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We’d do a “your mom” strapline, but honestly with Christine here it’s a bit weird

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

11 Comments

  1. Wm Keith
    July 11, 2011 @ 4:58 am

    I did enjoy this essay.

    In passing, "Two Little Boys" is generally read (in Britain) as being about the Boer War. This perhaps makes it more relevant to "Spearhead From Space" (and less relevant to "Doctor Who and the Silurians").

    Reply

  2. Jesse
    July 11, 2011 @ 5:32 am

    The story's anti-consumerist spin on the old Body Snatchers/Quatermass 2 plot, and the general environmentalist flavor of the UNIT era (even when criticizing the more extreme Greens), are part of what makes this period so interesting to me. You might expect Doctor Who in a military setting to move rightwards, but in the most important respects it tilts more overtly than ever to the left.

    Also: Kudos for the analysis of Nicholas Courtney's performance. I think he's the best thing about the UNIT years.

    Reply

  3. Alex Wilcock
    July 11, 2011 @ 6:44 am

    Brilliant point about how the Brigadier's played; one of the things I've always loved about this story is that it's a horror story with a lot of understated comedy, and the understated Brig helps bridge the two – he's great as, for one story only, the lead, gradually and unselfishly making way for Pertwee, but doing a great job while he's briefly the main character.

    I'm not quite sure you're right about the idea of the Doctor as suddenly alien rather than aspirational human (even taking into account your observations on the '60s-human features of the first regeneration), even if your suggestion that Holmes comes up with it with ruthless plot-efficiency rings true. Because – on telly, at least – it was preceded by The War Games.

    Surely a different reading of suddenly being given details of the Doctor's flesh and blood is only half that it's different flesh and blood, and half to reassure us that, alien as he may be, he still is flesh and blood? In the previous TV story, we suddenly heard that he's a "Time Lord," presented as god-like beings who can exert their power over anyone else with a glance. That's not an aspirational race. Perhaps Holmes was indeed just concerned with giving the Brigadier a head's-up on a mysterious alien, but he did the audience a favour at the same time – giving us the reassuring contrast that the Doctor may be a quirky alien but, pricked (by a UNIT bullet), he still bleeds, and so is neither one of the scary 'gods' we saw six months earlier, nor the scary waxwork aliens that get shot and don't bleed. So he's established at the same time as both alien and much closer to us than the other aliens, so he can be on our side.

    Reply

  4. Gavin
    July 11, 2011 @ 8:09 am

    I've always liked the way in which Spearhead from Space makes the transition jarring.

    The initial Brigadier and Liz Shaw scene is setting up its own TV show, and it's a show with no need for the Doctor. All the relevant roles are covered, and so is the basic driver for the plot of the first story: how does Liz Shaw come to agree to join UNIT?

    Predictable after that. Liz agrees after her brilliance is crucial to foiling the alien invasion. Later stories are built around the back-and-forth between Doyle and Courtney. In due course, there is a romance between the two characters. (After which, so a vocal segment of fans say, the quality of the show deteriorates.)

    The Doctor is then shoehorned into this set-up. He has no role, and has to steal other character's. Specifically, the Brigadier and Liz's: both action man and scientist.

    Reply

  5. Bill Reed
    July 11, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

    "Yes, any Doctor Who fan knows and, if we're being honest, winces slightly at the many tics of the Pertwee era, whether it be polarity reversals, "Hai!"s, the Pertwee death pose, Pertwee's legendary capacity for facial gurning, car chases, an irrationally incredulous Brigadier, or anything else."

    Wince? No. All of those things are what makes the Pertwee era so awesome. But then, I had never encountered the word "gurning" in my life until I started following Doctor Who fandom on the internet.

    Good points about the Brig, though. In our world, he'd be a capable leader of men, but in the Doctor's world, he's the only sane one in a world of madness, a guy who doesn't tilt at windmills, but sighs at them. Except the windmills are Zygons and stuff.

    Reply

  6. landru
    July 13, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    I'm a bit behind on my viewing, so I'll have to go on memory a bit.

    Wow. Well, this story is a bit odd, but hammering the Brig … Okay, maybe he deserves it. He's a well loved character because of the complex way Courtney played him and the radical change in the show itself. I also think that in many ways Spearhead in Space is about the Brigader.

    It does have some very weird moments and for the audience it must have been a huge step up in production quality (considering how long color tv had been around.)

    Reply

  7. Flying Tiger Comics
    August 29, 2011 @ 3:54 am

    Pertwee was far from universally loved when he first lobbed up in the role, and this first story when first broadcast didn't cement him in the role, either… People in the UK had strong memories of him from the Navy Lark etc. and as a comedy milkman, not as a man of action / 1960s Department S type adventurer. He rebirthed that late 60s / 1970 type character for Who and became probably the final example of it by the time he left the role.

    Reply

  8. ferret4
    November 6, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    From a "Mind Robber" perspective, it's interesting to note that if The Doctor originated from the Land of Fiction and made The Time Lords manifest, the Time Lords have taken the Doctor and remade him in their own image.

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  9. Henry R. Kujawa
    August 9, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    Ferret4:
    "From a "Mind Robber" perspective, it's interesting to note that if The Doctor originated from the Land of Fiction and made The Time Lords manifest, the Time Lords have taken the Doctor and remade him in their own image."

    YES. I've come to part of that conclusion myself. They put Troughton on trial, then as punishment for breaking their rules, sentenced him to be stuck in a situation where he could continue to break their rules, only on their terms. And, he'd be around, handy for when they needed him to do specific jobs of breaking the rules for them. And along the way, they tried to turn him into a more "proper" sort of Time Lord. It didn't really take, though… and by the time you get to "THE TIME WARRIOR", the "real" Doctor has for the most part returned.

    I loved this story when I first saw it in the mid-80's (as part of the 2nd set of Pertwees to arrive on PBS, being missing from the set the years before, which began with "INFERNO"). Seeing this right after "THE WAR GAMES" (I think), it hit me, Pertwee goes thru the whole story "doing" Troughton! It's not until "THE SILURIANS" that he settles down and gets all "serious", bitter, angry and resentful at being stuck on Earth against his will with The Brigadier.

    It seems ironic, apparently after the success of Troughton's perfoemance, they specifically went looking to cast a comedy actor to replace him. Pertwee was known almost exclusively for comedy, yet he turns around and tries to play the thing more serious than William Hartnell! This sort of irony repeated itself 5 years later when Tom Baker, known mostly for villains, starts out playing the role for laughs.

    The Brigadier was my favorite character in Season 7 when I saw it back in the early-70's (my station skipped "SPEARHEAD" and started with "THE SILURIANS"). I'd seen Pertwee as the arrogant, egotistical Paul Henderson in "THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD", and coming off Peter Cushing's movies, Pertwee was NOT my idea of a TV hero! But he did grow on me my the time of "DAY OF THE DALEKS" (stupidly, the last story my station ran– twice).

    I really liked Liz Shaw. I note how she & The Doctor hit it off immeidately and become fast friends. She's even more likable in the other stories, which made me very annoyed when she disappeared after the end of "INFERNO".

    I sometimes wonder if it's possible for some modern technical wizard to do anything about the hollow sound in this story? Apparently recording the whole thing on film on location came with some severe technical drawbacks.

    I do wish the whole season had been 4-parters. Oh well…

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  10. liminalD
    October 5, 2013 @ 1:15 am

    "… giving us the reassuring contrast that the Doctor may be a quirky alien but, pricked (by a UNIT bullet), he still bleeds, and so is neither one of the scary 'gods' we saw six months earlier, nor the scary waxwork aliens that get shot and don't bleed. So he's established at the same time as both alien and much closer to us than the other aliens, so he can be on our side."

    Oooo… great point! And well put 🙂

    Reply

  11. ladysugarquill
    July 20, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    Oh yes. This is all why I love the Brig – he is unflappable. The best part of him is that he is very well aware that the world is crazy. Half his scenes with the Doctor are him staring out into the distance out of sheer “why me”-ness.

    Take this beautiful exchange from The Mind Of Evil:

    Three: I saw the Master!
    Brig: The Master? Where?
    Three: … in a dream.
    Brig: thousand yard stare

    I couldn’t find a gifset, but it is plain that both Pertwee and Courtney KNOW they’re playing comedy there.

    whether the character is the bumbling straight man for the Doctor’s wit or whether he’s the one rolling his eyes knowingly at the insanity of the world.

    He’s generally the first when caught by surprise, and then the second when he realizes it, rolling his eyes even at himself.

    Reply

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