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Recap / Doctor Who S7 E1 "Spearhead from Space"

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The first of many of the Third Doctor's Earth adventures.

"We deal with the odd... the unexplained. Anything on Earth... or beyond."
The Brigadier sets out UNIT's mission statement

The one where the Doctor takes a shower.

"Spearhead from Space" is one of the most important Doctor Who serials ever made. It was the first serial of Doctor Who to be broadcast in colour.note  It proved that recasting the Doctor into a different sort of person was a trick you could do more than once, meaning the series could run indefinitely. And it was the beginning of a long stretch that takes place almost exclusively on Earth. Due to a decision on the part of the previous production team to reformat the series,note  the setting would be "contemporary Earth" for the foreseeable future, with the Doctor exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. With the Third Doctor being confined to life with UNIT, the show's atmosphere changed completely and started drawing much inspiration from that other famous Sydney Newman show: The Avengers.

Written by Robert Holmes. This four-episode serial first aired from January 3—24, 1970.

The year is... whatever the hell people feel like it being. Blame John Nathan-Turner. Or Robert Holmes. Or maybe even Derrick Sherwin. Anyway...

A series of meteorites crashes onto Earth in a suspiciously uniform manner and without leaving an impact crater, which the British military decides to ignore (despite the suspicions of one very unnerved air traffic controller). One meteorite ends up being discovered by a hunter up in the country, who takes home the purple rock that to modern viewers sounds uncannily like someone's cell phone going off.

The TARDIS materialises (in colour, no less!) and a tall, white-haired man dressed in a Patrick Troughton costume steps out and collapses.

UNIT troops arrive and find the man, taking him off to hospital, where he spends some time in a coma. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart arrives and, after hearing that the man has two hearts and was found near a police box, concludes that it's probably the Doctor, who he last met while fighting a Cyberman invasion in London. When the Doctor wakes up— still with his previous personality— he's not at all happy at having been forcibly regenerated, but has to admit that his new face is rather dignified. The Brig is less content, being confused as to why this man looks nothing like Patrick Troughton and initially doubting that he's actually the Doctor, only to have his suspicions debunked once the odd man who looks like Jon Pertwee verbally recognizes him. One gratuitous shower scene later, the Doctor's stolen some oddly frilly clothes and a car (from the "Doctors only" car park) and is on his way to UNIT, where scientist Liz Shaw is trying to make sense of the mystery of the day. An employee of the local plastic factory is claiming that he's seen a walking mannequin. And there's a meteorite shower on.

The new Doctor is still suffering from amnesia (caused by both his execution and the Time Lords having removed large chunks of his memory pertaining to TARDIS operation) and tries to get used to his new personality while he investigates the strange meteorite shower. He discovers that the meteorites are in fact hollow globes containing the Nestene Consciousness, another disembodied alien intelligence (see "The Abominable Snowmen" and "The Web of Fear"), which uses plastics to achieve its ends as opposed to Yeti balls (no, not those kinds). In one classic scene, shop dummies come to life, smashing through the shop windows (off-screen) and firing guns concealed in their hands, spreading panic— but the Nestene Consciousness's real plan is to create plastic replicas of world leaders and take over the Earth.

The Doctor and Liz manage to repel the Consciousness back into space thanks to the power of a tiny satellite dish (after the Doctor spends some time mugging for the camera while being strangled by the Consciousness) and the Doctor agrees to sign on as UNIT's "Scientific Advisor" for the duration of his exile, signing the paperwork as Dr. John Smith. In exchange, UNIT will give him technical facilities to try and repair the TARDIS (which has been deactivated by the Time Lords), and the use of a vintage car just like the one he had earlier appropriated from the hospital.


  • Answer Cut:
    Corporal: Is he dead, sir?
    [cut to the hospital, some time later]
    Dr. Henderson: No.
  • Arm Cannon: The Autons love their folding/unfolding wrist guns.
  • Artistic Licence – Chemistry: In the scene where Liz describes how the alien plastic differs from anything known on Earth, everything she mentions is actually a real characteristic of Earthly plastics — but by the time she's finished, she's effectively said that it lacks every characteristic necessary to defining a substance as being a plastic.
  • Art Shift: Due to a workers' strike rendering the usual videotape cameras unavailable, this is the only serial of Doctor Who shot entirely on film; consequently, it was also the first serial released on Blu-ray and the only one from the 1963-1989 run released in true HD (as opposed to mixing in upscaled videotape footage).
  • Aside Glance: When the Brigadier and the other members of UNIT leave the Doctor alone and unguarded in his hospital bed, he gives the camera a short, conspiratorial look.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: Attack of the killer 1970s shop window mannequins!
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The Doctor finds the shell of a Nestene Consciousness much more interesting than his conversation with the Brig, and breaks into talking about it mid-sentence.
  • Badass in Distress: In the very first episode of his very first story, the Third Doctor gets gagged and kidnapped by the Autons, who mistakenly think the reason UNIT is interested in him is because he has information on where the Auton Spheres landed. He proceeds to escape by himself, survive a bullet to the head, and go on to wreck the Nestene Consciousness with help from Liz and UNIT.
  • Big Bad: The Nestene Consciousness. Channing, the facsimile who takes over the plastic factory, serves as The Heavy.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Dr. Henderson spends most of the first episode trying to comprehend a creature that has two hearts, unidentifiable blood, a pulse rate of 10 per minute and a flatline EEG.
  • Bound and Gagged: The Doctor is kidnapped by a raiding party of Autons. He escapes. In a wheelchair.invoked
  • Brief Accent Imitation / Continuity Nod: With one of his first lines, Pertwee does his best Patrick Troughton imitation: "That's not me 'tall!"
  • Can't You Read the Sign?: Played with — in the hospital, the Doctor walks right past a "Doctors Only" sign.
  • The Charmer: The Doctor quickly seduces Liz and flirting her into getting his TARDIS key for him (though she loses interest when she realises he's tricked her).
  • Combat Tentacles: The Nestene attacks the Doctor with these.
  • Continuity Creep: This story marked the point where continuity became vital to understanding the show. While Doctor Who never outright ignored its past, this marked the first time where it became a central tenet, with this serial acting as a Sequel Episode to "The Web of Fear", "The Invasion", and "The War Games" all at once (and in 1970, if you missed these stories when they first aired, you had no way of catching up). References to the show's past would continue to punctuate the Third Doctor's run, mostly due to both the more centralized nature of the UNIT era and the fact that said period was reliant on elements established during Patrick Troughton's tenure.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: The local plastics factory Auto Plastics has been taken over by the Nestene Consciousness which uses the factory to produce Autons, sending them out to recover meteorites containing individual Nestene while simultaneously replacing key government and public figures with Auton duplicates.
  • Could Have Been Messy: The Doctor gets shot in the head, and VERY narrowly dodges a bullet to the brain in Episode 1.
  • Creator Cameo: Producer Derrick Sherwin plays the UNIT guard the Doctor gets past. Supposedly, they had an actor hired to play the part, but he was utterly terrible, so Sherwin, a former actor, put the costume on and took over.
  • Creepy Doll: Part 2 has a scene in a creepy doll factory.
  • Darker and Edgier: Part 2 has a guy whose face gets smashed into a windshield. This trope would become a staple of Robert Holmes episodes.
  • Doppelgänger: The Auton facsimiles of key authority figures.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: While the end credits now roll over footage from the title sequence rather than just a black background, the familiar end-of-episode "sting" is still absent, and the end credits theme is very clumsily edited and cross-faded to make it the same length as the credits sequence. It wouldn't be until two stories later they debuted the sting, along with a shortened version of the end credits theme (brought down to length mostly by omitting the middle eight).
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: There's a car accident when a man avoids running down an Auton and instead goes into a tree. We see a shattered windscreen covered in blood.
  • Fanservice: The Doctor's Shower Scene. Tempered somewhat by the tattoo on Jon Pertwee's arm and fandom's attempts to explain it away. (It's generally accepted that the tattoo is a Time Lord-administered "criminal mark" that remains in place until the Doctor's exile is lifted.)
  • Fingore: A meta-example: Derek Smee, who played Ransome, gashed his left index finger pretty badly while climbing over the barbed wire while on location shooting the "infiltration into the plastics factory" scene. He insisted on the doctors administering first aid and placing a flesh-coloured bandage over the finger so he could return to finish the day's shoot. Afterwards, he was immediately rushed to a hospital for surgery. Scenes shot subsequently show him with a bandage on the finger and favouring it while climbing stairs.
  • Giant Squid: The Nestenes create "a life-form perfectly adapted for survival and conquest on this planet"; it's basically an enormous squid.
  • Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: Inverted when the Doctor makes off with the surgeon's car — he needs to reverse to get out of the parking space, but starts going forward first.
    • Jon Pertwee claimed that he damaged the car slightly during this sequence with that gag — he had accidentally thrown the car into the wrong gear and wrenched the transmission.
  • He Knows Too Much: Ransome.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: The Doctor "borrows" a vintage car and takes a liking to it. UNIT does return the car to its rightful owner, but they get the Doctor another one a lot like it.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The waxworks museum where evil plastic Doppelgangers of government officials are held. And where their victims are frozen in place.
  • Immune to Bullets: The Autons.
  • Innocent Innuendo: It's hard to tell whether it was this or an Accidental Innuendo,invoked but when the actual doctor meets with his superior in the restroom and they discuss the Doctor, he asks if his superior wants to review the Doctor's charts "before you examine him." Little do they know, the Doctor is showering with his back to them, in plain view. "Examine" indeed.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Doctor is not happy when he realises that his amnesia isn't just regeneration sickness, and that the Time Lords have messed with his brain.
  • Murderous Mannequin: The Autons. Shop window dummies coming alive to stalk the streets is one of the most iconic moments of classic Who.
  • Mr. Smith: The Doctor's chosen "alias" is Doctor John Smith. The Brigadier is not impressed.
  • The Nth Doctor: Jon Pertwee makes his debut as the Doctor.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: "Smith. Doctor John Smith." Jon Pertwee was after all a great 007 fan, and this reference would only be the first of many during his tenure. Made awesome in hindsight by the fact that Pertwee was friends with 007 creator Ian Fleming, and once worked in the British Secret Service with him during WWII.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: The Doctor and Liz hide in the waxworks museum in this way.
  • Non-Indicative Name/Line-of-Sight Name: The name "Auton" comes from Auto Plastics, the factory where they were first made.
    • To disguise non-union actors being used as Autons, internal BBC documents credited the extras as "Ivan Orton." Say it fast.
  • Noodle Incident: Most likely an unintentional example, but at the start of the story the Brigadier explains to Liz Shaw that there have been two attempted alien invasions defeated by the Doctor and UNIT since UNIT formed. One is clearly meant to be the events of "The Invasion", however Fanon believed that "The Web Of Fear", the Brigadier's other previous encounter with the Doctor, took place before UNIT was formed (probably because that's what the novelisations said), giving rise to the theory that at some point there was another unseen adventure featuring the Second Doctor and UNIT. This was Jossed by both "The Three Doctors", in which the Brigadier indicated the encounters with the Yeti and Cybermen were his only prior encounters with the Second Doctor, and "Survivors of the Flux", which showed UNIT already operational in 1966, prior to "The Web of Fear" (even when factoring in the UNIT dating controversy).
  • Obscured Special Effects: The BBC didn't have the budget at the time to show the dummies breaking the glass, so instead we just cut to the faces of shocked onlookers while the sound effect plays. This was gleefully played with in the New series Auton episode ("Rose"), in which they did have the budget to break the glass, and so we got several pornographic, slow-motion shots showing the Autons doing it again and again...
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: General Scobie is rather dubious of his claims when he talks to him on the phone, but agrees that it sounds serious and will give the Brigadier his whole support. Then he puts down the phone and answers the door...
  • Recycled Premise: This is essentially a loose remake of the first two UNIT stories from the Second Doctor's era, with the major distinction of showing how the Third Doctor will handle things differently to his predecessor.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: This serial featured "Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac, which was edited out of the 1988 VHS and 2001 DVD releases. The licence was subsequently renegotiated, allowing the track to appear on the 2011 DVD release.
  • Resurrection Sickness: The newly-regenerated Doctor spends the first episode in hospital in a somewhat drowsy condition.
  • Retcon: For the first six seasons of the show, it was heavily suggested that the Doctor was a human from the distant future, where people have colonized other planets, invented time travel, and could live to be Really 700 Years Old by artificially prolonging their lifespans (the Second Doctor claimed that his "renewal" at the end of "The Tenth Planet" was "part of the TARDIS"). This story however provided the first major dent in that idea, displaying the Doctor's Bizarre Alien Biology in detail and setting the stage for the gradual revelation of what exactly Time Lords are throughout the rest of Jon Pertwee's tenure.
  • Retool: A black-and-white series based on travelling throughout time and space becomes a colour series set entirely on 1970s (or was it the eighties...) Earth with a largely new regular cast (in fact this would mark the only time in the classic series that the Doctor's regeneration would coincide with the replacement of all his previous companions). This season also marked the end of the show running most of the year round with a break of two months around the summer, with the show now running for half of the year instead; this decision was chiefly informed by Patrick Troughton's exhaustion with the production schedule under the old format.
  • Shout-Out: Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" plays in the plastic doll factory in the original broadcast version; later reruns and home media releases splice it out due to rights issues.
  • Shower Scene: The Doctor takes a nice long shower, which to this day is still the largest amount of Doctor nudity the show has seen.
  • Singing in the Shower: The Doctor warbles out a tune while taking a shower. This annoys the two doctors who enter the room so much they quickly go elsewhere, not realising the Doctor is one of their patients.
  • Smash Cut: The Auton rampage in Part 4 uses a literal "smash" cut to suggest that the mannequins have broken through the shop-window.
  • Sound-Only Death: The Seeley's dog is apparently killed by an Auton, or at least spooked off. The animal is heard barking offscreen, as its mistress berates it to be quiet; this is followed by a yelp, then silence.
  • This Was His True Form: The Auton facsimiles revert to the default blank-faced Auton form when they're deactivated.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: While UNIT used sensible tactics, like grenades and rockets, on the Immune to Bullets Cybermen when we last saw them, they now keep shooting the equally bullet-immune Autons without result. Justified, since most of their regular troops were reassigned or out of contact and the ones on hand are regular army men who were not intending to face living shop dummies.
  • Tracking Device: After UNIT takes the TARDIS into protective custody while the Doctor's in hospital, the Doctor uses a homing device to find the TARDIS and therefore UNIT HQ.
    • The Autons can also track the orbs containing the Nestene consciousness, as long as they aren't shielded too much.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: Likely a homage to this trope when government officials who've been replaced by Auton replicants are 'stored' under hypnosis at Madame Tussands.
  • Wham Episode: The series is now in colour, the entire starring cast is reset (with the sole exception being The Brigadier, who has been promoted to main cast after previously being a Once a Season recurring character), the Doctor is suddenly on a much more violent adventure, it's revealed that the Doctor is actually an alien with two hearts, and the space race suddenly has a much more chilling consequence. It also satisfies the "game changing" aspect of the trope by changing the format of the series, with the Doctor now exclusively Earth-based and working for UNIT, rather than travelling on his own.
  • Wiper Start: When the Doctor tries to drive a car, he finds the horn before the starter, and starts in forward gear when he needs to reverse. (But no funny business with the wipers, because it's a veteran model that doesn't have any.)


Video Example(s):


Smith, Doctor John Smith

Exiled to Earth by order of the Time Lords, the Doctor takes up residence at UNIT HQ as their scientific advisor. As the Brigadier gets ready to start the necessary paperwork, he asks the Doctor for his name; the latter replies with the pseudonym "Smith, Doctor John Smith."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheNameIsBondJamesBond

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