Companions: The Doctor (Jon Pertwee), Liz Shaw, The Brigadier.
Monsters/Villains: The Nestene Consciousness, Autons.
Brief Synopsis: A newly exiled Doctor helps UNIT to thwart an invasion of plastic alien facsimiles.
It's my 100th post and here we find ourselves in technicolor for the very first time. Colour had been used in TV as early as the 1950's and became more widely used in the 60's but Doctor Who didn't catch up with the times until 1969 when colour was used to herald the arrival of a new season, era and Doctor in actor Jon Pertwee. (Ironically most people didn't have colour television sets as they were too expensive). Towards the end of the 1960's Doctor Who was dying; it's ratings saw a marked decline and behind the scenes disagreements on scripts were starting to effect the show. The cross over into a colour, casting of a new Doctor and decision to head for a new earth bound setting were all attempts to save the show from an untimely demise. Fortunately, it would appear, they worked.
For the viewing of this story of greatly momentous occasion I managed to coerce my wonderful girlfriend, Katie in to joining me. I wonder if she'll regret it?
When Katie and I first met, and after I had tricked her in to agreeing to become my girlfriend, she uttered ten words every male Doctor Who fan dreams of hearing from a girl, "I want you to teach me about old Doctor Who." I leant her some stories to watch on her own and Spearhead From Space was one of them. When I recently asked her to join me for this particular story she remembered it with, "Oh, I tried to watch that one but it was really boring" and then graciously agreed to watch anyway. She's not a complete stranger to Who at all and loved the new series before I met her (I swear I had no influence on that). I must admit, I love the experience of watching a classic Doctor Who story with someone who's never seen it before; it's my way of re-experiencing a story vicariously through another person.
We launch into the new opening credits after a hearty breakfast and some delicious pancakes and only a few minutes in Katie says she thinks the whole thing looks and indeed sounds a lot like James Bond, with it's covert, spy style music; like Doctor Who does Bond. She throws doubt on to whether radar technology actually works, ponders why there isn't a crater when the meteorite/sphere crash lands to earth and laughs at the model shot of the TARDIS arriving. She also points out to me that when this originally aired no one would have known what the Doctor was going to look like when he fell from the TARDIS doors. I'm sure it would have been out there in the press but younger viewers in particular would have been unaware. How exciting that must have been!
We're introduced to Liz Shaw and Katie begins her tirade on her dislike for this new companion with: "She's not very pretty. She's got fake eye lashes on the top and the bottom. She's got sideburns," and "I don't like her Jacket." (more on this later). I try to defend her late-sixties/early-seventies styles but Katie thinks it's no excuse.
I love the way Pertwee's Doctor overcomes his complete physical change so quickly. As he looks in to a mirror seeing his new appearance for the first time he says, "Oh no, that's not me at all." Quickly followed by "Oh, I don't know. I think it's rather distinctive actually." Katie also points out to me something that I have never noticed: you don't get a proper look at Pertwee's face for ages; not until he wakes up and recognises the Brigadier; who, much to mine and Katie's shared delight, would go on to become a regular recurring character from this point onwards.
One of the very special and indeed unique aspects of Spearhead From Space is that due to technical strikes it was recorded entirely using film instead of the usual video tape. It's the only story to hold this accolade and it gives the whole thing a real boost. We both agree that we like the use of steady cam work when the reporters arrive at the hospital and we actually get to see what is being recorded by the news camera man.
|Colloquial Captain Munro.|
In episode two Katie asks: "Why should they [the aliens] want to kidnap the Doctor?" Which is a really good question. They don't even know who he is yet and they're trying to abduct him? Strange. Katie's anti-Liz Shaw polemic continues with: "She is really unattractive. She looks like a drag queen. And she's got bad roots." I am starting to feel really sorry for Liz and try my utmost to defend her.
|Scobie meets his facsimile.|
We get into a mini discussion on Jon Pertwee's tattoo. Katie says she thinks it looks like a question mark. Whereas I think it looks like a snake. I try to elaborately explain it away, interpreting that the Time Lords must have branded him with it to mark him as a criminal, whereas Katie thinks they blatantly just didn't cover up Pertwee's tattoo. We agree to disagree. The Doctor steals the big old, red car, that acts as a precursor to Bessie and then makes his way to UNIT HQ using his TARDIS homing watch; which we'll never see ever again. Here is where Pertwee really comes alive, there's so much to like in his incredibly rich performance and with his change out of the way the story can really begin.
We learn that the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental and that the lock has a metabolism detector, opening only for the Doctor; this is something that will be chosen to be ignored many times later on. We also get the reiteration that the Time Lords have changed the dematerialization code of the TARDIS rendering it useless. This of course changes the style of the series to come dramatically, with the Doctor no longer being able to travel through space and time and indeed run away after his interferences. The Doctor is certainly a very different man now, not just physically but internally. He can't run away so he is forced to change. He's more human because he's bound to earth. Many people find it hard to except Pertwee as the Doctor, stating that he too strongly sides with the establishment. I disagree. He certainly is an authority figure, but he acts as the exception of the establishment. He works internally trying to make changes from the inside.
We get a look at this weeks monster, an Auton and Katie agrees that they are quite creepy. However, twice in the story Katie understandably loses it when both Major General Scobie and the plastic factory worker, Ransom, stand still in shock-faced terror as an Auton approaches them causing her to shout "Don't just stand their gurning at it. Run away!" and "If I opened the door and saw a life size version of me, I wouldn't just stand there I would run away." Katie also points out that the Auton's movement is inconsistent, sometimes moving like a plastic automaton and other times more like a normal person in a costume.
|Not a spec of dirt on either of them.|
We both have a good laugh at the incorporation of a character such as, poacher Sam Seeley. Katie rightly questions how oddly clean his clothes are. He's a poacher and he's wearing brand new clothes. We both have a good laugh spotting the Facsimile extras moving when they're not supposed to in the Madame Tussaud's section. Naughty extras!
There's also a really interesting moment you just wouldn't get on a modern program today, when the Doctor calls UNIT in search of the Brigadier only to be told he's not there. They didn't have mobile phones so the Doctor just has to say "Tell I'll call him back later."
|No mobiles in those days.|
We learn that the alien behind the planned invasion are called the Nestene Consciousness, and that they have been colonising other planets for 1000 million years. Sadly the brilliant atmosphere is ruined in the dying moments of the last episode by an awfully realised final-boss-like creature. I'd really been enjoying this one right up until the end and I don't think I could have put it better that Katie did, "Shame about the rubbish octopus."
|Pertwee defeating the Nestene Octopus one bite at a time.|
|The New team.|
|Brig, don't tell Liz but we both like you more than her!|
Katie gives Spearhead From Space a solid 7/10 just one mark less than me. She was a wonderful companion for this one and her keen scrutiny helped me see things I'd never noticed before. I'd like to thank her for joining me and hope she'll come back and do it again in the future. I think for the most part we can agree that Robert Holmes has done a great job and proven himself enough to make us forget the likes of The Krotons and The Space Pirates. Spearhead From Space is a great story, but as Katie said so well, "it's just a shame about the rubbish octopus!"
Join me next time for a personal favourite, Doctor Who And The Silurians.