The Friday Docback Exalts (But Still Doesn't Particularly Like) 'Spearhead From Space' on Blu-ray!! DOCTOR WHO Story # 51, HornOrSilk Reviews The 'Starlight Robbery' Big Finish Audio, Upcoming DVD Art, And More!!
...with a quick look at the recently issued, gloriously HD Blu-ray of Spearhead from Space - available HERE in the US and HERE in the UK. Has my admittedly glum opinion of the episode, previously posted HERE, changed in light of how wonderful this story looks in HD? Not really, but all that worked about SFS works that much better in HD, and I do believe that HD might well be a future path the series as a whole might consider exploring - conversion technology and opportunity permitting. More on Spearhead and DW in HD shortly, but first...
THAT SUPER-AWESOME UPCONVERT OF THE ECCLESTON/TENNANT ERA THAT’S COMING TO BLU-RAY SOON?
Blu-ray.com now has more details on what we can expect from the set HERE.
A LOOK AT COVER ART FOR FORTHCOMING DOCTOR WHO DVDs
The Tenth Planet (Hartnell, Story #29) (top) and Terror of the Zygons (T. Baker, Story #80). Both due later this year.
This via Tea-Lady Design
HORNORSILK REVIEWS The STARLIGHT ROBBERY BIG FINISH AUDIO
Big Finish 176 – Starlight Robbery
By: Matt Fitton
This is the second story of the current Seventh Doctor based “trilogy,” and it suffers in the way second stories normally do: the beginning and the end are about things outside of itself. While someone might not have to listen to the first story of this trilogy in order to listen to this one, it certainly would be recommended. Trilogies such as this are not always bad, because this allows for a longer story to be told, but when you have separate monthly releases, and have them nominally treated as independent stories, you can easily cause problems with someone wanting to listen to only one of them. And I certainly could see that happening here, if someone were a fan of the Sontarans, because this gives a rather nice Sontaran-based story.
This story has a lot of Big Finish continuity lying behind it. We begin with the Doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Klein (from all the adventures she has been in), and Will Arrowsmith (Klein’s “assistant”) in pursuit of Kurt Schalk and his “persuasion machine.” We quickly learn that that an alien merchant-trader, Garundel (who was previously in the story Black and White) has bought Schalk and plans to sell him and his machine to the highest bidder, bringing several different alien species together to make the bid. The Doctor, because he doesn’t want to be seen by Garundel, has Klein and Arrowsmith pretend to be from one such race and infiltrate the auction and try to steal the machine before anyone else gets it. The Doctor’s companions find a rowdy group is there, with several different plans of their own as to how they plan to take the machine. Among them are the Sontarans, this time played somewhat seriously though with a dose of humor from time to time. There are several twists and turns with this audio, though the ending is not too surprising given what has been revealed about the last adventure of this “trilogy” (having Daleks and Davros in it). Despite the predictability of the ending, it was nice to hear Sontarans reacting to the Daleks (in more than one way).
The Sontarans, once again, are shown to be a militaristic race, with all the qualities associated with such militarism, some of them bad, but some of them good (such as their notions of honor). While their warlike stand affects their goal and how they deal with the auction, making them truly a threat to be reckoned with, their sense of honor and respect, even to their foes, gives a chance for the Sontarans and Klein to share some interesting experiences and insights together. There is a sense that Klein might be “learning” something of their ways, taking it in, making it a part of herself (once again, bringing the question of who she is, in essence). Klein’s “relationship” with the Sontarans, because of how quickly she is impressed with them and their ways, might be signaling hints of what is to come in the third story of this trilogy, but it might be nothing is made of it as well. We do see she is capable of being upset with the Doctor and his manipulative streak, indicating that his use of his companions is similar to how he uses his sonic screwdriver, but one wonders how much this upsets her because of how close she is to this kind of personality as well. Either way, it’s an apt description of this Doctor, and remarkably similar to the way Davros will portray the Doctor in Journey’s End.
Will Arrowsmith is given his own side adventure. He finds himself attracted to, and yet opposed to, Garundel’s beautiful assistant, Ziv. His geeky like qualities are put side by side with a feminine Han Solo-like figure. He’s not as interesting in this story as we has in the first, but it feels like he is being set up for something, just like Klein is, for the last story. Ziv, on the other hand, sometimes annoys me, because it is as if she had watched Star Wars, but we got no acknowledgement of it. Her lines seem to be quotes of Han Solo. Obviously, she could have watched Star Wars, and if she had said as much, would have felt better than to leave it as if she were just a feminine pastiche of Han Solo.
The Doctor is not used as much in this story as I hoped he would be. He’s not entirely absent, but it feels very Doctor-lite all in all. There are all kinds of hints about the Doctor’s absent-mindedness getting the best of him, showing how he is becoming more like he is in in the TV Movie. The Doctor more or less sees this happening to himself and gives hint that he might even see his death coming from such carelessness. His interaction with Garundel, once it happens, is entertaining enough, though nothing spectacular.
Now, despite problems I have with this story, it is still entertaining. The Sontarans are given more to do than to be the blunt end of a joke. Their militaristic tactics are actually brought front and center for one of the “episodes” of this story. Klein’s ease with them, however, seems to bode ill for the future.
I will give this one 7/10. It’s enjoyable, but it feels as if it is holding something back.
SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE BLU-RAY MINI REVIEW
I’d originally intended to write a more comprehensive review of the the recently issues Spearhead from Space Blu-ray - alas, upon revisiting the title, I found that my opinion on the story hasn’t changed considerably since I posted THIS critique of the standard def issuance last August. So, this will end up being more cursory than planned.
In that 2012 piece, I wrote...
Spearhead is written by Robert Holmes, who wrote some of the very best classic DOCTOR WHOs ever made: The Caves of Androzani (Davison, Story #136),The Talons of Weng-Chiang (T. Baker, Story #91), and The Sun Makers (T. Baker, Story #95).
When we get into the nitty-gritty, however, it becomes startlingly evident that Spearhead is not imbued with the same social awareness and gravitas other episodes best characterizing Holmes’ more notable contributions to the show - nor do Spearhead’s later installments meet the promise of their setup. When all is said and done, this is pretty much by-the-numbers and frivolous, featuring villain-controlled mannequins coming to life, and culminating with the Doctor’s regrettable encounter with foamy, oversized alien tentacles whose design and color scheme would appear quite at home in a Sid and Marty Krofft show.
...and this still pretty much holds true. Spearhead is amiable enough and fun enough, and there’s an irresistible charm in seeing the genesis of Pertwee’s Doctor and that iteration’s introduction to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and new companion Liz Shaw (Caroline John). On the whole, though, the proceedings lacks an overall substance. SFS comes to life fleetingly...even brilliantly...when Autons march streets and blast the hell out of hapless British denizens, but this level of taught focus does not run throughout. Spearhead meanders...feels undirectioned...feels like it’s more devoted to launching the Pertwee era than telling a fulfilling story (it could’ve done both), and is certainly not a high watermark in overall WHO. It’s not an embarrassment to be sure...just not upper tier.
Spearhead is the only episode of classic WHO to be shot entirely on film (usually, video cameras were used for material recorded in-studio, and film cameras were utilized for location photography). The result of this is that, no matter how mundane the on-screen happenings may be, SFS is imbued with an agreeably cinematic texture throughout. This story does not look or feel like any WHO before or after it - and whatever one thinks of this episode, viewers may find it difficult to walk away without wishing all of DW had been similarly shot/produced.
Because Spearhead was shot entirely on film, The Powers That Be were able to generate a full-on High Definition transfer of this story for this Blu-ray. In other words, what you’ll find on the recently released Blu is not an artificial HD upscaling or some kind of gimmick. This Blu represents a very fine and most genuine HD mastering - and it’s clear the restoration team has extended tremendous time and effort towards this undertaking. Classic WHO in true HD - who’da thunk it? And it looks grand.
Which begs the question? If some form of HD up-conversion were possible - an up-conversion which did not feel tacky or artificial and could truly bring out the texture / qualities which may lie buried on current masters or Standard Def presentations - should other classic DOCTOR WHO be brought into the HDverse as well?
This is already happening to some extent: the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant era is about to be upconverted to HD/Blu-ray (see above) , but that’s a different story. The source material there is more robust than it would be in the case of ‘classic’ WHO, thus up-converting will appear more natural and fully realized. I’m thinking about older, classic WHOs - whose image source may be much more compromised and less pregnant with possibility.
My thinking is YES, IF there’s a manner through which ‘classic’ WHO can be presented in something closely approximating genuine HD, I think it should be done. Having seen many of these stories presented theatrically as part of AICN’s ongoing presentations with BBC and Alamo Drafthouse, I can attest to the power of presentation where ‘classic’ WHO is concerned. Seeing these shows projected with incredible equipment truly changes one’s perspective of what’s on-screen, and of vintage DW in general. I’ve had moms and dads come up to me after screenings indicating that their kids will watch these presentations of ‘classic’ WHO theatrically, but not at home on television. Which tells me there is still perception to be mined in this vintage material...and I’ve no doubt a solid HDification would result in a whole new wave of viewers suddenly realizing that the early years are far richer and far more vibrant than they ever thought possible. This can only be a good thing in the bigger picture.
HOWEVER, the one significant caveat I’d assert is: the original aspect ratios of the shows should be absolutely maintained. THIS DOCTOR’S REVISITED collection offers an option to watch early episodes in an artificially expanded to 16x9 format - the process by which this was achieved stretches the image ever so slightly, and sometimes appears to subtly ‘squish’ the people or objects on-screen. It’s annoying and unnatural and does not bolster the image as much as molest it.
An up-conversion / upgrading of any image should never physically re-shape the image in question - only bring out the very, very best that image can offer. Can such up-converts actually be done? I have no idea - I don’t pretend to understand such matters enough to speak authoritatively. But I fully suspect (ahem) that some kind of experimentation is in the wind not just for DOCTOR WHO, but yet-to-be-released (and not shot) in HD STAR TREK series like DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER. There’s so much...so very much...to be gained if such a process can be figured out and fully realized. I’d like to view Spearhead and the upcoming Eccleston/Tennant HD episodes not as anomalies or curiosities, but a taste of things to come. I’ve a feeling we just might get there...
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