When Russell T Davies brought Doctor Who back to our screens in 2005, the first villain our Doctor faced was the Nestene Consciousness. In the episode, The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) rescues poor Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) from the department store in which she works because the mannequins are coming alive and killing people.
For those without any Who history it is a brilliant opening, one with this quirky guy rescuing a damsel in distress from weird, unknown, completely terrifying enemies. For those with a sense of Who history, it is a brilliant opening with this quirky new (to us) Doctor rescuing a damsel in distress from the Nestene Consciousness. It is an opening which is not just wonderful for its fully realized new Who universe, but because it instantly lets Who fans know that this is their show back again.
There are a large number of parallels between that Who story, “Rose,” and “Spearhead from Space” which introduced us to the Third Doctor, played by John Pertwee. The purpose of this review is not to catalog them however, rather I mention it because it is one of those fascinating convergences in the Whoniverse, one which shows just how much the current series has been thought through and how everything ties together.
“Spearhead from Space” features our newly regenerated Doctor (Pertwee) with a complete lack of memory about how he got to Earth, what his history may be, and how to operate the TARDIS. Naturally, UNIT is alerted to his presence and he quickly falls in with them. Over the course of the four episodes of the series, The Doctor meets his new companion, Liz Shaw (Caroline John), and joins UNIT so he has something to do while not fixing the TARDIS. Also, he meets the Nestene Consciousness and stops them from taking over the world.
The Nestene Consciousness is a perfectly interesting enemy as far as they go (they can animate plastic), but as with all first appearances of a Doctor (and perhaps last appearances as well), the story is more intriguing for what we learn about our hero. Scenes of the Doctor examining his newly regenerated face or wondering what kinds of things he likes (fish fingers and custard being one of the more memorable ones… but that isn’t this Doctor) or getting a new outfit or finding a new mode of transportation are these little windows into the new character. As great as these insights are for us in the audience, they’re more important for the Doctor. They tell him, as much as they tell us, what kind of man he is, what his quirks and foibles and attitudes may be.
Pertwee’s introduction as the Third Doctor is one of the few offered us without an on-screen regeneration (even the Doctor Who TV movie had a regeneration). People who watched the last episode of the Second Doctor know exactly what happened, but for the Third Doctor it’s a mystery, his slate has been wiped clean. Over the course of the story he gets some of it back, but watching him slowly working out the bits and pieces and being surprised when the TARDIS doesn’t work provide some really great moments.
Plus, you know, the idea of living plastic and mannequins coming alive with guns literally inside their hands and the desire to kill everyone can make for some interesting television. The Nestene Consciousness’ notion here of creating plastic figures of world leaders so they can take over is a pretty diabolical plot. It, along with the introduction of a new Doctor make these episodes exceedingly watchable.
The usual sorts of great extras have been included on this DVD release. Chief among these are a 22 minute making of piece with several individuals (including a Pertwee interview from 1994) from the series giving us a rundown of how the story itself came together and how the new Doctor came in to things. There is another separate piece focused entirely on the show moving from black and white to color. It isn’t quite as compelling as the overarching behind the scenes piece, but it is still quite good. A spoof UNIT recruitment film is also present. Other supplementals include audio commentary tracks, a photo gallery, and the usual assortment of PDF materials.
For its introduction of an iconic series villain, for it being the first colorized story for the series, for it introducing us to a new Doctor, for it greatly restricting the Doctor’s ability to travel and thereby dramatically changing things, for it just plain being a good story, “Spearhead from Space” is an iconic moment in Doctor Who. More than 40 years after it originally aired in early 1970, it remains a hugely important and fun tale.