Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Doctor Who: Twelve for Twelve – Spearhead From Space Review (Third Doctor)

“What are you a doctor of, by the way?”
“Practically everything, my dear.”
Doctor Who entered a brand new era with Spearhead from Space, transmitted between 3-24 January, 1970. The BBC had a new Doctor on their hands with Jon Pertwee, a new companion (Caroline John’s Liz Shaw), and a new format for the popular programme: colour! Spearhead from Space was the first Doctor Who serial to be broadcast in colour, introducing an entirely new look to the show.

At least one familiar element has been preserved to ground the audience—UNIT. The newly-exiled-and-regenerated Doctor lands conveniently close to UNIT HQ, where the Brigadier is investigating reports of strange meteorites which have landed in the countryside. The Doctor collapses, and is found and taken to the local hospital, where his alien anatomy confuses the staff. This is the first serial where the Doctor is revealed to have two hearts. Meanwhile, the Brigadier is trying to convince Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw to join UNIT. Liz is a sharp young scientist, skeptical of everything the Brigadier tells her of alien life and the unexplained.

“Shoes. Must find my shoes.” 
In a humorous sequence near the end of this first episode, the Doctor insists on having his shoes, hugging them tightly to his chest. When the doctor and nurse have gone, he retrieves the TARDIS key from its impractical hiding place in one of the shoes. When the Autons attempt to kidnap him, he makes his escape in a hospital wheelchair!

If the first episode is a relatively quiet introduction to a new Doctor, the second episode is more of the classic Doctor Who style horror we’re used to! It opens with a plastics factory, producing thousands of dolls. We gradually learn that this is the base of operations for the Nestenes, a race of living plastic who have been creating more living plastic creatures to do their bidding, but the nonliving dolls are horrifying enough! Complete with creepy score by Dudley Simpson, episode 2 still makes me shiver. The Autons (who will return in Terror of the Autons and Rose) are all part of a collective consciousness, an intelligence, found in the glowing meteorites which have been landing.

The Doctor takes matters into his own hands, “borrowing” some new clothes from the hospital and a red car he takes a fancy to. Back at UNIT HQ, he tries to convince the Brigadier that he is the same man he met twice before, with a new face. He displays the flexibility of that new face in his knowledge of the facial language of the planet Delphon.

“Could be quite useful on the planet Delphon, where they communicate with their eyebrows.” 
The Brigadier eventually accepts that he is the Doctor, and he and Liz try to help him uncover the mystery of the meteorites. Liz takes to the Doctor quickly, and even helps him steal the TARDIS key back from the Brigadier when he confiscates it! The Doctor tries to explain the TARDIS, saying it is “dimensionally transcendental” (try saying that five times fast).

The Nestene begin the next phase of their plan, setting the Autons loose on civilians to kill. They have been collecting energy from the meteor shards and using it to create the Autons at the plastics factory. To gain control over UNIT, the Nestene kidnap General Scobie, the Brigadier’s superior, and make an exact copy of him. This is the new part of their plan: to create more realistic copies to take over the world! The mannequin-like Autons are only the foot soldiers.

“All energy is a form of life.” 
The replica Scobie waltzes into UNIT and steals the globe the Doctor and Liz have been investigating, while the real Scobie has been placed in Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. The Doctor senses something is wrong and he and Liz hide in the museum until after dark to investigate. In a truly creepy scene, all the facsimiles activate and try to attack them. They later learn that, true to Doctor Who monster form, the Nestenes’ planet is no longer habitable, and they plan to colonize Earth. But the Doctor has a plan: he builds an anti-Auton weapon and, with Liz’s help, infiltrates the factory, deactivating Autons as they go.

The penultimate scene in Spearhead from Space shows just how much the show was putting forth a new image. The anti-Auton weapon breaks down, and the tentacled Nestene monster inside a vat wraps itself around the Doctor, immobilizing him. Liz is forced to fix the machine herself, saving the Doctor and destroying the Nestene! The Autons all deactivate, their leader dead. Liz Shaw is most definitely not the screaming damsel in distress viewers were used to in the first six seasons of the show.

In the end, the Doctor officially becomes UNIT’s scientific advisor, stuck on Earth for the foreseeable future, thanks to the Time Lords, who have changed his dematerialization code. He requests a car similar to the one he borrowed from the hospital, which will become the Doctor’s trusty car Bessie. The Brigadier asks the Doctor his name, since they will be working together now. The Doctor grins cheekily and says,

“Smith. Doctor John Smith.”
This is one of my favorite serials to date, introducing a beloved Doctor of the time who was quickly overshadowed when Tom Baker came to the role. Whether because of his roguish charm or Venusian aikido, Jon Pertwee quickly became my favorite of the Classic Doctors, and no small part of that is due to the creepy alien conspiracy that is “Spearhead from Space.”

My review: 4/5 stars.

Though not much is known yet about the Twelfth Doctor, many believe he will be quite similar to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. A slightly more serious, darker Doctor (at least compared to his predecessor!), and not afraid to fight when the situation calls for it. I believe they will have their similarities, but personality-wise, I think they will differ quite a lot. I think the Twelfth Doctor will be more abrasive, less gentlemanly and attuned to people’s feelings. Which is strange if you consider that he wasn’t the one exiled and forced to regenerate by his people!

Tomorrow: The Brigadier’s world gets turned upside down again – the Doctor has just regenerated in Robot, reviewed by TGT writer Rachel Sadowski!

[Photo cred for "Shoes" due to gedankedank]