Everyone is putting a lot of effort into making this gripping and actually scary: the creepy doll factory; the waxworks at night; a pulsating sphincter in fish tank; faceless shop dummies jerking to life and smashing their way out. Derek Martinus directs it effectively with fast cutting, as scenes and conversations happen in parallel. It has a real pace, and – given the budget – a sense of scale. We only see about three Autons and a dozen civilians in the famous Ealing high street scene, and famously no glass was damaged in the making of it, but it leaves the impression of something much more spectacular.
Which pretty much sums up Spearhead from Space: there is so much going on – a new Doctor, a new set-up, colour film, the sharpest direction yet – that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the villains and monsters are more cursorily sketched than nearly anything we’ve seen before, and the ending, featuring Liz pressing some buttons while the Doctor wraps himself in tentacles, is undercooked. It’s easy to imagine this was conceived as a third outing for the Intelligence – the main description applied to the enemy by the Doctor – with the relentless Autons a substitute for the equally relentless Yeti, and the control spheres working either way. The Nestenes describe themselves as having been colonising planets for a thousand million years, which has a nasty hint of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, but they’re really almost as blank slate an enemy as the Weed Creature: we know more about the Krotons or the Fish People.
In the end, this doesn’t matter, because everything else works so well. The new Doctor is established with some style, and the amended premise of the series landed with a fairly light touch. The final scenes promise more alien invasions to come, and see the Doctor reach an accommodation with the Brigadier that suggests his trial still hasn’t taught him not to go about stealing vintage vehicles. As a baseline for Doctor Who 2.0 this is very good.
Next episode: Doctor Who and the Silurians