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24 September 2014

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Spearhead from Space

Production Code: AAA

First Transmitted

1 - 03/01/1970 17:15

2 - 10/01/1970 17:15

3 - 17/01/1970 17:15

4 - 24/01/1970 17:15


The TARDIS arrives on Earth in the middle of a meteorite shower and the Doctor is found by UNIT troops and taken to a nearby hospital. The Brigadier is faced with having to cope not only with the mysterious meteorites but also with Ransome, an ex-employee of a local plastics factory, who claims he has seen a walking mannequin.

The meteorites turn out to be hollow globes containing the Nestene consciousness, a disembodied alien intelligence with an affinity for plastic. A Nestene agent, Channing, has infiltrated the plastics factory and is using energy from the globes to animate Autons - mannequin-like figures and realistic replicas of senior establishment figures - with the aim of colonising the Earth.

Aided by newly-recruited UNIT scientist Dr Elizabeth Shaw, the Doctor thwarts this scheme by repelling the Nestene consciousness into space and thereby neutralising the Autons and the monstrous tentacled form that it has been creating for itself in a tank within the factory. Channing, revealed to be no more than a sophisticated Auton, is likewise deactivated.

Episode Endings

The Doctor has been kidnapped from the hospital by two strange men under the instruction of Channing. He manages to escape in a wheelchair, but then abandons it and tries to return to the TARDIS on foot. A UNIT soldier guarding the police box shoots the Doctor as he crashes through the trees.

Ransome returns to the plastics factory and breaks into his old workshop to find it full of new equipment. As he inspects a strange computer-like device, a plastic shop dummy steps down from a plinth behind him and advances.

The Brigadier telephones his regular army contact General Scobie to ask for support in investigating Auto Plastics. Scobie agrees to meet the Brigadier but hangs up as there is a knock at his front door. Scobie opens the door to reveal an exact duplicate of himself, who advances on him.

The Doctor agrees to continue helping the Brigadier in exchange for facilities to repair the TARDIS and a vintage car similar to one that he appropriated from the hospital. The Brigadier goes to prepare the paperwork and asks the Doctor what his name is. 'Smith,' replies the Doctor. 'Doctor John Smith.'


The Quatermass Experiment.

Quatermass II.

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

British SF film Invasion.

The Avengers.

The Cybernauts.

Never, Never Say Die.

Adam Adamant Lives! A Vintage Year for Scoundrels (the Doctor in the hospital).

The Richard Gordon 'Doctor' films (Dr Beavis).

Emergency Ward 10 (Dr Lomax).

The Invaders.

Captain Scarlet.

Thunderball (substitution by plastic surgery).

Invaders from Mars.

Dialogue Triumphs

Technician : "I suppose they must have been meteorites... mustn't they?"

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "We deal with the odd... the unexplained. Anything on Earth... or beyond."

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "In the last decade, we've been sending probes deeper and deeper into space. We've drawn attention to ourselves, Miss Shaw."

Double Entendre

Liz : "You've got to act quickly, Brigadier, or else it'll be too late."


The Doctor can communicate with his eyebrows in the language of the planet Delphon. He has two hearts (which can beat at 10 beats per minute), an inhuman blood type and cardiovascular system, and can put himself into a coma with no detectable brain electrical activity. He carries (or can use) small explosive charges. His chosen pseudonym is Dr. John Smith (see The Wheel in Space). He has a cobra/dragon tattooed on his right forearm [a Time Lord criminal brand? The tattoo only lasts for this incarnation].

The Time Lords have changed the dematerialization codes on the TARDIS.

Liz Shaw is an expert on meteorites, seconded to UNIT against her will from a research project at Cambridge University. She has degrees in medicine and physics (and, the Brigadier says, a dozen other subjects [Liz's physics specialities]).

UNIT have radar tracking stations, and can use cars carrying diplomatic plates. They have a London HQ, can seal areas off [automatically or after authorization has been sought?], and use live ammunition on the Brigadier's orders. They need authorization from their liaison with the regular army, General Scobie, before they can raid somewhere. There have been two attempted invasions of Earth since UNIT was formed, both involving the Doctor [The Web of Fear, which did not involve UNIT, and The Invasion]. The public were informed of neither. [Though the knowledge seems quite widespread: different reasons were given for the evacuation of London in The Web of Fear.]

The Nestenes have been colonising worlds for 1000 million years. Their energy units are manufactured spheres made of non-thermoplastic, non-thermosetting plastic with no polymer chains, estimated at 3000cc capacity. They contain part of a collective intelligence and have no individual identity (the Swarm Leader is a vital part) or physical form, existing as energy. They fly in a formation of 50 or so, and five or six landed six months before. [They travel thus all the way from their home, or last conquered, world.]

Autons can see brain prints of humans, and locate them thus within a certain range. They can sense life, and bullets can't harm them. Auton facsimiles contain brain cells and memory traces of the original, and can hypnotically control humans, so much so as to put them into a deathlike trance. Cruder Autons fire bolts of energy from guns hidden inside their middle three fingers. These guns can, on another setting, dissolve matter. The tips of the fingers are sharp enough to cut canvas. However, a tentacled form has been chosen to 'conquer' Earth. Bursts of electrical energy of the kind used in ECT therapy can disrupt the Nestenes.

There is an Institute of Space Studies in Baltimore (who state that there are 500 nearby planets capable of supporting life), and a Royal Geophysical Laboratory. The Daily Chronicle is mentioned. Nearly all the cars seen are E or F registration [aiding the contemporary UNIT theory].



Season 6(b)


London Ashbridge, in the Epping area, and other Essex locations, [late Spring 1969]. (According to Planet of the Spiders, this is set 'months' after the events of The Invasion).


There is a new opening title sequence - designed, like the previous ones, by Bernard Lodge - accompanied by a slightly rearranged version of the familiar theme music; and, for the first time in the series' history, a matching closing title sequence (whereas previously the closing credits had generally been shown against a black background.)

The title sequences for Spearhead from Space have two unique features: first, the camera zooms in on the story title caption in the opening credits so that it appears to rush toward the viewer; secondly, the music accompanying the closing credits fades down part way through (at a different point in each of the four episodes) and simultaneously fades up at a different point, the net result being a rather disjointed-sounding edit.

The Doctor is credited for the first time as 'Doctor Who' in the closing credits as opposed to 'Dr. Who'.

Spearhead from Space is the first of only two Doctor Who stories to be originated entirely on film as opposed to videotape; this was an emergency measure necessitated by the unavailability of studios due to industrial action at the BBC.

The establishing shots of the plastics factory in operation are accompanied by an extract from Fleetwood Mac's popular contemporary single 'Oh Well - Part 1'.

There are scenes featuring real waxworks shot at Madame Tussaud's in London.

Robert Holmes's scripts for this story were based in part on a storyline that he had provided for a Merton Park feature film production entitled Invasion, released in 1965, which involved two humanoid aliens crash-landing on Earth outside a country hospital.


Why don't the Nestenes kill the general, once duplicated, instead of leaving him comatose in a wax museum?

The Doctor is gurning as he's attacked by tentacles.

At the start of episode two the Doctor clutches his head before being shot.

Fashion Victim

The Doctor discards his trilby, thank goodness.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Jon Pertwee

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Liz Shaw - Caroline John

2nd Reporter - Prentis Hancock

Attendant - Edmund Bailey

Captain Munro - John Breslin

Channing - Hugh Burden

Corporal Forbes - George Lee

Dr. Beavis - Henry McCarthy

Dr. Henderson - Antony Webb

Hibbert - John Woodnutt

Major General Scobie - Hamilton Dyce

Meg - Betty Bowden

Mullins - Talfryn Thomas

Nurse - Helen Dorward

Ransome - Derek Smee

Seeley - Neil Wilson

Sergeant - Clifford Cox

Technician - Ellis Jones

UNIT Officer - Tessa Shaw

Wagstaffe - Alan Mitchell


Director - Derek Martinus

Assistant Floor Manager - Liam Foster

Costumes - Christine Rawlins

Designer - Paul Allen

Film Cameraman - Stan Speel

Film Cameraman - Robert McDonnell

Film Editor - William Symon

Film Editor - Adam Dawson

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Cynthia Goodwin

Producer - Derrick Sherwin

Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade

Script Editor - Terrance Dicks

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - John Horton

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Gloriously well directed on film, with a gorgeous tracking shot in episode one.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

It is apparent from the first few seconds of the opening episode of Spearhead from Space that Doctor Who has changed. Gone are the moody black and white swirls and in come new and vibrantly coloured patterns of glowing lines. The Doctor's face appears and then vanishes, and the patterns twist and spin in time with the hypnotic music. Then... something is approaching the Earth, something alien... and inevitably the Doctor has to be involved somehow.

Spearhead from Space boasts a number of 'firsts'. It is the first story to have been made in colour; the first to star Jon Pertwee as the time-travelling hero; the first to feature UNIT as a regular part of the series' format; and arguably the first to really go for the viewer's jugular with a potent combination of horror and science-fiction.

The opening episode sets the scene. Some mysterious meteorites have fallen (shades of Nigel Kneale's 1955 serial Quatermass II) and, when uncovered, they glow with a strange internal light and emit an eerie trilling sound. The mystery of what they are will have to wait, however, as it is the new Doctor who attracts the most interest.

The viewer's eagerness to find out what he is going to be like is cleverly maintained as much of the first two episodes see him either unconscious or at best semiconscious in hospital, recovering initially from his change of appearance and then from a wound sustained when he is shot by a jumpy UNIT soldier. After his eventual recuperation he is at first presented as someone who does not take things too seriously. In fact certain scenes, like one in which he takes a shower to escape the attentions of the hospital staff, are positively comedic - something that at the time seemed not entirely surprising, given that Jon Pertwee's background was as a light entertainment and comedy performer. The viewer is however reminded of the Doctor's alien nature by way of a number of revelations, such as that he has two hearts and can put himself into a recuperative coma.

The pace of the story is slow and measured in this initial section but really starts to pick up after the Doctor discharges himself from hospital and steals a car with which to drive to UNIT HQ, where he quickly establishes his credentials and sets about helping Liz Shaw to analyse some meteorite fragments.

The focus of the story now shifts to the main plot - the invasion attempt by the Nestene consciousness and its Auton dummies. Writer Robert Holmes's concept of an alien intelligence that can inhabit and animate plastic is inspired if, as Simon M Lydiard pointed out in Skaro Volume Three Number One, dated October/November 1982, not wholly original: 'The idea of a planet-hopping intelligence using robot slaves to take over the planet Earth was not, even at this time, a particularly new one and had been featured in Doctor Who in both The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear... Despite the unoriginality of the story, which could have easily degenerated into something not entirely unlike a 1950s B-movie, it came across as remarkably fresh, due to Robert Holmes's entertaining script, Derek Martinus's stylish direction and Jon Pertwee's refreshing characterisation.'

It is the terrifying and well-realised concept of killer shop dummies that makes Spearhead from Space one of the most horrific Doctor Who stories ever. The first time that one of the plastic mannequins is seen to move, stepping down from a plinth behind Ransome at the end of Episode 2, the viewer gasps. They are spooky, effective and oh so very real. The scene in Episode 4 in which they 'come to life' en masse is wonderful, and one of the all-time great Doctor Who moments. The dummies kill indiscriminately, and yet they themselves are unstoppable for they are simply plastic objects. 'The Autons proved to be... terrifying, especially their "drop away" wrist guns and their sheer power,' wrote Chris Dunk in Oracle Volume 2 Number 8, dated May 1979. 'The fact that they resembled human beings yet were so starkly divorced from mankind enhanced their evil.'

Particularly notable is the uncompromising, adult quality of the story's realisation, which sets it apart from much of sixties Doctor Who and contributes greatly to its success. When a jeep driven by one of the Brigadier's men crashes, blood is seen on the cracked windscreen; people are clearly terrified by the emotionless, blank-faced Autons; and the fact that all this takes place on a familiar, recognisable Earth only adds to its effectiveness. Derek Martinus's direction is characteristically dynamic and inventive, and his casting is also very good. Hugh Burden's icy Channing deserves particular mention, as does John Woodnutt's tormented plastics factory manager Hibbert. The UNIT set-up is also well defined and re-established, with Nicholas Courtney effortlessly reprising his engaging portrayal of Lethbridge-Stewart and newcomer Caroline John making a promising debut as the sceptical Liz Shaw.

Surprisingly, given the quality of the story and the significant change of format that it represented for the series, the BBC's Audience Research Report on the opening episode noted that the reaction of contemporary viewers could 'hardly be described as enthusiastic,' although 'the majority... were clearly quite satisfied with it... It was perhaps early days to judge, most would say, but at least this introductory episode seemed up to standard and if the story so far merely "set the scene" and, rather neatly and quite convincingly, introduced the "new" Doctor Who, there was every indication that, once under way, the story would develop into the usual quite diverting "science-fictionish escapist" tale they had come to expect of the series. A few (but very few) admitted that they never had any time for this "childish rubbish", while a considerable number remarked that although a new Doctor Who series was not unwelcome and this first episode had appeal, compared to the series it replaced, Star Trek, it seemed naäve, and, to them, less satisfying. "Hardly an adequate substitute for Star Trek, and by comparison rather childish. But time will tell, and it's good enough in its own way." Altogether the consensus of opinion seemed to be that this new series gave every indication of becoming a Doctor Who adventure in the expected tradition - and certainly (many added) it appealed very much to children.'

Contemporary press reaction suggests that some journalists were rather more on the ball. 'This Doctor Who adventure wins my vote as the best in the lifetime of the series so far,' commented Matthew Coady in the Daily Mirror. 'What it did was to suggest an authentic sense of the uncanny.' Gerard Garrett of the Daily Sketch was similarly enthusiastic, asserting that the series had returned, in colour, with 'a production so slick that it made many adult series look like lumbering oxen'.

Contributing significantly toward this slickness of production is the fact that, making a virtue of necessity, this story was shot entirely on film. The first example of the new style Doctor Who of the seventies, Spearhead from Space fairly grips the viewer from start to finish and sets the scene for even greater things to come. As Lydiard concluded, 'For sheer production quality, Spearhead from Space remains a towering landmark in Doctor Who history.'

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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