The Third Doctor kick-started the 1970s with Spearhead from Space and the BBC archive page linked is well worth a proper read and gives a decent view of just how many firsts this story represents. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it has a lot going for it despite certain scenes aiming too closely to the children’s market. It’s certainly a great example of Robert Holmes’s work. Let’s compare notes…
Autons, Nestene, UNIT and Liz Shaw
Autons are a simple idea, easily created and (mostly) creepy. Their contempt for bullets and almost zombie like gait makes them a classic horror monster. The only time they fail is when they run and the actors just jog.
The Nestene (I ignore the vast number of years they are meant to have been at large) are sinister thought the slime plus clingfilm prop does little for me, and the end sequence with octopus-like tendrils is definitely one for the children. The alien meteorite plot owes a lot to Quatermass II but not so much as to crowd out the essential Doctor Who nature, and after all this is (in some people’s view) the most Quatermass influenced era.
UNIT seem more like a few people in an office with a car park and the uniforms are all very clean and new (as are most characters). The relationships are all there, the Brig is a progressive if authoritarian figure and it’s ironic to see him persuade Liz of aliens and she be the sceptic.
Liz starts well, dresses like a character from a sci-fi series (she wouldn’t look out of place in UFO) and exudes personality and competence though does fade a little when the Doctor takes over.
As to the Doctor, it’s the first wake up in hospital and steal clothes story, but not the last. The first episode establishes and alien physiology, the Brigadier takes little persuading to accept the regeneration and apart from a Benny Hill like wheelchair chase Jon Pertwee has a lot of presence.
The story is slow in places as it balances new Doctor with new alien invasion but has a lot going for it and looks great on BluRay even if there’s no widescreen!
A Rose by any other name
Watching this again it’s no surprise Russell T Davies chose to make his Ninth Doctor story Rose centre on Autons and Nestene. It’s a simple concept and the scenes of shop dummies breaking windows and slaughtering shoppers has a deep chilling quality. There’s little to explain and the shop dummy is widely recognised. The stories differ in many ways (I park them introducing a Doctor and companion as that’s intrinsic) but there is a resonance.
Let me know if you disagree!