In the sort of scheduling quirk rather befitting of a Time Lord, Jon Pertwee’s first Doctor Who adventure, Spearhead from Space, comes to DVD just a few weeks after his final story arrived on shiny disc, a chance to see how it all began for the dandiest of Doctors.
2entertain’s Mannequin Mania boxset bundles a special edition of Spearhead, previously released in a bare bones edition in 2001, with the following year’s Terror of the Autons, both stories featuring the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons while marking the debuts of various characters and a new look for the programme.
Having run for six years and already on its second incarnation of the Doctor in the shape of Patrick Troughton, things were looking grim for Doctor Who in 1969. With the threat of cancellation hanging over it at the end of The War Games, the decision to reboot the series and bring it down to Earth, quite literally, saw the start of a new era for a show which thrived on the ability to go anwhere and anywhen in space and time.
Charged with taking Doctor Who into a new decade, with a new lead and in colour, veteran scriptwriter Robert Holmes crafted a classy slice of sci-fi in Spearhead, which echoed the BBC’s Quatermass serials in its opening moments as alien pods arrive on Earth, just at the Tardis materialises with a regenerated Doctor.
The Nestenes are planning a full invasion of the planet, using shop window mannequins as their army, headed up by authority figures such as General Scobie (Hamilton Dyce) and Channing (Hugh Burden). Still recovering from the regenerative process, the Doctor teams up with UNIT’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and new assistant, Liz Shaw (Caroline John), to fight his latest foe.
The Nestenes returned to open the next season in Terror of the Autons, a story also scripted by Robert Holmes which saw him also incorporating the introduction of the Master (Roger Delgado), Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Captain Yates (Richard Franklin).
Though the Nestenes were the main reason for concern in Spearhead from Space, here it’s the Master, a fellow rogue Time Lord, who is the real enemy of the world, and the Doctor. In Delgado, the series gained someone for whom the audience could almost feel sympathy, if not for his methods then for his determination and sheer style in carrying out his plans.
The Master has arrived on Earth with domination in mind, roping in the Nestenes and the Autons to do his bidding. Deadly daffodils, terrible toys and chilling chairs are all used by Holmes to depict the everyday nature of the Nestene threat, the terror present in the most suburban of situations rather than the usual laboratories and bases-under-siege.
As in Spearhead, the Doctor must contend with a new companion and opponent, plus another Earth invasion, Pertwee now comfortable in the skin of the time traveller who is firmly rooted in present-day England.
Under the leadership of Derrick Sherwin and Barry Letts, these two Third Doctor adventures are examples of Who at its very best. It helps that Robert Holmes is behind the typewriter for both tales, his ability to combine humour and drama one which would serve him, and the series, well for years to come.
Shot on film and on location, Spearhead has an extra sheen of quality which shines through on this new DVD. Confident and classy, it’s hard to believe that this is the same series that went off the screen the previous year seemingly on its last legs, something reflected in the ratings and the fact that Pertwee, Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks were allowed to collaborate for five seasons.
Terror is similarly excellent, a tale boosted by the appearance of Delgado and the ball of energy that is Katy Manning. The birth of the “UNIT family” is a joy to behold, the questionable nature of the Master’s scheme (should it really be so easy for the Doctor to change his foe’s mind when he’s already gone to such great lengths?) forgivable when the rest of the story is so much fun.
For this set the Restoration Team have pulled together an impressive selection of extras, offering those of us who bought Spearhead first time around a real reason to double dip.
The addition of a new commentary for Spearhead, Sherwin and Dicks providing a spikier discussion than those we’re used to from Terrance and Barry, offers a different view from the original commentary from Caroline John and Nick Courtney. The pair tell us little new but it’s interesting hearing it from the men who were there.
The two documentaries provide a fascinating overview of both the need for the series to change upon its 1970 return and on the move from black and white to colour, Sherwin’s honest opinions a highlight.
Over on the Terror disc, the commentary is provided by the late Letts and Courtney alongside Ms Manning. As usual, Letts is keen to point out the technical aspects while Manning has fun and Courtney comes along for the ride, their entertaining banter the result of years of friendship.
We’re spoiled by the inclusion of three documentaries, perhaps the best of which is Life on Earth, a comparison between the production process for Who in the 70s and in 2005’s revived version. Discussion about Delgado and the decision to use plastic as an enemy provide the focus for the other two featurettes.
Both stories also feature on-screen production notes, which are easy to take for granted but which provide incredible detail for both the long-term fan and newbie to the series. PDFs of Radio Times listings and features plus photo galleries are also part of the set, a wealth of information which add greatly to the overall package.