Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Sontaran Experiment and Spearhead from Space

I've been catching up on classic Doctor Who which I had not previously seen.

Watched "The Sontaran Experiment" last weekend. It comes between two excellent stories of Tom Baker's first season, "The Ark In Space" and "Genesis Of The Daleks". Alas, the two episodes in between are not much cop, with the Doctor, Harry and Sarah running around a quarry and falling down holes, in the company of some dishevelled stranded astronauts, a Sontaran and a robot reminiscent of Graeme Garden's computer from the Goodies. The final victory is implausible even by Doctor Who standards of plausibility, and the experimentation scenes gratuitously nasty without adding much to the plot.

Jon Pertwee's first story, "Spearhead from Space", is a different matter. Since I was not yet three when this was first broadcast, I knew about it only from the various guides and from the Target novelisation - the first ever Target novelisation, in fact - which as some may remember actually featured line-drawing illustrations in the first edition. So I was rather hoping that it might be perhaps half as good as it seemed to me when I first read the story aged roughly nine. And it was, in fact, excellent. I took detailed notes à la yhlee, as follows:

Episode 1: Wow, doesn't it look 1970s! It's the glasses as much as anything. And, as with "The Christmas Invasion", we have the new Doctor out of action and comatose for much of the episode. This leaves the Brigadier and Liz Shaw (who I had never seen before) doing a sort of precursor to the X-Files - the Brigadier actually says, "We deal with the odd... the unexplained. Anything on Earth... or beyond."

The Third Doctor's historic first words are, "Lethbridge-Stewart! My dear fellow, how nice to see you again." All the accents are awfully posh - well, the Doctor and Liz are anyway - which makes the poacher Sam's accent even more noticeable. (Is that really the traditional Essex accent? I am not an expert in these matters but am somehow not surprised to discover that location filming was in Worcestershire.) Note attempt at enlightenment by having the head of the radar station in the very first scene a military woman, addressed as "Ma'am" by the bloke at the screen.

Episode 2: Good lord, I know a bloke in Brussels who looks just like the hapless Hibbert. (And this is the same actor who plays the Draconian Emperor in "Frontier in Space", and Broton in "Terror of the Zygons"! Rather impressive.)

Great exchanges between Liz and the Brigadier:
L: "I deal with facts, not science fiction ideas."
B: "there is a remote possibility that outside your tidy little world, other things may exist."
L: "You really believe in a man who's helped to save the world twice and has the power to change his physical appearance, an alien who travels through time and space... in a police box????"
Shower scene: Hmm, is Jon Pertwee the only actor ever to have played Doctor Who in the nude? (And perhaps also the only one with a tattoo?) (Indeed, is has Doctor Who ever got closer than this to a nude scene from any actor?)

Once the Doctor meets Liz they are flirting away with each other, the Brigadier having rather dashed his own chances with her by remarking that she is not just a pretty face...

Episode 3: Ooh arr, more accents from Sam and Meg. But she at least redeems herself with some brilliant reactions to the Auton towards the end of the episode. Still unconvinced by him.

The unfortunate Ransome trying to reclaim his factory - is this a subtle tribute to C.S. Lewis, I wonder? The protagonist of the trilogy that starts with Perelandra is called Ransom.

Fascinating sub-plot of the new character of the unreliable and frankly dishonest Third Doctor, perhaps in a return to the First Doctor's nasty qualities after the good-guy persona of the Second, trying to escape his responsibilities in the TARDIS and manipulating Liz to get the key off the Brigadier. Though, again, the Brigadier digs his own hole by patronising Liz. Moral of the story: don't patronise women. (Especially the really intelligent ones.)

Episode 4: Poor General Scobie - duplicated, hypnotised, and wakes up being stared at by the customers of Madame Tussaud's. And I found it interesting, given the BBC's supposed policy against advertising, that the waxwork museum is clearly identified as Madame Tussaud's. (I've never seen the attraction of it myself.) I wish Liz hadn't screamed, though other companions would have screamed for longer I suppose.

Note for work purposes: is "Scobie"'s confrontation with the UNIT staff perhaps the first fictional portrayal of the clash between national and UN chains of command which has proved in more recent times to be such a problem in the Balkans?

Simply superb scene as Channing installs the swarm leader globule, practically kneeling in worship, and then the special effects of the Nestene consciousness coming into being are just brilliant. ("We are the Nestenes!" declared Channing, and Anne, watching beside me, squeked in recognition of the name from "Rose".)

Doctor wearing cape and blowing the door open - very like a stage magician. He has fully captured the role now, the poor Brigadier is definitely #3 in the pecking order.

The shop window dummies coming to life - one of those great Doctor Who moments, and no surprise at all that Russell T Davies decided to reprise it almost unchanged in "Rose".

A great climax, UNIT and the Autons exchanging fire outside while the Doctor wrestles with tentacles inside the factory and Liz wrestles with the Plot Device Gizmo to locate the "on" switch. But I shouldn't mock, it is very well done - production values which seemed to have disappeared ten or fifteen years later.

The whole thing made me realise just how true to the series' traditions "Rose" was. Like "Rose", "Spearhead from Space" was effectively a relaunch of the series - six-monthly runs of stories, all in colour, all set on Earth. They had to prove that the old show could work in the new format, and they succeeded. (Compare "Attack of the Cybermen" which was surely when the writing went on the wall for the old run.)

Finally, isn't it amazing how few of the great stories from the original TV run of Doctor Who were not touched by Robert Holmes at some point? I hadn't quite taken in that apart from being script editor for the first (and best) Tom Baker years, he also wrote this, "The Ark in Space", "Carnival of Monsters", "The Caves of Androzani", "The Deadly Assassin", "The Krotons", "The Power of Kroll" (well, we all have an off day), "The Ribos Operation", "The Sun Makers", "The Talons of Weng Chiang", "Terror of the Autons", "The Time Warrior", and "The Two Doctors". Plus a couple more I'd completely forgotten about. Will have to add more to my collection...
Tags: doctor who, doctor who: 03, doctor who: 04, doctor who: sarah jane, writer: bob baker, writer: dave martin
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