Monday, June 30, 2014

Spearhead From Space: It's a whole new Who era

When we watched The Daemons last year, the guy who organised the 50th lookback argued that it felt like this was where Doctor Who became a much more modern programme. Despite the change to colour I disagreed. Having now watched Jon Pertwee's entrance, I can totally see where he's coming from.

It feels like it's moving a hell of a lot quicker, though compared to Troughton I'm not sure that's true, it just gives the impression that things are pretty swift these days and there's a lot of moving parts that slowly intertwine to form what is a bloody good debut for a Doctor.

It's almost like a rebirth of the show, more so than most other regenerations tend to be. As a result Spearhead from Space also has an incredible amount to share with the launch of New Who. Autons see their debut here, and it ends with the Nestene Concious planning to take over the world, just like Rose (the episode, not the characters). There's the iconic imagery of them breaking out of shop windows – though the glass smashing is off screen to keep the budget down. For someone who got into Who with the relaunch, a lot feels familiar here.

Also with Troughton's bow out in War Games confirmed exactly that the Doctor is a Time Lord, the producers go all-in and we get the two hearts and his blood being so alien doctors can't identify it, right from Pertwee's debut. It's actually this, and not the Autons, that bring UNIT in, and they just happen to be in the right place at the right time when things go south. Oh they're investigating something connected, but only just, and you get the impression it's slightly routine, like they're expected too. Which nicely builds up the aliens to be a decent threat, with their plan already in motion.

Obviously this is the new format of the show and we have the Doctor now teaming up with UNIT and the Brigadier as a series regular, the exact reason we stopped off at The Invasion on our way here. Now because this is a Post-Regeneration story, as well as whole new status-quo, the Doctor is actually kept away from the action for a while, throwing himself into a coma to cope with the enforced regeneration, which sounds similar to Tennant. As such, most of the first two episodes concentrate on the Brigadier, new companion Liz Shaw, and laying the groundwork for the Autons. Oh, and a terrible comedy farmer, who somehow managed to stick around for three out of the four episodes. But apart from that mis-step this isn't just a good debut, but a really good serial. And starts off this new era on very good footing.

It's a bit early to make a decision on Liz, but she's a great departure from what we've come to expect from the companions. Liz is a scientist, pulled into UNIT to be their science advisor because the Brigadier isn't expecting the Doctor to get stranded in his timezone. She's able to vaguely keep up with the Doctor when it comes to the science, and can move the plot on there without him, which The Invasion suffered slightly from, being that anytime science was needed The Doctor was taken off the battlefield. The more classic companion role of having someone the Doctor can explain things to is given over more to the Brigadier, a brave move when he's running a military division. Compared to the headstrong Jamie and completely out of her depth Victoria, this is quite a change. He's got to balance not understanding while at the same time convincing the audience The Brigadier could be a leader in the Army. Nicholas Courtney does with aplomb, more often than not looking to make an informed decision rather than just stumbling around in the dark, with armed men at his beck and call.

It's also a little early to make a decision on Pertwee too. Last year, based on The Daemons, I wasn't overly keen. The Three and Five Doctors both improved my opinion slightly. Here, he's not about for half the story, but there's a couple of moments where he is the Doctor. The bit in Madame Tussaud's for example. Yet the end of the episode, with Pertwee doing a ridiculous turn of 'speaking in Delphon' – wiggling his eyebrows – that is just painful to watch. Combined with the comedy yokel I mentioned earlier, and there's aspects of this era I'm already starting to worry about.

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