Spearhead From Space

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Derek Martinus

If you’ve ever been to the home counties there is a good chance that you’d think that the whole area is a shit hole. And you’d be right. An endless sea of pointless little towns filled with Daily Mail reading, racist, sexist, homophobic, hate filled gobshites. Worse than that, its really fucking dull. Nothing happens there. Ever.

Throughout the sixties though, something had been brewing in the home counties: it was slowly becoming the centre for a new type of horror film. Just about all of the classic Hammer movies were filmed there, while others, such as Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Devil Rides out are even set there.

With the turn of the decade the formerly sleepy county towns and villages would have even more dangers to face. Along with ghouls, vampires and reconstructed, resurrected corpses they would have to face down a seemingly endless parade of alien invasions and mad scientists intent on destroying the planet*.

Doctor Who had changed a great deal over the six or so years it had been on the air by this point, but the huge shift between seasons 6 and 7 was by far the biggest change yet**. A new Doctor, a new companion and a  new producer all arrived at once and even the script editor, Terrance Dicks only really got to take over from his predecessor at this juncture. And on top of that the whole dynamic of the show was set to change: incoming producer/editor team Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were handed a bit of a shit sandwich by their predecessors who had seen it ordained that the show would henceforth be confined to contemporary earth, and have stories of, for the most part, seven episodes. These remarkably awful ideas from the people behind some of the best Who stories were largely meant to keep costs down, but would do so by undermining a large part of what made the show work.

To their immense credit, Letts and Dicks made it work, for at least the first year, and Spearhead From Space is a really high octane (in the context of classic who) opener. Robert Holmes had demonstrated already his ability to write solid scripts on time, but Spearhead is the first hint of the truly awesome stories he had in him.

Perhaps less obvious was the choice of Jon Pertwee as the new Doctor. Much more of a comedian than an actor, most people at the time probably best knew him from the Carry On film series. However, casting Carry Oners as villains had worked in the case of Bernard Bresslaw and Peter Butterworth though, and the great Hartnell himself had been in Carry on Sergeant. As it turns out, it was not a crazy idea at all. Throughout Spearhead he radiates a sort of playful-yet-commanding energy. Pertwee probably isn’t my all time favorite doctor, but I must admit that he’s the first of the classic Doctors that I really got into, and Spearhead is a great introduction to him.

Filling out the companion roles are new arrival Dr Liz Shaw, and the welcome return of the Brig. Liz is not quite Zoe, but she’s not just some bimbo either, being a highly intelligent and qualified scientist in her own right. Caroline John, who plays Dr Shaw believes that she got the role after sending in a shot of herself in a swimsuit, but she does herself a disservice there, as her acting is top notch. As for the Brig, it may seem odd for such an anti-establishment character as the Doctor to be paired up with an army officer, but it sort of works, as the two of them never actually see eye to eye, they just have a begrudging respect for eachother.

But its the villains that really steal the show in spearhead. With them, Holmes had the perfect way to introduce this new Earth based Doctor, and in doing so would scare the living shit out of a generation of children. Previous monsters to invade a recognizable earth had been things like Daleks and Cybermen – not things you’d tend to see around the place on a day to day basis in other words, but Holmes took their menace and attached it to something you see every day: shop window dummies. Its all well and good to find the Daleks terrifying, but try going shopping when a manikin makes you want to dive behind the sofa.

When Who writer Mac Hulke heard that the Doctor would be trapped on contemporary Earth his instant reaction was to point out that the only two stories you could have would be mad scientist and alien invasion. Doctor Who and the Silurians was Dicks’ attempt to disprove that. Will he manage? We’ll find out next time.

*I suppose that if you want a dramatic conflict its best to set an alien invasion in the home counties: the people who live there can’t even get on withe with folks from other countries, never mind other planets. If aliens landed here in Scotland they’d probably be welcomed with a hug and a pint, but down there they’d be stoned to death by an angry mob before they could even leave their saucer.

** still maybe true.

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