Doctor Who at 50: Spearhead From Space Review (8/10)

Jon Pertwee – Spearhead From Space (3rd January, 1970)

I don’t think that this episode particularly sums up the third Doctor’s era, far from it in fact. However, this tale stands out for me as a landmark in Doctor Who in general because it was the first ever episode to be shown in colour. Has science gone too far?

When my dad started us on our run through all (surviving) Who episodes I was really, really young. So young that there was a lot about the Hartnell/Troughton eras I couldn’t remember. What I can remember though, is perking up a hell of a lot as soon as things turned colour.

Of course, nowadays, I have no problem with something being in black and white, but you can’t blame a 90’s kid for being a little bored with such a limited palette.

But that’s besides the point. Spearhead is a cracking Doctor Who tale in its own right. It radically changed the established format of the show, exiling The Doctor to Earth (for some reason the west country) to work for UNIT as its chief scientific advisor.

What this gave us was a radical departure from adventures in space and time and quite a large cast of recurring characters thanks to the Doctors static setting.

And Jon Pertwee’s Doctor perfectly reflected his situation. From this very first episode he’s trying to escape. Cavalier and clearly always vaguely bored with everyone, we are never in any doubt that this is a man who does not want to be here.

While he isn’t exactly the kindly uncle that Troughton was, he’s far from the stern old man model that Hartnell portrayed. Pertwee gives the character an exuberance and a youthfulness, dashing through corridors and infiltrating bases (mostly on his own). He clearly hates the fact he’s now essentially working for the government and even turns down being paid for the job at the end of the story. An argument could be made that the Third Doctor was the “Hippy Doctor”.

While this Doctor had a number of fantastic companions, this episode (re)introduced us to his constant unofficial companion. The fantastic, fan favorite, irreplaceable Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. All pomposity and fake moustache. He and The Doctor have an explosive chemistry that is a joy to watch at all times. Basically, when one is a dick, the other has no problem calling him out on it and it’s brilliant.

Aside from introducing to a slew of new regulars, this is a notable story in that we see The Autons for the first time in what is still their most chilling story. Nothing will ever match the cold, shocking and brutal nature of the scene where shop window dummies come to life on the high street and straight up murder a bunch of people. This is the first time Doctor Who took something mundane and every day and made it really frightening.

A landmark episode in respects to the entire legacy of the show, Spearhead From Space showed us just how much Doctor Who could change, and yet still be unmistakably the same show it was with William Hartnell at the helm.

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