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Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space (1970) - Blu-ray Review

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Doctor Who Spearhead from Space

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5 stars

One of the few filmic anomalies in the classic era of the long-running Doctor Who series has finally received the upgrade it so richly deserves.  Jon Pertwee's first outing as the Doctor is the first time the adventures of the Time Lord were shown in color.  That in itself is pretty monumental for a television show that began in 1963.  By 1970, the Doctor was ready for his third regeneration and the era of known as “the dandy doctor” began, however, the “firsts” don’t stop there.

Due to industrial action in the BBC studios, Spearhead from Space – consisting of 4 engaging episodes frightening enough to scare the crap out of an 8-year-old – was the first time the show was shot entirely on location and completely on glorious 16mm film.  This means – as most Doctor Who serials were shot in over-lit studios via video cameras until 1989 – Spearhead from Space has the distinct honor of actually benefitting from a HD transfer in the age of the Blu-ray.

If you follow my logic, you realize that Spearhead from Space is the first (and probably only) of the Doctor Who classic era to arrive in 1080p.  Directed by Derek Martinus (Blake’s 7, Doctor Who) and written by Terrance Dicks, the serial opens with the good Doctor arriving on the planet in a daze.  Sentenced to exile on Earth and forcibly regenerated at the end of the previous season, the Doctor and his TARDIS appear in field the day a series of meteorites fall on the English countryside.

When a pulsating orb-like rock is found by a local farmer next to the crash site, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) recruits Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw (Caroline John) to help out his supernatural paramilitary UNIT group.  He secretly wishes the Doctor – who he had previously encountered in The Invasion – were there to assist them with this outer space material.  He believes an alien invasion is upon them.  Shaw is skeptical of his claims but when a police report comes down the pipes involving a confused man and a phone box in the middle of a field the brigadier is hopeful.

Has the Doctor returned to help him defeat an alien intelligence known as the Nestene Consciousness and their animated humanoid facsimiles the Autons?  When he doesn’t recognize the Doctor due to his regeneration but the Doctor remembers him, the Brigadier must place his trust completely in what he is unsure of as the Doctor agrees to help out UNIT during his exile on Earth.

Pertwee brings a boatload of charisma to the role as he outsmarts killer store window dummies and dances with carefully selected banter among his cohorts.  Impressive in his command of the beloved character, Pertwee is confident and has enough swagger to pull off his odd disguises and make his cloaks, velvet smoking jacket, and (eventually) canary-yellow vintage roadster look less ridiculous than they all sound.  John, as his female assistant, also shines in the part but her stay in the series is short lived, being the Doctor’s companion for one season only.

Marking the first appearance of the Autons, Spearhead from Space is a great example of just how strong and how chilling low-budget science fiction can be.  This release is also a great way to celebrate 50 years of the Doctor.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Doctor Who Spearhead from SpaceMPAA Rating: TV-PG.
Runtime:
100 mins
Director
: Barry Letts
Writer
: Terry Nation
Cast: William Hartnell; Patrick Troughton; Jon Pertwee; Tom Baker; Peter Davison
Genre: TV
Tagline:

Memorable Movie Quote: "He's a complete stranger"
Distributor:
BBC
Official Site:
Release Date:
1970
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 30, 2013

Synopsis: Exiled to Earth in the late 20th Century by his own people, the Time Lords. The newly regenerated Doctor arrives in Oxley Woods alongside a shower of mysterious meteorites. Investigating these unusual occurrences is the newly-formed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) for short. Led by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT are soon called into action when people and meteorites start going missing. Most puzzling of all is the attempted kidnapping of a strange hospital patient, a man with two hearts, who insists that he knows the Brigadier. The new Doctor soon joins forces with his old friend, UNIT and the recently recruited Dr Liz Shaw, but time is running out as Nestine consciousness is planning to invade Earth

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Doctor Who Spearhead from Space

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
5 stars

4 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 13, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Free of print damage, dirt or debris, BBC’s AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.33.1 fullframed transfer is a glorious experience indeed.  Colors pop like never before seen on any television set and details are strong throughout.  Sweat on the brow from almost everyone is visible as is the thread detail in their costumes.  Black levels are stronger and deeper and all is very lifelike for this transfer.  Sound is presented in a lossless English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track and is a good improvement on what was previously released.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Unfortunately, the commentary tracks on the DVD edition have been dropped on this release.

Special Features:

There are good almost hour-length extras focusing on Jon Pertwee and the life of Caroline John.  There are a lot archival bits including 22 minutes of title-sequence test footage, with images and logos being distorted into abstraction by "howl-around" video feedback, the visual equivalent of the innovative and experimental work being done by the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop.  While it drops much from the DVD release, the upgrade is worth owning, too.

  • A Dandy And A Clown (44 min)
  • Carry On: The Life Of Caroline John (28 min)
  • Opening Test Footage (23 min)
  • Trailer for The Green Death (3 min)

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