Doctor Who #258: Spearhead from Space Part 3

"It is too soon for a major battle."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.17 1970.

IN THIS ONE... The Autons seek their swarm leader's globe, which falls into the Doctor's hands.

REVIEW: In this episode, the Doctor manipulates Liz Shaw into getting the TARDIS key from the Brigadier so he can get at some advanced lab equipment, only to try and dematerialize the ship and run away. He fails, confirming his exile, but it doesn't really endear us to this new Doctor that he would leave before the situation was resolved. To be fair, it's all been plastic analysis up to now and no one's been killed that he knows of, but still. It's probably not so much about escaping from UNIT's clutches (getting the key but staying would be a better argument for his freedom), but to see if he can break the Time Lords' exile. It's one of the least objectionable bits in Part 3, however.

What do I mean? Well, it's definitely suffering from Part 3 Blues. Liz Shaw's mocking attitude seems a rehash of the last two episodes. The Brigadier is starting to get obtuse, and I'd rather he didn't. Suspension of disbelief is strained by geography (Ransom runs from the factory to the woods near the poacher's hut? how are all the locations within walking distance?) and other real world concerns (General Scobie must be a big deal if Madame Tussaud's wants a wax/plastic dummy of him). Ransom is a gibbering madman after a rather tame Auton attack. I thought doll makers were made of sterner stuff. The Autons have a neat gun hand that turns this into an acrid yellow smoke (everything screams WE'RE IN COLOR NOW!!!), but the effect for "total destruction" comes with a silly sound and even silly reverse motion. And there's the problem of Sam Seeley the poacher, an unfunny example of the comedy country bumpkin. There's a reason I haven't mentioned him before, nor hopefully, will again.

Martinus' flair for the visual is what redeems much of the episode. The Autons are effective monsters, taking shotgun blasts without complaining. Channing's remote control of them is shot with a fish-eyed lens, giving the whole thing a sense of unease well matched by the actor's anxious performance. There's that shot of Channing through a plastic window (above) that's literally alienating. And the meeting of the Scobie doubles is well handled, his Auton self looking very plastic indeed, as opposed to other impostor models that have just looked sweaty. Looks like UNIT is about to lose the army's support.

- There's often a dip in quality and relevance in Part 3 of any four-parter. It seems a Doctor Who constant.


Anonymous said...

One thing I very much liked was the Doctor apologizing to Liz and the Brigadier for being a jerk. This is a Doctor who, while he may be the smartest man in the world by his own admission, still recognizes the need to take responsibility for his actions. (I could be foreshadowing "Planet of the Spiders" when I say that.)

I can't even get too mad at the Doctor for trying to bolt, though. Testing his freedom is not the same as taking off and not returning.

The Autons are lame; we'll never see THEM again, that's for sure. (I say this in the same voice I used when, after the first new "Doctor Who" episode aired, I insisted the show was a rip-off of Bill and Ted.)

Siskoid said...

Ouch! So you're a real newbie then? If so, kudos on your going back to watch the classics.

Anonymous said...

Kind of trolling but deliberately doing a bad job of it. I've been watching DW since the 1980s, so by most standards I'm not a newbie -- and even if I were, surely I would recall that Autons and the Nestene Consciousness showed up in the very first new DW episode.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - The Doctor continues to be a jerk for quite awhile, though. I think this will be a topic of discussion going forward. The quality of Season 7's scripts are excellent but the Third Doctor is not very likeable. (Intentionally, I'm sure.)

@Siskoid - I'm with you on this story so far, except I like Sam Seeley. I've never seen him as purely a comedy character. He's a cunning little rat who gets more and more nervous as he realizes he's in over his head.


Siskoid said...

Jerky Doctor: The Doctor's personae vacillate between likeable and not, and he's been truly likable in only half the regenerations, if that. The show does ask you to take sides. Are you with the Doctor, or are you with the Brigadier? Is the Doctor fair to the authority figures he takes down? Not always, but since our relationship with him is midwifed by Liz, Jo or Sarah Jane, I think we mostly like him. He's that friend you have who is mean to everyone but you, and makes you a willing accomplice in his brutal honesty.

Sam Seeley: I won't take that away from you. He's not that bad. The show in this era does make too great a use of such figures however, though that's hardly the fault of the one that came first.

LiamKav said...

One thing I've only just realised in the "the Doctor was a git for running at the first chance he got" argument is that the Forth Doctor does the exact same thing just after his regeneration. People often use it to contrast the more human Third Doctor with the alient Forth, but the truth is that in both cases their first reaction was to bolt.

Siskoid said...

Doc3 IS more human that Doc4, but they have the same flight impulse. Argument blown!


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