"You think that the TARDIS isn’t big enough, don’t you? That’s because you keep looking at it simply as a police box." "Well, it is only a police box!" "Oh no. Not once you get inside it, it isn’t."
Doctor Who 3.1: Spearhead From Space
(Three, Liz Shaw, the Brig and UNIT; the Autons/Nestene Consciousness; 20th century Earth)
There are really two ways that first eps of a new Doctor can go. There are the stories that are all about the new Doctor, where he hops in swinging from the very first—The Eleventh Hour, for example, which peaks with a climactic scene of the Doctor showing off the full extent of his power for the audience, the universe and his new companion. More commonly, however, first serials tend actually to be lighter on their Doctors than usual. Ten spent his first story almost entirely in bed, Eight had amnesia for much of his time, and Five spent a significant portion of his opening serial inside a box. Their first moments can hardly be said to be their best.
It’s not all that surprising, then, that Three’s first story comes out feeling a little light on Doctor-time. The plot is also a bit thin, though the Autons are a great villain (Doctor Who: teaching children a healthy fear of mannequins, pepperpots, robots, statues and the dark since 1963) and they add juice to an otherwise basic earth-invasion plot. What screentime Three does get is full of wonderful comedy, both intentionally as Jon Pertwee hams it up in high style, and unintentionally but no less humorously as he flails in a mess of green rubber tentacles.
Overall, though, Spearhead from Space is carried by neither the Doctor nor by its villains, but by Liz Shaw and the Brig. That’s not a bad thing at all; they entirely deserve the chance to steal the show. Left in the hands of two such cool, snarky characters, Spearhead from Space ends up drier and more sedate than many serials, in a way that I personally love. Liz and the Brig’s screen chemistry with each other and with the Doctor is fabulous and so entertaining to watch. By the end of four episodes, it’s already clear precisely what kind of person Liz is and what sort of companion she’s going to be—in my opinion, an absolutely wonderful one, brilliant and funny and level-headed. My biggest complaint about Spearhead from Space, then, is simply that it makes me wish fate could have been kinder, and given us more than four serials of Liz. Fortunately, however, the Doctor it introduces had a lot more time to play, and so this serial also marks the beginning of a unique and very enjoyable chapter of Whovian history.
(If you like Spearhead from Space, try: Rose, for another Doctor fighting the Autons in his first round; Terror of the Autons, as Three takes another swing at the plastic menace; Inferno, for another great story with Three, Liz and the Brig)