Doctor Who episode 254: Spearhead from Space – Episode 1 (3/1/1970)

New Doctor, new decade. Our first glimpse of the new lead is in the title sequence which pops in vivid reds and greens for anyone who had a colour TV, but for the majority of the audience still viewing in black & white is reassuringly familiar howlround patterns.

For those tuning in after a six-month gap to see the resolution of The War Games‘ cliffhanger ending, there are a few little nods to continuity. Pertwee stumbles out of the TARDIS wearing Troughton’s battered costume with exactly the same torn knee and ripped right pocket it had during the previous serial (fan theory aside, there’s no space for a hidden incarnation or a Season 6B). And the episode opens in exactly the way the Time Lords set up during the Doctor’s trial: the Earth, a lonely blue planet in space threatened by the arrival of an alien invasion.

But what’s really surprising is how little of the new Doctor we see. The Power of the Daleks 1 focused almost entirely on Ben and Polly’s reaction to Troughton. This, by contrast, keeps Pertwee off the screen for most of the time. We see his wriggling toes and the back of his head, but no full-face shots until the Brigadier arrives at the hospital. He gets a handful of lines of dialogue, which sound like they were written for Troughton’s Doctor; the first of many chase scenes (and the quirkiest) as he escapes in a wheelchair, and that’s it. Possibly lessons were learned from the amount of adjustments to the second Doctor’s characterisation and performance across his first dozen episodes by giving Pertwee more space to work out how he wants to play the new Doctor. Possibly it reflects Robert Holmes’ uncertainty, or a deliberate approach to keep the audience guessing and interested. 

Spearhead1

What it does do is allow space for Holmes to (re-) introduce the other regulars: Nicholas Courtney’s characterisation is essentially the same as The Invasion. Caroline John therefore gets to be the sceptic, mocking the idea of alien invasions and treating the Brigadier’s entire pitch to her as a ploy to get her involved in ‘security work’. It’s interesting – given that by the end of this season the Brigadier will be the one who needs convincing and Liz will be firmly in the Doctor’s camp – that it begins with the Brigadier trying to persuade Liz to believe in the unbelievable. 

For anyone watching this at the time, the presence of UNIT and the Brigadier, the arrival of the TARDIS, the swirling title sequence and music are all familiar links to the past, and considering most viewed it in black & white the novelty is probably overstated. Where it looks most different from previous Doctor Who stories is the all-on-film production, which would have been apparent even on a B&W TV. The handheld shot of the Brigadier and Liz arriving at the hospital to battle their way through a throng of reporters gives this a feel of reportage unlike nearly anything in the previous six years. But the absence of Troughton and Hines was probably the thing most people noticed – and so far, it’s not entirely clear what’s going to replace that.

Next episode: Spearhead from Space – Episode 2

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 253: The War Games – Episode Ten (21/6/1969) | Next Episode...

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