may be charitably described as 'potboiler'; Spearhead in Space is generally well handled, except for much of its ending. While we can say with hindsight that it lacks the depth of its following three Season 7 yarns, this has to be praised for its production. It has a very new, bold style, emphasized by taut direction, its use of film stock. This vision of Dr Who seems to suit the nouveau colour television pretty well, and it all bodes well for the show's future as a more 'grounded' show.
I Can't Have Changed All That Much, Surely.... by Guy Thompson 8/12/98
Doctor Who started the 70s with a new leading actor, a new style and it was now in colour. The first story to benefit from this metamorphosis was Spearhead from Space, which is brilliant.
Robert Holmes here came up with his first good script for the series, Jon Pertwee made his debut, and the whole serial being shot on film rather than videotape gives it a hugely superior look to other adventures. Caroline John doesn't get the best introduction for a new companion, but that is to be expected with the arrival of a new Doctor as well. Perhaps one criticism could be that the Doctor takes a long time to get out of hospital and into the action, but when he does, it's as though he's been playing the part all his life. Channing is one of the best and creepiest humanoid villains ever to grace the show, and Nicholas Courtney is settling nicely into his recurring role as the Brigadier. The scenes with the Autons are all particularly strong, with scenes such as Ransom being stalked at the plastics factory and the window-dummies coming alive both being classic moments in the history of the program.
It's a shame the Autons and Nestenes weren't nearly as well used in the disappointing sequel, Terror of the Autons, but at least they got one good outing here.
One other point of note, look closely at the Doctor's right forearm when he's taking a shower, and you'll spot that this regeneration seems to have come complete with a tattoo...
Good Beginnings by Mike Morris 5/7/99
Ah, Spearhead from Space. The start of the Pertwee era, everything shot in film, and shop-window dummies coming to life. Oh, heady nostalgia! Question is, when you strip away all the sentiment, is it really all that good?
Well, yes it is. In fact, with the exception of An Unearthly Child (sorry, 100 000 BC), it's probably the best of all debut stories for a Doctor. Derek Martinus's direction is superb - a couple of camera zooms to a close-up of an Auton lingers long in the memory - and the story benefits hugely from being shot all in film, giving it a gritty, realistic feel. The Autons are tremendously succesful monsters, the duplicates are equally frightening in their own way, and there's the sense that Derek Martinus knew exactly what Robert Holmes was trying to do with his script.
There's plenty of things to treasure in this story. There's those wonderful shots I mentioned above, the cliffhangers to episodes two and three - featuring an Auton and a Duplicate respectively - and the Doctor's wonderful bullying of a guard to get in to UNIT HQ. Then there's that deservedly famous scene of the Autons coming to life and gunning down Londoners, and Channings beautifully alien lines - "All energy is a form of life", and of course "We are the Nestenes. We have been colonising worlds for over a thousand million years" (although only those that have discovered plastic, presumably). What's even better, though, is the ease with which the serial is brought down to earth after the fantasies of the Troughton years. Incomprehensible poachers, military cover-ups, arrogant hospital surgeons and NHS glasses make their respective debuts in Doctor Who, and it feels great, even if the first on the list was somewhat overused during the next five years. It's a pity about the shower scene, and Pertwee's gurning when he's attacked by some cotton tentacles, but I think I'm nit-picking.
Spearhead from Space had a hell of a lot of templates to establish, and it does so very successfully; the UNIT setup, the Doctor's character, and the series' change of emphasis from space fantasy to serious, plausible SF drama - shame it didn't last very long. Given this task, the slightly formulaic ending and the ease with which the Nestenes are dispatched are perhaps forgivable, even if Episode Four does leave the viewer slightly dissatisfied. The serial provides a good foundation for the longer, more ambitious stories of Season Seven, and the comparison with, say, Day of the Daleks really does tell you just how much better the Pertwee years could - and should - have been.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Jon Pertwee makes an excellent, authoritative debut as the Doctor (said gurning being a brief exception), and Nick Courtney and Caroline John are also extremely good, particularly when they're carrying the story for the first episode and a half or so. There's able support from John Woodnutt's weak, tortured Hibbert and Hugh Burden's chillingly alien Channing.
I don't think this is the flawless classic it's supposed to be, but it's nonetheless a crucial entry in the Doctor Who canon, as well as being an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. And what more could you want from a Doctor Who story?
Oh, and I forgot to mention that there's no crap CSO either.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 21/7/99
With the possible exception of An Unearthly Child, Spearhead From Space is undoubtedly the best debut story for a Doctor. It marks a lot of firsts, including the first story to be shot on film and in colour, a new Doctor and UNIT as part of the regular setup.
The script by Robert Holmes is basically an invasion Earth idea, and works very well, due largely to the introduction of the Autons. They are easily the best enemy to have appeared since the Yeti, and they are also the most effective, as they are like humans in appearance, yet so different in their actions.
By keeping The Doctor unconscious for some of the story, the focus is taken away from him (thus giving the viewer time to speculate on what he will be like) and is directed at keeping the story flowing. Jon Pertwee steps into the role easily, although some of his character traits are not fully fleshed out. Caroline John is tailor made for the role of the liberated scientist Liz Shaw and Nicholas Courtney is excellent as the Brigadier. As far as the supporting cast go, Hugh Burden as Channing steals the limelight here, although he has to compete with John Woodnut`s Hibbert.
Unfortunately, the ending lets the tale down given what had gone before it; similairly the Nestene creature is also poorly realised; but when compared to the end product, these quibbles are forgettable, as Spearhead From Space is still highly enjoyable despite this.
A Review by Samuel Payne 3/11/99
Recorded strait onto film only, with no studio bound scenes, Spearhead from Space goes down in history as being one of the all time Doctor Who classics. This story happens to be the first ever colour adventure and is the first Jon Pertwee adventure, and what could be better that to have the master of Who, Robert Holmes being the author?
This story is so great because it is does not strain the budget of the series. Everything used in this story is cheap; Vacuum Formed faces and cheap wigs. These do not look tacky and unrealistic because that is exactly what the Autons are: Plastic. The way the whole adventure is filmed on location and on film dispels the belief of Doctor Who having wobbly sets and planets set in a chalk pit.
Everything is shot perfectly, from the opening scenes to the Doctor's establishing gestures at the end of each adventure. The Autons themselves are still creepy, with their shinny faces, hollow eyes and static smiling expressions. Channing (Hugh Burden) is amazing in his role, and manages to convey an air of total alien intelligence. Liz Shaw (Caroline John) is crusty and works well with the Doctor, who is at the moment selfish and tiresome of earth. Although is it clear that Jon Pertwee is still only getting into the role and is not yet quite settled, his actions from this adventure rarely change to his feelings in other later adventures. Spearhead from Space is my all-time favorite Doctor Who, because it depicts the series at it's best; Using sophisticated filming, great special effects, excellent acting and a great incidental soundtrack. Best of all it that Spearhead from Space still stands up today as being a great science fiction tale.
A Review by Christopher Dale 20/12/99
Spearhead from Space was the second complete episode of Doctor Who I ever saw (after The Five Doctors and I suppose the 1996 Fox telemovie). I did see part of The War Games (the part where the Timelords send the Second Doctor spiralling out into the darkness, with his haunting cries of 'No! No! You can't do this to me.....!') so I knew that this was the first episode for Jon Pertwee. The meteor shower he arrives in the middle of seems to be something of a non-event, as we only see about four of the meteorites and a half hearted bang when they land. However, the Doctor's initial confusion is well-handled and is sorted by the start of episode three, giving Channing, Ransome and the Auton invasion more screen-time. The Autons are the one race in Doctor Who (aside from the Daleks) that I find completely without remorse over their actions. The world colonizing Nestenes have presumably killed billions of inhabitants, but it would have been nice to see how (i.e if the Zygons have plastic shop dummies on their planet ) and what they would have done with no plastic or dummies. The amazing scene in Episode Four with the dummies coming to life is the scariest thing I have seen for a long time. The way they slowly but surely murder citizens on the streets reinforces my view on them.
The Doctor seems to have some back history with the Autons, as by Episode Four he knows their name but there is no scene where he is told it. Also when Hibbert tells Channing he saw the Doctor, Channing reacts to this with slight apprehension. The introduction of Liz and the reappearance of the Brigadier are nice to watch (especially Liz's initial sceptisism of the Doctor) and there is also a well acted guest cast. Seeley and his wife are not really important to the story, but nonetheless fit in nicely. Hibbert is wonderfully played, especially in scenes where he tries to rebel against Channing. Hugh Burden brings life to Channing incredibly well, especially with his haunting eye movements and the completely alien feel he has to him. Ransome did NOT deserve to die, but his sheer 'terror of the Autons' is marvellous, especially in the UNIT tent. Munroe brought a real-world feel to being the Brigadier's exec; whereas Yates would later become quite popular and pleasant character, Munroe seems to just be someone who would follow any order he was given, but not be blind to the point of stupidity. Overall, a great start to John Pertwee's time as Doctor Who (9.5/10)
A Review by Ben Jordan 12/1/00
Exiled to Earth in a new body by the Time Lords, the Doctor arrives along with a shower of what seem to be meteorites. In reality however, they are part of an alien intelligence which is preparing for the colonisation of Earth, and the Doctor soon realises that they may be as thick as plastic, but they're no dummies.
Season 7 has to be an example of Doctor Who's finest hour. The atmosphere was bleak and oppressive, the monsters were really scary, and the Doctor's assistant was intelligent. And it all began with the Autons, which might give a young child nightmares about shop-window displays for weeks. Of the two t.v Auton stories, this one works better, because although I think that Terror Of The Autons is also entertaining, the Master tended to steal the Autons' thunder. Here, they are the chief menace.
Jon Pertwee's rubber face provides great comic relief to offset the menace of the faceless monsters he finds himself up against. What Patrick Troughton could achieve with his body movements, Jon could achieve with only his face. He may not have liked the whole shower costume-finding scene, but I thought it was hilarious, and his manic Delphon expressions were pure Pertwee. Caroline John gives a wonderfully reserved yet friendly portrayal of Liz Shaw, the sceptical scientist from Cambridge. The Brigadier by contrast looks far more open-minded than usual, before Nicholas Courtney would refine him into the stiff-necked but dependable soldier we all know and love. Hugh Burden is perfectly chilling as Channing, acting opposite the distinguished John Woodnutt, who manages to look confused throughout the whole story.
While the Autons are convincing, the Nestene consciousness is pants, and this is a particular shame as the unfortunate mass of rubber tentacles makes up the climax to the story, though once it dies, the Autons suddenly collapsing as though their strings had been cut at least partly makes up for it. The creepy incidental music which accompanied them whenever they moved was a perfect 'icing-on-the-cake'.
It was the beginning of a new era for Who, and Spearhead serves as one of the better stories to introduce a Doctor. Highly recommended.
The Exile by Andrew Wixon 15/10/01
When the BBC cancelled the fondly-remembered children's fantasy series Doctor Who in 1969 it was the logical thing to do. For six years the programme had proven popular and inventive, surviving one change of lead actor, but in its final season the quality was wildly variable, the tone uneven and often sadly juvenile. More importantly, the series arc had run its course. At the conclusion of the epic final story The War Games, the Doctor was forced to contact his own people, the Time Lords, thus dispelling the enigmatic nature of the main character that many thought essential to Doctor Who's formula. In a memorably downbeat conclusion the Doctor was forced to return home to his life of scholarly seclusion, abandoning his adventurous pursuits.
The series the BBC chose to replace Doctor Who in the Saturday tea-time slot was, famously, The Exile starring Jon Pertwee as an alien stranded on Earth who's forced to assist the UN in investigations of unearthly phenomena. Those few Doctor Who fans still around often argue that the new series was little more than a blatant copy of their favourite, and that some elementary rewrites of Spearhead, The Exile's debut story, would have made it an ideal opener for a revamped and reformatted seventh season of DW. It's true that many of the cast and crew of Spearhead had previously worked on DW, including writer Robert Holmes, but the two series were fundamentally different in many ways, and this script could never have succeeded as an installment of the B&W series.
This is a much slicker, more professional and adult programme than DW ever was. There's some stunning direction throughout - from fluid camerawork in the first episode, to the scene where the alien Channing (a magnetic performance by Hugh Burden) is seen symbolically fractured through a window. The tone is also much closer to that of The Avengers or Doomwatch than Doctor Who. Adults could and did sit down and watch this without the need for a child to be present. Even the Auton creatures are convincingly designed and creepily utilised, containing just enough reality to make them genuinely disturbing - far more so than the outlandish Doctor Who monsters whose poor realisation so often let the series down.
Jon Pertwee as the Exile has far more of a leading man's presence than Troughton's clownish Doctor Who. The script cleverly builds his part up from a mumbling invalid in part one, to an assured and compelling hero by the story's close. His associates, Liz and the Brigadier, are not child-like companions but professional adults with jobs and agendas of their own. Liz in particular gets some acerbically humorous dialogue throughout the story. Almost all the visiting cast excel - the aforementioned Hugh Burden deserves special praise, as do John Woodnutt as Hibbert and Derek Smee as Ransome. All in all Spearhead is a great example of how to launch a brand-new TV SF series. Despite what some people may tell you, any resemblence to the Doctor Who of the 1960s is entirely fleeting, and almost certainly coincidental.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 30/10/01
My wife likes Jon Pertwee. For her, he was THE DOCTOR. And so to the video library, to get the best Pertwees. It’s an era of the show I am not massively enthusiastic about. This is mostly due to the sheer length of most of the stories, and the similar format that UNIT provided. So often the 6 parters would have made excellent 4 parters, but drag out the story. BUT - If my wife wants to watch some Pertwee (she hadn’t seen any since she was a kid) then I would oblige. Spearhead was the obvious place to start. Having not seen it for many years myself, I was kind of looking forward to it – and, my word, does it come up trumps.
Spearhead is unlike any other story. The location Camera work give it a Amateur Video quality, that is surprisingly effective. There are plenty of clashes and clangs, as befits this medium, but there is something more realistic about it all. The factory is rich in possibilities. Lots of corridors and dark, hidden away crevices provide a familiar, yet frightening setting. UNITs laboratory, the Doctor’s Hospital Room – both are so basic and confined – yet this provides again a more realistic tone for the story.
Pertwee’s debut is fantastic. The minute he puts on the cloak and frilly shirt – he is THE DOCTOR. The man has presence, only Tom Baker has dominated the screen to a greater extent. The post-regenerative state of the Doctor is one of tiredness. The 3rd Doctor spends a great deal of the first 2 parts in his Hospital Bed. Yet this gives the storytellers a chance to focus on UNIT, and set up the story.
And an excellent story it is too. The supporting characters are top notch. The Brigadier is re-introduced with panache. There’s a tremendous likeability about him, despite his militaristic ways. Channing is superb as the villain of the piece. He is out of that Cold, but Calculating school of DW baddies. Liz Shaw gets a fine introduction too – her scientific approach promises to be a contrast to much of what has been before. There are some dubious performances (always is with DW). Top of the duffers is Seeley – acted with incomprehensible dialogue, and total stupidity! Major General Scobie is little better, a very wooden portrayal.
The stars of the show though, apart from the Doctor himself, are the Autons. Here we have a recognizable monster – and truly frightening one for that. The sudden activation of the shop-room dummies has rightly gone down as a Classic DW scene.
Spearhead from Space is always the best introduction for the Pertwee Years. My wife raved about it for days afterwards. I thought it was marvelous, a proper Pertwee Classic. I am pretty sure The Silurians will have to found shortly! 9/10
That's it my dear Holmes! by Mike Jenkins 6/12/01
Now's he's talking. After a total dud like The Space Pirates, Robert comes up with some great stuff. The Pertwee era would be the era where his scripts were truly wonderful and his best work. He lapse of good scripts pervaded throughout T. Baker's long reign. He returned years later with the very strong Caves of Androzani, only to slip into mediocrity again with The Trial of a Timelord.
Channing actually works better with the autons then the Master himself. I not only sometimes wish that this story was in the Troughton era and The Space Pirates was in Pertwee's (such a long drawn out story would've been good Pertwee fodder, just kidding!) but I also wish that Delgado's apperance had been pre-empted so that Channing could make a reapperance in Terror of the Autons, but that story wasn't as strong as this regardless.
The dummies are very effective because we don't see any broken glass. Shaw plays well off the Brigadier but what else is new. Gritty realism worked great with Pertwee as he did not do humour as well. Although the serious path being taken by the series at this point is not what I would've done, that does not change the fact that this story is a solid 8/10. This is easily Courtney's best performance in the show. In subsequent adventures he was a little over exposed. The design of the Autons is also much more effective in this story then in their spin off adventure. The scene in which Liz and the Doctor are surrounded by dummies is truly horrific indeed. Now you're writing the stuff of legends Holmes.
A bold relaunch by Tim Roll-Pickering 7/3/02
Right from the very start Spearhead from Space hits the ground running, rapidly establishing both the new Doctor and the new format for the series whilst at the same time telling an exceptionally strong story that is full of strong ideas and images. The viewer is quickly immersed in the story and so the new format is established without coming across as too imposed. The story also benefits from strong production values, not least the use of film.
Although this story is remembered for starting Doctor Who in the 1970s, the Jon Pertwee run and the colour stories it is also the first story to be able to benefit from advanced editing techniques that gives the story a fast pace that switches between scenes quickly and does not have to use bridging scenes and other such techniques to allow for repositioning of actors. Furthermore the (enforced) use of location filming for the entire story and the use of exterior locations for a number of dialogue scenes (such as the Brigadier and Captain Munro discussing the aftermath of the abortive attempt to kidnap the Doctor) brings a strong sense of realism to the story. So too does the use of film for the entire programme. It makes a clear visual difference from the videotape normally used and makes the entire story seem like a high budget ITC series. It is a pity that the budget resources precluded this from happening again for over a quarter of a century.
On the acting side Jon Pertwee hits the ground running but doesn't make as huge an impact in this story as in subsequent ones. Nicholas Courtney provides continuity and stability in the Brigadier, whilst Caroline John's debut as Liz shows her to be a far cry from previous companions. This is a strong line up that offers much promise. The guest cast is also strong, ranging from Hugh Burden's strong and creepy performance as Channing to Derek Smee who makes Ransome's descent from a confident disgruntled ex employee trying to find out just why he's lost his job to a terrified victim of the Autons a truly memorable performance.
There are many strong visual images in this story, most obviously the famous scenes in Episode 4 as the Autons come to life in high streets across the country and start a murderous onslaught. Equally memorable is the scene where a UNIT jeep is attacked by an Auton and blood is clearly seen, showing that the series is not pulling its punches. This is very much a highly visual story and the details of the story don't matter so much. Spearhead from Space is a bold story that completely relaunches the series and makes the viewer want to come back for more. 10/10
Invasion of the 70s by Jonathan Martin 16/6/02
Starting over again... a bold relaunch... It's easy to see why there have been so many positive reviews for this opening story of the Pertwee era, and this one is no different. But just why is it arguably the best opening story of any doctor? Because it doesn't get bogged down by the fact that it's a new doctor and so he automatically has to act all bizarre/unbalanced/fragile; it gets into telling the story and a good story it is too.
Several reviews have mentioned The Invasion, UNIT's first appearance, and while it is obvious there was going to be quite a few connections between it and this story, I realised while watching Spearhead from Space for the second time that it's very similar in a number of ways. As Michael Hickerson stated, it is indeed the same factory as the one used for the big Cybermen vs. UNIT battle and some of the scenes are very reminiscent of it like the one where the Autons burst through the doors just like 3 Cybermen when they sneaked up behind Vaughn. Unfortunately the battle scenes aren't as extensive as Invasion's, they had to fit them in a lot more quickly, but they are equally as impressive, but I did like the b&w better.
The Autons are very similar to the Cybermen actually, unfeeling, uncompromising killers, but in some ways they are more effective, and it's obviously cheaper to have lots of dummies running around then Cybermen clunking around in their expensive silver costumes. The Auton's sudden emergence from behind shop windows is very reminiscent of a certain bunch of robots coming out of the sewers, but this is ever so more effective, as they have something to do, whereas the poor Cybermen could only wander around aimlessly. And does the mind control of Hibbert, and the obstructing of the Brigadier's searching of the place remind you of a certain Vaughn and Major General Rutledge?
What I'm trying to get at with this comparison is the question, had Doctor Who changed that much with the introduction into the 70s? I don't really think Spearhead is any more 'adult' than The Invasion of the previous season. What about Liz Shaw you might say? Well, Zoe actually does considerably more then Liz, she wrecks a computer, and destroys all those Cybermen ships, whereas Liz mostly acts skeptical and gets fooled into handing the Tardis key over to the Doctor. Ok, I'm wrong, Spearhead is slightly more adult, but only because they don't have that silly tune going every time we see UNIT, I'm glad that didn't continue!
That's different, I've blabbered on for so long, and yet I haven't mentioned the new Doctor himself yet: big Jonny Pertwee. He's marvelous, great fun to watch, the third Doctor would never be as good as he was here. Unfortunately that's the bad news, the rot starts creeping into his character pretty quickly, no rubbish like 'venusian aikido here. Who says it was only the characterisation of the Brigadier that goes downhill? I don't need to mention the great performances in Spearhead, or the music or direction, they've all been nicely covered already, but this is one of the few great Pertwee stories along with Inferno, and I'd really like to get hold of the dvd. I like the nod to Jamie at the end too, with the "Doctor John Smith" line.
A Review by Andrew Hunter 25/8/02
Falling face first out of the Tardis in his predecessor's clothes, The Doctor sees his first adventure in his third incarnation. Along with him come terrifying alien entities that manipulate plastic as a weapon...
Obviously, the first major aspect of Spearhead from Space is that it is in colour. Some may argue that the story loses out on the dark atmosphere that all the previous Doctor Who stories had because it is in colour. A valid point, but the creepy and menacing incidental music provided by Dudley Simpson makes up for this. On the other hand, the colour makes the story more interesting and appealing, especially to younger fans.
All the fans, young and old, will also appreciate Spearhead from Space for its interesting monsters. The menace is the Nestene Consciousness, which controls plastic shop window dummies. The dummies are called Autons and their main weapons are guns in their hands. The Autons provide one of the most fondly remembered scenes in Doctor Who - breaking out of shop windows and attacking people.
Channing, played by Hugh Burden, best represents these Autons because he talks. Burden gives a strong performance, playing Channing as a cold and mysterious villain.
Many of the other guest cast also give promising performances, especially John Woodnutt as Hibbert and Derek Smee as Ransome. Hibbert is being controlled by Channing to provide plastic for the Auton invasion. Woodnutt makes his character seem disturbed, which is effective and believable. Hibbert discovers he is sacked and stumbles upon an Auton, sending him into a state of fear and shock.
These strong guest performances accompany the marvellous "regular" cast. Jon Pertwee doesn't speak much until episode two, giving the Doctor an air of mystery. When he does get into the "main picture", he soon establishes himself as one of the greatest incarnations of the Doctor. The Doctor's allies include The Brigadier. Nicholas Courtney plays the Brigadier for the second time (the first being The Invasion). Naturally, he does not believe this new incarnation of the Doctor is THE Doctor he once knew (in The Web of Fear and The Invasion). Like any other incarnation of the Doctor, the third one needs a good companion. Caroline John gives us Liz Shaw as this companion.
The main problem with a companion with Shaw's scientific knowledge is that the Doctor doesn't need to explain many things to her. He has to, to inform the audience what is happening, which makes Shaw seem out of place.
Apart from that, Spearhead from Space is a brilliant story.
Set on Earth, with the aliens coming to us, the third Doctor era had truly begun...
A Review by Terrence Keenan 2/9/02
It's kind of hard to find something original to say about Spearhead from Space. Most any point you can bring up has been and dissected. So, when I recently watched in on DVD, I focused my attention on the actors.
Hugh Burden's Channing is creepy. He never shouts, in fact doesn't show much in the way of emotion at all. His wide eyed stares go quite far in showing us that Channing is not one of us, and dangerous.
John Woodnut's Hibbert takes on the Holmes second level villain role and does it very well. The confusion that Hibbert shows makes him sympathetic, and his demise is tragic, rather than someone getting their just desserts.
Nick Courtney is wonderful and credible as Lethbridge-Stewart. We get to see the Brig have some intelligence. He doesn't yell every five minutes and his frustration of dealing with bureaucracy and the Doctor are shown as a slow simmer, rather than a cliche explosion. Even his interaction with Liz is great, as they carry the first two episodes.
Which is a good time to talk about Caroline John. The sarcasm displayed in her role, especially in the early episodes is fabulous. Liz Shaw is a great companion and should have gotten much more than just a four episode run. She doesn't scream, and holds her own with the Doctor, even showing an everywoman weariness in the fourth episode. (Anorak Moment -- she has killer legs, too!)
Jon Pertwee does something different in this story. Except for the scene where he harangues the guard outside UNIT HQ, he leans more on Troughton's take on the Doctor, a bridge between the former holder of the role, and the new actor in the driver seat. The moment where he walks out of the TARDIS with shoulders slumped and head down like a school boy busted by the teacher is not standard Pertwee. You can also see nods to Troughton in the first exchange between the Brig and Doc at UNIT HQ:
BRIG: Doctor, you arrived at the same time as a meteor shower landed in Essex.Pertwee establishes himself quite nicely, even though he doesn't really do much until he leaves the hospital halfway through episode two.
DOC: Did I really? How exciting!
BRIG: You mean to tell me-
DOC: There's no point in asking me anything, Brigadier. You see, I've lost my memory.
The story itself is well done. As mentioned by other reviewers, there's a realism rarely seen in Who up to this point, including reporters harassing the Brigadier, an HQ that looks like it was set up in a commandeered school, and soldiers who act like real soldiers.
On the DVD, the restored film looks gorgeous. The story can be seen as either individual episodes, or by playing all four episodes together. The commentary by Nick Courtney and Caroline John is all right, but not as funny as the Five Doctors one. You can see an alternate version of the title sequence via an Easter egg. And there are a whole boatload of stills, including a bunch of really hammy Pertwee press shots that have him spreading his cape like a vampire, and hugging a Yeti.
Spearhead from Space is a great story, and worth getting on DVD for the restored visuals.
Freaky... by Joe Ford 1/8/03
This classic Doctor Who serial has the distinction of being one of the scariest pieces of television I have ever seen. Some scenes involved are so out of this world terrifying it is hard to imagine how they slipped by the censor net. Watch as the poor UNIT man is driving and an Auton walks out into the road and forces him to crash into a tree. The close up of his face smashed against the cracked glass of the window screen (with blood) with the Auton looking on in the background is questionably too strong for a show of this nature that should appeal to children.
Even worse are the horrific scenes that place the Autons, surely the most wet your pants scary monsters the show ever produced, in the woodland nearby. The thought of being stalked through the ferns by one of these creatures gave me nightmares when I first watched this. It's their faces, I am blessed with the fear of anything that has a face but doen't move or let off any signals and these blank, oily faced monsters are a superb example of why. Brrr... I loathe the scenes involving poor Mrs Seeley ("You watch your tongue!") confronting the Auton in her cottage, her reaction as he turns around and faces her is horrific and very scary. And the scene where Ransom walks past a dozen of them and one suddenly springs to life and chases him...
Of course everybody remembers this story for the justifiably excellent sequences as the dummies come to life and smash from shop windows. Filmed early in the morning, these memorable shots linger in the memory for a long time. It is taking Doctor Who to a whole new level when they are brave enough to show regular citizens being gunned down in a bus queue.
This is the perfect way to write a regeneration story and of course Robert Holmes knows exactly what to give us whilst we get accustomed to this new Doctor after Hartnell and Troughton's definitive protrayals. We have the UNIT links from seasons four and five to remind us we are still watching the same programme, the Brigadier is as dashing and formidable as ever and we are introduced to the very sexy and very brainy Liz Shaw, together they practically hold up the first episode. Holmes also understands that the Doctor-regeneration plot cannot hold the story up on its own so he creates a highly disturbing tale for him to become embroiled in full of lots of juicy horror scenes to tie us over.
It helps that Jon Pertwee finds his feet extremely quickly, he really just plays himself most of the time but Pertwee is such a lovable, eccentric man of action anyway so he's absolutely perfect for the part. He brings a lot of charm and charisma to the last two episodes as the race is on to beat the Nestenes. I love his examination of his face and how he walks around the hospital just borrowing clothes and cars to his fancy. And his intelligence is never in question as he tricks Liz into giving him the TARDIS key and defeats the alien menace with the minimum of fuss.
Derek Martinus deserves a lot of kudos for bringing to life such a superb story. He's another excellent Who director who places the right amount of emphasis on the terrors that the Doctor faces. Any scenes involving the eerily silent, gliding Autons is instantly a winner. There is an adult tone to the story, no doubt helped because it was shot entirely on location but the gritty direction and ballsy script. Anything shot around the hospital is very stylishly done and the location work would stand up in any movie of the time. And the final action scenes around the warehouse are cut and spliced together with real pace and excitement.
I must mention Carolin John, another of my favourite Who girls, she so wonderfully underplays the part that she reminds us of how overdone and melodramatic most of the companions actually were. Her treatement of the Brigadier (basically that he is a military idiot) echoes Pertwee's later abuse of the character and works marvellously to bring some humour to the story (her "You really believe in a man who's helped to save the world twice and has the power to change his physical appearance, an alien who travels through time and space... in a police box?" is riotously funny).
There's not much more to say but bravo, this is one of the best looking Doctor Who stories, it holds the attention throughout, has enough scary bits to keep every child in the UK scurrying behind the sofa and introduces the new Doctor with real style.
Very, very good.
A Review by Paul Rees 13/9/03
Spearhead in Space has a well-deserved reputation for greatness. The only Who story to be shot entirely on film (with the exception of the 1996 TV Movie), it has a slick and polished look which has rarely been equalled since. The direction is tight, with barely a loose shot in evidence.
The Autons themselves are wonderfully realized, and are truly inhuman with their jerky, disjointed movements. The eerie music which accompanies their presence enhances this alien quality, and only the final appearence of the Nestene Consciousness fails to impress. This story contains, of course, one of the all-time classic Who moments: when the shop window dummies spring into life, and parade down a British high street (with the price-tags attached to their clothes fluttering in the breeze).
A post-regeneration story is always of special significance and here the cast rise to the occasion wonderfully. Jon Pertwee only really gets into his stride halfway through Episode Two, but immediately settles into the part: his arrogance, his flair and his evident relish for adventure are a joy to behold. In her first appearance, Liz Shaw makes for an admirable companion: intelligent, educated and capable, she is a far cry from the screaming Who-girl stereotype. Although Sergeant Benton makes a very brief appearance, the only UNIT character to appear to any great extent is Lethbridge-Stewart. Here, he appears as a trustworthy, solid establishment figure; although obviously fond of the Doctor, he provides an interesting counterpoint to the enigmatic and anarchistic Time Lord. The supporting cast are also uniformly excellent. All of the characters - from Sam Seely the country poacher to Channing the undercover Auton - are thoroughly believable.
The plot itself has an interesting premise: the Nestene Consciousness, a formless entity, can interact with plastic and mold for itself a temporary home. There are, however, some problems with how the story is resolved: if the Nestene Consciousness is intrinsically formless, then for what reason does it take on the form of an octopus? And the Doctor's ECT-like disposal of the tentacled fiend is itself a little too convenient: simply mashing together a portable 'monster destroyer' which is then activated in the nick of time leaves the viewer feeling a little letdown by the ending.
Despite these shortcomings, however, Spearhead is undoubtedly one of Who's gems. 9/10
A Review by Brian May 5/1/04
Spearhead From Space heralds a significant new direction in Doctor Who. The previous story, The War Games, introduced the Doctor's race, the Time Lords, and revealed some of the history of our mysterious hero. At the end of that tale, we know that he will be exiled to Earth in the 20th century and will wear a new face. Gone were the wanderings through space and time, which until now had been the very basis, and indeed the philosophy, of the programme. The new Doctor's adventures would occur in one place, and in one time.
Regular viewers at the time would have been aware of all this. Not so much, perhaps, new or casual ones. However, even for established fans in 1970, the opening moments of episode one are quite a jolt. There is no recap, or reference to The War Games (perhaps a good thing, had this been Star Trek or any other US series, we'd have a five minute intro describing the entirety of the previous adventure). The new focus for the series is evident right away. The opening shot, directly from Quatermass, immediately sets the scene for the show - earthbound, with the planet in danger. The only vestiges of familiarity - the Doctor and the TARDIS, appear very briefly. Although it's known that Jon Pertwee would be the new Doctor, we don't even see his face as he exits the TARDIS and collapses. Even a long-term viewer would feel like they've had the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet.
The re-introduction of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart may offer some comfort - at least he is a familiar face, but having only appeared in two Patrick Troughton stories, he's not that established in the series' psyche yet. But he's the strongest link to the previous year, and it is in him, and UNIT, that the viewer has to place their trust. But even the good old Brig is in the dark during the first two episodes. While the plot is unfolding, the Doctor is recovering in hospital, acts eccentric, endures an attempted kidnapping, and gets shot. In effect, he participates in no way to the development of the story, which makes things even more disconcerting, for there's no Doctor to explain what's happening - the companions, the Brigadier and unwilling UNIT recruit Liz Shaw, and the viewer, have to trudge on as best they can.
But the journey is an entertaining one! Spearhead From Space is a tremendously enjoyable tale, which from the outset reflects the hard-edged, adult approach that marked Jon Pertwee's first season. At times it's almost horror, filled with many indelible images. First and foremost, of course, there's the unforgettable scene in episode four, with the coming to life of the shop dummies, arguably the best ever sequence in the programme's history. But there are others - the Auton walking in front of the UNIT jeep and the gory close-up of the blood smeared windscreen; the Auton's attack and pursuit of Ransome in episodes two and three; his subsequent murder (a chillingly quick scene when the Auton rips its way into the tent); the Auton's advance on Meg Seeley; the close-up of Channing, eerily distorted through the patterned glass partition; even just the garish, featureless visages of the plastic monsters. The adventure is chock full of such moments that hallmarked a mature, darker direction for Doctor Who.
Robert Holmes's third script for the programme is the one that really cemented his brilliance. His first two, The Krotons and The Space Pirates, were flawed but interesting efforts, but it's here that his talent for tight scripts and excellent characters bursts onto the screen. Channing and Hibbert are two such examples. The former exudes a clinical, alien countenance; the latter is a pathetic, helpless figure, but one who fights to the end. Channing's treatment of Hibbert verges on the sadistic, adding to the already grim tone of the story. Liz gets a great introduction - her cynicism and anti-authoritarian attitude is a great foil for the Brigadier (Brigadier: (politely) "Am I interrupting? Liz: (rudely) "Yes!"). I liked Captain Munro and would have preferred to have seen more of him - he's a lot better than all the other UNIT captains, especially those toffee-nosed prats, Turner and Yates! It's also a testament to Holmes's abilities that you can have two cliffhangers involving non-regulars (Ransome in episode two and General Scobie in episode three) that are still gripping and leaving the audience wanting to know what happens to them.
Of course, great characters need good actors to bring them to life, and all the cast members deliver. Even Prentis Hancock, in the minor role of a journalist, convinces (in contrast to the later, uninspiring performances he would give in Planet of the Daleks and Planet of Evil). Jon Pertwee puts in an assured first effort as the Doctor, slipping into the role quite comfortably after the comedic runaround of episode two. But even in the latter half of the story Pertwee injects a good deal of humour that is largely absent in his later outings. And here, as in most of season seven, he retains an anti-authoritarian stance - at this stage, the third Doctor was hardly an establishment figure, despite his working with UNIT. It is clearly evident, at this point, that his partnership with the Brigadier is based on a quid pro quo basis - a paramilitary organisation clearly offers the best facilities for repairing the TARDIS - so much better than the local hardware store! Before the smarmy cosiness of later Pertwee stories - even during seasons 8 and 9, it could be debated - the Doctor/UNIT alliance is very mercenary.
Spearhead From Space also benefits from flawless direction and camerawork - the necessity of shooting the entire story on film due to BBC industrial action was quite a blessing in disguise. The grainy images suit the tale's adult nature. All the memorable location scenes listed above would have been on film anyway, but the interiors, most notably the hospital and the UNIT laboratory, are better served by this medium. And the music's great, too!
There are only a few letdowns. There is the realisation of the Nestene creature at the end, but even worse is Jon Petwee's constant gurning as it wraps its tentacles around him. But there's still a climactic tension here, as the scene lasts for about a minute while Liz endeavours to find out what's wrong with the Doctor's machine.
All in all, an enjoyable, well made story. It's very mature, marking a harder-edged show. The radical changes in Doctor Who are given their first test here - you couldn't have had a better adventure for it! 9/10