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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Mannequin Mania
(Spearhead from Space / Terror of the Autons)


Starring: Jon Pertwee
RRP: £35.73
Certificate: PG
Available 09 May 2011

Another month and oddly another it’s time for another themed box set. This time we get two Jon Pertwee stories featuring the Nestenes: Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons. It’s not such an odd choice given that the popularity of the villains is such that they appeared in the very first story of the new Who and also appeared with Matt Smith. The set also has the advantage of appearing in a number of firsts, including Jon Pertwee’s first story, which incidentally was also the first time that Doctor Who was shown in colour.

Having been trapped by the Time Lords, the Doctor is exiled to Earth, with a broken TARDIS and a new face. In his absence UNIT has grown to fight all alien incursions with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) leading the good fight. Coinciding with the Doctor's return to the twentieth century a group of meteorites also land in rural England. An alien intelligence, the Nestenes, plan to colonise the world and with their affinity to plastics, they take the form of mannequins…

Spearhead from Space was originally transmitted between 03 and 24 January 1970, the four part story was directed by Derek Martinus from a Robert Holmes script.

Not only did the show introduce a new Doctor, he was also given a new companion in the form of Liz Shaw (Caroline John), a more intellectual equal to the Doctor. The show ditched the cosmic hobo motif of the Patrick Troughton years, adding action and adventure which had more in common with The Avengers, than it did with the show's previous incarnation.

For many who saw the show the first time there was something very creepy about shop mannequins coming to life. We don't actually see them bursting through the glass - although this is a common false memory held by many. Pertwee slides straight into his role, like all good Who actors, and the changes made to the look and format stamped a new era on the show. Through this season the show regained its audience share, securing its future for Tom Baker and beyond.

Spearhead for Space has already been released on DVD, so why rerelease it now. Well I’ve been less convinced about the change in picture quality which has been the main thrust behind the Revisitation box sets, and in a way this could be considered to be a mini Revisitations as once again the picture quality has been improved. The difference being, the quality of the improvement is immediately evident. The picture almost feels new, meaning this is the best reason, so far, to reissues some of the back catalogue. If the quality can be improved to this degree, then I am up for replacing some of my aging discs to enjoy the sharp picture, good colour and fine detail.

On top of a great picture and reworked audio, the disc has two full length commentaries. The first is with Caroline John and the late Nicholas Courtney, the second has Derrick Sherwin (Producer) and Terrance Dicks (Script Editor). Given the small numbers involved the commentaries are more intimate that some, but no less informative.

The extras continue with Down to Earth: Filming Spearhead from Space (22 min, 41 sec) is the usual piece with a number of the surviving cast and crew member talking about their experiences on the show, from the conviction that Who would only last one more series to the introduction of Pertwee and the rebound in audience share which followed.

Regenerations: From Black and White to Colour (18 min, 43 sec) takes a wider look at the trials and tribulations that the BBC went through when changing over to colour. There are a lot of references to Who, but the content is more generalised. UNIT Recruitment Film (4 min, 50 sec) which is what it sounds like, with a combination of voice over married to shots from the show. The disc is wrapped up with two trailers (1 min, 41 sec), Photo Gallery, Coming Soon (1 min, 02 sec) - for Frontios - production notes as subs, including the subtitles themselves and the Radio Times listings in PDF format.

It wasn’t long before the popularity of the Nestenes meant their inevitable return, and so they did as the first story of season eight.

Aware of the potential power of the Nestenes and their Autons, the Master determines to use them to destroy the Earth and gain final vengeance on his nemesis the Doctor. With Liz away, UNIT provides the Doctor with a new assistant, Jo Grant. With the Master causing havoc, the Doctor and UNIT are soon on his trail...

Terror of the Autons was a four-part story which was originally transmitted between 02 and 23 January 1971. The show was once again written by Robert Holmes and directed by Barry Letts.

The story is a fairly straightforward adventure with the Doctor usually only a step behind the Master's machinations. The Master had been introduced to be Moriarty to Pertwee’s Holmes. Roger Delgado made the role his own and would appear more times than any other villain. It was only his untimely death which robbed the audience of the planned final show down between the pair.

Unfortunately, the picture has not been restored, or if it has, I’d hate to think what the original looked like. There is no print damage, but at the beginning of episode one there is a fair amount of dirt evident, especially one particularly prominent bit which floats around the centre of the picture - which is pretty distracting. I found myself transfixed by this dot to the detriment of the action on the screen. Thankfully much of this clears up after about fifteen minutes.

Like the previous story this one has its own first, the introduction of dolly bird assistant Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who unlike Liz Shaw fell back into the traditional role of ditzy acolyte to the Doctor's overbearing intelligence.

The story comes with its own full length commentary with Katy Manning, Nic Courtney and Barry Letts. Listening to it reminded me that with the recent passing of Elisabeth Sladon and Nic Courtney, that these commentaries, often light, but just as often insightful and rich with information also represent an important historical document as we are getting data from the primary sources. With the amount of discs available Doctor Who must be the most covered show ever, a boon to later generations of TV watchers.

Like the first disc this has the PDF files, the production notes and a photo gallery. The main extra kick off with Life on Earth (33 min, 42 sec) which looks at the similarities to the modern show, especially the idea of the Doctor having an extended family through Jo and UNIT. This is a motif which has become ever stronger in the modern adaptation, first with Rose, her mother and Micky, to now travelling with his own married Ponds. However, the idea of family extended beyond the confines of the show with many lifelong friendships being formed between cast and crew.

The Doctor's Moriarty (18 min, 56 sec) discusses the popularity of the Master who would loom over the whole of season eight; there was even talk of revealing that the Master was the Doctor's brother, which would go a long way to explaining how two supposedly uber intelligent being failed so miserably to kill each other. In the end they let the mystery stand.

What makes everyday objects scary is what Plastic Fantastic (11 min, 04 sec), for those who really want it, the piece contains a potted history of plastic, something I’m sure everyone is looking forward to.

If for nothing else, this is the first time that I’d be tempted to buy a story I already own, it’s difficult to describe just how good the new print of Spearhead is, throw in Autons and the extras and Who is back on track with its new releases.


Charles Packer

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