Things I Auton Know
Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space
BBC Region 2
Spearhead From Space is a little landmark of a Doctor Who story because it represents a lot of nice little facts that The Doctor’s audience of obsessive statisticians can collate and attempt to talk about interestingly at parties... and for statisticians I probably mean nerds.
1. Spearhead From Space is the very first Doctor Who story to star Jon Pertwee as The Doctor.
2. Spearhead From Space is the first ever Doctor Who story to be shot and broadcast in colour.
3. Spearhead From Space is the first story to feature the alien villain The Nestene Consciousness and their harbingers of death, the plastic Autons!
4. The Autons and the Nestene Intelligence were the first villains to be featured when Russell T. Davies rebooted the show in his first episode, Rose, and have been in stories featuring the following incarnations of the Doctor... Jon Pertwee, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith. Indeed, they have become so embedded in recent years, since their initial two stories in the Pertwee era, that even the current companion Rory was turned into an Auton at one point and killed companion Amy Pond with the signature wrist opening “hand-gun” that is their primary attack when in their mannequin form.
The more interesting fact for me personally, though, is that it is also the earliest Doctor Who memory I have stuck in my head. That sequence where the shop window dummies come to life and start randomly killing people is lodged in my brain as a carry over from my 2 year old self. And I can guarantee you that when I saw it, I was watching it in black and white (there was no way we could afford a colour TV set in those days).
Revisiting it now as part of a DVD boxed set I got for Christmas, was something I was worried might be a bit of a let down after all these years. I’d recently rewatched a classic Pertwee era story The Claws Of Axos (reviewed here) and, though it was pretty good, I’d felt just a little less entertained than I’d been hoping for. This one though, I’m happy to report, is just brilliant and I was thoroughly enjoying the comedy element to the story which gave things a bit of a lift (perhaps a hangover from Troughton?) and I even managed to get through Jon Pertwee’s naked shower scene where he shows his tattoos without being too worried about where things were going.
The story is beyond simple and I won’t go into it really here... because the main story is actually secondary in some ways as to what this set of episodes needed to do. The shows makers had to set up a new Doctor, which they manage to do quite successfully by bringing back an old character from the Patrick Troughton days, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by the irreplaceable Nicholas Courtney) and his United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (think alien-busters). Asides from The Brigadier, they also had to set up a new regular assistant for The Doctor, Liz Shaw (as played by Caroline John), who didn’t last very long as it happened... and they furthermore had to set up the concept that The Doctor had been robbed by the time lords of his ability to pilot the TARDIS and exiled to earth so the stories could all be made on a more manageable budget by the BBC.
This is, you have to admit, a pretty tall order to do, plus keep the momentum going on a “replace humans with evil plastic clones of death” story, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it’s a testament once again to those good old Doctor Who writers and directors that the story is nothing but thoroughly entertaining right from the word go. There’s always something sinister about seeing things that are supposed to be inanimate objects suddenly dancing to life and terrorising people that really gets under people’s skins and the fact that the Doctor Who writers of today are still using these creations who first appeared here, over 40 years ago, really says it all about the staying power of some of the top monsters in the Doctor Who canon.
If you’ve never seen a Jon Pertwee story before, and he was The Doctor who I grew up with, then Spearhead From Space is definitely a good show to jump on with. It’s entertaining and witty, slightly sexist but only so that sexism can be challenged by a strong(ish) new female companion and it has an iconic monster in it. All good stuff and the DVD is well worth picking up if you, or your children, are in the mood for a little of the “classic old days” of Doctor Who.