Dr Who: Spearhead from Space
Spearhead from Space is an important story in Doctor Who history for many reasons. As well as introducing Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor, it was the first story to be made in colour. It was written by Robert Holmes, arguably the programme's best writer, who effectively handles what amounts to a dual plotline. For most of the first two of the four episodes, the emphasis is on establishing Pertwee's Doctor, scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John) as his assistant, and the whole set-up of the UNIT organisation. Nicholas Courtney had appeared twice before as Brigadier (originally Colonel) Lethbridge-Stewart, in the Troughton-era stories The Web of Fear and The Invasion, neither of which exist in their entirety. From this story onwards UNIT would become a regular part of the series until some time into the Tom Baker era. However, the second and main plot is set up right from the start as a mysterious meteorite shower lands in Oxley Woods, and strange things are happening at a local plastics factory...
Many British thirtysomethings and older will have grown up with Doctor Who and will have received a basic grounding in SF and horror concepts from it. I didn't see Spearhead at the time, as I didn't start watching until the following year at the tender age of six and a half. But this story is a reminder of what once was: a show nominally for children that adults watched that didn't talk down to its audience and certainly wasn't afraid to be scary. This is one of two stories to feature the Autons (walking plastic dummies: the scene where they come to life behind high street shop windows is the one everyone remembers. Partway through the Tom Baker era, after complaints about violence, the programme was more and more played for laughs. This viewer lost interest around the end of the 70s and stopped watching. Looking again at Spearhead now, some dodgy special effects - not to mention Liz Shaw's fashion sense! - date it more than a little, but as a strong suspenseful story it still works.
Jon Pertwee remains many people's favourite Doctor, though there is a backlash opinion which finds him patriarchal and patronising and even sexist. However, here he makes an accomplished start to his four years in the role. Pertwee's background in comedy adds plenty of shading to his portrayal. Nicholas Courtney makes an effortless return as the Brigadier, who is written as much less of a buffoon than he would be later. Caroline John only lasted one season as Liz Shaw and tends to be underrated as an assistant. In 1970, the women's movement had barely begun to make itself felt in popular entertainment, and it's possible that a highly qualified woman scientist might have been a little ahead of its time. It's certainly the case that Doctor Who was a little selfconscious about this: in the next story (Doctor Who and the Silurians) she gets to ask the Brigadier, "Have you never heard of women's liberation?" By all accounts her successor Jo Grant (who looks like a retrograde screaming teenager nowadays, though not as bad as the Secon Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield) was more "identifiable". As it stands, Caroline John's performance in Spearhead has a few awkward moments but is generally solid. Of the non-recurring cast, Hugh Burden is an effective villain, despite an over-reliance on conveying alienness by speaking in a monotone.
Due to a threatened BBC Studio strike, Spearhead from Space is unique among the series stories by being shot wholly on 16mm film. This gives it a look and texture entirely different to any other story, which were shot at least partly on videotape. Given a complete digital restoration, it now looks as good as it ever could, bright and artefact-free though not quite having the sharpness and definition or lack of grain that 35mm would have. As Spearhead was made for British TV in 1970, it was made in 4:3 and so this DVD is non-anamorphic. The sound is the original mono, with only occasional scenes betraying the location-shot origins. (Characters at the back of the frame, and hence away from the microphone, are occasionally echoey and less clear.) There are subtitles, as there should be, and twenty-four chapter stops, six per episode. Like every other BBC DVD, it is dual region-coded, for Regions 2 and 4. The episodes are presented complete with opening and closing credit sequences, preserving those all-important cliffhangers. The short burst of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", which originally played over the shots of the plastics factory in action in Episode Two, is missing, due to music rights complications.
First among the extras is a commentary track by Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John, which has optional subtitles. The two obviously get on very well together and are engaging to listen to. Inevitably memories are occasionally vague after thirty years, so anyone after much hard information will be disappointed. For these, the on-screen production notes will be what they are looking for. These appear as subtitles, and point out to the viewer where particular scenes were shot, how certain special effects were done, and so on. In short, as much trivia as any fan would need. The TV trailers are those for the story's repeat in 1999, rapidly cut to not-really-appropriate rock music. The UNIT recruitment film was made for the 30th anniversary celebrations in 1993 - it's a jokey five-minute piece featuring the voice of Dexter Fletcher and featuring clips from many of the stories featuring UNIT. The photo gallery is much as you might expect, half colour and half black and white, with a simple back-and-forth navigation system. The menus feature clips from the story. If you highlight the Doctor Who logo in the top left, you will find an Easter Egg, in the form of an unused title sequence.
This DVD has obviously been put together with a lot of care, and Spearhead looks and sounds as good as it probably could do. It augurs well for other Doctor Who DVDs that the BBC will no doubt release.
Source: DVD Times
Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space
Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space, just like Doctor Who - Robots of Death features another four part story from the television series. It was first broadcast in England on BBC1 between January 3 and January 4, 1970. Each episode runs for around 23 minutes. In this story, Doctor Who is played by Jon Pertwee (the third Doctor, who starred in the role between 1970-1974). The attractive female thrown in for good measure is Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Caroline John), and Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) is also along for the ride. The three of them are up against some faceless creatures called the Nestenes.
It starts with some meteorites crash landing on earth in Sector 5, Epping. Funny thing is that the meteorites appeared to be flying in formation. The Tardis then appears, right in the middle of Oxley Wood, and Doctor Who stumbles out. He is later picked up and taken to hospital. Meanwhile, Dr Elizabeth Shaw is recruited by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, first in command of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Dr Shaw is an expert in meteorites, she has degrees in medicine and physics. She has been asked to investigate fragments of the meteorite that UNIT have recovered.
At the hospital theyíre a bit perplexed. The man they found in the woods (that being Doctor Who) has blood canít be identified and two hearts. The Doctor soon regains consciousness and he can recognise the Brigadier, but the Brigadier doesnít recognise the Doctor, his appearance having been altered. (apparently the good Doctor was exiled to earth in the 1970ís by the Time Lords and forced to regenerate, taking on a new appearance). Next thing we know, some strange people are trying to kidnap the Doctor.
The kidnapping backfires and the Doctor winds up back in hospital after accidentally being shot by one of the UNIT soldiers. Meanwhile something odd is afoot at the local plastic toy factory, and a farmer has dug up a glowing globe and taken it home with him. UNIT have also found one of the glowing globes, but the soldier transporting it back to UNIT headquarters doesnít make it, being intercepted by an Auton, a crude purpose built Nestene which could be likened to an attack drone. Anyway, the Doctor escapes from hospital and locates the Tardis, this is when he meets Dr Elizabeth Shaw. He agrees to help Elizabeth with her investigations so he can get the key to the Tardis from the Brigadier.
The Doctor and Elizabeth arenít having much luck with their analyses, at least not with the primitive scientific equipment available. What they really need is a lateral molecular rectifier. The Doctor tells Elizabeth that he has one in the Tardis, if only the Brigadier would give him the key. Once he gets his hands on the key, he tries to escape in the Tardis, but itís not to be, the dematerialisation code has been changed, so the Doctor is trapped in this time period and on this planet. An Auton has located the glowing globe, a Nestene energy source, at the farmers house. The farmers wife tries to shoot one of them, but heís bullet proof. Thankfully UNIT intervenes and the Doctor takes the globe back to the lab for further examination.
The Doctor discovers that the glowing globe, or energy source, is sending out a signal, that it is part of a collective intelligence and that it is trying to communicate with the rest of its entity. It soon becomes evident that the Nestenes are using the plastics factory to make Autons. They plan to awaken the static Autons, that have been placed in stores around the country as mannequins, and conquer earth, destroying all the humans. The Doctor, Elizabeth and UNIT soldiers visit the plastics factory, the Doctor has produced a weapon they can use against the Nestenes, but will they be too lateÖ
Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space is presented in 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer is reasonably good and to be honest, this actually looks like a better transfer than Doctor Who - The Robots of Death. There is quite a decent level of detail, the picture being reasonably sharp. Shadow detail isnít the best though and clarity declines during the darker scenes, grain and film artefacts also become more apparent. In general though, film grain and film artefacts are quite minimal. Certain scenes look overly bright, and colours tend to look a bit washed out, but they do appear natural, at least in comparison to the colour in Doctor Who - The Robots of Death. Much of this adventrue takes place on location and it therefore has a much more natural look about it. Also, there werenít any of those light refraction problems evident in Doctor Who - The Robots of Death. This is a dual layer disc (RSDL) although I couldnít find the layer change, so I imagine it has been placed in between episode 2 and 3.
This DVD, just like Doctor Who - The Robots of Death, has two audio soundtracks. The first is a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack, the second is an audio commentary. The main soundtrack is alright, considering it is only mono sound (both main channels being identical). I guess most importantly, dialogue is always clear and quite easily heard during all four episodes, especially when Jon Pertwee is talking, he has fabulous enunciation. The bad guys are easy to hear as well, even when background music is used during the suspenseful moments. There didnít seem to be any audio synch problems either.
Interestingly, there are three subtitle options to choose from on this DVD. The first option is your standard English subtitles for each episode. Then there are English subtitles which accompany the audio commentary soundtrack, the person speaking is indicated by a (C) for Caroline John or an (N) for Nicholas Courtney. The third subtitle option presents on-screen production notes, information about locations used during shooting, Doctor Who plot points and little interesting bits of trivia, like information about special effects, props and even the tattoo Jon Pertwee has on his right arm.
The audio commentary is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 channel sound. It features actors Caroline John (who played Dr Liz Shaw) and Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart). This is a satisfactory commentary track but donít expect too much in terms of technical insights into the making of this series of episodes. The two of them donít seem to run out of things to say, but they only really discuss small trivial elements of the series such as where certain scenes were shot, and about Jon Pertwee. This commentary track was obviously recorded a number of years after these episodes were filmed as Caroline and Nicholas often have trouble recalling different things and the two of them get caught up reminiscing a bit, which is a little frustrating. They do discuss the plot quite often which can be helpful if youíre not all that familiar with this series. Furthermore, they offer some interesting bits of trivia, again this is probably only of benefit if youíre not up on your Doctor Who facts and figures (for example Doctor Who comes from planet Gallifrey).
There are 3 trailers in total, as shown on BBC 2 in 1999 for episodes 1 and 2 (combined) and episode 3 of Doctor Who Spearhead from Space. The trailers feature excerpts from these episodes with modern sound, I personally thought it worked quite well. The third trailer is for Doctor Who Night, presumably one Saturday night in 1999 when BBC screened a number of Doctor Who episodes (Doctor Who - Adventures in Space and Time, Doctor Who - The Daleks). It features what looks to be a specially shot sequence to advertise the Doctor Who programming as well as a few excerpts from Doctor Who, this time with Tom Baker. All trailers are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 channel sound. Total running time is around 1.5 minutes.
50+ photos, some black and white and also a number of colour shots as well. There are some very good photos in this collection, featuring not only the standard on-set type shots, but also some studio type shots of Jon Pertwee striking a number of different poses in the unique costume he wore in Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space.
UNIT Recruiting Film
According to the packaging, this small featurette was made in 1993 for the programs 13th anniversary celebrations on BBC1. It was directed by Kevin Davies and is narrated by Dexter Fletcher (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). It features a excerpts from a number of Doctor Who episodes including Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 channel sound and runs for 5 minutes.
Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space is another DVD must for fans of this cult science fiction series. This visual and audio transfer arenít the greatest, but Iím sure that can be overlooked given the content. Some okay extra features, most notably the inclusion of information text as a subtitle option (production notes on the fly).
Source: DVD Bits