DOCTOR WHO: Spearhead from Space (Blu-ray)
BBC / 1970 / 97 mins / NR
"Spearhead from Space?" I know what you are thinking: "Didn't you just review a snazzy Special Edition DVD of this story exactly one year ago and tell us it was the coolest thing since sliced bread?" The answer to that is... yes I did. And now I'm going to tell you why this release of Jon Pertwee's first story as The Third Doctor is one of the most special releases of the entire classic series. But since my love and opinion of this story hasn't changed one iota in the past year, I'm going to reprint an extract of what I said back then about the story. Skip on down to "The Disc" section to start reading about this specific release.
Having been found guilty of breaking the Time Lord's policy of non-interference, The Doctor is forced to "change his appearance," have his knowledge of time travel blocked and is exiled to Earth for an indeterminate period. The Third Doctor's (Jon Pertwee) exile occurs at the same time a swarm of meteorites land in the nearby English countryside. While he is recuperating from his regeneration, The Doctor is reunited with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) of the recently formed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) and must convince him he is the same person that fought beside him twice before, just in a new body. Soon The Doctor is partnered with brilliant scientist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Caroline John) and the team is neck deep solving the mystery of the meteorites and the strange goings on at a local plastics factory.
"Spearhead from Space" is a great example of British science fiction at its best, not just great DOCTOR WHO. The tone and pacing of this story was very reminiscent of the highly acclaimed Quatermass television series of the past. The villainous Autons would only return twice more (to date) in all of the series, but they are one of the most fondly remembered of all DOCTOR WHO baddies. In fact their next appearance, in "Terror of the Autons," would provoke a national outcry for their scariness and they are who Russell T. Davies chose to launch the new series with. They are potent, powerfully creepy and haven't been used to death (something Steven Moffat needs to learn with the Weeping Angels).
"Spearhead from Space" is unique in the entire 150+ stories that make up the original 26 year run of DOCTOR WHO because it is the only story to be completely shot on film. All of the other 690 episodes of the classic era were either shot entirely on video tape or a mixture of videotaped interiors and filmed exteriors. "Spearhead from Space" was 100% 16mm film and thus is the only classic era story that can be presented in true high definition.
To put it succinctly, this full frame 1.33 transfer is simply jaw-droppingly beautiful. This looks like a low budget movie from the era rather than a television show. The original film elements were scanned and completely restored just for this release. Colors are lush, warm and apparently correct for the first time (just look at the color of the car Liz arrives at UNIT HQ in in the restoration comparison featurette.) Detail is amazing. Back to Liz at UNIT in the first episode, you can actually see writing on the pages of the book the Brigadier gives her whereas they have been blown out for the past 40 years. The fine layer of film grain visible just ups the ante on this being The Classic Era Doctor Who Feature Film.
However, there is only so much you can do with the soundtrack. Even with a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono upgrade, you simply can't fix what was originally recorded. Much of "Spearhead from Space" was shot on location and in many of the locations (UNIT HQ, the hospital, the plastics factory floor) there is a tinny echo to all of the dialogue. It just can't be helped. However, the music, sound effects and dialogue are all perfectly mixed and sound as good as they possibly can.
This Blu-ray release was never meant to replace that lovely Special Edition DVD that came out last year and none of the supplements have been ported over. Instead, we get a quartet of all new goodies that are a sweet and nostalgic look back at some of the most important aspects of DOCTOR WHO in 1970.
First up is the 40 minute documentary "A Dandy and A Clown: The Life of Jon Pertwee." Interviews with friends and colleagues are interspersed with rare film clips and stills from the prolific entertainers' career with a particular focus on the two roles that pretty much defined the latter half of his life: Doctor Who and Wurzel Gummidge.
"Carry On: The Life of Caroline John" is a similar retrospective on the actress who passed away only last year. In addition to clips and photos from television shows and DOCTOR WHO convention appearances, this documentary also features input from her husband, Geoffrey Beevers.
"Title Sequence Material" is over twenty minutes, nearly the length of an entire episode, of raw black and white footage of the howlaround technique used to create the legendary opening titles sequence.
The "Restoration Comparison" is made up of several side-by-side and before and after shots of what "Spearhead from Space" looked like on its original DVD release, the restoration done for last year's Special Edition DVD and this high def restoration.
Still a fantastic story, this high def restoration of "Spearhead from Space" breathes life into classic DOCTOR WHO that one would not have thought possible. Highly Recommended!