Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space
(4 episodes, s07e01-e04, 1970)
It’s Doctor Who, now in color!
There’s a nice new opening to take advantage of that fact, although the projector sheet is pretty obvious. They also spoil the surprise of the Doctor’s new face in the opening credits, which is odd because they tease it for a good portion of the first episode. The budget has also obviously skyrocketed and the pace is a whole lot faster for what is looking more and more like a soft reboot of the series.
It’s really nice to see the Brigadier and UNIT again. He reminds the audience that we’ve met him twice before, and this is obviously his playground. He’s also dismayed because he doesn’t recognize the Doctor’s new face. We also get a new companion with Doctor Elizabeth Shaw. She’s really gruff with everyone except the Doctor, with whom she seems quite enamored. She’s quite an empowered woman, and certainly less of a damsel in distress than previous companions. She also demands respect by not putting up with the Doctor’s subterfuge when the Time Lord tricks her into retrieving the TARDIS key. Of course, he subsequently pulls a Millennium Falcon with the blue box. (No, it wouldn’t help if Liz got out and pushed.)
This story also cleanly brings Doctor Who into the era of the 1970s, which was the modern era for the production. You have civilians like the porter and the poacher acting exactly as they would in the time, which makes the show a fun little time capsule.
This Doctor kicks things off with a lot of heart – two, actually, as we establish that part of the mythos – and comedy. He acts crazy about his shoes as a ruse to get the TARDIS key he secreted away, and then he escapes in a wheelchair after almost being kidnapped, makes a break for the TARDIS, and gets shot. He should be more careful with this new body. I also laughed a lot about the clever sight gag with the doctor’s locker room sign (“Doctors Only”) and his escape from the hospital, during which he steals a rich doctor’s clothes and figures out how to steal a car. He really is a doctor of “pretty much everything.”
The plot isn’t half bad either. Meteorites crash to Earth, but they’re made of blinking and ringing plastic and draw Autons like ants. They’re impervious to gunfire (but the UNIT soldiers just keep slinging lead because that’s what they’re scripted to do) and are replacing key members of local leadership to (what else?) take over the world.
Channing, a character played to apathetic creepy perfection by Hugh Burden, is the avatar of the Nestene Consciousness, a force that has colonized planets like a virus across the universe and has now focused on Earth. The Doctor and crew stop them with a jury-rigged device, and after a brief technical difficulty and a battle with tentacles, the Doctor fries the Consciousness. Anyone for calamari?
The Doctor agrees to stay on with UNIT in exchange for facilities, technology to repair the TARDIS, Liz’s help with all of it, and a car. He also starts going by the pseudonym John Smith.
This serial hit the ground running, introduced a new Doctor, and made me like him right away. According to the rules of the Timestamps Project, regeneration episodes get an automatic +1 handicap, but this story certainly doesn’t need it.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
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