Spearhead From SpaceBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Scott Moore

Spearhead from Space' is an enjoyable and stylish start to the Pertwee era. The story not only successfully introduces the main character traits of the new Doctor, but also makes a clean break from the 1960s era of the television programme. Fine performances from most of the cast, excellent directing, the extensive location filming, a good script, and numerous touches of humour combine to create an entertaining and not-entirely-unconvincing story despite the B-movie plot it partly shares with the 1966 film 'Invasion'.

Whereas much of 1960s Doctor Who feels like televised theatre (or, at its worst, pantomime), 'Spearhead from Space' is a more of a movie on the small screen. The serial clearly benefits from being recorded on film with a considerable amount of shooting on location. But it also has a faster pace than earlier Doctor Who and more creative camera work.

Jon Pertwee does a good job of portraying his new character despite having relatively little dialogue in the first half of the story. His Doctor is clearly more action-oriented even than his immediate predecessor, still eccentric but softened by a debonair charm. The only fault I can find with Pertwee's performance is that he occasionally resorts to clownish grimaces – witness his facial expressions when shot at the end of episode one, or when attacked by the tentacles in episode four. Nicholas Courtney also puts in a convincing turn as the Brigadier, who although clearly a man-in-charge can be diplomatic and is open to suggestions. Of the regular cast, only Caroline John fails to convince in her role but this is partly the fault of the script, which fails to supply dialogue that portrays her as the experienced and well-qualified scientist she is meant to be. Because she is a woman she is soon shoe-horned into the role of pretty, young assistant for the much older Doctor. Still, her initial air of arrogance and clear displeasure at the Brigadier's sexist comments marks her as a more mature and realistic character than most of the previous female companions.

The supporting characters are generally well-served both by the script and the actors. Hugh Burden is excellent in his portrayal of an outwardly human character with a disturbing and somewhat chilling mien. Anthony Webb supplies a convincing Dr. Henderson, while John Breslin manages to rise above the usual stereotypes for his second-in-command Captain Munro. Both John Woodnut and Derek Smee are also fairly successful at avoiding typical B-movie characterisation, despite one or two lapses. Unfortunately, the characters of Sam Seeley and his wife Meg seem to have been left over from an early script for 'Invasion' (presumably) supplied to Hammer films

The locations are generally used to good effect by the director. The plastics factory is entirely plausible and even the BBC building is passable as UNIT headquarters. I wasn't convinced, though, by the hospital interior, which with its surfeit of wood panelling looks more like a country hotel. On the other hand, the special effects and some of the design work is rather poor. Applying paint to the faces of the actors portraying certain of the autons works surprisingly well, but the plastic faces of the others are a little too crude and the eye holes are inexplicable (except, of course, to enable the actors to see where they are going). Furthermore, when Channing orders, ''total destruction'' I expected something more spectacular to happen to the victims of the autons' weapons than simply to disappear between frames. Still, the scene where the shop-dummy autons awaken and attack the terrified inhabitants of London is handled well enough to instil some suspense to the proceedings. The shot of the Nestene pods descending to earth is mercifully brief, but alas those green, rubber tentacles are allowed to writhe around for far too long. Given the fact that they are totally unnecessary to the plot, and Jon Pertwee's accompanying facial expression is so ludicrous, they take the prize for comic low-budget production moment of the story.