Spearhead From Space (1970 UK)

spearheadfromspace13Doctor Henderson: “How are you feeling?” The Doctor: “Shoes”. First appearances of Jon Pertwee and Caroline John as Doctor Three and Liz Shaw. First appearance of any colour. First appearance of the Autons… A lot of things depended on the success of this story. After the decline of public interest in the later Troughton era the Doctor Who production team had to find something new and interesting to bring the programme into the 1970s!

The first appearance of the Autons and certainly their best, Rob Holmes had set himself a high mark with this story and the sequel coming the following year which ended up as Terror of the Autons somehow didn’t reach that. Here we see the actual autons, faceless mannequins, not a lot of their plastic replicas, and I think that is better than the ridiculous clowns we get the following year. This is a must buy for anyone who is totally into Doctor Who, either in its incarnation beginning in 2005 or to its humble beginnings in 1963.

The story finds the Doctor exiled to late 20th century Earth by his own race as punishment for interfering in the affairs of others (the final Patrick Troughton story The War Games) in the midst of a meteor shower. With the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) investigating, the newly regenerated Doctor comes back into contact with its leader Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the newly recruited scientist Liz Shaw. Together they investigate the meteors, the strange orbs left behind, and their apparent connection to a factor making plastic mannequins. It all leads to an invasion by the collective mind of the Nestene.

hugh burdenAfter discovering he can no longer work his machine he decides to help Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart with some curious “asteroids” that fell from space the same time he arrived. It then becomes a race against the clock to stop the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness from taking over the world. Strong performances from all of the main cast. The supporting cast of Hugh Burden (wonderful alien stare) and John Woodnut as the baddies who run the factory, plus Hamilton Dyce as General Scobie make for as fine a cast as the show ever had. Robert Holmes’ script, plus the direction of Derek Martinus and the music of Dudley Simpson, helps to create a taught and suspenseful opening for the Pertwee era.

The Autons are one of the series’ best creations and when they awake in Episode Four, there is a shiver that goes up the spine. They are one of the worst nightmares come true: shop window mannequins that come not just to life but kill you as well. While their controller, the Nestene consciousness, appears very unconvincing! (I think they were aiming for a Lovecraftian look but ended up with something more appropriate for the kids’ TV series The Goodies). Spearhead is a sinister tale and whilst there is some humour there is a lot of action and a lot of deaths too. It is very realistic set-wise as everything had to be done on location as there was a BBC strike at the time and the Who team couldn’t have any studio time for this.

We have a factory interior and exterior, some neat shots of the city centre massacre near the end, and overall I think it’s all the better for no studio work, which lets some episodes of Dr Who down slightly. Jon Pertwee slips into the role of the Doctor with so much ease that, like Tom Baker in 1974’s Robot, it is sometimes hard to believe this is his first story. All the hallmarks of his Doctor are here from the classic combination of shirts and capes to gadgetry and classic cars. Backing him is the ever impressive Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier for the third time and Caroline John. John plays Liz well and makes a very believable scientist.

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Comments

  1. An excellent and detailed review of one of the scariest Dr Who episodes I have ever seen! I agree that the Autons are one of the series best creations and still withstand the test of time. 😈

    For anyone who hasn’t seen this episode, check out this creepy clip of the Autons here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9HCzAXoDI8

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    Like

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