Wednesday 3 August 2011

254 Spearhead from Space: Episode One

EPISODE: Spearhead from Space: Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 03 January 1970
WRITER: Robert Holmes
DIRECTOR: Derek Martinus
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Derrick Sherwin
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania Box Set - Spearhead from Space / Terror of the Autons
Episode Format: 16mm colour film

And off we go again. A brand new era for Doctor Who in more was than one. And we'll start by doing something I've not been able to do before:

During a meteor shower the Tardis materialises in Oxley Woods, the Doctor falling out the door unconscious. Local poacher Sam Seeley finds a meteorite and conceals it, returning for it later. The Doctor is taken to the nearby hospital where questions about his biology puzzle the Doctors leading an orderly to ring the local newspapers to say they have an alien at the hospital. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT arrives with his newly forcibly recruited scientific advisor, Liz Shaw from Cambridge, and they fight their way in through the press. However reaching the Doctor's bedside he doesn't recognise his old friend and leaves. The reporters waiting for the Brigadier find the phone cubical occupied by a man who leaves in a hurry when they disturb him. The Doctor is kidnapped from the hospital by beings dressed as hospital staff, but escapes from them making for the Tardis where he is accidentally shot by UNIT troops guarding it.

That summary was mainly written before I'd watched the episode for this blog! I checked it afterwards and the only detail I had to add was the poacher. OK maybe it helped that I'd seen it relatively recently when Mannequin Mania came out, but even then it was so familiar to me. Even without my wife's prejudice against black and white stories it's the colour ones and especially the Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker stories that I watch most often for pleasure. This story was an early video purchase too, and an early DVD release so I've seen it quite a few times over the years. It's the coldest start and fullest reboot that the series gets during it's run: we get a new Doctor who we've not seen before who spends most of the episode unconscious or gagged, a new companion and new foes. There's no Tardis interior to make us feel at home just the Brigadier who previously appeared in eleven episodes over a year previously. So writer Robert Holmes, creating his third story in the last five and cementing his reputation as one of Terrance Dicks' go to men, raids his own back catalogue to provide the backbone for this episode, a large amount of which resembles the plot of the 1960s low budget British sci fi film the Invasion: Aliens found in a wood are taken to a local hospital. The film script was written by Roger Marshall but it's from a storyline by Robert Holmes. If you can't steal from yourself who can you steal from? It's interesting that the threat in this story, the Autons, almost take a back seat in this episode until they, for reasons unrevealed, attempt to kidnap the Doctor. In every respect the new Doctor's arrival on Earth and the organisation he'll find himself in is put front and centre.

Because this is the first colour episode I've got my wife Liz with me who much prefers the colour episodes to black and white. She'll be here for the whole story (No, I'm not trying to emulate the superb Adventures With My Wife In Space. Her eye was caught by Sam Seeley doing "Gurning yokel number 1" but thought that anyone of his age would automatically think the meteorites were a bomb and wouldn't sling it over their back in a bag! She thought Liz's coat was *VERY* silly and described it as a plastic jumbo crocodile skin! We both cracked up at Pertwee's acting when kidnapped and in the wheelchair: she described the "Doctor escaping in the wheelchair" as more Some Mothers Do Have Em than Doctor Who!

Lots of firsts for this episode of Doctor Who. There's a big one actually in the story: this is the first episode which explicitly says that the Doctor has two hearts. From a technical point of view, it's the first story shot in colour, it's the first story to feature the new title sequence with the new Doctor's face, the first story to have an end title sequence with static captions over graphics and the "sting" ending to the end theme music instead of just fading away, it's the first story shot 100% on 16mm film and it's the first whole story to survive in it's original transmission format. From the acting point of view this story is the point that Nicholas Courtney joins the cast full time as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. More importantly there's two big débuts here: A new Doctor and a new companion.

Jon Pertwee (b 7 July 1919) came from an acting and performing family. His father was a playwright and his cousin, Bill Pertwee, is familiar to television audiences as Air Raid Warden Hodges in Dad's Army. His Godfather was actor Henry Ainley, the father of future Doctor Who villain Anthony Ainley! Pertwee's first wife was the actress Jean Marsh, who already has two Doctor Who credits to her name. Pertwee had made a name for himself as a comedy actor & performer on stage, television and radio. He was at this point appearing in the radio show |The Navy Lark when his friend and co-star Tenniel Evans pointed out to him that the BBC were looking for a new Doctor Who. Pertwee's agent rang the BBC on his behalf and was pleased to find his client's name near the top of their shortlist. Other actors considered were Ron Moody, famous for playing Fagin in the 1968 film Oliver! and Stratford Johns, another future Doctor Who villain, who was at this point appearing in Z-Cars. Pertwee's casting was announced with a press call featuring a Yeti which gave rise to the "Yeti on a loo in Tooting Bec" line that the actor would use to illustrate how having monsters in a familiar setting was scary.

Caroline John had mainly worked on the stage when she was cast as Liz Shaw, initially due to a publicity photo of her that caught the attention of producers Peter Bryant & Derrick Sherwin which caused them to call her for interview. She's married to Geoffrey Beevers who, once again, will appear as a future Doctor Who villain.

There's a couple of familiar faces making minor appearances in this episode. Mullins, the porter that rings the newspaper, is played by Welsh actor Talfryn Thomas. He'll be back as Dave in The Green Death, which features every Welsh sounding actor living within 20 miles of Shepherd's Bush. On Who début as one of the reporters at the hospital is Prentis Hancock, who'll find fame as Paul Morrow in Space 1999. He makes three return appearances to Doctor Who as Vaber in Planet of the Daleks, Salamar in Planet of Evil and the Shrieve Captain in The Ribos Operation.

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