This is about as Quatermass as Doctor Who ever gets: a space capsule lands in the middle of the British countryside, its occupants incommunicado; a conspiracy has reached the highest levels of the military and civil service; an overbearing genius rails against the Establishment. If they’d cancelled the series in 1969 and decided to do a Nigel Kneale show it might have looked quite like this.
Again, the only thing that plays against this being Quatermass is the Doctor. Pertwee has pretty much nailed his interpretation now, half arrogant and pompous, the other half childish wizard. He turns on a penny between being whimsical and charming – like the great doddery old man act he puts on to deceive the capsule thieves – and barking commands to uncover Collinson’s army background, or, in the brilliant cliffhanger: ‘Right, cut it open!’ The only bit that strays too far into absurdity is right near the start when he makes a massive tape spool vanish into thin air. While it ties into the TARDIS tinkering we saw last time: in the future, the Doctor’s alien powers are more physiological than magical.
Though he’s clearly the leading man, Pertwee is surrounded by really good actors, particularly Ronald Allen, who makes Ralph Cornish almost as mercurial as the Doctor. For the most part, he, like everyone else in Space Control, sounds like he’s been knocking back Prozac, calmly reading out instructions. But when he gets a response from Recovery 7 he looks almost tearfully relieved, before becoming concerned by their weird, repetitive answers.
As if to make up for the amount of time the episode spends on the mechanics of space travel – which involves lots of coordinates and watching things on monitors – we’re treated to another impressive Action by HAVOC set piece complete with a full-size capsule prop on the back of a truck; a motorcycle convoy and a helicopter (which looks like it’s being piloted by Hannibal Lecter).
Next episode: The Ambassadors of Death – Episode 3