After experiencing and loving the two Peter Cushing Movies at the tender age of five, I was fortunate that that same year BBC 2 decided it would be a good idea to repeat several Jon Pertwee stories and began by showing Spearhead from Space. As much as I enjoyed it, I shrank away from the Television Screen in pure terror and spent most of the night struggling to sleep. It’s not an entirely original story for a Doctor Who fan, most young Children seem to have found this a particularly harrowing story but I find it quite incredible that a piece of television made 38 years before I saw still had the same impact it did in its day. I’m not sure whether it’s due to this but since then Spearhead from Space has become one of my favourite stories and is easily one of the most important moments in me developing my love for the show. It’s also recently, due to it being the only classic Doctor Who story shot entirely on film (aside from the TV Movie) been released on Blu-Ray and was the first Doctor Who story in the main range to be released on DVD. If anything I think all of these things show the lasting appeal of this story and the importance of its place in Doctor Who History.
Beginning where the previous story (The War Games) left off, The Doctor after being put on trial by the Timelords for interfering and stealing a Tardis is sentenced to Exile on earth and also has to undergo regeneration one more time. He lands in the middle of a storm of strange meteorites, flying rather unusually in formation (the titular ‘Spearhead from Space’) that seem to house some form of intelligence. It’s up to UNITs leader, Brigadier Lethbridge Stuart (Nicolas Courtney) to deal with the situation, gaining the help of Oxford Scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Caroline John) and the newly regenerated Doctor (Jon Pertwee). The trail leads them to a plastics factory where not everything is as it seems and invasion plot that utilises an everyday material in a devastating fashion...
It’s difficult now to fully understand the impact this story must have had in its day but Spearhead from Space signalled a whole new series of changes. First was that up until this point every single Doctor Who story had been shot in Black and White, Spearhead was the first to be shot in Colour. Add this to the fact that the whole thing is shot on film, Spearhead appears so rich and film-esque that I often struggle to believe it was made on the budget it was. Even the new title sequence fully exploits the use of colour, with its bizarre mix of reds, blacks, purples, greens, blue and every shade under the sun. Secondly is the fact that Spearhead saw a vast shake up of the tired and used Doctor Who format. Deciding that the public had become fed up of ‘Jellies wobbling around in space’, Producer Derrick Sherwin hit upon the idea of exiling the Doctor to earth where he would work for Unit and the show would be based more on Quatermass than any previous Doctor Who adventures. As dodgy as it may sound on paper, a new style and feel was something Doctor Who needed desperately to survive. Ok, ok so the plot borrows heavily from Quatermass II but it feels so much more real than anything that came before it, indeed it’s difficult to believe that this takes place in the same universe as something like The Krotons. In fact Spearhead is so much more terrifying because it has this realistic factor to it, Egg Boxes with Brummy accents aren’t scary because they are by no means believable, but Spearhead’s monsters are shop window dummies. Something which we see every day, something which we would never imagine could be deadly.
The Autons (the aforementioned living Shop Window Dummies) are the reason behind my nightmares and most probably everyone else’s! The design truly is terrifying, the plain blue boiler suit and the blank expressionless faces not to mention they are shot incredibly well, particularly the scenes where the lone scout crashing through the woods and the attack on the cottage. As a child I remember being truly mortified as the Old Lady vainly attempted to hold the creature off, firing bullet after bullet into it to no avail. Of course everyone remembers the scenes where the Autons burst out of shop windows and massacre passers by, along with the Daleks on Westminster Bridge and the Cybermen descending down the steps of St Paul’s cathedral; it has to count as one of the iconic scenes of the classic series.
The regulars in this story, Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John are all fantastic and it’s a real shame we only got to see four stories with this particular team. Although having a particular emphasis on comedy in this first story it’s easy to see how Pertwee would soon develop the role into the action man Doctor everyone remembers. I make no secret of the fact that Jon Pertwee is my favourite Doctor and his first appearance in the role has always been a personal favourite of mine, particularly the scenes where he attempts to run away and leave earth to its fate expanding a selfish character trait not seen since the early Hartnell days. Nicholas Courtney’s performances as the Brigadier in season 7 are without doubt my favourites and it’s great to see him clashing with the Doctor every now and then. Caroline John is always superb and her character of Liz has been a personal favourite of mine for some time as she has an exceedingly good amount of characterisation and doesn’t simply scream and hold test tubes for the Doctor.
I will always have fond memories of Spearhead from Space and I suspect that it will always be near the top of my list of favourite episodes. There’s simply so much to enjoy, doubtless this will not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who like their sci-fi with a touch of Quatermass and some genuinely scary moments, there is a great deal of fun to be had here.
Welcome one and all- Please leave sanity at the door
A Teenage boy with a passion for all things nerdy! Expect a lot of Doctor Who, Cult/Horror Movies, Literature and Novels, History, Comic Books and random thoughts. Posts published weekly on a Friday evening. DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the items reviewed on this site and i also do not own of the pictures (unless stated so). If you own one of the photos and wish for it to be removed contact me at this adress: Super.firstname.lastname@example.org. However all of the written work is my own and is protected under copyright law.