HomeAll postsDoctor Who (1970): Spearhead from Space

Doctor Who (1970): Spearhead from Space

The Doctors Revisited vol 1 part iii
A review by Nalini Haynes

‘The Spearhead from Space’ is Jon Pertwee’s first appearance as the Doctor. Arriving on Earth without a companion, he collapses unremarked in a wood to be found by UNIT searching for meteors.

The Brigadier takes custody of the TARDIS while waiting for the Doctor, with a growing suspicion that this stranger may be the Doctor.

Liz Shaw is seconded to UNIT as a highly qualified scientific expert to help investigate the meteors.

A poacher finds and conceals a ‘meteor’ in the hopes of financial reward.

The Doctor begins his romance with vehicles, first stealing a vintage car then appealing to the Brigadier for a replacement when the stolen car is returned to its owner.

Suspicious goings-on in a plastics factory making replicas of notable government officials attracts UNIT’s attention. The Nestene, an alien entity who builds plastic bodies to inhabit, appears in Doctor Who for its first world domination attempt.

As with many Doctor Who stories, the plot is not without its flaws but depth of character and challenging traditional gender roles compensate.

Liz, a woman, is seconded to work with UNIT because of her impressive credentials. Although she’s superseded by the Doctor, this is not because MAN, it’s because ADVANCED ALIEN. The Doctor is equally patronising to all the inferior humans, possibly more towards the military men than to Liz due to his inherent dislike and distrust of the military.

Jon Pertwee establishes himself as a dynamic, charismatic Doctor early in this story, displaying eccentric behaviour and tastes in clothing.

The Brigadier is put-upon, twinkling through the screen and sighing when his patience is tested but persevering because THE WORLD IS AT STAKE. As usual. I <3 the Brigadier.

IMDB has rated this episode as 8.1, a well-deserved high rating for the story.

DVD presentation

This is the third Doctors Revisited story I watched. I’ve been trying to work out if there’s something screwy with the image or if it was just me (vision impaired, remember). My set-top box struggled to play the review DVDs then finally refused to play them at all. I switched to a PS3 with a larger TV to watch this story, discovering the problem is NOT me.

The story was filmed in 4:3 ratio. Instead of transferring the film to digital in 4:3, they’ve taken the central image at about the correct ratio then stretched the sides of the image to fit a widescreen. IT IS HORRIBLE. It is like watching a fun house mirror, especially when a close up of a face near the edge of the screen distorts the face. As the camera pans sideways it gives a fish-bowl-like view of things stretching out of shape and alignment then snapping back.

In the extras they kept the ratio true to the original, leaving blue bars on either side of the screen. I’d prefer black bars as they interfere less with viewing the image, but at least the images were in the correct ratio without distortion.

I understand that DVDs won’t be as crystal clear as bluray. I understand that old film transferred to digital format may not be the best image. I’m okay with that, especially if a genuine effort has been made to preserve the original and present it respectfully. What I’m NOT okay with is the BBC deliberately providing a low-resolution distorted image, denying viewers any control over the image. If there was a 4:3 option viewers could choose their version but we’ve been denied the choice.

Even the logo on the opening screen is visibly pixilated to me with my low vision. Even the EXTRAS BASED ON RECENT FOOTAGE are pixilated. Not just blurry or fuzzy, they’re PIXILATED. Admittedly I was seated about a metre away from a 55 inch TV but how much worse will the image appear to a fan with good eyesight even on a smaller TV?

This reminded me of the original VHS release of Blake’s 7, desecrated, cut as if to fit extra commercials, removing all character and flavour from the original series, stripping the story to the bare plot. Eventually the BBC realised their mistake and released improved versions; I hope the BBC will re-release this set in the correct ratio with adequate resolution.

This production – not the story, the presentation – gets 2 out of 5 stars from me, with a call for a re-release in correct ratio with good resolution.


The extras follow a formula with repetition from disc to disc. The highlights from this disc were Neil Gaiman and David fan-boy Tennant. David Tennant is always a highlight; it’s wonderful a Doctor grew up as a fan.

A few interesting snippets included discussion of how Jon Pertwee’s era began with Doctor Who in colour and on film instead of video.

Stephen Moffat repeats himself regarding Doctor Who stories being silly. He’s not doing himself or the Doctor Who brand any favours.

The extras get 3 out of 5 stars from me.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


  1. “It is like watching a fun house mirror, especially when a close up of a face near the edge of the screen distorts the face. As the camera pans sideways it gives a fish-bowl-like view of things stretching out of shape and alignment then snapping back.”

    Perhaps like the view from inside a Dalek?

    • Kudos for comment eliciting a belly laugh. Sadly none of the eps I’ve watched under these conditions have included daleks but I guess they could be called ‘The Dalek Files’. 😉


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