Doctor Who – Spearhead from Space Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: Spearhead from Space
  • Story #: 51
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 01/03/1970 – 01/24/1970
  • Cast: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

“What are you a doctor of, by the way?” – Dr. Liz Shaw
“Practically everything, my dear.” – The Doctor

Spearhead from Space is known for its firsts and is almost what would now be termed a soft reboot of the series. It’s the first story filmed in color, and unusually for the series – the entire episode was shot on film and on location. At the end of the previous story, The War Games, the actor portraying the Doctor, Patrick Troughton left, as did his companions Zoë (Wendy Padbury) and Jamie (Frazer Hines), so as well as introducing a new Doctor, Spearhead from Space introduces a new companion, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist from Cambridge, and the Brigadier returns, still in charge of UNIT. Doctor Who will now be focused on Earth-bound invasion stories, set in the “near future” (something later forgot by the production team who seemed to assume the stories were contemporary to when they were made).

This story has the Doctor’s TARDIS arriving in a wood, the Doctor stumbling out, and collapsing. He’s brought to a nearby cottage hospital and is unconscious for much of episode one, and erratic for much for episode two. It isn’t until he takes a shower in the hospital and borrows some clothes that the Doctor seems to wake up – eventually working with Liz and the Brigadier to discover just what the mysterious landfall of meteorites and strange goings-on at Auton Plastics factory mean. The story develops somewhat slowly but fits together well, as bit by bit, UNIT, the Doctor, Liz, and other characters in the story, learn what is going on. UNIT’s radar station reports on the meteorites and the Brigadier tells Dr. Shaw a larger group landed earlier. Liz scoffs at the Brigadier using the word, “landed”.

Meanwhile, a poacher in the woods finds one of the “thunderballs” and buries it to hide it. UNIT is looking for the meteorites and finds the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor is unconscious at the local cottage hospital. In episode 2, a salesman returns to his factory only to discover it mysteriously changed, his boss unreceptive to his hard work opening a new market in the US, and a letter of dismissal at his home. He later sneaks back into the factory and discovers an Auton who fires at him. Terrified out of his wits he runs out to the woods and into UNIT’s hands. One of the Brigadier’s men takes his statement. He later convinces the Brigadier something is wrong at the factory. Meanwhile, the poacher digs up his “thunderball” and transfers it to a metal box in his shed.

The alien in this story is the Nestene Consciousness, which has no form to speak of, only a hive mind stored in the hollow plastic-like balls that landed during the meteor shower. The Consciousness can animate plastic and co-opts the manager of a plastics factory. This story features store dummies breaking out of window displays, and plastic duplicates of General Scobie and other civil servants and military leaders. The salesman is instrumental in giving information to the Brigadier and UNIT that something is wrong at the factory – but he’s also killed by an Auton dummy. Eventually, his boss, the factory manager, who was under Channing’s control is also killed by the Autons. And when the Doctor and Liz construct a device to disrupt the signals animating the Auton mannequins and break up the Nestene Consciousness – Channing is revealed to be another Auton dummy. During the final attack, the device works fine on the basic Autons but doesn’t work on the Consciousness itself. The Doctor is attacked by tentacles coming out of a tank, and it’s Liz who, on her own must adjust the device until it works, which saves the Doctor and defeats the alien menace, so to speak.

They return to UNIT, and the Doctor bargains with the Brigadier, getting a job as scientific advisor to UNIT, with access to equipment and tools, plus essentials like clothing (since he borrowed his current outfit from the hospital) and a car (since he must return the borrowed red roadster he used in the episode). The Doctor gives the name of “Dr. John Smith” for his paperwork that will make him official on Earth.

Spearhead from Space starts off a new era for Doctor Who. It introduces Dr. Liz Shaw and changes the direction of the show. The cost savings of staying on Earth with contemporary settings, like offices, and 1970s London, were put into car chases, effects, large-scale practical attacks, and a grander scale for the stories. Spearhead from Space is almost like a pilot in introducing these ideas: there’s a chase scene with the Doctor in a wheelchair, UNIT makes an assault on the Auton Factory, the setting is meant to be slightly futuristic but since people still use corded phones (and pay phones at that) and in one scene all the reporters are male – there’s an old-fashioned quality to it too. But it definitely starts to establish the new rules and new patterns for the next three years. Pertwee would play the part for five years, but only regain the time and space traveling abilities of his TARDIS after the tenth-anniversary special, The Three Doctors. The story itself is a bit slow in spots, but the four-episode length helps it from being extremely slow. I liked that Liz actually saved the Doctor herself without any assistance, but I didn’t like that she gets no credit for this, not even a thank you from the Doctor. Still, this is a great place to start with when watching the Third Doctor, or even for starting to watch Classic Doctor Who.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Binary

  • Title: Binary
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Eddie Robson
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Childs, Cpl. James Foster
  • Cast: Caroline John, Joe Coen, Kyle Redmond-Jones
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/13/2018

Binary is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line. The Companion Chronicles features stories told from the point of view of the companion. Although many audios in the line feature one of the Doctor’s companions telling someone a story about “a time when I was with the Doctor”, this one is in the present tense and it is more like Big Finish’s completely produced audio plays, as it features two guest players as well as Caroline John as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a companion of the Third Doctor as played on the BBC television series by Jon Pertwee.

Dr. Shaw is sent to examine an alien computer by UNIT. The three previous people sent to examine it have disappeared. When Liz arrives she meets Childs, a UNIT soldier – she thinks. She begins to examine the computer and disconnects what she thinks is an automatic defense system. She and Childs are shrunken down and transported inside the computer.

Once inside, Liz finds she can communicate with the computer using the terminals inside. The computer points her towards the maintenance system. She and Childs are attacked by “drones” antibody-like beings. They find the body of one of the previous UNIT officials. When she and Childs are threatened with attack by a large number of drones, Liz orders the computer to make a new tunnel and seal it behind them. The tunnel takes them directly to the problem. The system that makes the maintenance drones is broken. Drones are coming out of the system and dying immediately. The few that survive are in horrible pain, unable to think clearly or perform their tasks. This is why the computer cannot repair itself – it’s maintenance and repair system is broken. Childs becomes pushy about Liz fixing the computer, but she isn’t so sure. She’s afraid this alien computer might be used for bad things. As Childs becomes pushier, Liz gets even more suspicious. She lobs a piece of pipe at him, and not only does he fail to catch it – it drops right through him. He’s an image, created by the computer. Liz asks him to explain why he lied to her instead of explaining what and who he was, but he doesn’t give her a satisfactory answer. Eventually, he disappears.

Liz returns to one of the terminals – and finds Foster there. She gets another communication from the Doctor. All his efforts to disable the force field surrounding the computer have failed. He advises her to start smashing vital components in the hope of destroying to force field from the inside, and eventually the entire computer.

Liz thinks this might be a good idea, and gets directions from the computer itself for the force field generator – but it’s too far, and it’s surrounded by drones. She gets directions for the computer core and finds it closer and easier to get to. She and Foster make their way there, but once they arrive, Foster becomes very pushy about her destroying the computer. So she hesitates – and tries the same trick, throwing a pencil through Foster. He goes through him – he’s another projection, this time of the computer’s Fail-Safe, which wants the computer destroyed rather than in enemy hands. Liz objects again.

She manages to repair the computer maintenance system, using directions from the computer itself. She then gets herself out. Once she’s safe and normal size in the UNIT lab, the computer disappears. Liz explains to the Doctor that she has freed a slave. The Doctor, though a little perturbed that she didn’t out and out destroy the computer, accepts this in the end.

This story is basically “Doctor Who Does ‘Fantastic Journey'” in an alien computer. But it is never the less an interesting story. I liked that they have three actors in the story. However, we only ever hear two of them at once – Liz and either Childs or Foster. This emphasizes the point of the story, that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw knows her own mind – and she isn’t going to do what anyone else tells her to do. In fact, Childs and Foster’s bullying is what clues her in that neither is to be trusted. Dr. Shaw is also struggling with her decision – should she leave UNIT and return to Cambridge. She decides to stay with UNIT. Recommended.

The CD includes trailers and a panel interview of the cast and director.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click this link to order Binary on CD or download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sentinels of the New Dawn

  • Title: The Sentinels of the New Dawn
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Paul Finch
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Richard Beauregard, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Caroline John, Duncan Wisbey
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/29/2018

The Sentinels of the New Dawn is a story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. The story is told by Caroline John and Duncan Wisbey (as Richard) and features the Third Doctor as played by Jon Pertwee on the British television show. An older Dr. Liz Shaw is interviewed by a new UNIT soldier about “her involvement” in New Dawn. Liz explains that she both was and wasn’t involved and that there are no records at UNIT about New Dawn. Then she tells the story of herself and the Third Doctor going to Cambridge to check on Liz’s mentor, who has developed a time dilation device. Liz is both unsure if such a device will work as intended to allow time travel, and worried about the dangers. The Doctor declares the device won’t work for travel, but it will open a time window for observing the past or the future. However, the window cannot be moved, so it will only show what happens in the room.

No sooner than he says this than the device is turned on and he and Liz are sucked through a time corridor. They awake in 2014, where a Conservative far-right group known as New Dawn is planning a take-over of the world using nefarious means. They’ve used the time window technology to raise money, recruited the rich and powerful, and obtained a weaponized Ebola virus from an African dictator who has joined their cause. And the cause? To bring the world back to “perfect” medieval times, with the Sentinels as the absolute power and “leaders”. The Doctor and Liz are appalled. They meet another scientist who has doubts about the cause he’s joined. In the end, the Doctor, Liz, and their scientist ally defeat New Dawn and return to Liz’s present where they destroy the device and all of her mentor’s notes.

Liz finishes telling her story to the UNIT soldier and answers his questions. As he leaves – we learn who this “soldier” really is.

This is an excellent Companion Chronicles story, especially the punch-to-the-gut ending. Caroline John does an excellent job performing and telling the story. The story is interesting and relevant. I liked it very much. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Go here to order Doctor Who: The Sentinels of the New Dawn on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Shadow of the Past

  • Title: Shadow of the Past
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Sgt. Marshall, Third Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
  • Cast: Caroline John, Lex Shrapnel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/13/2018

The Shadow of the Past is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line, which features Caroline John as Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw and for this story, Lex Shrapnel as Marshall. An older, retired Liz goes to Unit Vault 75-73/Whitehall to look in to something from her time with the Doctor, she meets a young UNIT officer and tells him her tale.

A younger Liz is at UNIT when a spaceship crash is reported. She, the Doctor (the Third Doctor, as played by Jon Pertwee on the television series, Doctor Who) and UNIT troops head out to Kent to investigate. The Doctor is keen to try to rescue the pilot. Liz is a bit more cautious – insisting on contamination suits at least, and the Brigadier and company – well, this is a tale set early in the third Doctor’s time, so the Brigadier and the Doctor are still feeling each other out. Liz and the Doctor enter the spaceship – and Liz is overcome by the smell – the pilot is smeared all over the interior of the space ship.

Liz leaves and the Doctor rushes out and to his TARDIS at UNIT HQ. At UNIT, he reports another problem, a Mim invasion fleet is heading for Earth. The ship must have been a scout. Liz and the Doctor return to the control center set up by UNIT near the spaceship – only for the Doctor to remark by radio that Earth’s defenses are disabled and the Mim invasion can invade.

In the present, the older Liz explains to Marshall the properties of sponges. As long as you keep them in seawater – they can reassemble themselves. Cut them in half – and they will reunite. Whirl them into soup and they will reassemble. Even whirl two different sponges together into soup – and they will reassemble into the two original sponges – given enough time.

Picking up the story with young Liz, she and the Brigadier realise the person that invited the invasion fleet in – isn’t the Doctor. The entity reveals itself to be a huge purple beast – and attacks the UNIT soldiers and officers. The Brigadier orders Sgt. Robin to take Liz to UNIT HQ, find the Doctor, the real Doctor, and return. Liz protests but Robin insists she go with him.

At UNIT HQ, Liz realises she has a key to the TARDIS and enters. The Doctor is unconscious on the floor of the TARDIS. Liz realises the pilot of the ship wasn’t dead after all, but it attacked the Doctor, taking his shape – and as the recovering Doctor explains, it poisoned him as well. But he takes energy from the TARDIS to speed his recovery then uses the TARDIS to call the Time Lords. A man in a bowler hard and pinstripe suit appears, and Liz and Robin convince the Time Lord representative to help. The Time Lords return the Mim invasion fleet to the Mimsphere, but the representative says the Doctor and UNIT will have to deal with the Mim agent themselves.

The Doctor also explains that the Mim, as the name implies, are Mimics, shapeshifters, but they are also incredibly dangerous and violent. Liz realises that she had tried to shut down the nuclear weapons UNIT had but was dragged away by Robin – the Mim then finished her work, shutting down the weapons. But they can’t trigger a nuclear explosion in the middle of Kent.

The Doctor, Liz, and Robin return to the control center and talk to the Brigadier. They come up with a plan to get the Mim to return to it’s spaceship and to get a device inside.

As Liz explains to Marshall – that’s the spaceship here in the vault. She also mourns the death of young Robin and the other UNIT soldiers killed in the conflict. As she continues to talk to Marshall, pointing out how he reminds her of Robin – even looks like him, Marshall puts it together.

The rest is a spoiler, but you can probably guess where this one is going.

Still, I liked this Companion Chronicles story. It was a pleasure to listen to a story featuring Dr. Liz Shaw but its a bit bittersweet too, since she has subsequently passed away. That is one sad bit about the Companion Chronicles line, it can be hard listening to stories told by Doctor Who actors who have recently passed away. Shadow of the Past is a straight-forward Third Doctor story. A spaceship crashes, there’s an invasion, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that UNIT and the Doctor defeat it. But it’s still a good story. The surprise at the end is a surprise, but it makes total sense once you know. Caroline John does a very good job telling the story and she plays well off Lex Shrapnel. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click this link to order Shadow of the Past on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Blue Tooth

  • Title: The Blue Tooth
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Third Doctor, Capt. Mike Yates, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
  • Cast: Caroline John, Nicholas Briggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/02/2014

Caroline John reads this audiobook by Big Finish, The Blue Tooth, part of the Companion Chronicles line. I thought the storyline would have something to do with alien control of Bluetooth™ technology, however, it doesn’t – though the Cybermen are involved eventually. Dr. Liz Shaw looks back on her time at UNIT, and considers when she decided to quit. She had gone to Cambridge to visit one of her university friends, only to find her friend missing and the friend’s cat brutally slain.

Before long, the Brigadier and Captain Mike Yates arrive, investigating not only Jean’s disappearance but the disappearance of several scientists and even support personnel from Cambridge. The investigation leads to a mysterious blue living metal, a really bad dentist, Cybermats, and a crashed Cyberman scout ship. It’s an intriguing story.

My only qualm about this one was that I found it a bit gross. I know it seems weird to describe a story in audio format as gross – but it is. This story is a bloodbath, in more ways than one. I also found the title a tad too literal.

Anyway, This is still my favorite Doctor Who range, and this story is enjoyable. Recommended, but it’s not for younger listeners.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click the link to order The Blue Tooth on CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!