Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Spearhead From Space"

Aired: Jan. 3 - Jan. 24, 1970

4 Episodes

Story 51

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Derek Martinus


While mysterious meteorites land in formation in rural England, the TARDIS arrives nearby and a newly regenerated Doctor stumbles out and collapses, unconscious. Meanwhile, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of the United Nations Intelligence Task Force (UNIT) interviews his new scientific advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. While investigating these meteorites, UNIT also discover the unconscious Doctor, who is taken to a nearby hospital. 

The Brigadier, upon hearing of a strange man found near a police box, races to the hospital but is confronted by a man who appears to be a stranger to him. Soon convinced that this man is the Doctor with new body, the Brigadier is faced with having to cope not only with the mysterious meteorites but also with reports that a plastics factory has been infiltrated by walking mannequins.

The meteorites in question are actually control spheres containing a disembodied alien consciousness known as the Nestene. A Nestene agent known only as Channing has taken over the aforementioned plastics factory and is creating an army of armed mannequins known as Autons as well as plastic duplicates of government officials. The Nestene plan to take over the Earth worth these duplicates.

working together, the Doctor and Liz Shaw create a device capable of transmitting the Nestene consciousness into space, which deactivates the Autons. The Brigadier asks the Doctor to continue to advise UNIT, and the exiled Time Lord reluctantly agrees.


This is a story of firsts. It was the first time the series had been broadcast in colour. It was the first time a story had been recorded entirely on film. It was Jon Pertwee’s first outing in the title role. Any of these elements would have made the story historic, but Spearhead from Space represents a sea-level change for the series, and therefore is hugely significant. The series had always, as its core concept, presented the adventures of a mysterious alien who could travel anywhere in time and space. That was the draw. Now, the Doctor was stuck in one place and time; the time traveler had been brought down to Earth, literally. He was working with a paramilitary organization. The series was decidedly more contemporary than ever before. And it was also deliberately more adult, changing its tone to give it a darker, more serious, feel.

So, does it work? The answer is a resounding yes. After six years, the series was in danger of becoming old hat. With this radical reinvention, it was suddenly fresh again. The tone of the series is immediately far more sophisticated than it ever had been before, presenting a truly grown-up action-adventure story in keeping with the grittier realism of the time it was made.

The story itself is archetypal Doctor Who. After two dodgy scripts last season, Robert Holmes begins to display his skill at clearly delineating the most effective elements of the series; a mixture of horror and sci-fi, with a healthy dollop of adventure and a charmingly eccentric yet heroic central character. It moves along like greased lightning, with great atmospheric touches by a skilled director. The supporting cast is uniformly great, with Courtney making a welcome return. The Brigadier is excellent here, funny without being a buffoon, a clearly confident and able commander. Kudos also have to go to Caroline John, who makes Liz shaw a credible scientist and intelligent woman. She is a radical departure from pretty much every other companion up to this point with the exception of Barbara. John gives Liz an incredulous sense of humour which any reasonable scientist would of course possess, and Liz's maturity and complexity fit right in with the tone of this story.

Pertwee immediately impresses in his debut story, even if he is clearly still finding his footing. His Doctor is less anarchic than Troughton’s; more authoritative, acerbic,  and clearly heroic. He is no less eccentric than his predecessors, but in completely different way. This is a man who definitely takes charge, this much is clear, and he grabs hold of our attention instantly with great confidence and, when the scene calls for it gravitas.

All in all, it's a great start to a season that already feels radically different to everything that came before.

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