"Practically everything, my dear."
How wonderful that after last month's release of Planet of the Spiders, Jon Pertwee's swansong to the series, 2 entertain should take us right back to the beginning of his era of Doctor Who with his debut story, Spearhead from Space. I vividly remember watching it in black and white because we couldn't afford the new colour sets in the shops, and wondering why Danny Kaye was now playing 'Doctor Who'.
They also, quite cleverly I think, box this together with the opening story of Season 8 and the direct sequel Terror of the Autons. Clever? Because it gives you a side by side comparison of the two serials that essentially relaunched Doctor Who. It's fascinating to compare the Derrick Sherwin and Terrance Dicks opener to Season 7 and the reformat undertaken by Barry Letts and Dicks for Season 8.
Both stories offer a vision of Doctor Who for the 1970s. With Sherwin and Bryant's imprint all over Season 7 we are presented with an intriguing alternate version of the series that posits Doctor Who as a realistic, more adult-oriented drama. It is only until Sherwin and Bryant depart, midway into production on Spearhead from Space, to rescue the Paul Temple series, a BBC co-production with German TV, that producer Barry Letts enters the scene. Terror of the Autons, which started location filming in September of 1970 and was then transmitted in January 1971, is Letts's ambition writ large and it makes some significant modifications to the format, putting the emphasis on a vibrant, comic-strip approach to the series.
Spearhead from Space
As outlined in this disc's excellent documentary, Down to Earth, there were several problems facing the show at the end of the Troughton era with falling audiences, production and script crises and a potential cancellation in the offing. In 1968, it was apparent to the BBC that the series was flagging. Its star, Patrick Troughton was tired of the series's 42 week schedule and had decided to move on and with him would go his fellow actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury.
Behind the scenes, the BBC wasn't sure it wanted to continue with Doctor Who and instructed producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin to consider new ideas for the series and undertake a complete overhaul when the search for a potential replacement proved fruitless. The advent of colour broadcasts, introduced on BBC Two with Wimbledon coverage in July 1967 and then with colour transmissions starting on BBC One in November 1969, was another consideration for the series if it returned.
"fed up of jellies wobbling about in space"
Essentially, Bryant and Sherwin decided to exile the Doctor to Earth and have him work for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the para-military organisation and personnel that had already featured prominently in The Invasion.
Sherwin also was "fed up of jellies wobbling about in space" and felt that the space-based serials had finally outstayed their welcome and that audiences wanted something more realistic that they could relate to. By early 1969, this format had been worked out, the arduous production schedule had been reduced from 44 episodes to 25 episodes per year and the revamped Doctor Who would debut in the New Year of 1970. Dicks had already commissioned Robert Holmes to write the opening story, then called Facsimile. With this four-part serial, eventually retitled Spearhead from Space, Holmes would take the concepts developed by Bryant and Sherwin, emulating the Earth bound alien invasion thrillers of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass (1953's Quatermass II was a particularly strong influence on Holmes's script) and introduce other themes and sub-texts that would dominate throughout Season 7.
Quatermass was clearly not the only series that Bryant, Sherwin and Holmes would draw inspiration from. A number of other dramas could also be seen as tangential inspirations such as Tony Williamson's Counterstrike (BBC 1969) and its tale of undercover alien disguised as human Simon King, played by Jon Finch, assigned to live on Earth to prevent an alien invasion, and Holmes's own script about an alien invasion with a hospital setting for Merton Park's low budget British science fiction film Invasion (1965). Holmes had also been tasked with wrapping up ABC's Undermind (1965) and its story of an alien invasion of Britain conducted by stealthy brainwashing and some of its themes can be found in his Spearhead scripts. With the casting of Jon Pertwee as the new Doctor, now part of an action-orientated series set on Earth, it also started to echo some of the flamboyance, in Pertwee's "velvet and frills" and the scaling up of the action sequences, of glossy ITC filmed adventure shows such as Department S (1968).
As Terrance Dicks notes in the Terror of the Autons documentary Plastic Fantastic, Spearhead also emerged at the same time as Doomwatch, a Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis conceived series that told the exploits of a government department that examined environmental, industrial and biological hazards and disasters. Not only did its February 1970 episode The Plastic Eaters concern itself with our reliance on plastics but its leader, Spencer Quist, might also be considered as a similar outsider figure to the Doctor, with both trying to change minds at government level about the downside of Britain's future. The two series often dovetailed thematically at the time too, sharing their concerns about scientific research, new forms of energy and the impact on the environment as well as embracing a sense of realism in the way it depicted such matters.
With realism in mind, casting Caroline John as Liz Shaw, the Cambridge scientist enlisted by UNIT as the Doctor's aide, also fulfilled a specific aim to move the Doctor’s relationship with his companion away from the paternal to the professional. Liz broke the mold of previous companions and she is actively portrayed as a professional woman with intelligence, initiative and determination as opposed to the childlike, innocent brother and sister pairing of Jamie and Zoe with the Second Doctor.
Sherwin's push towards a grittier, down to earth format was compounded by the Association of Broadcast Staff's industrial action in the wake of a salary dispute with BBC management which forced the production of Spearhead from Space out of the studios for the taping of episodes as part of the normal practice for productions at the time with their mix of videotape and filmed inserts. Holmes's story would end up being completely shot in colour on 16mm where Sherwin was keen to demonstrate that he could still bring the show in on budget and schedule despite the strike. The effect of this shows in the dynamism of the camera work and editing on the four episodes, offering a much pacier, cinematic style to the programme.
Spearhead From Space therefore displays, by virtue of it being shot completely on film, a number of directorial flourishes that bring the show closer in tone to many of those ITC action adventure series as well as a similarity to news reportage in programmes such as Panorama or World in Action. The Brigadier’s scuffle with the media at Ashbridge Cottage Hospital is point of view narrative and is directed, shot and edited as though it was a report to go out on the early evening news. There is also a very kinetic tracking shot of the Brigadier, Liz and Munro as they walk down a hospital corridor to meet the recovering Doctor that has more to do with film grammar pointing out the lack of mobility offered by television cameras in a studio.
Director Derek Martinus is able to use the lighter weight film cameras to get into the heart of dialogue and action. The dynamism and grittiness of the ‘action thriller’ elements, with the final battle against the Autons at the factory a remount of a very similar sequence in The Invasion and shot on the same TCC Condensers factory location in Ealing, is given further credence by the rest of the Season's various gun battles, chases, dives off gasometers, brief case bombs, disguised bread vans and gas guns. These are also connotative of the series's strong Bondian elements, repositioning the series as ‘action-adventure’.
"shattering stress and disorientation"
Gradually, as Season 7 progresses, it offers a reflection and commentary on the legacy of Wilson’s ‘white heat’ and on Tony Benn's then role as Minister of Technology (arguably symbolised throughout Season 7 in all the various factories, installations and special projects used for good or ill).
With this theme also comes an acknowledgement of the rise of new social movements such as feminism and environmentalism, the impact of economic and industrial recession with their resulting strikes and blackouts, the rise of corporate culture and the loss of Empire. This is all seen through the refractive mirror of an alternative, future Britain with its own space programme, research into nuclear power and drilling projects as emblematic of a still thriving world power.
That view also coincides with the publication of Alvin Toffler’s best-seller of 1970, Future Shock. He suggested society was being so rapidly restructured, emerging as it was from the industrial revolution and hurtling towards, and transforming into, a ‘super-industrial’ society, that it would leave major casualties in its wake. People would be overwhelmed by such progress, and this technological, biological and social acceleration would leave them disconnected and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation" – the 'future shock' of the book’s title. Holmes's use of plastic as a symbol of this feeling of being overwhelmed by modernisation, of the synthetic in contrast to the real, the obsession with inanimate objects given life, is expressed in both Auton stories through the mass production and commodification of plastic goods and the use of 'new techniques' in manufacturing.
The new realism ushered in by Holmes's story and Sherwin's vision for the series also see a number of characters, usually the victims of attack, enter a realm of hysteria where their states of mind become subjected to unmanageable fear or emotional excesses. We can correlate Toffler’s ‘future shock’ and the symptoms of "shattering disorientation" in Spearhead From Space with the much revered high street attack from the Autons, the hunting down of Ransom and the Auton attack on Seeley’s cottage as the best examples of how the theme of ‘domestic terror’ operates in the programme, creating unease, dislocation and stress in an everyday location and thus making it extraordinary.
... plastic doppelgangers tapping into anxieties about identityThe fear of invasion, possession and death is not only more firmly embedded into an earthbound setting but also mines the inner fears, troubles and preoccupations of the British citizens of the Seventies. At the time there was much concern about the rapid changes to society, science and technologies out of control, mistrust of politicians and bureaucrats, worries about industry, jobs and the environment as well as class and gender divisions. Spearhead offers an overt representation of the ‘other’ in the physical form of monsters from outer space walking down the high street and through their appropriation of familiar materials, objects and their control of people.
Holmes also uses the Autons to tap into the fears of mind control, a common theme in SF films of the 1950s, particularly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the copying or doubling of the body with the plastic doppelgangers of major political figures like Major Scobie tapping into anxieties about identity and the trauma of encountering an inhuman version of one's self.
As Terrance Dicks reminds us, Sherwin and Bryant's format was not sustainable and it was his fellow writer Malcolm Hulke who pointed out that the series would be limited to threats from outer space and human mad scientists and where, often as not, the two merge and the alien threat is inculcated in a domestic, earthbound problem or setting. Preying on our resistance to new consumer trends, the Nestenes use a plastics factory to replace senior figures of authority and stock a number of high-street chains with killer dummies. Later, we would see scientists testing a proton accelerator revive the Earth's reptilian ancestors or drill a hole into the Earth's crust to release a toxic slime that reverts humans to Primords.
It's difficult to get a handle on how Pertwee is going to play the Doctor from this inaugural outing. Certainly Sherwin and Bryant were worried that his comedy and light entertainment background, especially with his roles in radio comedies The Navy Lark and Waterlogged Spa and his Carry On film cameos the most recognisable of his credits, would dominate his interpretation. Spearhead does demonstrate some of this in his performance - the Delphon eyebrow moment and the rather expressive gurning as the Nestene creature attempts to strangle him are the major culprits - but for the most part it comes across as a tentative exploration of how he would go on to flesh out the Third Doctor.
There's a childlike impetuousness and an avuncular charm that will carry him through the next four years but as we will see with Terror of the Autons, the writers latched onto the Third Doctor as an ambivalent establishment figure that introduced some rather questionable attitudes into the character. For the moment, Pertwee seems to have one foot in the past as much of this first performance is very Troughtonesque. By episode four, he seems to have an inkling of how to play it and is more at ease.
Apart from this concern, the rest of the cast acquit themselves well and particular praise should go to Hugh Burden for the intensely alien quality with which he imbues Channing. Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney play it completely straight and in doing so push the series towards the adult audience that Sherwin was after. To conclude, it's worth mentioning that this is the best these episodes have ever looked, benefiting greatly from a high-definition transfer, and that the previously removed Fleetwood Mac track, 'Oh Well Part One' that accompanied shots of the plastics factory, has now been reinstated.
Two Commentaries - One with actors Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney from the original DVD release. One of the first tracks recorded for the range and it's a bit hard going with both actors not used to doing this sort of thing. The second, much livelier track is with producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Terrance Dicks and is well worth listening to for behind the scenes anecdotes and will appeal to those interested in the history and making of the show.
Down to Earth - Excellent documentary that feels like you are trawling through the archives in the way its constructed and shot. Features the cast and crew discussing the making of this story and the reformatting of the series in 1968, its switch to colour, the casting of Pertwee, how Sherwin persuaded the BBC to shoot on film when industrial action prevented studio taping and how Barry Letts became producer. Featuring archive interview footage with actor Jon Pertwee, recent interviews with producers Derrick Sherwin and the late Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, costume designer Christine Rawlins and assistant script editor (and inadvertent Auton actor) Robin Squire.
Regenerations - From Black and White to Colour - Fascinating documentary piece on the switch from monochrome to colour at the BBC and how Doctor Who made that transition. If you're interested in the history of television and the impact of colour on the technicalities of television production then you'll enjoy this. Especially interesting is the material about designing for colour and how the Pertwee title sequence was made. With actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, producer Derrick Sherwin, script editor Terrance Dicks, directors Timothy Combe, Christopher Barry and Michael Ferguson, designer Roger Cheveley and graphic designer Bernard Lodge.
UNIT Recruitment Film - the spoof recruitment film transmitted prior to the repeat of Planet of the Daleks in 1993 for the 30th Anniversary.
Trailers - two trailers for the 1999 BBC2 transmission of the story and for Doctor Who Night from
the same year.
Photo Gallery - production, design and publicity photos from the story.
Coming Soon - a trailer for the Frontios DVD release.
Radio Times Listings in Adobe PDF format.
After the departure of Sherwin and Bryant to Paul Temple in October 1969, Trevor Ray stepped in to oversee the production of Doctor Who and the Silurians until Barry Letts, announced as the series's new producer, took up his duties. By February 1970, Letts knew the series had been recommissioned for its eighth season. Both he and Terrance Dicks discussed the changes they felt were needed to the 'exile to Earth' format, including a replacement for the Liz Shaw character whom Letts felt hadn't particularly worked well within the format, and Letts also secured a higher budget. One of the biggest changes he made, easing the pressure on the production team and the budget, was to switch to a two episodes a fortnight recording schedule. The eighth season would also comprise five stories, ushering in the long-established pattern of four part and six part stories per season.
Opening this season, Terror of the Autons also inaugurated a less grittier tone, replacing the professional Liz Shaw with trainee agent (and in effect a more typical Doctor Who companion) Josephine Grant, expanding UNIT's line-up with the first appearance of the Brigadier's second in command, Captain Mike Yates and as a result of both creating the iconic 'family' of characters that epitomise the Third Doctor's era. Letts and Dicks also wanted the Bond/Holmes figure of the Doctor to face his evil equivalent, a sort of Blofeld/Moriarty nemesis, and created a rogue Time Lord called the Master. British character actor Roger Delagdo joined the regular cast and made the role of the Master very much his own, somewhat typecast as another villainous figure he could add to his ever growing portfolio of foreign looking evil-doers. His debut story also began a season long bout of rematches with the Doctor, something which even Dicks and Letts later admitted was overkill as far as the Master was concerned.
"... a utopian hope afflicted with an undercurrent of dread"
Here, not only do we have suffocating plastic flowers and inflatable armchairs, living telephone cords and troll dolls but, most disturbingly of all, Autons disguised as policemen. In a strange way this plastic cornucopia, its ability to simulate other objects and materials, much discussed in this disc's terrific little documentary Plastic Fantastic, connects the story to post-war fears about science out of control. Jeffrey Meikle observes, in American Plastic: A Cultural History, that people's worries about the invisible threat from nuclear power and radiation in particular was objectified "by projecting it onto plastic, an unnatural material, whose image, like that of atomic energy, reflected the ambivalence of a utopian hope afflicted with an undercurrent of dread."
Holmes was simply picking up on that projected fear and how plastic was perceived as antiseptic, artificial and evocative of "death imitating life." You could also connect this anxiety with the general mood of the 1970s, that the egalitarian hippie dream promised by the 1960s, had soured somewhat, had become a way of life which sociologist Lewis Yablonsky had condemned as "less satisfying, more hypocritical and more plastic than straight society."
These themes, so sensationally realised by Holmes and the Doctor Who production team in killer troll dolls, murderous armchairs and plastic policemen, caused enough of a media controversy to confirm to Letts that he was on the right track with his approach to the series even if it meant he would need to know where to draw the line with such gratuitous material. Letts's vision for the series ushered in a brasher, more colourful tone where design, effects, editing and scoring all merged to create a televisual comic strip. This idea was certainly the currency of the day when it came to promoting the series in the Radio Times. Terror of the Autons was presented on its front cover for the week of 2-8th January 1971 in a literal comic strip where publicity photos from the story were montaged in a comic-strip layout and the characters were given speech bubbles. This style of presentation would grow to include the legendary Frank Bellamy illustrations for the series both on the cover and inside the listings magazine.
... the utterly warped vision that is Mrs Farrel's CSO kitchenAs Piers D. Britton and Simon J. Barker note of Season 8 in Reading Between Designs, "the Doctor was reconceptualised as a kind of comic-book superhero...(and) In his sweeping inverness cloak... was already well on the way to being a 'caped crusader'." To supplement this concept, not only does the Doctor himself acquire a form of self-defence with his Venusian Aikido emphasising the 1970s obsession with all things Enter the Dragon or Kung-Fu, but also Terror of the Autons, like many of the stories featuring UNIT in this period, continues with the tightly edited stunt sequences that were heavily featured in Season 7. This story provides a chase sequence with the Auton policemen culminating in one of them plunging over the edge of a quarry (naturally) and a shoot-out in a field that ensures the stunt crew, dressed either as UNIT troops or clown-like Autons, all earn their pay by tumbling through a riot of explosions and gunfire.
In the opening episode he drops a rather wooden Dave Carter, as a museum attendant being assaulted by John Baskcomb's circus owner Rossini, in front of a still of some escalators and missiles to simulate a National Space Museum; shows the Master activating Autons in a factory with a very peculiarly angled floor; and later creates the now infamous troll doll that stalks plastics factory owner 'Farrel Senior' and the utterly warped vision that is Mrs Farrel's CSO kitchen. The simulated nature of these effects lends this serial a particularly unreal, artificial tone, unintentionally adding to the hyper-reality that already existed in the story itself, with Letts direction reflecting the comic book aesthetic that was also probably borne out of his access to newer and more sophisticated editing techniques at the BBC.
As colour, pace and style accrue throughout Terror of the Autons, one thing to note is the wheeling on of the latest in pompous civil servants that had been popping up in the series during the previous year. Here it is Dermot Tuohy as Brownrose from the Ministry who drops by the Doctor's lab and gets a severe tongue-lashing from a very arrogant and rather rude Third Doctor. The now infamous scene between a clearly rattled Doctor, whom Brownrose belittles as "some stray boffin", clearly fueled a certain revisionist approach to the Pertwee era when this story was released on VHS in 1993.
The Pertwee backlash, as it was fondly known, took the exchange between Brownrose and the Doctor, among many other instances, as a signifier that the exiled Time Lord had effectively become one of the establishment: "Who's in charge of you pen pushers, these days? Old Tubby Rowlands, isn't it? Yes, I was saying to him in the club only the other day...'wrong sort of chap is creeping into your lot, Tubby' I said." It implies that the Doctor has indeed been "carrying on rather like a one-man food and wine society" in the corridors of power and their elitist gentlemen's clubs. Again this posits the Doctor as a resentful and unorthodox civil servant, rather like Spencer Quist in Doomwatch, and as a Time Lord whose politics are conservative with a small 'c'.
‘if you can’t beat them, join them’The Third Doctor as ‘establishment figure’ is a complex notion. He’s full of contradictions and there is an initial love-hate relationship with UNIT as he resists his earthbound conformity. He’s required to be a professional (he takes on the official title of Scientific Adviser and is presumably salaried, uses his luncheon vouchers in the staff canteen, goes to conferences at the tax payers expense etc) and is shown in specific professional relationships with scientists, politicians and the military. This unfamiliar role, his uneasy relationship with the Brigadier and his own arrogance and resentment are then perhaps projected onto various figures of authority throughout most of Pertwee’s tenure.
He also now functions at the domestic level, as an outsider not only dealing with threats from beyond and on the Earth but also negotiating his way through the dying days of colonialism, the all too human obsessions with class, greed, hubris and xenophobia and the industrial-military complex and the petty bureaucracy of government. Contentiously, his avuncular qualities are often replaced with a quickness of temper and these scenes often come across as uncharacteristic of the Doctor. His little outburst at Brownrose is also perhaps indicative of how far the Doctor has progressed in dealing with human society.
By Terror of the Autons, the idea of the Doctor exchanging small talk with Tubby over a glass of port shows a patriarch keen to exploit the slow path of the political system, becoming a member of privileged gentleman’s clubs to better understand his place in an adopted society. What's uncomfortable is that he becomes a bit of a bully in the process, as hectoring and patronising as the bowler and brolly wearing Time Lord who pops up out of nowhere and gives him his 'orders' at the radio telescope centre.
Despite these off-putting moments, Pertwee's Doctor immediately sparks up a chemistry with Manning's Jo Grant, his suave patrician complimenting her innocent ingenue, and the rest of the UNIT family starts to bond as this colourful, often surreal, story unfolds. It's littered with Robert Holmes's mordant wit, from the egg obsessed scientist Goodge getting more than he bargained for in his packed lunch to the blackly comic death, by an oil slick-like inflatable chair, of Farrel's associate McDermott ("He sat down in this chair here and just slipped away.")
The circus setting and the charabanc full of bright yellow costumed Autons with big smiling faces dishing out deadly daffodils make it all positively psychedelic and coupled with composer Dudley Simpson's pioneering electronica Terror of the Autons does often resemble a bad trip. Delgado makes an instant impression as the Master and he's ably supported by some of the Letts rep in the form of Michael Wisher and Christopher Burgess.
The familiar trope of the Pertwee era - alien invasions of the Home Counties, comprising of six monsters or less, seen off by soldiers who often couldn't hit a barn door at ten paces - hits its stride here and we'll see this replicated in numerous forms over the next four years as Letts and Dicks replace the portentous aspects of Season 7 with a sense of fun and ridiculousness while still managing to smuggle in their own 1970s specific concerns. The ending, with the Master suddenly realising that he'll be as much a slave to the invading Nestenes as the rest of humanity, doesn't quite work and is as unconvincing as the Master's ubiquitous rubber mask disguise.
Life on Earth - In this documentary, cast and crew look back at the making of the story and the differences in the way Doctor Who was made in the seventies compared to now. With actors Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks and new series producer Phil Collinson. The real highlight is the way this contrasts the production methods between the classic series and the revival in 2005, especially in the reuse of the Autons in Rose.
The Doctor's Moriarty - with the introduction of the Master, the Doctor now had his very own Moriarty, who would be the dark figure behind every story in season eight, and many more beyond that. This featurette discusses the enduring appeal of the character. With actor Katy Manning, producer Barry Letts, script editors Terrance Dicks and Christopher H Bidmead and writers Robert Shearman and Joe Lidster.
Plastic Fantastic - how did the writers of Doctor Who and other programmes take something as everyday as plastic and turn it against us? With writers Francesca Gavin, Robert Shearman and new series designer Matthew Savage. A great little examination of the cultural significance and historical background to the use of plastic in the story.
Photo Gallery - production, design and publicity photos from the story.
Coming Soon - a trailer for the Frontios DVD release.
Radio Times Listings and promotional material for Sugar Smacks and Nestle products
BBC 1970 - 71
2 | entertain / Released 9 May 2011 / BBCDVD3135 / Two disc DVD set / Duration: 200 mins approx / Cert: PG