Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space (1970)

UK, 3 January -24 January 1970
4 episodes, average 25m each
16mm film, colour, 4:3
mono, English
Previous Serial: : The War Games (1969)
Next Serial: Doctor Who: Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970)
Series: Doctor Who (1963-1989) – series 7, episodes 1-4

A British television science fiction serial directed by Derek Martinus from scripts by Robert Holmes. This was the first story to feature Jon Pertwee as the , Caroline John as his companion Liz Shaw and the alien Nestene and their automatons the . Nicholas Courtney returned as and it marked the beginning of 's lengthy relationship with military group . It was also the first story made in colour and because of industrial action at the BBC it was the only Doctor Who serial shot entirely on film and almost completely on location. The story shares some elements (a country hospital involved in an alien intrusion) with Holmes' script for the 1966 film Invasion.

Plot Summary

Recovering from his regeneration and exile on Earth, The Doctor is confined to a hospital near where mysterious are being sought by soldiers from UNIT. As he recovers, The Doctor is reunited with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, teams up with his new companion, UNIT scientist Dr Elizabeth Shaw and finds that the meteorites house elements of the Nestene intelligence, a disembodied alien consciousness that plans to conquer the Earth by manipulating plastic, specifically their army of plastic automata, the Autons.

Credits

* = uncredited

Crew
Directed by: Derek Martinus [episode 1-4]
© [not given on screen] [episodes 1-4]
BBC TV [episodes 1-4]
Producer: Derrick Sherwin [episodes 1-4]
[Written] By: Robert Holmes [episodes 1-4]
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks [episodes 1-4]
Film Cameraman: Stan Speel [episodes 1-3]
Film Camera Team: Stan Speel [episode 4], Robert McDonnell [episode 4]
Film Editors: William Symon [episodes 1-4], Adam Dawson [episodes 1-4]
Title Music by: Ron Grainer & the BBC Radiophonic Workshop [episodes 1-4]
Title Music Arranged by: Delia Derbyshire *
Incidental Music: Dudley Simpson [episodes 1-4]
Sound Recordist: Derek Medus [episodes 1-4]
Special Sound by: Brian Hodgson & the BBC Radiophonic Workshop [episodes 1-4]
Costumes: Christine Rawlins [episodes 1-4]
Make-up: Cynthia Goodwin [episodes 1-4]
Special Effects Designed by: John Horton [episodes 1-4]
Designer: Paul Allen [episodes 1-4]
Production Assistant: Peter Grimwade *
Assistant Floor Manager: Liam Foster *
Locations: BBC Training Centre, Wood Norton, England, UK; Madame Tussauds, London, England, UK; Ealing High Street, London, England, UK; King's Cross Station cargo loading depot, London, England, UK; TCC Condensers, Wells Farm Road, Acton, London, England, UK

Cast
Episode 1
Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who)
Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier [Alistair] Lethbridge-Stewart)
Hugh Burden (Channing)
Neil Wilson (Seeley)
Talfryn Thomas (Mullins)
John Breslin (Captain Munro)
Antony Webb (Dr Henderson)
Helen Dorward (nurse)
George Lee (Corporal Forbes)
Tessa Shaw (UNIT officer)
Ellis Jones (technician)
Allan Mitchell (Wagstaffe)
Prentis Hancock (2nd reporter)

Episode 2
Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who)
Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier [Alistair] Lethbridge-Stewart)
Hugh Burden (Channing)
Hamilton Dyce (Major General Scobie)
John Breslin (Captain Munro)
Antony Webb (Dr Henderson)
Henry McCarthy (Dr Beavis)
John Woodnutt (Hibbert)
Derek Smee (Ransome)
Neil Wilson (Seeley)
Betty Bowden (Meg)
George Lee (Corporal Forbes)

Episode 3
Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who)
Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier [Alistair] Lethbridge-Stewart)
Hugh Burden (Channing)
Hamilton Dyce (Major General Scobie)
John Breslin (Captain Munro)
John Woodnutt (Hibbert)
Derek Smee (Ransome)
Neil Wilson (Seeley)
Betty Bowden (Meg)
Clifford Cox (sergeant)

Episode 4
Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who)
Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier [Alistair] Lethbridge-Stewart)
Hugh Burden (Channing)
Hamilton Dyce (Major General Scobie)
John Breslin (Captain Munro)
John Woodnutt (Hibbert)
Edmund Bailey (attendant)

Uncredited
Derrick Sherwin [UNIT car park attendant]
Constance Carling [Auton Plastics secretary]
Ellis Jones [voice of Dr Lomax]
Geoffrey Brightly, Ronald Mayer, Ivan Orton [Autons]
Christine Bradley, Constance Carling, Denis MacTighe, Brian Nolan, Lindy Russell, Rosemary Turner, Robert Windman [factory workers]
Roy Brent, Alan Cooper, Victoria Croxford, Trevor Cuff, Antonio De Maggio, Dave Dewhurst, Rachel Hipwood, Michael Horsburgh, John Hughes, Marie Johnson, June Johnson, Arthur Judd, Vicky Maxine, Patrick Milner, Dave Mobley, Robert Needham, Iain Smith, Hugh Wood [UNIT soldiers]
Barry Ashton, Keith Ashley, Bernadette Barry, David Billa, Joy Burnett, Arnold Chazen, Alan Clements, Diana Collins, Fred Davis, Gary Dean, Grace Dola, Michael Earl, Walter Goodman, Alan Granville, June Gray, Michael Harrison, Denis Haywood, Roger Houghton, Derek hunt, Alfred Hurst, Brian Justice, Vi Kane, Peter Kaukus, Barry Kennington, Leonard Kingston, Sheila Knight, Gideon Kolb, Doris Lang, Kenneth Lindford, Norman Littlejohn, Reg Lloyd, Anthony Maine, Claire Maine. Bill Matthews, David Melbourne, Roger Minnis, Lola Morrice, Robert Murphy, Lesley Pates, Maurice Quick, Henry Rainer, Laurence ross, Christopher Rushton, Tom Segal, Maurice Selwin, Keith Simon, John Spradbury, Sandy Stel, Cara Stevens, Cy Town, Hein Viljoen, Sonny Willis [extras]

Alternative Titles

Facsimile – working title

Extracts included in
Breakfast: 3 September 2014
The Lively Arts: Whose Dr. Who (1977)

See also
Invasion (1966)

References

By 1969, Doctor Who‘s fate was once again in the balance. In the closing months of Patrick Troughton's tenure in the leading role, viewing figures had been sliding, hitting a low of just 3.5 million viewers for the eighth episode of his last serial, The War Games. The BBC were seriously thinking about calling time on the Time Lord, possibly replacing Doctor Who with a serial based on Nigel Kneale's hit The Quatermass Experiment (1953). Clearly a drastic overhaul of the programme was needed. Producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin had already been discussing ideas for changing the format of the series. Believing that audiences were growing tired of space adventures and ever mindful of the need to save money, they proposed that series seven, should it go ahead, be set entirely on Earth, in the present day or the very near future. The Earthbound The Web of Fear (1968) had proved to be a hit and when Sherwin wrote the Cybermen adventure The Invasion (1968) he had introduced the military organisation UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) that would play a pivotal role in the revamped series, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) who had first been seen as a Colonel in the regular army in The Web of Fear. The plan was to strand The Doctor on Earth, exiled by his own people, and reluctantly working with UNIT as their scientific adviser.

The BBC decided to keep the show going and the hunt was on for a new cast that would take the lead roles in what would be effectively a completely news start for Doctor Who. On 21 May 1969, Jon Pertwee signed on as the third Doctor, Courtney had already agreed to reprise the role of a newly promoted Lethbridge-Stewart and in July auditions took place for the new companion. There were brief discussions about bringing back Sally Faulkner as photographer Isobel Watkins from The Invasion, but ultimately the role of UNIT scientist Liz Shaw went to Caroline John on the 28th.

While the casting process had been under way, script editor Terrence Dicks had turned to Robert Holmes to oversee the scripting of the first serial for the new Doctor. Working together Holmes, Sherwin and Dicks came up with the idea of an alien creature that travelled through space in discrete segments that needed assembling on landing, something that played into Sherwin's concerns about the increasing use of plastics in everyday life (the BBC seemed to share his worries as shortly after the debut story was broadcast, their other big science fiction show of the time, Doomwatch, debuted with the episode The Plastic Eaters (9 February 1970), written by Cybermen creators Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, about a plastic-eating virus). Sherwin suggested the idea of using shop window dummies, which he found creepy, and also pitched the idea of a doll factory as the ' base of operations. Taking all this on board, Holmes set to work on a set of four scripts at that time called Facsimile.

The scripts would draw some inspiration from an earlier Holmes script, for the low key 1965 British science fiction film, Invasion, directed by Alan Bridges. Holmes had provided the original story for the film, a claustrophobic tale of an alien incursion in and around a small rural English hospital. Holmes would reuse the setting for the opening episodes of what was eventually retitled Spearhead from Space, the newly regenerated and disoriented Doctor being held unconscious in a hospital during the opening stages of an invasion by the Nestene, a race that can animate and control plastic.

Throughout his time in the , Troughton had complained about the punishing work schedule required to keep the programme on our screens for ten months of the year and partly in response to that and partly to again save money, it was decided that series seven would only run for just 25 episodes over six months, Spearhead being the shortest of the serials at just four episodes. It was also decided that, as colour had come to BBC One in November 1969, the new series would be the first shot in the “new” format.

The first use of colour necessitated a revamped title sequence, again created by designer Bernard Lodge. He planned to repeat his experiments with ‘howlaround,' a form of visual feedback that had created the ghostly shapes seen in previous title sequences, but his first tests were disappointing – the new colour equipment at the BBC couldn't reproduce the technique as he'd hoped. So instead, he was forced back to black and white camera sand when the favoured sequences of “howlaround” were chosen, he hand tinted them to create the required effect. The opportunity was also taken to create a new logo for the series. Earlier logos had simply been the title in widely available typefaces, but now it was seen in a specially commissioned font in a logo that would reappear at the start of the 1996 television film starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and again for various media spin-offs.

But as director Derek Martinus began preparing for the start of production, trouble was looming. Location shooting on 16mm film (as was standard practice at the BBC at the time) had begun at the Favourite Doll Factory in Holloway, London on 13 September, and several shots were filmed of Liz being driven along the Euston and Midlands Roads towards UNIT headquarters were filmed on the same day. The now famous shots of the Autons – the Nestene “troops” disguised as shop window dummies – marching along Ealing Broadway were filmed on 14 September, while the 15th, 16th and 17th saw the production team decamping to land owned by the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley, Surrey and Hatchford Park School in Surrey which stood in for Ashbridge Hospital and its grounds. The UNIT tent was erected at Van Arden Studios in Ealing on 3 and 4 November, filming inside the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Marylebone took place in the evening of the 5th and the public's startled reactions to the Autons on Ealing Broadway were filmed on the 7th. Model shots was under way at the BBC Television Film Studios in Ealing, and ere all in the can by 19 November and Letts, Bryant and Sherwin decided that the footage of the Nestene creature shot earlier should be remounted at Ealing on 22 November. After two further days at the premises of TCC Condensers in Acton, London, it was time to check into Television Centre for the studio recording sessions.

But the BBC had been embroiled in a long-running industrial dispute with members of the Association of Broadcast Staff who were demanding a more significant pay rise for its members. Sherwin was becoming increasingly alarmed at the prospect of industrial action potentially  scuppering plans to complete Spearhead from Space and his fears were justified when ABS members downed tools on 12 October, the day before the production team were originally scheduled to start work in studio. But because of Sherwin's concerns, plans had already been laid to shoot the entire story on location and on film instead, the first and only time this would happen in Doctor Who history. Now based at the BBC's Engineering Training Centre at Wood Norton in Worcestershire, the production team resumed work on 8 October.

Further problems arose when Peter Bryant was reassigned to work on the ailing German co-production Paul Temple, and he decided that he needed help in turning the show around, asking for Sherwin and assistant script editor Trevor Ray to join him. Shaun Sutton, the BBC's Head of Drama, asked director Douglas Camfield, who had overseen The Invasion, to take over as producer but he wasn't keen and the job instead went to Barry Letts, director of The Enemy of the World (1967) who formally joined the team on 20 October. Shortly after that, production returned to London to complete filming the day before Letts came on board.

All these changes were a big gamble for a programme that was seemingly beginning to lose its grip on the public imagination. A new UNIT scientist Liz Shaw Doctor, new supporting cast, new format, colour, shot on film… It was a huge change from what had gone before and because of the reduced number of episodes, there had been a 27 week gap between Patrick Troughton being banished to Earth at the end of The War Games and Jon Pertwee falling out of the TARDIS at the start of Spearhead from Space. In the gap, the BBC had been broadcasting an exciting new import from the States called Star Trek (1966-1969), and audiences would probably be expecting similar colourful thrills when Doctor Who eventually returned. Would the public still be interested? Would the changes be enough to reverse the tumbling viewing figures? Any fears that the production team might have had would have been allayed when the viewing figures for Episode One, broadcast on Saturday 3 January 1970, came in – 8.4 million viewers compared to the 4.9 averaged across the ten episodes of The War Games. And the other three episodes kept up the high numbers, the serial averaging 8.2 million viewers a week. A new era of Doctor Who was under way and it was under way in considerable style.

The serial was repeated in July 1971 on BBC One on Friday evenings, becoming the first Doctor Who story to be seen outside its usual Saturday night tea-time slot. outside of its typical Saturday evening slot. A further repeat followed on BBC2 in 1999.

References

Periodicals

  • Doctor Who Magazine no.181 (25 December 1991) pp.10-11; 12-13; 18; 23-30 – illustrated interview with John Woodnutt (Role models: John Woodnutt by Liam Rudden); illustrated article (The Pertwee years by Stephen James Walker); illustrated article (Will the real UNIT… by Kevan Loosely); illustrated article (Feature Archive: Spearhead from Space by Andrew Pixley)
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition no.2: The Third Doctor (5 September 2002) pp.5-8; 11-14; 15-17 – illustrated article (Profile: Seasons in the sun by Philip MacDonald); – illustrated article (Instant Karma by Andrew Pixley); illustrated article (Spearhead from Space: Back home by Russell T Davies)
  • Doctor Who: The Complete History no.15 (2016) – illustrated article (Story 51: Spearhead from Space by John Ainsworth (ed.))

Books

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Third Doctor pp.48-53 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
  • Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker pp.182-185 – credits, synopsis, review