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Spearhead from Space is the first serial of the seventh season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 3 to 24 January 1970. It was the first to be produced in colour.

051 – Spearhead from Space
Doctor Who serial
Spearhead from Space.jpg
The Auton invasion begins.
Directed byDerek Martinus
Written byRobert Holmes
Script editorTerrance Dicks
Produced byDerrick Sherwin
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerDudley Simpson
Production codeAAA
SeriesSeason 7
Length4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast3 January 1970 (1970-01-03)
Last broadcast24 January 1970 (1970-01-24)
← Preceded by
The War Games
Followed by →
Doctor Who and the Silurians
Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

The serial is set in Essex and London. In the serial, the alien time traveller the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the human scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John) work to stop the incorporeal intelligence the Nestenes from colonising the Earth and creating a physical form with the help of the plastic Autons.

The serial introduced Pertwee as the Doctor and was the first to feature the Autons. It also introduces Caroline John as the Doctor's new assistant, Liz. Nicholas Courtney reprises his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and becomes a regular cast member beginning with this serial.


The Doctor collapses outside his TARDIS and is taken to Ashbridge Cottage Hospital in Epping, where his unusual anatomy confounds doctors.

Meanwhile, a meteorite shower falls on the English countryside, and a poacher discovers a mysterious plastic polyhedron at the crash site. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT is trying to recruit Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw as a scientific advisor to examine any meteorites for evidence of aliens. Shaw is sceptical of the Brigadier's concerns and resents being taken away from her research at Cambridge.

The plastic polyhedron is a power unit for a non-physical alien intelligence known as the Nestene Consciousness. Normally disembodied, it has an affinity for plastic, and is able to human replicas made from it, called Autons. The Nestene have taken over a toy factory in Epping, and plan to replace key government and public figures with Auton duplicates. The Auton in charge of the factory sends other, less human-looking, dummy-like Autons to retrieve the power units from UNIT and the poacher.

After recovering in hospital and avoiding being kidnapped by the Autons, the Doctor discovers that his TARDIS has been disabled by the Time Lords and he is trapped on Earth. Despite his recent change in appearance, he convinces Lethbridge-Stewart that he is the same man who helped to defeat the Yeti and the Cybermen. Together with Liz, he uncovers the Nestene plot, just as the Autons activate across Britain and begin killing. The Doctor assembles an electroshock device that he believes will disable them.

UNIT attacks the plastics factory, but the Autons are impervious to gunfire. The Doctor and Liz make their way inside and encounter a tentacled plastic host created by the Nestenes as the perfect form for the invasion. While the Doctor struggles with the creature, Liz use the electroshock device to shut the creature down, the effect cascading to all other Autons.

The Brigadier fears the Nestenes will return and asks for the Doctor's continued help. The Doctor agrees, albeit reluctantly, to join UNIT. In return, he requires facilities to help repair the TARDIS, and a car like the sporty antique roadster he commandeered during the adventure. At his insistence, Liz also stays on as his assistant.


The Doctor tells Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart that his name is Doctor John Smith, an alias first used in The Wheel in Space.[1]


The working title of the serial was Facsimile, and was based on a story that Robert Holmes wrote for the 1965 film Invasion,[2] which featured an alien crashing in the woods near a rural hospital, where a medical examination reveals his alien nature. The hospital is later visited by other aliens, seeking a fugitive criminal. Some of the exact lines of dialogue used by human doctors to describe the physiology of the injured alien were re-used.[citation needed]

Industrial action by certain elements of BBC staff meant that this serial was filmed almost entirely on location, with the majority being undertaken at BBC Wood Norton and the pub in nearby Radford. Lacking videotaped studio material, this also meant that it was the only story, to date (excluding the TV movie), to be shot entirely on film (other stories in the original series intercut material from either source as required or, especially in the last four years when film was eschewed even on location, were entirely on tape).[citation needed]

The change to colour production also necessitated changes to the programme’s opening titles. Designer Bernard Lodge, who had produced the previous sets of titles used up until Spearhead from Space, originally intended to produce a new set using the same 'howlaround' technique that he had for the previous titles. Tests showed, however, that the technique did not produce satisfactory results when used with colour equipment and so the final set were produced in black and white before being manually tinted. These were completed in August 1969, a month before work began on the serial.[3]

The new titles also introduced a new logo for the series. Unlike the logos used for the First and Second Doctor's eras, which used a generic typeface, the new logo was an attempt at being more stylised, particularly in the presentation of the initial "D" in "Doctor" and the "H" in "Who." This logo would be used until the final episode of The Green Death in 1973, but (in slightly modified form) would make an unexpected return in 1996 when it was adopted as the logo for the US-produced 1996 TV movie. The 1996 form subsequently became the official logo of the Eighth Doctor, and of the franchise itself, being used on original novels, video releases (1996–2003) including the alternative Ninth Doctor's animated Scream of the Shalka, DVD releases, and Big Finish Productions audio plays.

Broadcast and receptionEdit

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [4]
Archive [5]
1"Episode 1"23:383 January 1970 (1970-01-03)8.416mm colour film
2"Episode 2"24:2110 January 1970 (1970-01-10)8.116mm colour film
3"Episode 3"24:1617 January 1970 (1970-01-17)8.316mm colour film
4"Episode 4"24:4724 January 1970 (1970-01-24)8.116mm colour film

The story was repeated in its entirety on Friday evenings on BBC1 in July 1971,[6] achieving ratings of 2.9, 3.0, 3.4 & 3.9 million viewers respectively.[7] It became the first ever broadcast of Doctor Who outside of its typical Saturday evening slot.[8] The story was later repeated on BBC2 in 1999.[9]

Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times described Spearhead from Space as an "extraordinary debut for the third Doctor" and also a good performance from Courtney; while positive towards John, Mulkern criticised the way Liz was "severely styled." He also commended the production, particularly Dudley Simpson's score. He wrote that "the only real disappointment is the lacklustre representation of the Nestene" and the "boggle-eyed Pertwee" at the end when he is strangled by the tentacles "always warrants a snicker".[10] Christopher Bahn of The A.V. Club felt that the Autons were secondary to the serial's main goal of introducing the new cast, but commented that they "provide some effectively chilling moments". Bahn wrote that the "major flaw" was the pacing, as it spent too much time establishing "the new status quo before getting into the action".[11] IGN's Arnold T. Blumburg rated the DVD special edition release 9 out of 10, describing the serial as "an amazing feat – a nearly complete top-to-bottom reinvigoration of the show that feels like a full-blown feature film".[12] Den of Geek's James Peaty called Spearhead from Space "easily the best 'new Doctor' story" until Matt Smith's "The Eleventh Hour" (2010), and felt that Courtney and John were "so good ... that you barely miss the Doctor from episode one".[13]

Reviewing the original DVD release in 2002, DVD Talk's J. Doyle Wallis gave the serial three out of five stars, describing it as a "nice exploit" with "pretty neat villains", but criticising the little the Doctor had to do, despite it being his introduction.[14] Ian Jane of the site was more positive when reviewing the serial for its 2012 re-release, giving it four stars. He praised Pertwee and John, as well as the suspense and pacing.[15] SFX's Ian Berriman was positive towards the serial when reviewing it in 2011 with Terror of the Autons, though he noted that Liz was "so snarky she's annoying", the climax with the tentacles was "risible in the extreme", and it was a "shame it looks so dull" as it was shot on film.[16]

In 2009, SFX named the Autons smashing out of the shop windows the second scariest Doctor Who moment, only behind the Weeping Angels in "Blink" (2007).[17] The magazine also listed the serial under the 25 silliest moments, citing the scene when Pertwee's eyes bug out as he is being strangled by the Nestene Consciousness.[18] In 2013, Ben Lawrence of The Daily Telegraph named Spearhead from Space as one of the top ten Doctor Who stories set in the contemporary time.[19]

Commercial releasesEdit

In printEdit

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
AuthorTerrance Dicks
Cover artistChris Achilleos
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
17 January 1974

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in January 1974, entitled Doctor Who and The Auton Invasion. This was the first novelisation commissioned by Target following the successful republishing of three books originally published in the mid-1960s. The Target Books novelisation series would run for the next twenty years and see all but six Doctor Who serials adapted. In the seventies, this book was translated into Finnish as Tohtori KUKA ja autonien hyökkäys, although Doctor Who never appeared on Finnish television until the broadcast of the 2005 revival series. There were also Dutch, Turkish, Japanese and Portuguese editions.

An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Caroline John was released as four CDs in June 2008 by BBC Audiobooks. The original Target books artwork by Chris Achilleos is featured on the cover.

Home mediaEdit

This serial was released in an omnibus format on VHS in 1988; it was re-released in 1995 as an unedited episodic version (while remaining in omnibus format for the United States, Canada and Australia markets).

The DVD was first released in January 2001,[20] followed by a re-release (with new outer packaging) in July 2007. There was a Special Edition DVD release in May 2011 as part of the Mannequin Mania box set, along with Terror of the Autons; it boasting additional special features and improved remastering. All four episodes have been issued for sale on iTunes.

It was re-released on DVD in 2013 as part of the Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited 1–4 box set, together with The Aztecs, Tomb of the Cybermen and Pyramids of Mars. The disc presents the serial as originally broadcast; as a single feature in widescreen format, introduced by former show runner Steven Moffat; and includes a documentary on the Third Doctor.

The serial was released on Blu-ray Disc in July 2013. Due to the serial being shot entirely on film, this is the only Doctor Who story from the classic series where a complete high-definition release (with no upconversion) is feasible. Reviewing this release, Phelim O'Neill of The Guardian praised the film look of Spearhead From Space, claiming, "It sounds like a small thing but it made an incredible difference; this is the only one of the vintage stories to have the picture quality worthy of a HD transfer. The Blu-ray looks superb, as if they shot a (very) low-budget Doctor Who movie late in 1969, which is pretty much what they did. The sets look sturdier, more colourful and far better than their usual overlit, studio-bound video camerawork."[21]

In the original broadcast of episode two, the first fifteen seconds of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well (Part One)" can be heard during scenes in the Auto Plastics factory. This was removed from some video and DVD releases due to copyright issues. It is present on the 1995 VHS release and the 2011 Special Edition DVD, as the track is now covered by the PPL agreement.


  1. ^ "Spearhead from Space". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  2. ^ "BBC – Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide – Spearhead from Space – Details".
  3. ^ Spearhead from Space DVD production subtitles, 2011
  4. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  5. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (31 March 2007). "Spearhead from Space". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 18 May 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1996). Doctor Who The Handbook – The Third Doctor. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 49. ISBN 0-426-20486-7.
  7. ^ "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for Spearhead From Space".
  8. ^ This is confirmed on the production notes for the DVD release of the special edition of the story and noted in the DVD commentary by Terrance Dicks, the show's script editor. Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania Box Set – Spearhead from Space / Terror of the Autons [DVD]. BBC Video/2|Entertain 2012. ASIN: B004P9MROY
  9. ^ "Doctor Who – Spearhead From Space featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor". Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  10. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (14 September 2009). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". Radio Times. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  11. ^ Bahn, Christopher (19 June 2011). "Spearhead from Space". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  12. ^ Blumburg, Arnold T. (27 September 2012). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space Special Edition DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  13. ^ Peaty, James (9 May 2011). "Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania DVD Box Set review". Den of Geek. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  14. ^ Wallis, J. Doyle (14 August 2002). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  15. ^ Jane, Ian (8 September 2012). "Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  16. ^ Berriman, Ian (6 May 2011). "Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania — DVD review". SFX. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  17. ^ "21 Scariest Doctor Who Moments 7". SFX. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  18. ^ O'Brian, Steve (November 2010). "Doctor Who's 25 Silliest Moments". SFX. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  19. ^ Lawrence, Ben (30 March 2013). "Doctor Who: the 10 best contemporary tales". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  20. ^ Roberts, Steve (16 November 2000). "Spearhead from Space — DVD". Doctor Who Restoration Team. Archived from the original on 23 December 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  21. ^ "Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space: this week's new DVD & Blu-ray". The Guardian. 13 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.

External linksEdit

Target novelisationEdit