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.
And there, on a Saturday evening on BBC One in 2013, was William Hartnell as… The Doctor. Excuse my language but fuck me that was enough to make me explode with joy. After fifty years, finally getting a glimpse of the moment The Doctor decides to run off with a type 40 TARDIS and see the universe was something truly special for me.
And it only went and got better. We saw Doctors one through seven, including that strange moment in Dragonfire where for some reason, Seven decides to crawl down a cliff. I think I’d already decided this was a perfect episode from that 50th montage and that was only the bloody pre credits sequence.
Of course, some of the meshing of archive clips worked better than others, but when you’re watching your childhood colliding with the present day of your favorite program, who really cares?
The Name of The Doctor managed to set up everything that needed to be set up for the 50th shenangins all while answering some questions that have been around for years and still managed to be an enjoyable, witty and in places quite chilling episode.
Did the big question, the Doctor’s name get revealed? No. Of course, it was never going to be answered in a straight forward “my name is…” way and frankly anyone with a fundemental understanding of Doctor Who would have known that from the off. Moffat is a fan and as such knows full well that is a question we never need to hear the answer to.
And if you were expecting an asnwer, it’s hard to have felt shortchanged from this gem of an episode. River’s final farewell was truly quite heartbreaking, seeing The Doctor’s assertion that he hates goodbyes is a deeper glimpse into who he is than his name could ever tell us.
Some might gripe at lack of explanation towards why The Doctor could see and touch River, I couldn’t care less when the payoff was such an emotional scene and that line “God knows how that must have looked”. It would be a shame if this was River’s last appearance but she couldn’t have gone out on a better note.
Matt Smith was firing on all clyinders once again, showing anger, heartbreak and at times, genuine fear. The scene where he found out he had to go to Trenzalore was quite unsettling. This is not how The Doctor is supposed to be and Matt Smith played it perfectly, not too much and not too little emotion.
Strax, Vastra and Jenny still need their own spin off series, that much will never change. I admit I was watching this episode in the fear that one of them would bite the dust and that horribly chilling scene where Jenny realised she had been murdered set the stakes very early on. Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without my favorite Dinosaur/Victorian Maid Lesbian Crimefighting Couple. Although Strax is genuinely brilliant, his comedy did detract from the drama at times, which felt a little frustrating.
I think Jenna Louise Coleman’s character has come under a lot of unfair criticism this series. She’s constantly been brilliant in my eyes and to be honest I never could really stand Amy Pond. Sorry, world, but I just think Clara is miles ahead.
Some reviews have complained that since we haven’t known Clara that long, her sacrifice doesn’t mean as much. I would argue that surely it means that much more? If she hasn’t known The Doctor that long and is willing to tear her very existence apart to save him, I think that’s pretty big.
Incidentally, The Doc and Clara’s chemistry was great here. Maybe it’s because Clara finally saw a deeper side to The Doctor, but they really seem to care about each other much more in this one. Although I am glad River wasn’t sidelined so The Doctor could canoodle with Clara as I initially feared.
There isn’t too much to say about The Whispermen and Richard E Grant. Grant is always brilliant and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him and while the Whispermen looked creepy as hell, they didn’t really do much besides… whisper. Not that cool.
Oh yeah, introducing John Hurt as The Doctor? Jesus Christ, November 23rd cannot come fast enough.
So by now we all know that David Tennant and Billie Piper are coming back for the half century bash, along with the bloody Zygons (which I will never get bored of telling people) and the good old Brigadier’s Daughter. I for one, don’t believe we’ve had half the news and so here are ten more things that need to happen. I’m a greedy fan. Sue me.
Oh, he’s said he isn’t taking part… I don’t care. The 9th Doctor is the reason Doctor Who is back on our tellies and so popular. He was dark, funny and genuinely scary at times and one season was nowhere near enough of him frankly. Kidnap his family, buy him his own island. I don’t care, just get the bloody 9th Doctor back for this.
I think they’ve become slightly overused of late, but it wouldn’t be the 50th without an appearance from the shows first and most iconic monsters. They don’t have to drive the entire plot either, just a Five Doctors style ten minute scene would do. Provided it doesn’t involve The Doctor tricking it into firing at a mirror. Jesus.
Because Ace was fucking brilliant, I don’t care what anyone else says.
For my money, one of the best Doctors. That he only got one shot to play The Doctor on screen is criminal. If there was ever a chance for the 8th Doctor to get some more (well deserved) screen time, for the love of God, this is it. Of course, it helps that his Doctor was given a new look a year or so back and that he recently refused to rule out appearing…
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. If nothing else, it would be a nice tribute for the late, great Liz Sladen who we all know is going to be sorely missed in this very special episode that she should have (and I imagine would have) been a part of.
The Original Theme Music
Because screw looking to the future. I want the ethereal, simple and beautifully haunting 1963 score over the top of today’s magnificent CGI opening sequence. That, or the McCoy era theme. I always loved that one. I think I have a problem.
References a Plenty.
It’s been 50 years. I want Jelly Babies, long scarfs, cricket bats, Kamelion, the Eye of Harmony, Susan, Pease Pottage, Mike Yates, question mark lapels. Hell, name drop Adric. I’ll take it all. I am a reference whore.
The First Three Doctors
I know they’re all dead. However, they need to be included or acknowledged in some way, be it past footage or studio tomfoolery or whatever. If not Two and Three then at the very least William Hartnell needs some love as the man who started a fifty year and eleven man legacy.
A Decent Story
The Five Doctors was great, but if we look at it critically.. it wasn’t. A handful of characters were relegated to sitting around the TARDIS and we actually had to watch that when we all wanted to see how the actually action was moving along. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Five Doctors. But I want the 50th story to be a classic in its own right.
ALL THE DOCTORS
I know I’ve covered some already, but there you go. I love David Tennant and I am thrilled he’s coming back. But the way I see it, we have them all back or we have none of them back. I don’t think the fans give a shit if they don’t look how they used to. That’s been written away in the past. If it was ever going to be done and completely justified, it would be this extraordinary time in Who’s life. The Eleven Doctors. Make it happen, Moffat.