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Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space (DVD)
Member Name: marlowe
Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space (DVD)
Date: 13/02/09, updated on 14/02/09 (52 review reads)
Advantages: Interesting story, good concept.
Disadvantages: Memorable for a few scenes with the Autons, not so much for the rest of the story.
"Spearhead from Space" not only marked the beginning of the Third Doctor's era, but also saw the programme being moved into a new dimension, in which, for much of it, there would be little time travel or space exploration. However - as this initial story was to reveal - that would only mean that the aliens and monsters would simply come to the Doctor. Forced to regenerate and deliberately stranded on Earth by the other Time Lords at the end of "War Games", this next plot sees the Doctor almost immediately caught up in a battle to prevent Earth from being overtaken by a race named the Nestenes, a group which is able to assimilate plastic to make terrifying mannequins named autons. After a traumatic reincarnation, which sees him weak an unconscious for long periods, it appears doubtful that the Time Lord will be able to do much for quite some time. Yet an extraordinary coincidence (or perhaps it was deliberately planned by the other Time Lords) sees the TARDIS landing near an old friend. Alliances are quickly re-established, new ones forged and the Doctor, Brigadier Alaistair Lethbridge Stewart, his new assistant Liz Shaw and UNIT are soon working together again.
As has been stated before, these episodes marked the commencement of a change in dynamics for the programme and, whilst I consider this to have been a mistake - (the TARDIS being such an integral part of the show) there were times when setting events on earth worked very well and this is one of them. By bringing the monsters closer to the viewer's relevance, by creating the impression that the creatures were not safely on some far off planet, but might actually be in the same town, helped to increase thesense of fear and anticipation. Too many episodes set in one place and time becomes repetitive, but there is nothing wrong with a few and "Spearhead from Space" adequately set the pace for some good narratives. The Autons, controlled by the Nestene, are especially chilling, the concept that something familiar, seemingly harmless and prevalent all around us could be dangerous is almost certain to terrify and to remain in the viewer's consciousness. We have only to look at the acclaim of "Blink", which used a similar premise, to be aware of this. With the Autons/Nestenes this fear is particularly well demonstrated by the scenes of people running away from them, which focus on individual aspects, such as the feet, or the hands of the Autons holding the guns. In appearance the Autons appear almost bland, the plastic ensuring their faces are devoid of emotion. Yet, i na way, this makes them all the more chilling.
The character of the Third Doctor is quite quickly established, though there times at the beginning when it appeared that the role was played too close to that of the Second Doctor. It may well be that this was intentional and was to indicate that the regeneration process was still not fully complete. Regardless of that the portrayal of this incarnation as being a Time Lord of Action and quick thinking is firmly established in this narrative, the scene with him escaping in the wheelchair being one example. The Venusian Akido was yet to make an appearance, but the concept of the Doctor being prepared to use almost any means necessary in order to achieve his goals is clearly indicated. He thinks, for example, nothing of stealing a car in order to escape from the hospital. We can not call him completely co-operative at this stage, indeed it would be erroneous to say the Doctor has ever acquiesed completely, and his attempt to leave in the TARDIS reveal this, but when it is evident that there is peril the Doctor shows his customary heroism and helps to prevent it.
Liz Shaw's role was established at a time in which many women were calling for them to be treated and viewed in an equal manner to men, including in a work environment. She is a university graduate employed in a scientific capacity, a role which was, at the time, very strongly seen as a male environment. References to her appearances are made by other characters, yet as Lethbridge Stewart adamantly states, "she's not just a pretty face". Liz's appearance in the show was to indicate to young girls watching the show that this was a career option for them (tackling alien invasions notwithstanding) and to show to the boys watching that a woman working in this field was not unheard of. It is a pity, in my opinion, that she was to be later replaced by Jo Grant, as Shaw set the change for female companions in terms of how she worked with the Doctor.
"Spearhead from Space" can be considered to be two separate stories intertwined with each other. The most obvious one, of course, is the threat of the Nestenes and their policy of "total destruction" and this is established very early on. However, it is also impossible not to consider the changes wrought upon the Doctor, not just on his physical appearance, but also on his entire lifestyle and experiences and the re-establishment of his working and friendly relationship with Lethbridge Stewart and the rest of UNIT. We have to consider the possibility that Lethbridge Stewart always understands, on some level at least, that this is the Doctor, despite the alterations in appearance, since he is so readily prepared to let the Doctor have access to UNIT offices and equipment. Regardless of this the Time Lord rapidly ensures he can be trusted to think and plan effectively and thus once more becomes a valuable ally to the Lieutenant and his men.
However, whilst it was necessary to set up the scenario which would see the Doctor working with UNIT and to allow us to gradually become used to the new Time Lord, there are times when the scenes with the Doctor in the hospital or in the laboratory in UNIT offices appears to be almost unnecessary. A great deal of time, too much time in fact, is given over to the Doctor's long periods of unconsciousness and the amazement of the medical staff as they observe his physiological makeup. These scenes seem almost tedious at times and are not particularly memorable. Greater concentration on the Nestene threat would, in my opinion, have been more effective.
In conclusion "Spearhead from Space", though failing to be particularly strong, nevertheless is an agreeable narrative with which to commence the span of the Third Doctor. Whilst it is apparent that many of the roles needed time to expand, the dynamics are already being founded and we are quickly cast into an adventure which was to set the scene for a great deal of the Doctor over the next few years.
Summary: Watch it to see the start of the Third Doctor.