The debut of a new Doctor always marks a time of big change for Doctor Who, but none perhaps more so than 1970’s Spearhead From Space. As well as featuring the first appearance of The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, this four-part serial also brought with it a wealth of other modifications to the sci-fi show’s formula – a new companion, a new premise… and colour! Now fully remastered for the HD generation and re-released on Blu-Ray alongside a limited edition steelbook, does this blast from the past still manage to hold up in the present day?
The answer, thankfully, is yes. There’s an awful lot to love about this version of Spearhead From Space, whether it be the story itself or the overall presentation of the package. Starting with what differentiates this from other home video releases of the serial, the limited edition steelbook is itself a thing of beauty – emblazoned with gorgeous artwork of The Third Doctor, Liz Shaw, and the Autons on the front and a post-regenerative Jon Pertwee on the back (as well as a wonderfully whimsical picture of the Time Lord on the inside), this makes for an excellent collector’s item and one that will stand out beautifully as part of anyone’s Doctor Who library. Though you can also pick up the Blu-Ray without the steelbook, it’s definitely worth shelling out a few extra pounds to get the special edition packaging if you’re able to.
As for the actual content on the disc, viewers can expect to be treated to all four episodes of Spearhead From Space plus a few bonus features. The serial has stood the test of time surprisingly well, with writing and direction that makes it perfectly watchable even 46 years after it originally aired. The quality of the HD remaster is truly excellent, likely made possible due to the entirety of the story being recorded on film on location rather than in a studio. As such, despite not having a particularly epic scale, there’s a definite cinematic quality to proceedings – and in fact, at just over 90 minutes long, it’s almost a shame that there isn’t a way to watch all four episodes in one straight omnibus-style sitting, especially as some of the cliffhangers don’t quite have the dramatic punch that the writers obviously intended them to.
Aside from that minor quibble, Spearhead From Space is a rollicking good ride, and arguably one of the finest introductions for any Doctor in the show’s 53-year history. There’s a lot of new elements to establish – Liz Shaw and the new Earth-bound U.N.I.T. storylines to name but a couple – which, all things considered, are achieved fairly seamlessly in a serial that’s easy to enjoy. It’s the start of a brand new direction for Doctor Who, making it one of the most accessible jumping on points for new viewers – and a blueprint that has been directly referenced for later reinvigorating of the show, with ideas borrowed straight from it in the Ninth and Eleventh Doctor’s debuts (namely, killer shop window dummies and The Doctor finding his new costume in a hospital).
If you liked Rose or The Eleventh Hour, then it’s a fair bet you’ll like what’s on offer here too, and it wouldn’t feel out-of-place in the modern era of the show. What’s even more likeable is Jon Pertwee, who shines in the title role from the outset, and whose flexible facial expressions help to overshadow even the most questionable of moments in the adventure (random tentacles of doom, anyone?).
Outside of the main feature, there’s also a 40-minute long feature about Jon Pertwee himself that’s full of comprehensive footage and interviews about his life, serving as a touching tribute to the late, great actor. There’s also an equally informative (if ever so slightly less captivating) feature on Liz Shaw actress Caroline Shaw, clocking in at just under 30 minutes. There’s also unused title sequence footage and an insight into how the HD restoration process was performed, complete with comparisons to the original recordings. One might feel a little short-changed that there isn’t more to see, or even an audio commentary to listen to, but what’s there is serviceable enough.
All in all, the Spearhead From Space limited edition steelbook Blu-Ray is a well-packaged set and potentially the definitive way to experience Jon Petwee’s first outing, making it a must-have for any die-hard Third Doctor fan. However, even if you’re not, there’s plenty you can get out of it – featuring the introduction of the Autons, the talent of the supporting cast like Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney, and a simple yet effective storyline, Spearhead From Space is a classic Doctor Who serial in every sense of the word. If you’re yet to witness this piece of the show’s history, there’s no better time to do so than now.