27 Cool Things About
“Spearhead from Space”
(And 23 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
(With thanks to Taiko)
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 443
The reason why this story gets so much airplay is not because it's the
best story of the Pertwee Era, or the most controversial, or the most
interesting, or the highest rated, or the most popular. No, it gets so
much airplay simply because it is On Film.
It being On Film automatically makes it of higher quality than such
lesser videotaped series as, for instance, I Claudius,
and places it in the company of such exalted programmes as Department S, Jason King
in a Suitcase.
At that, it's not even on good
film: it's on 16mm film, rather than the 35mm film favoured by ITC and
the American networks.
Also, because all the interiors are on location, the acoustics are
awful, and everyone sounds like they're talking in a swimming-bath.
It is rather nice, though, that the very first scene of the programme
features a female officer and a male other-rank, without this being
flagged up or in any way presented as diversity management.
Why go to the time and expense of setting up a miniature shot for the
TARDIS materialisation? Why not just mix it in situ, as usual?
"The Web of Fear" Recyclingwatch I: Liz Shaw is basically Anne Travers,
only without the flattering hairstyle, ready wit and charm.
“I was even searched!” “Security, rather
amusing, don't you think?” Heaven knows what the Brigadier
gets up to in his spare time if he finds a full body search
"The Web of Fear" Recyclingwatch II: Cowardly and treacherous Welshmen,
and unscrupulous reporters in big Sixties spectacles channeling Alan
For the first sixteen minutes of the story, they go to every length
possible to avoid showing Jon Pertwee's face. This looks like a setup
for a huge reveal, but when we do actually see him, it's an
underwhelming shot of him lying on his side in bed.
Pertwee appears to pluck his nostril-hairs.
Channing goes into a phone box to communicate telepathically with the
Nestene Consciousness. This is the first example of the Auton Sense of
Humour; there will be others.
How do the Autons know the Doctor's at the hospital before the
reporters publish their stories? Did Channing just happen by for a
While there's a rationalisation for why they subsequently kidnap him (a
couple of the Autons' spherical energy units go missing, an alien turns
up in the vicinity, so they want to pull said alien in for
questioning), it's not one that's particularly obvious until Channing's
infodump in Episode Two.
We'd like to take a moment just to flag up the ridiculous, twee, and
generally inappropriate incidental music in this serial.
Episode One appears to end with the Doctor being shot in the head.
That's got to be the worst cliffhanger ever.
Episode One concludes with the corporal shouting “who told
you to fire, you stupid--”; the second begins with the
corporal shouting “stop, stop firing you fool!”
Putting the two together, it looks like the Doctor gets shot in the
head, collapses face down into the heather, gets up, staggers on, is
shot in the head and falls again face down into another patch of
Tedious Precedentwatch: This is the first, but Heaven knows not the
last, iteration of the Doctor-putting-himself-into-a-coma trope.
Channing explains that they need to keep a staff of ordinary human
workers making ordinary plastic dolls as a cover, obviously
anticipating the viewer question of “Why not just sack
everyone and turn everything over to mannequin production?”
This also explains why they need to get rid of Ransome; his close
involvement with the former factory means he will inevitably start
questioning the new setup.
The use of Vaseline on the Auton characters' faces to make them look
like plastic dummies is very effective.
The factory's names is Auto Plastics, although whether the Autons took
their name from it, or whether the Nestenes changed the name of the
factory when they took over, is never actually explained. In either
case, it's another one for the Sense Of Humour.
Why does Liz Shaw treat the Brigadier as a deluded maniac? Furthermore,
why does the Brigadier not curtail this behaviour by simply going
“look, here's a picture of a Yeti, here's a piece of a
Cyberman, now will you please stop looking so superior and get on with
analysing the damn meteorite?”
Later, all it takes to convince her that the TARDIS is actually a time
machine is a Police Box making a juddering noise and smoking a bit.
"The Web of Fear" Recyclingwatch III: Bleeping balls, linked to an
amorphous alien entity in space, that controls big silent monsters. The
Doctor even calls it “an intelligence” in Episode
Why does General Scobie call the Brigadier
“Stewart”? Doesn't he know his actual surname?
In “The Daleks”, we learn that
unauthorised uses the key of the TARDIS, the lock will melt. However,
this lock was apparently broken by the Doctor in "The Daleks' Master
Plan" after the Monk reset the mechanism. In "Spearhead from Space", we
discover that the TARDIS lock now has a metabolism detector. Evidently
this modification postdates "The War
Machines", in which a key-wielding Polly has no problem getting into
Presumably, after their failed invasion, the Cybermen left behind a
load of their silver Doc Martens, which were acquired in a job lot by
Auto Plastics and used to kit out the Autons.
Faceless Ones” was
originally “The Big Store” a four-part Doctor Who story set in
a department store, which would have featured aliens, disguised as
dummies, who would freeze their victims and pass them off as other
mannequins. Copyright-infringement lawsuits were of course rarer in
Why do both the Brigadier and the Doctor sniff the Auton meteorite
Why does everybody call Liz “Miss Shaw”, when she's
Considering that all the Autons in Ealing High Street manage to hit
their targets with effortless ease, Ransome is singularly lucky to get
attacked by the only one which is a bad shot.
An entire alien invasion is held up by a poacher with an IQ of 60. Not
good, is it?
The shot of Channing filtered through the glass door is nicely weird,
suggesting both an army of Autons and a composite entity as well as
making him look genuinely alien.
Just pause for a moment and savour the beautiful surrealism of General
Scobie, slathered in Vaseline, barking orders in front of a wall of
children's dolls in frilly frocks.
The wax museum sequences were filmed at Madame Tussauds. Although,
given the terrible quality of some of the waxworks of American
Presidents, it's not a very good advertisement.
Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were later featured as waxworks at the same
institution. Make of that what you will.
39. Freezing a Major-General, replacing him with a mannequin, and leaving the original on display at Madame Tussauds. See what we mean about the Auton Sense of Humour?
Please note: Autons are the crude plastic mannequins, Facsimiles are
the ones which look and act like real public figures. What Channing is,
is never satisfactorily explained.
"The Web of Fear" Recyclingwatch IV: UNIT's signature trope, the
set-piece battle with Nick Courtney
fighting invading monsters in near-contemporary urban Britain.
It's instructive to compare the sheer carnage of Autons brutally
gunning down commuters in full view of the camera in 1970, with the
antiseptic offscreen deaths in the equivalent sequence of “Rose”.
Any time anyone says the new series is an improvement on the original,
show them both and sit back.
Mind you, the surge of terror that sequence generated on first
broadcast, is matched only by the surge of overfamiliarity that it
generates in fans who have seen that sequence in far too many Doctor
Who documentaries, compilation videos, and so forth in the
The question nobody ever asks, though, is what the massacre has to do
with the Autons' invasion plans, which is a shame, because there's a
very good answer: the mannequin attacks will inevitably require a
military response... and with Auton facsimiles at the top levels of the
armed forces, they can control and direct the battles, leading to
carnage, confusion and, eventually, total chaos, followed by an Auton
"The Invasion" Recyclingwatch:
UNIT versus Faceless Monsters at Factory, while the Doctor confronts
the brain which controls them in the factory building.
Series Firsts: This is the first time we learn that the Doctor has two
hearts and a resting heart rate of 10 BPM, and that the TARDIS is said
to be "dimensionally transcendental".
Japanese animation fans! Annoy everyone by shouting “Hentai!
Hentai!” as the Doctor struggles with the overfriendly
The Doctor says he doesn't want a salary. Presumably he intends to feed
and clothe himself from the TARDIS' resources, and sponge shamelessly
off everyone else on UNIT pub nights.