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.
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!