Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Spearhead From Space"

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Derek Martinus

The Brigadier: “Well at least he won't get very far.”
Liz: “You mean before your men shoot him again.”
The Brigadier: “I don't find that funny.”

To many people this episode felt like a full assault of newness coming all at once. Not only was this the first serial to debut Jon Pertwee’s Doctor (my favourite incarnation after a certain Scottish bloke) but it was also the first time the series was in colour and it was the first we met the Autons, a race we’d at least meet on two more occasions.

Meteorites are crashing down on Earth and soon enough, they’re drawing the attention of UNIT. The Brigadier in particular is eager to discover more about them and enlisting Liz Shaw is one of his methods for doing that. Of course it also doesn’t help that the sinister Channing is also in pursuit of them as well.

Within in the first few minutes, Liz is more vocalised than the latest incarnation of The Doctor, which isn’t necessarily bad. She’s one of the best companions the series has ever done and I can’t help but admire her scepticism over the idea of aliens.

Of course it’s a source of tedium for the Brigadier who isn’t best pleased with her flippancy but the snarky dynamic between the two of them is actually fun to watch. That’s mainly because Liz’s scepticism never veers into the stages of annoyance and that can be attributed to the fact that she doesn’t have to wait long to encounter extraterrestrial activity.

Her first alien is fittingly with The Doctor but regeneration has taken his toll and Jon Pertwee mostly spends his time in a hospital bed dipping in and out of consciousness. The Brigadier is also pretty wary of The Doctor’s regeneration too and it doesn’t help when the Time Lord winds up being kidnapped by Channing’s men.

The first part ended with a gagged Doctor being shot but thankfully it’s from here on in that he becomes a bit more robust. With reporters scouring around the hospital and The Doctor’s physiology generating unwanted attention, at least The Doctor has the good sense to leave the place as quickly as he can.

Pairing him up with the Brigadier and Liz for the rest of this serial definitely heightens the overall enjoyment factor of this story. He’s already had a history with the Brigadier but he and Liz spark off well enough and she even tries to get his TARDIS key at one point for him. Of course The Doctor then has to come to the grim acceptance that he’s stuck on Earth for the foreseeable future.

Luckily for him, he doesn’t have an opportunity for boredom because kidnap attempts aside, the sinister Channing seems determined to get his hands on one of the remaining meteorites and even goes to great lengths to kill former factory worker Ransome and keep UNIT at bay.

Channing is definitely one of the more chilling of menaces we’ve had on the series as he clearly has Hibbert under his control and it was him who tried to snare The Doctor during the first part of the series but of course, he’s one of many problems that are encountered here.

First off all, this serial does mark the debut of the Autons and as villains go, they certainly make an impact. I’ve never been one of those people that gets creeped out by mannequins or dolls but can why after watching this serial that certain folk might feel a little wary around them.

They’re missing from the first episode and by the end of the second one their presence is certainly felt when they try to kill Ransome. Even more effectively is the extent of the trauma of Ransome’s altercation with them before he finds himself being murdered by one of them during a time when a UNIT soldier wasn’t watching.

From Channing we later learnt that the Autons are trying to conquer Earth by making facsimiles of governmental figures. It’s a good enough plan and we do get a moment when General Scobie becomes a victim of Channing’s machinations, putting the Brigadier in a life or death situation.

The final quarter of this serial isn’t short of some stellar moments. You’ve got a brilliant moment where the Autons launch a stinging attack on a London street as well as their battle with a bunch of UNIT. It’s no wonder that judging by this appearance alone they came back the next season.

Of course it’s The Doctor versus Channing that generates some good moments too. The Doctor might have been successful in getting Hibbert to turn on Channing but he still ended up being a casualty of the Auton but this serial did offer some pretty grisly deaths and it was obvious that Hibbert would perish anyhow.

Thanks to Liz’s quick thinking, The Doctor didn’t wind up being killed by the Nestene. As designs went, the Nestene wasn’t as cool as the Autons but it made for a decent enough creature and we can thank Liz for saving the day with this serial.

The ending also sets up an interesting dynamic for the series. Given that The Doctor’s Earthbound, there was no way he was going to accept it freely. It made perfect sense for him to wrangle a few things from The Brigadier but overall the interplay between the Time Lord, the Brigadier and Liz is nothing short of enjoyable.

Also in “Spearhead From Space”

I like the new title sequence and I see that Jon Pertwee has gotten the title of Doctor Who rather than Dr Who.

The Brigadier: “We’re not exactly spies here at UNIT.”
Liz: “Then what do you do, exactly?”

I think this is one the first episodes where we learn that The Doctor has two hearts. That nurse was a bit annoying as was Sam and his wife.

The Brigadier: “What puzzles me is why anyone would want to abduct The Doctor.”
Munro: “Could he be tied up with them in some way?”

The Doctor: “Well, you think that the TARDIS isn't big enough, don't you. That's because you keep looking at it simply as a police box.”
Liz: “Well it is only a police box.”
The Doctor: “Oh no, not once you get inside it isn't. You see Liz, the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental.”

This story had the working title of Facsimile, a word that was mentioned enough times throughout the entire episode.

The Brigadier: “You could be a little less astringent, Miss Shaw.”
Liz: “I didn’t ask to come here.”

Liz: “Doctor, you tricked me.”
The Doctor: “Yes, the temptation was too strong my dear. I can’t bear to be tied down to one planet and one time. It won’t happen again.”

Not only did we get Jon Pertwee showering and singing but he did harp on a lot about The Doctor’s looks and yes, I did find it entertaining.

The Doctor (re mannequins): “It’s funny how their eyes seem to follow you.”
Liz: “Very.”

The Brigadier: “By the way, I just realized, I don't even know your name.”
The Doctor: “Smith... Doctor John Smith.”

This came out on DVD in 2001 with a good commentary from Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney. The UNIT Recruitment Film is an enjoyable feature.

As debut stories, “Spearhead From Space” is a joy. Jon Pertwee makes a good start on becoming one of the best Doctors with Liz and The Brigadier providing good support and the Autons making for impressive villains.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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