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Doctor Who VII.1-4: Spearhead from Space

October 19th, 2012 (01:47 am)

This was the last 'season opener' to be broadcast before I was born. I watched it tonight as part of a group born, for the most part, over twenty years later. Thus this viewing was received consciously in the shadow of Davies and Moffat. Liz's line about a man who travels through time and space in a police box was, in the context of Spearhead's original broadcast, a mocking farewell to the programme's old format; now it is a self-aware championing of what has endured (despite the plans of Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant), the triumphant transformation of what common prejudice tells us should be ridiculous into heroic epic, while retaining street-corner proportions. Some of Spearhead's oddness now looks prescient - the Doctor's shower won't be repeated until 'The Lodger' forty years later, for example. While Matt Smith's Doctor had no alternative but to get on with Craig and fit into his life, Jon Pertwee's Doctor is by comparison featherbedded by the fantasy-adventure force of UNIT, though they are still rather austere and yet to enjoy 'Action by HAVOC' or become the family-ensemble which flattered Pertwee's comfort zone. That being said, he's more a disjointed Eccleston-like Doctor here than he later became, even the soon-dropped waddling gait being a symbol of a Time Lord on edge and caught out.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/550306.html.


Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 11:35 am (UTC)
Pertwee bike

I got the 'Mannequin Mania' box set for Christmas and have yet to enjoy it, eeee!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 12:12 pm (UTC)

I'm glad it's not just me who can take a long time to watch things!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 01:24 pm (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

Despite season seven being my second-favourite, I never really 'got' Spearhead until I saw it in context while watching all of Who in order. It is a rather odd story, though, and I think in the hands of a less skilled director and with less canonical importance would not be quite so highly regarded

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)

Spearhead sets up a format which we never really see again. A series of snappy four-parters where the threat is defined and despatched in short order isn't to be seen; General Scobie doesn't feel like a precursor to the evasive, ignorant or duplicitous officials seen in the succeeding three seven-parters.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

True, although that wasn't really what I meant. I was thinking more about structure; Rob Shearman said in DWM that it feels like four unconnected episodes with an ending tacked on and to some extent he's right. Certainly I remember when first reading the novelization being surprised how little the 'invasion of the shop window dummies' (which I had seen on Blue Peter - one of the few things on Doctor Who to really terrify me!) actually features.

The atmosphere feels odd too, which may be due to being on film, but may be due to feeling like a colour version of The Invasion rather than the rest of the Pertwee era, even the rest of season seven (thin characterization, no contemporary political parallels or moral dilemmas, no high-tech government projects or diplomatic conferences and, as you said, no cozy UNIT family, even compared with the rest of the season).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)

That's a good point. I'd not thought of the story in those terms. I think it hangs together a little better than Rob suggests, but there are aspects of the Nestenes' modus operandi which feature once and are never repeated or picked up on, such as their kidnap of the Doctor in the first episode, which would have made the whole thing more coherent.