Saturday 6 August 2011

257 Spearhead from Space: Episode Four

EPISODE: Spearhead from Space: Episode Four
TRANSMITTED: 24 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

The Doctor tries to communicate with the intelligence inside the energy unit. "General Scobie" telephones and forbids the Brigadier from attacking the plastics factory. Learning that Scobie had had a replica made at the factory, the Doctor & Liz visit Madame Tussauds to view the replicas where the Doctor finds Scobie's "model" has a working wrist watch at correct time. At the plastics factory, Channing is growing something in a vat in the workshop. While the Brigadier is out trying to get the Home Secretary's support for a raid, "Scobie" seizes the energy unit from Captain Munroe at Unit HQ. The Doctor & Liz hide in at the waxworks museum and are there when Channing and Hibbert come for the replicas. Hibbert sees them hiding, causing the Doctor to tell Hibbert that Channing is controlling his mind and that he must get away, but Channing returns for him. "Scobie" bring the energy unit to Channing which he uses to bring the creature in the VAT to life. Knowing from overhearing Channing talking that the Invasion is imminent, the Doctor & Liz labour through the night in the lab to create a weapon to use against the Autons. At dawn Auton dummys are activated, bursting out of shop windows and going on a murderous rampage. Hibbert, Channing's control weakened by the Doctor, attacks the machinery in the lab but is killed by an Auton (Liz looked at this scene and said that random whacking of bits of the metal casing is not going to break it! Why not attack the controls? Because it's a delicate prop that might be needed for a retake!) Unit raids the factory, but are stopped by "Scobie" and the regular Army. The Doctor uses his weapon on "Scobie" exposing him as an Auton replica. While the Doctor & Liz infiltrate the factory, Unit and the army engage a squad of Autons outside. The Doctor confronts Channing in the workshop and is seized by the tentacles of the creature emerging from the tank (At this point both Liz & I had a good giggle at some classic Pertwee gurning) The weapon has been damaged somehow, but Liz fixes it enabling The Doctor to kill the creature which renders the Autons & Channing, revealed to be an Auton himself, lifeless. The Doctor agrees to stay and work for Unit if they'll provide facilities to help him repair the Tardis, lab equipment and help from Liz Shaw. Doctor realising he's wearing stolen clothes says he needs some and that he liked the car, but the Brigadier insists it must be returned so Doctor asks to be bought something similar. The Brigadier says that the Doctor needs papers but he doesn't know his name. So Doctor resorts to an alias he's used before
Smith, Doctor John Smith

A cracking episode this with some decent action and set pieces. It's known for the scene where the Autons break through the shop window, filmed in Ealing Broadway using the same location as in Monty Python's buying a bed sketch, but look at the scene again carefully: You never see any glass break (Derrick Sherwin says on the DVD commentary that it was too expensive to do) but thanks to some decent sound effects and tight editing you could of sworn you did moments after watching it. I used to occasionally shop in Ealing when I lived in London, in fact I bought my first Beast Wars deluxe from the Toy Stack there, I thought for a long while it was the closest Doctor Who location to where I lived. Little did I know.... Knowing the area some of the editing amuses me. You see the Autons walking down the street, the implication being they're walking away from where they left the shop but actual they are walking towards the shop they left from. Unit, the Army and the Autons battle on the TCC Condensors location used for the battle with the Cybermen in the Invasion which raise a similarity with that Doctor Who story. There are more: both mainly are the prelude to an Invasion, both feature a factory boss working with the enemy, both have the aliens concealed and then revealed in the latter half of the story, both have a regular army liaison in the thrall of the enemy. Lop off the first episode, itself a reworking of the British sci fi film the Invasion written by Roger Marshall from an idea by Robert Holmes, and the remaining three episodes bare a distinct resemblance to the earlier story. And while we're at it, the Nestene Conciousness, the controlling intelligence behind the Autons which brings them to life: is there any similarity to The Great Intelligence, the controlling influence behind the Yeti that animates them and being them to life? Nooooo....... But the story is done so well, and Spearhead from Space is a very decent opening story for the new Doctor. It is one of my favourite Pertwee's, helped by it being one of the earliest Doctor Videos (and then DVDs) that I owned meaning I have seen it quite a few times now.

Liz made a point while watching this episode: Why does Scobie only call The Brigadier Stewart and not Lethbridge Stewart? Did someone believe that Lethbridge was the Brigadier's first name? Perhaps it was meant to be at this stage because interestingly we're yet to hear what we now know his first name to be said on screen. You'll be surprised how late on we actually find out what it is.

We mentioned earlier that episode one marks the cleanest break in Doctor Who's history so far: It's interesting that when Doctor Who started again in 2005 they returned to the concept of the Autons to relaunch the show, recycling the most famous sequence from this episode.

This is the last episode with Derrick Sherwin's name on the credits. Sherwin had stepped into the producer's role when Peter Bryant was taken ill but I believe the plan was for Bryant to resume duties on his return. In the meantime the drama Paul Temple has ran into trouble and instead of resuming his old post Bryant was parachuted in there to save the show. Finding the scripts in a terrible state he called in his old colleague Sherwin and they were both joined by Trevor Ray, an assistant Script Editor working with the Doctor Who team at the time.

Spearhead from Space was the first colour Doctor Who story to be repeated on 9 to 30 July 1971. It was remastered for a second repeat in 1999 where the intention was it would serve as the start of a grand repeat run of all the colour Doctor Who stories. Needless to say things didn't go to plan......

Spearhead from Space was one of the first Doctor Who novels to be released by Target books in 1974. Disliking the title (Why? It's great), the editor changed the name of the novel to The Auton Invasion. This title was used through first a logo change and then not one but two rejacketings. Several of the other Doctor Who books which had their names changed found themselves correctly titled for their 90s reprints but not this one and it's under this altered title that it has been reissued by BBC books. My copy was a gut from my Uncle Brian at Christmas in either 1981 or 1982. It's one of the best Doctor Who novels so treat yourself to the reissue.

Spearhead from Space was the ninth Doctor Who title and third Pertwee story released on video when it appeared as a compilation volume on 11/02/1988. An episodic volume followed on 13/02/1995. Spearhead was the third Doctor Who DVD released on 29 January 2001, based on the remastering done for it's 1999 repeat. A Special Edition re-release occurred in 2011 as part of The Mannequin Mania Box Set alongside it's sequel Terror of the Autons. Really the BBC missed a nostalgic trick by not entitling the set "The Auton Invasions"!

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