Reviews The Autons invade in Spearhead from Space!

Published on August 20th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

Reviewed: Spearhead from Space Special Edition

One of the big bonuses of working on Kasterborous is the review copies of current and upcoming Doctor Who DVDs. When it is something as delicious as the special edition Blu-ray release of Spearhead from Space, the 1970 introduction to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, however, things take a different direction


After all, this is a well-watched serial. What could anyone possibly find to say about it that hasn’t been written or uttered before?

Well actually, you would be surprised.

Once I had overcome the problem of not owning a Blu-ray player, I too was surprised. Reviewing the disc meant heading to my parents’ house and sharing the experience with my dad, a long-term viewer of Doctor Who but one who missed the entire 1970 run what with being in the Royal Navy and everything (don’t worry, dear reader. I wasn’t dragged up by an exasperated mother in a fatherless home; he left active service before I was born). Dad on this occasion was a fascinated observer with which to share the extras!

Spearheading the High Def

I would like to say that the main reason to watch Spearhead from Space Special Edition is to enjoy the story, but as it is one of the most repeated on TV and released on VHS and DVD, this might be tough for some fans. This is certainly a problem that I faced, but fortunately was able to quickly get over by first looking out for scenes and shots that had obvious improvements to them. By the time the Brigadier was marching up the corridor of the hospital, the story had suddenly come alive.

The younger or newbie among you might not realise this, but Spearhead from Space is the only classic Doctor Who that can (with current technology, somewhat limited by the laws of physics) be upgraded to high definition. That this happened was a complete accident, caused by industrial action at the BBC forcing the new in-colour series being filmed entirely on 16mm cameras as opposed to the usual videotape. Lighter cameras mean more interesting shots and a uniformity across studio and location footage that wouldn’t be seen again until Robot in 1974 (this serial’s studio and location scenes were recorded entirely on videotape).

Naturally you’re going to need a decent HDTV to really appreciate the upgrade, and there is some feeling among certain fans that some of the polishing work found in the Restoration comparison extra could have been performed for a DVD release. Nevertheless, it is 2013, and what better way to celebrate our favourite show’s birthday than with a Blu-ray release?

All in all, this is like watching a brand new classic episode in many ways. The cinematic quality of the serial is vastly enhanced, and whether your Doctor is Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant or even John Hurt, you won’t want to miss this.

Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space gets HD upgrade!

Blu-ray Extras

The collection of extras on this one-disc special edition are modest in number, but just wait until you start watching them…

A Dandy and a Clown is described as an “exclusive documentary looks at the life and career of Jon Pertwee.” Sadly completed before the secret service shenanigans of the most action-oriented incarnation of the Doctor yet came to light, this is nevertheless a fascinating account of his life, covering everything from HMS Hood to The Navy Lark, through Doctor Who, Worzel Gummidge and beyond. Jon was clearly a well-loved man among his friends, some of whom (such as Geoffrey Bayldon and David Jacobs, appear here) and this look at his incredible life is among the very best extras I’ve seen on anything anywhere. Excellent work by Chris Chapman and team!

Remarkably, the other main extra is more or less of the same high quality. Carry On: the life of Caroline John is a tribute to the actress who played the Third Doctor’s companion. Featuring her husband Geoffrey Beevers and other family members, this is a touching biography of an actress who seemed to have been just a jolly nice lady who was well loved and respected by her peers. In many ways Caroline was the complete opposite of her one-season co-star, and while the contrast is barely stated you come away from these two extras seeing both actors in a new light.

Now, I mentioned above that I watched Spearhead from Space and the extras with my dad, a film buff with a love of classic movies and DVD extra features. He was completely astounded by the quality of these features (as well as being puzzled by his inability to remember the story and Caroline John until he lined up his dates) but was slightly less impressed by the Title sequence raw material, one of the more hardcore features to have appeared on any Doctor Who disc yet. This is essentially 30-odd minutes of test footage for the Jon Pertwee era opening titles. Even the most ardent opening titles fans might find this heavy going, although there is plenty here that some fan films might like to borrow…

The Restoration comparison, mentioned earlier, completes the extras. All in all this is a unique release from Doctor Who‘s classic era, and if you haven’t bought it already then you should seriously consider doing so, or at least drop hints to your family…

Released on 15th July Spearhead from Space Special Edition is available now from Amazon for just £12.80 - don’t miss it! 


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

6 Responses to Reviewed: Spearhead from Space Special Edition

  1. avatar P yacavone says:

    Dear Christian, thanks for the review! But I think you are spreading a bit of BBC propaganda when you write that SfS is the ONLY DW story that can be updated to high def. Lots of stories had 16mm location footage that could be upgraded, rendering huge chunks in improved high def. and as for the studio video, it can be transferred to high def digital just as it was transferred to SD dvd. BBC just hasnt been willing to spend the money to remaster their classic programs in HD; so whereas in the US we have lovely blu-rays of the classic Smiley shows, you don’t!

    • Hallo – I’m not convinced the old videotapes could be upgraded in such a way as to look as remarkable as SfS does in HD, but I’m happy hot be proved wrong :)

  2. avatar Michael says:

    Unfortunately, images recorded on videotape can’t be re-scanned the way film can. It is an inherent limitation of the format. Further, while films made from video COULD be re-scanned the result would look pretty awful.

    First, it would not be any higher a resolution than the videotape. Second, the artifacts created in the multiple transfers would be time consuming to be rid of.

    The best you would end up with is a HD version of SD, no increase in quality.

    Of course, that’s with current technology. Someone may develop a magic algorithm that would actually enhance it. Maybe I’ll dig a hole and find a complete set of The Dalek’s Masterplan as well.

    • avatar P yacavone says:

      Granted no digital transfer can improve the look of its non-video source: the only thing it can do is be the best possible representation of that source. I just think that hd provides a better truer video representation of that source than SD. In the same way that the revisitations box set offers better transfers of classic ep.s due to more disk space and higher bit rate, the 50 gb blu-ray should offer that too. Thats assuming they don’t harm the original materials much through another transfer.
      In fact there was a recent bluray transfer of a video film by godard.
      As for grain, i haven’t seen the SfS bluray yet, but I’m a purist and love grain. 16 mm is just very grainy by nature, but if you can accept that, I’ve seen very nice looking 16mm transfers to blu-ray much better than sd transfers of the same material.

  3. avatar Michael says:

    While I enjoyed this Blu-ray, I think a word of caution needs to be added. The picture is very, very grainy. If that kind of thing distracts you, then you may want to pass on this release. I watched this on 70 inch widescreen in 1080p and occasionally, the grain would pull me out and I am not particularly sensitive to grain, especially on older films.

    The extras are great as the reviewer states so I would recommend it with the above caveat.

  4. avatar nwlhs says:

    It’s one of those Dr who “if only’”s isn’t it…if only they had filmed all serials in 16mm and on location..for comparison take a look at The Avengers from 1965 onwards to see what might have been. Anyhow this is still a great opening to the Jon Pertwee years aka Exile on Main Street, I particularly like the chaotic press confernce in the hospital and Caroline John’s arrival to a background of light jazz and her opening scenes with the Brigadier as he reviews her CV “ an expert in meteorites, degrees in medicine, physics and a dozen of other subjects” . As Liz Shaw, she is is clever, self-assured, cool, not at all over-awed by the military men or male scientists with whom she usually surrounded..

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