Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space Blu-ray review

Note: If you are interested in opinions on “Spearhead from Space” as a piece of drama, you can read last year’s special edition DVD review by clicking here, as this Blu-ray review will only discuss the disc quality, new bonus features, etc.
Just one year ago we got a spiffy new special edition DVD of “Spearhead from Space,” and though I was quite happy with that disc, at the time I bemoaned, “If ever there was a classic Who story that begged for a Blu-ray release, it’s this one...”

Here we are a year later and my wish has been granted. As “Spearhead” is the only classic Who story shot entirely on film – 16mm – it’s ripe for 1080p presentation, and the results are more or less what you’d expect: a crisp, clear transfer (likely the same one used for the SE DVD last year) that allows the story to look sharper than ever before. What really grabs the eye – what Blu-ray is so often perfect at revealing – are the colors! I’d always thought of “Spearhead” as a relatively drab-looking story in regards to its color palette, but this new Blu-ray allows it to pop and sparkle like never before. Now bear in mind, it’s still 16mm – so don’t expect a night and day difference between this release and last year’s SE DVD, but to the eye that spends time and effort looking for the little improvements 1080p allows, this is worth the upgrade.

It is somewhat interesting to note that within the span of a single year, “Spearhead” has technically been seen in four different home video presentations: the SE DVD from last summer, two versions presented within the first “Doctors Revisited” collection from last month (one of which, from a quality standpoint, is the antithesis of this Blu-ray), and now this release. It’s difficult to imagine that the hardcore collector doesn’t already have a version “Spearhead” in their collection, so to sweeten the upgrade, in the special features arena, the BBC have put together a disc different than perhaps expected. Read on…

Blu-ray Extras: The BBC has opted to carry nothing over from the previous DVD incarnations, which for some fans may not be seen as a positive. I’m viewing this Blu-ray as a potential addition to one’s collection, rather than a replacement for last year’s SE DVD. Instead, a new batch of extras has been lovingly prepared.

“A Dandy and a Clown” is a heartfelt, 45-minute documentary on Jon Pertwee. It doesnt focus all that much on Doctor Who, but rather spends the bulk of its running time exploring his life and career on either side of his tenure as the Third Doctor, via interviews with some of those that knew him best. Likewise, the 30-minute piece “Carry On: The Life of Caroline John” is an intimate look at the late actress who portrayed Liz Shaw for a single season. We’ve never had such a doc on John prior to this disc, so it’s a welcome addition. Via interviews with her family and friends, it traces her love for the stage as well as her time on Who, her insecurity over the work she’d done on the show, and her reactions to the subsequent revelation that she was actually quite beloved by fans. Both productions look marvelous in HD, and rank among the classiest docs ever seen in the classic series range. Also presented in HD is a whopping 23 minutes of experimental silent footage taken from the Pertwee title sequence, and a two-minute restoration comparison. Finally, there’s a coming soon trailer for the SE of “The Green Death” presented in SD. No commentary track, no production notes subtitles, no photo gallery – though a brand new menu screen has been created for this disc.

So if you’re a freak for all things Who and Blu, you’ll no doubt want to add this to your collection. It seems unlikely that we’ll be getting any other single-story classic series releases on Blu-ray such as this one. The only other candidate that might benefit from such a presentation would be the Paul McGann TV movie, though, like much American TV of the ‘90s, while it was shot on film, I believe it was edited on video, which could present a whole host of problems for a potential high-def release. I imagine mounting a process along the lines of what’s been done with the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-rays would be in order. 

UPDATE: Check out this article at the RT website. It seems more work was done on Spearhead in order to bring it to Blu-ray after all.