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27 March 2018 @ 07:35 pm
The Randomiser: Spearhead from Space  
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.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/492401.html.
 
 
 
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 27th, 2018 07:41 pm (UTC)
I suspect that was far less obvious than the transition between The War Games and Spearhead from Space.

A lot depends on whether they had a colour TV, which most people didn't. In plot terms, it's a lot like various Troughton stories, except that the TARDIS doesn't dematerialise at the end. Yes, it's (almost) all on location... but that's not part of the new house style and wouldn't be attempted again for another five years. And the next story looks a lot less glossy. OTOH, the more adult/political style of scripting doesn't start until later in the season. The stylistic change is more cumulative: by the time you get to Inferno the Doctor's gone a whole season on Earth, bar a trip into orbit in a rocket and a parallel Earth. You're right that Liz is a new type of companion, though... or an old type, going back to Ian and Barbara. You could probably argue that, for all that Steven, Ben and Polly had jobs, Liz is the first companion to feel like a real adult since the schoolteachers, unless you count Sara Kingdom or Steven in one or two stories.
louisedennis: Who:Threelouisedennis on March 29th, 2018 08:40 am (UTC)
My intuition is that, to the average person, complete change of Doctor and companion is more dramatic than a switch from light-hearted to more sci-fi driven. I certainly have no recollection of noticing any real difference between Horns of Nimon and the Leisure Hive at the time and, OK, I was only 9 and was not watching every episode but I don't suppose I was that atypical of most of the audience - if it was the Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K9 then clearly it was business as usual.