Review By Liam O brien, 4 out of 5
“An alien who travels through time and space- in a police box?”
DOCTOR WHO is all about (for most people) the abiding memories- everyone remembers, if nothing else, a the pivotal moment where, if for just a second, the show is something that anyone, anywhere can love- a moment of pure invention that is subsumed into popular conciseness and becomes part of the zeitgeist. Everyone remembers the Dalek rising from the Thames, everyone remembers those huge nasty maggots from THE GREEN DEATH. But the top three of these memorable, brilliant moments is contained, if for only a few minutes, in part four of SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE. As four shop window dummies come alive, smash the glass and proceed to slaughter everyone in the vicinity, the children of 1970 become instantly terrified of those faceless plastic clothes wearing objects, and a classic television moment is born. For that scenes alone, SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE is special. But plenty of WHO tales have great moments, but to be a truly great story it has to carry things along so that the appearance of those dummies is something truly special. And SPEARHEAD is very special and very different on many levels compared to your average WHO yarn.
For starters, this was the first episode to be transmitted in colour. If that isn’t good enough, it was shot wholly on film, making SPEARHEAD look and feel like its slicker, bigger budget stuff than it really is (the Nestene monster at the end is very, very memorable- for the wrong reasons though) and, finally, this was Jon Pertwee’s very first tale in the title role. This is the episode with more ‘firsts’ in it than part one of anything probably ever had. All this change didn’t affect the skill of Robert Holmes- he delivered four fast paced, clever, imaginative scripts, typical of almost all his works (THE TALONS OF WENG CHIANG, THE DEADLY ASSASSIN) full of great ideas- the Autons themselves, shop window dummies that are cybernetic killers for example- this predates THE TERMINATOR by a full fifteen years. Its great stuff- alien invasions, a new Doctor, UNIT, a new companion- this could have been the pilot for a totally new series, not one that had been on for seven years already. The great thing about SPEARHEAD is the way it introduces all these things without ramming them down your throat- its all in there somewhere, complimented by a story that rises in importance when all the ‘new’ stuff is dealt with. This isn’t DOCTOR WHO just for the fans (as it became in the 80’s) this is a story that you could sit a friend with no prior knowledge of WHO in front of with confidence. There’s no mention of time lords, Gallifrey, various continuity references, bizarre pseudo science ‘explanations’, (stand up LOGOPOLIS) just pure entertainment. The odd duff moment does slip through (the aforementioned Nestine monster and the so bad it’ll-make-your-eyes-bleed model shot of the TARDIS landing in the woods that cuts- obviously to a location shot are two offenders) but these so few a far between you can’t moan.
Sadly, I have never appreciated the Third Doctor- he’s always been my least favourite. However, SPEARHEAD has made me like him a little bit more- as far as im concerned, there has NEVER been a bad Doctor (well, The Valeyard was bad, but that’s different). At the end of the day, SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE is vintage WHO, filled with some great moments and characters- and isn’t that what DOCTOR WHO is, and always has, been about? Wonderful stuff.
THE DISC: Being one of the earlier WHO dvd’s on the market , SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE is not nearly as packed extras wise as the newer releases. No matter, because there’s still a nice little lot to feast over here. The main feature looks great to start with- its been scrubbed up to within an inch of its life and it looks even slicker that it did (probably, I wasn’t there) when it went out. A warm Nicholas Courtney/Caroline John commentary is the ‘big’ feature, while three trailers (from the sadly aborted 1999 re-screening of the series) on screen production notes and a nice ‘UNIT recruitment film’ featuring some nice stuff from almost any tale the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce were in. Overall, while not as comprehensive as later releases, its still good, and, at the end of the day, extras are simply a bonus. It’s a nice disc- with a great story, well told- the perfect bedtime story. Brilliant!
FOUR OUT OF FIVE.