The newest Doctor Who release is the first ever classic serial on Blu-ray! It also possibly contains the only episodes of the series’ original run that will ever get the high-definition treatment because, unlike other Who episodes, it was shot on film due to a strike at the BBC.
As far as picture quality goes, don’t go in expecting to see something as crisp as detailed as movies and shows filmed in the past couple of decades. But it does look stunningly better than any other classic Doctor Who release I’ve ever seen, a real step up from the DVD version of this very story. The menus, in particular, are fantastic. The colors are vividly real, and one can see every pimple on a face’s closeup. The soundtrack fares about the same, maintaining the original sound, which isn’t the sharpest, but lacking the static and noise that most of these older episodes contain. Overall, while dated, the look and sound is impressive, better than I’d dared hope for.
The four-episode story on this release is Spearhead From Space, the season seven premiere that is not only the first one starring Jon Pertwee as The Doctor (the Third, for those keeping track), but also the first Doctor Who filmed in color. It is the first episode that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), whom we’d seen before, is featured as a series regular. It introduces Dr. Liz Shaw (Caroline John) as the new companion. Additionally, the episode has a new title sequence from the first six years, and was the first story aired outside of the series’ normal Saturday night time slot.
As the story begins, our titular character is exiled on Earth, in a hospital no less! At the same time, meteorites are falling, one of which contains an intelligence that can manufacture Autons, which it plans on using to take over the world. UNIT could really use the Doctor’s help in dealing with the invasion, if only they knew where he was.
Spearhead from Space is as much a story about the Doctor as it is about the adventure the characters are undertaking. The concept of regeneration is a new one for Lethbridge-Stewart, who has a hard time believing that this is the same Doctor he has worked with in the past, albeit in a different body. The process of the Doctor switching bodies is still relatively new to the series, and Lethbridge-Stewart serves as a nice vehicle for the audience to access the concept so vital to the mythology.
This serial also sets up the Doctor’s next big arc. He is marooned on Earth at the whim of his fellow Time Lords. The Doctor isn’t too pleased with the situation, but makes a deal with UNIT to make things more tenable. This is a character out of his element, which is always fun to explore. Pertwee seems to be the perfect actor to execute this particular plot.
It is interesting to me that a being of almost pure thought, who has escaped the bounds of a physical body, is still interested in controlling the rest of the world. Yes, the intelligence contains some powers that help it accomplish things it could not as a normal life form. But it seems so much less efficient to not have any limbs. And why is it so concerned with forcing others to its will? What does it need with Earth? Spearhead from Space is far from the only sci-fi story to ponder these questions, continuing one of the strangest themes in the genre.
Rather than recycling the extras from last year’s Special Edition release, the blu-ray Spearhead From Space has only a few bonus materials, but they are fresh and rich in quality. There’s a forty-plus minute profile of Pertwee, with those who had the pleasure of working with him telling us what he was like. A half hour looks at Caroline John. Plus, there’s a short, sometimes side-by-side, comparison with notes on how the picture was converted to high definition, in case anyone doubts the improvement is worth it. The title sequence material alone isn’t very interesting to the casual fan, but I’m sure some will find value in it.
In short, the Spearhead From Space blu-ray is an essential must-see for any Doctor Who fan, or anyone interested in the conversion of old film in general.