Mar. 27th, 2018

purplecat: The Third Doctor (Who:Three)
Spearhead from Space was a watershed for Doctor Who in lots of ways. It is the first Jon Pertwee story; the first story in colour; there is a new production team and a radical new direction for the show. People have often remarked upon the upbrupt stylistic transition between The Horns of Nimon and The Leisure Hive when John Nathan-Turner took over but I suspect that was far less obvious than the transition between The War Games and Spearhead from Space.

Even so there are many ways in which Spearhead is still finding its feet. For much of the first episode the show is working on the comedic sensibility it was anticipated Pertwee would bring to the show, with his escapades in the local hospital before he meets up properly with UNIT and gets involved with the central plot.

Meanwhile around all this, the introduction of UNIT and Liz Shaw is signalling much more obviously the new, more serious, more military direction that we would see for the rest of season 7. Much has been made of the new conception of a companion represented by Liz Shaw, in particular her scientific credentials. But as was pointed out on a recent Verity episode - the show had just had a scientist companion who was arguably as clever as the Doctor in Zoe. The more radical difference is probably that Zoe was very clearly a teenager. Liz is the first female companion since Barbara who is well into her twenties or thirties with a career of her own. She's also one of the best companions since Barbara and it is a shame that the production team apparently didn't really like her (it seems hard to justify their claim that she doesn't work as a companion, based on the stories she got).

People often recommend Spearhead from Space as a good jumping on point for classic Who. It is pacier than much of the 1960s fare (and in colour, which is a plus), has the classic four episodes, and its new broom approach means that it takes the time to introduce its characters and concepts. I'm in two minds about that. It's not really that representative of the vast majority of classic Doctor Who (or even the vast majority of Pertwee stories - though it is close enough to many of them) and it does take a long time for the Doctor to get properly involved in the story and for the plot to actually start moving. Nor am I convinced that your average NuWho fan needs a great deal of careful introduction to concepts such as UNIT (let alone the Doctor, companion or time travel). Still, it is a pretty solid story and comes at the start of a decade where you could argue that the show in general has more hits than misses, and where, indeed, most of the stories produced are still pretty watchable today.

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