Doctor Who : Spearhead from Space
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // $24.99 // September 11, 2001
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 14, 2002
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Groggy and discombobulated from his current transformation, the Doctors third incarnation is exiled to Earth. He appears on the eve of a series of meteorite landings which are immediately investigated by UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), the worlds chief defender from alien threats. As the UNIT crew try to determine the meteorites origin and purpose, their leader, Brigadier Stewart, must contend with this mysterious man claiming to be the Doctor as well as a plucky new science officer, Liz Shaw. After convincing the Brigadier of his identity, The Doctor is assigned as a UNIT science adviser and he and Ms. Shaw begin to try and unravel the secret of the meteorites. Time is running out as a local plastics factory is overrun by the deadly alien Nestenes, who are building an invasion force of mannequin robots called Autons and replacing key government figures with their waxwork replicas.

1970's Spearhead From Space launched Doctor Who's seventh season, its third Doctor, and the beginning of the show being broadcast in color. Spearhead is a fun tale, and was shot entirely on location, as opposed to the Doc's other adventures which were usually a mix of studio and location shoots. The idea behind this particular Doctor's run was to make him Earth bound. UNIT had proven popular, and it was a cost effective way to keep the Doctor from going to planet to planet every adventure. Now, the Doctor would be settled into UNIT and helping defend the Earth from various alien invasions. An assignment he was not extremely pleased with, as we see in this episode when he attempts an escape in his time and universe traveling TARDIS, which has been rendered unusable by his fellow Time Lords.

While it is a nice exploit, and pretty neat villains (I think everyone would find mannequins that come to life and run around killing innocent bystanders creepy), it also suffers a bit. The Doctor actually doesn't do too much. One would think, this being his introduction, that he would be more prominent, but aside from some delirious mumbling and an abduction attempt, he really doesn't spring to life until the second episode. During this story, much time is spent with the aliens, a poacher that finds and hides a meteor, a plastics factory worker who notices the weird things going on, and the UNIT crew. While all of this is very good and nice, it draws time away from developing and giving some insight into the new Doctor. It is his show after all, but in this adventure he's actually is sort of a supporting player, who when his time comes, simply creates a device that wipes out the alien threat.

One of the nice things about Doctor Who is that with every incarnation each actor has his own specific take on the Doctors character. With every change he is a slightly different alien. The First, a miser. The Second, whimsical. The Third was gallant. The Fourth was mad. The Fifth, serious. The Sixth, arrogant. The Seventh, eccentric. And, well, there is not much to judge on the Eighth. My problem with the Third Doctor lies not in the character. The idea of a Doctor that was gadget obsessed, a bit like a secret agent with lots of flair, was great. The actor on the other hand, John Pertwee who created and defined this Doctor, unfortunately suffers from a speech impediment that is less than suave. While his actions cried out he was sort of a gentleman rouge, his speech was laced with a lisp worthy of Cindy Brady. It is something I just cannot get over. I find it very distracting when he's supposed to be James Bond, yet I think James Bond could say "I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit." without sounding like a schoolgirl with a lazy tongue. But, that's my problem.

The DVD: BBC Worldwide, distributed by Warner.

Picture: Standard 1.33:1. Since this was an entirely location shoot, they used, I assume, 16mm. This was also the first color Doctor Who adventure, so a lot of attention was paid to making this particular story as best as the era and budget could allow, thus ensuring they could snag viewer for this new Doctor and bring the series up to date with the times. That said, the transfer is fine, free of any glitches, making the image the best it is likely to get. One just has to brear in mind its a 30+ yr old British tv show.

Sound: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Optional English subtitles. Close Captioned. Not much to say really, other than the audio is the best it can be given the technical limitations of the time that it was made. It is fine, pretty clear and crisp, considering, and free of any distracting flaws.

Extras: Episode and Chapter Selections--- BBC2 Trailers. These trailers were made in 1999 and have a very modern feel, metal music, rapid edit, and MTV stylized.--- Text info subs. This subtitle function lets you read info about the episodes, actors, locations, fx, genreal production bits. A nice accompaniment while listening to the commentary. --- Photo Gallery. 54 production stills--- UNIT recruiting film (4 mins). Using footage from the series and voice overs, a nice, tongue in cheek, mock recruiting film for the organization.--- Actor Commentary with Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Stewart) and Caroline John (Liz Shaw). Here's an odd one. Courtney's tenure as the Brigadier made him the companion or secondary character that has appeared on Who the most, his character spanning the most Doctors. John's stint was much less, just one season. So, you'd think Courtney would have the most to say, but its actually John who is the most engaging. Courtney's Who knowledge and recollection is very good, while John shows a much more outsiders view both in terms of show mythology (she didn't know about the Doctors race and planet) and technically (she cuts herself off from discussing plot points that haven't happened yet, not realizing anyone watching with commentary has surely seen the episode). While its not the most humorous, lively, or revelatory commentary I've heard, they are pleasant enough, making it worth a listen at least once.

Conclusion: Although I think its a mixed affair, has its highs and lows, in the Who Universe Spearhead From Space is a very important point in the series, the introductory adventure of a new and pretty popular Doctor. The DVD is nice, moderately good extras, and, most of all, a transfer in the best possible shape it can get. Therefore it is recommended for the Who fan.



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