This story takes
after the second
prior to the tV
story “DOCTOR WHO
AND THE SILURIANS.”
SPACE' DVD (BBCDVD
1033) RELEASED IN
Exiled to Earth in the
late 20TH century by
his own people, the
Doctor arrives in
alongside a shower
is the newly-formed
by Brigadier Alistair
Stewart, UNIT are
soon called into
action when people
and meteorites start
going missing. Most
puzzling of all is the
attempted kidnap of a
patient – a man with
two hearts, who
insists that he
The new Doctor soon
joins forces with his
old friend, UNIT, and
recruited Dr. Liz
Shaw, but time is
Irregular things are
happening at a
lurk in the woods. The
arrived, and want to
conquer the Earth...
3RD JANUARY 1970 - 24TH JANUARY 1970
“Spearhead From Space” is one of the most significant Doctor Who serials of all time. Not only did it see the series produced in glorious technicolour for the first time, but it also drastically altered the format of the show, having the Doctor sentenced to a period of exile
on twentieth century Earth where he would help the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce to combat a mixture of alien incursions and home-grown threats.
The outgoing production team, Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, thought that this shift of emphasis would help reduce the strain on the series’ budget, however incoming producer Barry Letts and his script editor Terrance Dicks were not convinced that this new format would work from an artistic point of view. Indeed, Dicks notoriously commented that the format lent itself to only two possibilities – “alien invasion and mad scientist.”
However, despite the inherent flaws in the new set-up, the series quickly became as popular as it ever was and, even today, Jon Pertwee’s reign as the Doctor is often looked upon as being one of the golden ages of the show by both hardcore fans and casual viewers alike. I think one reason that this era has always been so popular is that, particularly in the early going, the series managed to engender a definite cutting-edge, even rather adult feel. It may have become something of a cliché to compare these early 1970s UNIT serials to Quatermass and the third Doctor to James Bond, but the parallels are clearly identifiable.
Robert Holmes’ excellent script for “Spearhead From Space” really sets the scene for the whole Pertwee era. The main thrust of story focuses on the disembodied Nestene consciousness’ invasion of Earth (well, Home Counties) using animated plastic
mannequins called Autons. However, this storyline is built up very slowly over the first two episodes as UNIT are re-introduced and the new Doctor established. When the Auton invasion does finally kick in though, some of the scenes – if you are taking the time to read this, you know the ones that I am talking about – are absolutely immortal. Without doubt they are some of the most enduring images ever to be filmed for the series.
Pertwee’s Doctor is a little less straight-laced here then he would become as the series progresses. It is great fun to see him trying to escape the hospital, singing in the shower,
and stealing cars! He even proudly sports a rather congruous cobra tattoo on his forearm – some strange side effect of his enforced regeneration, or the Time Lords’ way of branding their criminals? I shall leave that one to Lawrence Miles...
Furthermore, Holmes’ incidental characters (such as the poacher Sealey and the UNIT official Scobie) are about as real as you can get. Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is also quick to establish himself as a series regular and shares some truly great scenes with the new Doctor – there is a wonderful moment where the Doctor tries to abscond in the TARDIS, only to come out moments later surrounded by a cloud of smoke,
an embarrassed look on his face. Classic.
Above: The DVD's menu screen (NB the background is animated on the actual DVD; this is just a still)
The DVD release itself shows a marked improvement upon the no frills ‘special edition’ release of “The Five Doctors” and the more recent “Robots of Death”. The four episodes included on the DVD are the remastered versions that aired on BBC2 in 1999 and are, of course, visually stunning.
Above: On the DVD relevant production information is presented in the form of subtitles
The special features included here of a bit more value than last time – the commentary features both Courtney and Caroline John (Liz Shaw); there is a short, tongue-in-cheek UNIT recruitment film; a few trailers; a photo gallery; and, best of all, some on-screen production notes. The latter is an absolutely extraordinary idea, allowing the viewer to watch the story whilst any relevant production information is presented in the form of subtitles. This gives the obvious advantage of being able to follow the story whilst learning a few things about it, as opposed to watching the story with the commentary turned on and not really being able to concentrate on both things at once. Of course, the subtitles are far less personal, and the commentary on this DVD is a huge improvement on the one included on “The Robots of Death.” Courtney is as enthusiastic about the series as ever and very knowledgeable about it too, and whilst John may know next to nothing about Doctor Who beyond the four serials that she was in, she still chips in with some interesting anecdotes about her time as Liz.
And so “Spearhead From Space” is a great addition to the Doctor Who DVD range. It is central to the mythology of the show, and being the only story of the seventh season to be condensed into just four episodes it does not seem as protracted as the ensuing few serials do. All told, “Spearhead from Space” is a breathtaking beginning to the third (and arguably most remarkable) era of Doctor Who.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This serial is set shortly after the Cyberman invasion depicted in The Invasion, which in turn
is set four years after The Web of Fear. One school of thought places The Invasion in or around 1975, in line with its Radio Times billing, dialogue in both stories and the Pertwee-era production team’s original intention, with this story following shortly afterwards. However, such a placement is at odds with novels such as Who Killed Kennedy, which suggest that the Auton invasion occurred in 1970, when the serial was first broadcast.
The duration of the Doctor’s employment with UNIT has never been determined. We know that, from the Time Lord’s perspective, he was on the organisation’s payroll for the entirety of his third incarnation, but how much time passed for UNIT is another matter entirely. Indeed, as so succinctly demonstrated by Colony in Space’s bookends, the Doctor could disappear off into time and space only to rematerialise a few seconds later. This effectively allows for years’ worth of adventures taking place within a few seconds of UNIT time.
Most people generally infer that around six years passed for UNIT between Spearhead from Space and The Seeds of Doom, broadly in line with how many years had passed for viewers, but this is difficult to reconcile with “classic” UNIT dating, which is predicated upon The Web of Fear taking place in 1971 (as set out above), because Mawdryn Undead made it explicit that the Brigadier retired from active service in 1976.
Assuming that the Brigadier did not retire until late 1976, all the UNIT stories between Spearhead from Space and The Seeds of Doom (in which the Brigadier is last referred to being in active service) must therefore take place within the space of, at best, two calendar years, meaning that this story is set in late 1976.
However, in order for this theory to even come closing to holding up, we’d have to swallow the premise that the Brigadier did not retire until very late in 1976; the events of Seasons 7 to 13 occurred within two years, despite being broadcast over six; and that Sarah Jane Smith’s throwaway “1980” line in Pyramids of Mars was exactly that – a throwaway line, perhaps even rounding up on her part.
Please see the UNIT Dating Dossier for further information.
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