Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space (part three)

I like how our son correctly likes and yet doesn’t like all the frightening bits. He liked/didn’t like the Auton coming to the remote cottage and terrifying Mrs. Seeley, and he liked/didn’t like the Auton facsimile of General Scobie showing up at the general’s door at the cliffhanger. That’s how it should be when you’re six. We had to pause and give him a chance to run for his security blanket.

I mentioned last time that this restoration looks amazing, but to be clear, “Spearhead from Space” has always looked great because the whole thing is – for the only time in Who‘s original run – on film. The plan, when they made it in late 1969, was to do all the relevant location work and then go into the studio and do all the interior sets on videotape as usual. But while the BBC had been slowly moving to color for a couple of years already, there was still a very tight fit to get all the drama and comedy and light entertainment in the studios with the new color equipment. When one of the unions involved called a strike, there wasn’t room to remount this serial when everything was rescheduled.

This was a very similar situation to the one that would befall the story “Shada” about a decade later. It was canceled after its location work and one of its three studio sessions. But Derrick Sherwin, who admittedly tells the story on one of the special features making himself out as quite a hero, wasn’t going to let that happen in ’69, and he got some 16mm color cameras and told the location manager to get him some facilities to get the story in the can. The result is excellent, even if it’s a little slower-paced than what our son is used to seeing. It actually is a little more deliberate than the black-and-white years of Who, but that’s going to change in a big way in tomorrow night’s installment. It’s a great serial, one of the program’s very best.

Kind of makes you wish Sherwin was still around the BBC in 1979. Reckon he’d have got “Shada” made?

Anyway, I’m jumping ahead just a touch, but this was actually Sherwin’s last Doctor Who production. While he was deep in the trenches working on season seven, he got the call to rejoin his colleague Peter Bryant on Paul Temple. The first season of this detective series began broadcast in the UK, also in color, in November 1969, but it needed some help. So Sherwin finished work on “Spearhead” and rejoined Bryant for three seasons on Temple as Barry Letts came on board to produce the rest of Who‘s seventh year. After Paul Temple ended, Sherwin went on to work on the BBC’s star-packed drama Man Outside and a ghost story called Nobody’s House for Tyne Tees Television.


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