In case of nuclear war, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants to be in the bunker full of classic BBC radio.
"That's not me at all. No wonder you don't recognize me."—The Doctor
During the Cold War, neither Soviets nor Daleks laid waste to Britain with atom bombs. However, Wood Norton Hall, the facility that held the BBC's secret emergency bunker, did get pressed into use for an emergency. It seems that a strike forced the production of "Spearhead from Space," Jon Pertwee's (Carry On Cowboy) first Doctor Who, out of the studio and Wood Norton Hall made a handy location.
Commentaries and info text provide a lot of details on the impromptu location shooting and the BBC's plans to keep going—with a stash of taped radio shows—in case of nuclear war. No word on whether The Navy Lark, Jon Pertwee's pre-Doctor Who sitcom, was in the bunker, though. Nor, for that matter, do they mention whether there's a bunker today.
Everyone in the commentaries—Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John, producer Derrick Sherwin, and script editor Terrence Dicks—agrees that the emergency got Pertwee off to a good start. That's even taking into consideration the Autons got into the nuclear bunker, and maybe made off with The Navy Lark.
Anyway, Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) finds the Doctor landing a job with UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force, on the off chance you didn't know) after an unceremonious landing on Earth.
Facts of the Case
As the Doctor collapses in one rural field, something lands with a bang in another rural field. Meanwhile, Liz Shaw (Caroline John, Wish Me Luck) arrives at UNIT and meets Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney, French Fields) for the first time. The Doctor's taken to hospital, where they find he has two hearts. The Brigadier soon arrives to investigate the strange patient. Naturally, some Autons turn up to attempt a forced discharge and clumsily reveal their presence on Earth.
If you're familiar with Doctor Who history, you know that "Spearhead from Space" brought the Doctor into the world of colour television, to use the British spelling. As mentioned, "Spearhead" was all done on location. Terrence Dicks complains about some "limp plastic tentacles" at one point, but you'll hardly notice them. The Autons are villains who don't need too many spectacular effects; combine that with real locations and shooting with film rather than video, and everything looks really good. I rather think Robert Holmes was pulling viewers' legs at least a bit with wax dummies and store mannequins coming to life and wreaking havoc, but the story is moodier and scarier than "Terror of the Autons" in the following season.
You might not quite recognize "Spearhead" as Doctor Who, though. With spy-fi music, an Earth setting, and Jon Pertwee keeping the eccentricities to just a touch of comic relief, viewers might have thought they were watching one of the new ITC adventures, especially with stuff like the pointless kidnapping of The Doctor to force an action scene. Both the trivia track and commentaries make mention of other shows this serial evokes: Quatermass, The Avengers, and The X-Files. Pertwee's decision to keep his comic bits to a minimum, oft mentioned in commentaries, furthers the feeling that he's playing The Doctor as more of a general action hero than an ancient alien eccentric.
Even if it's not the typical space adventure, "Spearhead" brought in a lot of details about our hero, such as the two hearts, and a scene that got a reworking in Matt Smith's debut (which I won't spoil, but you can learn about from the trivia track).
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, with a Dolby 2.0 Mono mix, and English SDH subtitles for the hard of hearing and those who need a little help with the British dialects.
In terms of bonus features on this "Special Edition" (beyond what I've already mentioned), we get two audio commentaries featuring anecdotes and reflections, taking more a conversational tone than some of the large group gatherings on other Doctor Who DVDs. Nicholas Courtney, chatting with Caroline John, speculates on what might have happened to the Brigadier's marriage. Derrick Sherwin and Terrence Dicks recall how "desperately nervous" Jon Pertwee was about playing a hero and look back at how many ex-actors they worked with behind-the-scenes at the BBC, including Doctor Who hands Peter Bryant and Barry Letts.
We also get a handful of featurettes. "Regeneration: From Black and White to Colour" looks at changes forced by the upgrade, including a colorized title sequence. "Down to Earth: Filming Spearhead from Space" features a vintage interview with Pertwee, who talks about the show's up-and-down ratings, and offers production details from the serial. Rounding out the package is a photo gallery, trailers from reruns of Doctor Who on BBC Two, and a tongue-in-cheek "UNIT Recruitment Film." I also found the Easter Egg: a vintage colour intro.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The trivia track points out Jon Pertwee's tattoo in one scene. How come the other Doctors don't have a tattoo in the same place? If Steven Moffat is still looking into The Doctor's name, how about the story of the tattoo?
This could be Jon Pertwee's best adventure and one that offers up a lot of details about the character for true Whovians. Fans of the new series should put Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) on their shortlist.
Not Guilty. Put it the nuclear bunker.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.