Doctor Who Story #051 – Spearhead from Space part 1

Story written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Derek Martinus

Introductions (Source: Screen capture from Spearhead from Space DVD. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.)

Typically, I have tried to review stories in their entirety (especially once the individual episode titles were dropped from Doctor Who’s format). With this serial, however, it seems more conducive to break things up a bit. Part one is doing quite a few things and it can be a bit jarring.

In recent months I have been watching a lot of modern television: Fringe, Once Upon a Time, Community, to name a few. Jumping back into a 1970s style was initially difficult. This is particularly ironic since Spearhead from Space was quite a step up in production quality for Doctor Who. The show is now in color! The difficulty, for me, was the pace and editing. With the former, serialized stories unfold slower. With the latter, the jump from one scene to another could be jarring. In the decades that have passed, television editors have found effective ways to signal transitions: a shocking line of dialogue, a slow zoom as a character realizes something, a lingering shot that allows the action to wind down. In this era of Doctor Who, these transitions often don’t exist. It can feel clumsy to the modern viewer, which is a shame because Spearhead is a great production.

Spearhead part 1 is essentially a Doctor-lite story. In fact, it could almost be the pilot of a spin-off series based on the adventures of UNIT. Because of this feel, Doctor Who has taken on a different feel at the beginning of this season. It is hard to get a good read on The Doctor since he spends most of his time in a hospital bed. No, this episode belongs to The Brigadier and Liz Shaw. I enjoy both of these characters. We know The Brigadier from The Invasion and Web of Fear, and it is refreshing to see him again. It is odd to think that he is the character that has to sell the audience on The Doctor. Liz Shaw is interesting as a skeptic; she is a sarcastic, antagonistic character, very much a Scully type. Or is Scully a Liz Shaw type?

So with the bulk of the material given to UNIT and some mysterious meteors, we will have to wait for part 2 for a good look at the new Doctor.

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One thought on “Doctor Who Story #051 – Spearhead from Space part 1

  1. The simple fact is, for technical reasons this serial had to be shot entirely on location, and therefore had to be shot entirely on film. Their is no studio footage, no videotape. Hence the film editor had sole control of the editing, and was able to make effective use of standard motion picture techniques for fast cutting, to give a fast-paced structure to this serial.

    This was unique to this serial. At no other point in its 26 years in production was the show ever shot entirely on film.

    But the audience witnesses the arrival of the TARDIS at the beginning of Episode 1, so although the Brigadier may be carrying the story, he is not ‘selling’ the audience on the truth of this man in the hospital bed being the Doctor. They have already seen him step from the TARDIS. They know Who he is!

    It’s the Brigadier who’s saying, ‘I’ve never seen him before’. It’s the Brigadier who is doubting his identity; not the audience.

    This is quite a clever ploy, because the audience knows the Brigadier, who was in two Troughton serials, and the scriptwriter is allowing the audience to share the Brig’s surprise at seeing this unknown face in the hospital bed, who is a stranger to the audience as much as to the Brigadier; yet at the same time the scriptwriter is letting the audience know that this is truly the Doctor, because of the TARDIS’s landing scene.

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