Review: Doctor Who – Spearhead From Space / Cert: PG / Director: Derek Martinus / Screenplay: Robert Holmes / Starring: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney / Release Date: Out Now
Jon Pertwee’s debut serial, first screened in January 1970, is surely one of the most popular stories in Doctor Who’s long history. It relaunched the series in style (its viewing figures of well over 8 million were a significant improvement on the falling numbers of the latter Patrick Troughton era) in full colour and with a debonair new Doctor in the shape of the flamboyant Pertwee, and as well as being repeated several times on TV it’s already been released twice on VHS and twice on DVD. It’s hardly surprising that Russell T. Davies borrowed much of its imagery – especially the eerie animated wrist-gun wielding Auton mannequins rampaging through a shopping precinct – when he relaunched the series in 2005. Spearhead From Space is the stuff of Doctor Who legend and it’s a story fondly remembered by both fans and casual viewers. It’s also the only ‘classic’ Doctor Who eligible for Blu-ray upgrade as industrial action at the BBC required the serial be shot entirely on film. The serial has already looked good on DVD but this Blu-ray transfer takes its picture quality to a whole new level to the extent that, a few contemporary quirks aside, it really looks as if it could have been made yesterday.
This is Doctor Who striding confidently out of the nursery and asserting itself as a show adults could happily watch without embarrassment. As Earth (well, Southern England) is bombarded by pulsating meteorites, the newly regenerated Doctor arrives and is quickly hospitalised before being drafted in by UNIT to help battle the alien Nestene Consciousness which is using its ability to control plastic to establish a foothold on Earth. The tone is resolutely more mature than in the black-and-white years and Pertwee is an instant hit as the new Doctor, stranded on Earth with his ability to operate the TARDIS taken from him by the Time Lords and forced to ally himself with the military might of UNIT and the trusty Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Courtney). There’s a new girl on the scene too as the series casts aside the mini-skirted screamers of its previous incarnation and teams the new Doctor with UNIT recruit Liz Shaw (John), a sceptical Cambridge scientist who, if not always able to hold her own with the Doctor in matters of science, at least had a vague idea what he was talking about. The story is lively, pacey, action-packed and suitably colourful for the new era and it establishes a successful format – the Doctor trapped on Earth battling hostile alien threats – which producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks were never hugely comfortable with but which was to serve the series well for five or six years.
If you’ve already invested in one of the previous DVD releases (particularly the Special Edition which came out a couple of years ago) you’ll want to hang onto it as none of its special features – not even the commentaries – have made the leap to Blu-ray. Here there’s just all-new stuff, an absorbing and thorough look at the life and times of Jon Pertwee with recollections from friends such as David Jacobs and Geoffrey Bayldon and an affectionate and personal tribute to the late and underrated Caroline John being the most worthwhile.
Spearhead From Space remains one of the most irresistible classic Doctor Who serials, as fresh and exciting in 2013 as it was when it was first screened forty-three years ago, and it’s hard to imagine how it could ever look or sound better than it does on this lovingly crafted Blu-ray. Just buy it.
Extras: A Dandy and a Clown / Carry On – The life of Caroline John / Title Sequence Raw Footage / Restoration Comparison / Coming Soon Trailer