Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Second Doctor’s week, featuring Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Second Doctor, also look at the War Games.
Spearhead from Space is the first serial of the seventh season of Doctor Who and the first to be produced in colour. The serial introduced Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor and also introduced the Autons (which show up again in the new Doctor Who series episode Rose. It also introduces Caroline John as the Doctor’s new assistant, Liz Shaw. Nicholas Courtney reprises his role as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and becomes a regular cast member beginning with this serial.
Much like the episode Rose is a brilliant start for those looking for a way into the new series of Doctor Who, so The Spearhead From Space is a brilliant manner to explore the early Doctor Who series with Jon Pertwee as the 3rd Doctor. It has an enjoyable mixture of humour and pathos, of sassy companions against a sassy Doctor. And, similar to Rose, the villains are the eerie Autons, who make a good starting bad guy.
Everything about this episode was new for the Classic Series so far. There had been a change of actors, and the film had moved from black and white to colour. New companions and everything is set on Earth. For those who wish to skip the Second and First Doctor stories, as they can be tedious without the black and white footage, The Spearhead From Space makes for an enjoyable start to the show. The first episode of the serial is quite funny, with the Doctor’s first words being “shoes”, and getting up to all manner of crazy antics, including escaping from an ambulance by wheelchair. Although other aspects of the show were darker, such as the eerie nature of the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness, the overall feel of this serial was quite amusing.
The Autons as bad guys make for enjoyable bad guys without the heaviness of the Cybermen or the Daleks. For starters, the Autons are fairly run-of-the-mill in regards to their aim: they’re a parasitic group of living plastics which move across space consuming planets. Thus their aim is to conquer the earth, in an insidious manner. Fortunately, the Doctor, backed up by UNIT, are on the case, which makes for an enjoyable, not too heavy-going story.
The companions are also very strong in this part of the Pertwee era. Firstly, there is Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, who is a sassy scientist. Together with Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, they combine to try and figure out who the Doctor is, and how he is connected (or isn’t connected) to the strange meteorites from space. They’re strong characters, who aren’t taking any of the Doctor’s dismissive and arrogant attitudes. Although the Brigadier and Liz are still not able to exert any real control over the Doctor, they aren’t exactly his crawling inferiors either (despite his protestations to the counter). This dynamic makes for both amusing sass, and strong character development during the serial. All in all, Spearhead from Space is a great way to get started on the Third Doctor era of Doctor Who.
Spearhead from Space is obviously a great introduction to the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), as it’s his first episode. This episode is strikingly similar to the first episode of the new series, Rose, as well as elements from other episodes in the new series. There’s a new Doctor (who, not unlike the Tenth Doctor after he regenerates, spends a decent chunk of time comatose in bed), he faces the Autons (the same foes he faces in Rose) and in a change from earlier seasons, Spearhead from Space is shot in colour.
I found this episode amusing and an excellent introduction to a new Doctor – it helps that I find Jon Pertwee much more engaging than Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. I’m not sure why, but there you go. A lot of the action happens while he’s dead to the world, which gives his primary companions, the Brigadier and Liz, a bit of space to develop their personalities. Of course, the Brigadier and UNIT has already shown up in Second Doctor stories, but Liz, a scientist, has not. Annoyed that UNIT has taken her away from her actual work, and being an alien sceptic, Liz is a character that I feel that people can identify with. Of course, when the Doctor actually gets going, she goes along for the ride and accepts that he is an alien. Speaking of the Doctor, he gets some great moments – there’s a scene in which he frantically escapes his pursuers in a wheelchair which is definitely chuckle-worthy.
The Autons, while being kind of creepy, aren’t on the level of creepy that for example, the Weeping Angels are on, and aren’t as completely evil as the Daleks are, but they’re sufficiently mean enough to make a story interesting. All in all, an excellent episode and a great start to the Third Doctor’s reign.