Classic Who goes Blu-ray.
Spearhead from Space, written by Robert Holmes and directed by Derek Martinus, first broadcast in January 1970, marks a number of firsts for Doctor Who: the first serial to be made in colour, and Jon Pertwee’s first of his five-year tenure as the third Doctor. It marked a major rethinking of the show, with series runs reduced to half a year instead of nearly a whole one, and by having the Doctor exiled to Earth and working with UNIT, a premise that would mark the show for several years to come. It was also the only serial to have been shot on film – 16mm – throughout, and hence the only candidate from Classic Who days other than the 1996 TV movie for a Blu-ray release.
Spearhead has been released twice before on DVD, first as one of the earliest Who DVD releases in 2001 and again in 2011 along with Terror of the Autons as the Mannequin Mania box set. Both of those releases have been reviewed for this site, so as usual I’ll link to them and then come back here to discuss this new Blu-ray.
Review of the 2001 DVD release by Gary Couzens
Review of the 2011 Mannequin Mania box set by Mike Sutton
Spearhead from Space is released by 2 Entertain as a Region B Blu-ray. The episodes and all the features (apart from the Coming Soon trailer) are in 1080i. However, if you have the DVD released in the 2011 box set, you may wish to hang on to that, as none of the extras from it are carried over to this Blu-ray. That means that there are no commentaries (in 2011 there were two of them, one reprised from 2001) and, despite what the packaging says, no information subtitles either. The extras that this disc does have are all new, so collectors will want to have both releases. (The 2011 DVD however made the 2001 release obsolete.) Spearhead itself carries a U certificate: “Carry On” raises this package to a PG. There is an optional audio-descriptive menu.
The episodes are presented in the original ratio of 1.33:1. The 2001 release was transferred from a 16mm print, while the 2011 used a 16mm interpositive. The Blu-ray transfer is from a 2K scan of the original negative. Back in 1970 (when I didn’t see it) the majority of viewers would have been watching in black and white in any case, January 1970 being only two months after BBC1 and ITV started broadcasting in colour (BBC2 had been in colour since 1967). I first saw Spearhead in the short-lived run of Who repeats that BBC2 showed in 1999, which would have been an analogue SD broadcast. To say that this is the best that Spearhead has ever looked would be an understatement. I can’t imagine that it could look any better, given that 2K resolution is about the limit for what you can get out of 16mm-originated material anyway. The results are sharp with much improved colour saturation and strong blacks. There’s certainly grain, as you would expect, but it’s natural and filmlike.
The soundtrack is the original mono (not “stereo” as the box says – it’s DTS-HD MA 2.0) and is clear, with dialogue, music and sound effects well balanced. The short burst of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well Part 2” which featured on television broadcasts but had had to be removed from the VHS and 2001 DVD releases due to music licensing issues, was reinstated on the 2011 DVD and is still there on the Blu-ray. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available.
The extras begin with “A Dandy and a Clown: The Life of Jon Pertwee” (42:26). This featurette runs through the the man’s life, from his birth in 1919 to his death in 1996, with much archive material, including extracts from television and radio work, home movies, interviews (with Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan) and interviews with friends and colleagues, David Jacobs, Terrance Dicks and Katy Manning among them. Who certainly features, but it’s only part of this story, which devotes nearly as much time as his second-best-known role as Wurzel Gummidge. There isn’t, other than a passing mention, any of Whodunnit?, the game show he hosted, which I remember watching way back when, and which does survive in the archives. Pertwee was an actor most at home in disguise: heavy makeup and especially a funny voice. So, when he was approached to play the Doctor, he was at first nonplussed when he was asked to play it as himself, as he had no idea what that was.
Caroline John passed away in 2012, and “Carry On: The Life of Caroline John” (29:09) is a similar tribute to Carry (as she was known, spelled thus), from birth to death, with interviews from those who knew her, including her husband Geoffrey Beevers. Once again, there are still photographs and extracts from television programmes and an on-stage Who convention interview. What comes across was a well-respected acting career, in which Who was something of a diversion, and a career put on hold to bring up her three children. When they were older, she resumed her career, which included her first ever nude scene, on stage at age sixty, much to her considerable nervousness. It’s a warm tribute to a woman whose contribution to Who was notable if short-lived. The two tributes above are in a ratio of 1.78:1 while all the other extras are 1.33:1.
Next up is some title sequence footage (22:39), all of it mute and black and white, consisting of tests of the howlaround technique used to create the distinctive opening and closing credits. If you are interested in television technology you may find this more interesting than most, who are less likely to watch all twenty-two minutes of it. I’m not sure I would have done if I hadn’t been reviewing this disc.
A short restoration demonstration (2:14) details how Spearhead made it to HD, with before-and-after shots demonstrating how damage was corrected, and comparisons between the two earlier DVD releases and this Blu-ray.
Finally, there is a Coming Soon trailer for the next Who release, the two-disc special edition of The Green Death (1:25). This is the only item on this Blu-ray to be in standard-definition PAL.
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