Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space Blu-ray review

An oft-released Doctor Who adventure gets a high-definition reissue. Spearhead From Space is well worth picking up, Andrew writes...

Spearhead From Space has been released several times (twice on VHS, four times on DVD, and it’s on iTunes). Due to it being entirely on film as opposed to video (industrial action meaning it had to be filmed largely on location, where film would be used instead), it is the only story from the original run of Doctor Who that can be released on Blu-ray without upconversion, and so here we are.

I was unable to get a copy of the omnibus edition I rented from a video shop in Hereford in 1994 for comparison, but certainly the picture quality here is as crisp as Quentin or Quavers. Blemish free, it’s never looked better, and it’s always looked good. Derek Martinus and his camera and editing crew throw in flourishes throughout, having fun in roomy locations with high angles and handheld cameras. Martinus is underrated as a director, probably because much of his work on Doctor Who hasn’t been seen since its original broadcast (he directed The Tenth Planet, Evil Of The Daleks and The Ice Warriors among others, and Spearhead was his final work on the show).

High definition serves to enhance rather than detract from the production, making clearer the sweat on actors’ brows during heat waves, and the sheen on facsimile versions of characters. Kudos to everyone involved in the 1969 production that it still stands up today under increased resolution.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s the first Third Doctor adventure, and the first to be recorded in colour. Writer and legend Robert Holmes recycled an idea he had for the 1965 film Invasion, and there are also similarities to Quatermass II. A meteor shower coincides with the Third Doctor’s arrival, and some strange goings on at a plastics factory. UNIT and a recently drafted Liz Shaw are on hand to investigate.

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In some ways it’s a shame that an omnibus cut isn’t provided, because Spearhead From Space is almost deserving of feature-length status. Its final episode does, sadly, involve rubber tentacles and  mugging, and a credulity-stretching exhibition of top civil servants at Madame Tussauds, but otherwise this is as solid and entertaining a rejuvenation as The Eleventh Hour.

With the Doctor bed-bound and erratic for the first third (slurring ‘Unhand me madam’ at nurses, singing in the shower and stealing the same things as the Terminator would 14 years later) we get to know the Brigadier and new companion Liz Shaw. In one four-part adventure Holmes and script editor Terrance Dicks establish a new Doctor, a new format and supporting cast, and the memorable introduction of the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness.

Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John initially carry the show without the Doctor, and a dynamic is immediately established; her sarcasm and rational scepticism, his good-natured military pragmatism worn thin by scientific types coming in and being difficult. When the Doctor does turn up, he immediately sides with Liz and takes great delight in winding the Brigadier up. Pertwee’s early portrayal of the Doctor is more childlike than he would become later: he’s not yet fully formed, but more mercurial and flippant, and yet to become the stern authoritative figure of later years.

While aspects of the story fall flat in the final episode, it’s still packed with memorable images: Nestene avatar Channing’s unwavering stare, the Autons attacking early-morning commuters, and their ‘Total Destruct’ function, which obliterates its victims and completely terrified me in 1994.

In 2013, why not use this Blu-ray to scare the bejeezus out of an eight-year-old that you know? In high definition, no less.


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For those of you who don’t especially care about picture quality, or have already bought Spearhead From Space six times and can hum the excellent Dudley Simpson score from memory, there are new bonus features to tempt you.

A Dandy And A Clown is a documentary about Jon Pertwee. Roughly 40 minutes in length, this features clips and photos that will likely be unknown to many (although some are recognisable from various Who-related non-fiction, like old friends). There are cine film and photos that come from friends and family.

It doesn’t cover everything in detail, but it’s thorough enough that Doctor Who doesn’t crop up until halfway through. Pertwee (his name occasionally pronounced ‘Per-twee’ rather than ‘Pert-wee’ in clips) lived such a life as to make it impossible to focus on Doctor Who for long. For those of us born after Worzel Gummidge, this documentary provides a glimpse of the colossal impact the man had on the entertainment industry over the years.

Especially when coupled with the recently published interviews in Doctor Who Magazine, A Dandy And A Clown gives us an impressive insight into the actor’s life.

Carry On is similarly impressive, a 28-minute tribute to Caroline John. Here, family and friends contribute, including her daughter and husband Geoffrey Beevers (the Master in The Keeper Of Traken and Big Finish audio adventures). Because of this it’s even more personal, with warm recollections of schools, religion, romance and family meals. It turns out that Geoffrey Beevers, as a young man, looked like Jonny Lee Miller. We also learn that the young Ian McKellen looked surprisingly like Mark Lamarr. My favourite aspect of this is Sebastien John talking about the sheer brilliance of having your big sister be in Doctor Who.

There’s a lot of affection contained here, in less than half an hour. The whole thing is definitively lovely.

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A short feature on the process of restoring the film for high definition highlights the improved quality but doesn’t include much in the way of technical detail.

Also included are a Coming Soon trailer and raw test footage from 1969 of the first Third Doctor title sequence. Silent and monochrome, it looks as if Jon Pertwee is about to unleash doom on you from your television, Sadako-style. It goes on for 22 minutes, and the Howlround effect produces some nightmarish images.

Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space is out on Blu-ray now.

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4 out of 5