02 Sep 2003Earthshock, by Gwyneth Jeffers
31 Dec 2003Earthshock, by Paul Clarke
15 Nov 2005Earthshock, by Rob Stickler
05 Mar 2006Earthshock, by Adam Kintopf
09 Dec 2006Earthshock, by Ed Martin
09 Dec 2006Earthshock, by Robert Tymec

A truly amazing episode, with a mixed emotional ending. Following the light-hearted episode Black Orchid, it has changed to a totally dark episode. This show brings back the Doctor's old enemies, the Cybermen. It begins with researchers/miners on Earth in a cave, and two black androids appear every once in awhile and kill some of these miners, and they die in a rather gruesome manner. 

Soon, the TARDIS materializes in the same cave, and Adric and the Doctor have fought.Adric asks to be taken back to E-Space, and the Doctor refuses,storming off to take a walk. Tegan goes off to talk to the Doctor, while Nyssa talks to Adric. The rapport between Nyssa and Adric have always been very good, so it is understandable why she should be the one to talk to him. Later Nyssa joins up with Tegan and the Doctor while Adric is left to do mathematical calculations to prove himself to the Doctor, which he always seems to do. 

We find out these androids are from the Cybermen and they have been spying on the Doctor and his companions. Adric saves the day by creeping up and finishing off the androids.

Soon the crew with a few of the miners leave Earth in the TARDIS and end up on the sapceship which is housing the Cybermen (unknowing to the ship's crew). Later we see Tegan out with a few of the men from the mining team armed with weapons, and suddenly Cybermen appear. The group splits up and Tegan takes off and bravely kills a Cyberman and mortally wounds another.

The Doctor finds out about the Cybermen and to his horror he comes face to face with them. Peter Davison is great in this scene where he has to choose to save Tegan's life or let the Cybermen kill her, and making the best decision, he rushes over and protects her. Adric comforts Tegan, it's one of those rare moments where they aren't bickering.

Nyssa however is in the TARDIS with one of the female miners and to her shock and horror, she watches the Cybermen break into the TARDIS, and they kill the woman right in front of Nyssa. Soon after, they start searching the TARDIS. Great performance by Sarah Sutton is done in this scene, although for the most part she is cast aside in the TARDIS and doesn't see anything but the few halls near the TARDIS.

The Cybermen had set the spaceship to collide with Earth to destroy it once and for all, and Adric bravely decides to stay and try to stop it from happening. This is when Matthew's final scenes really shine! He tell's the Doctor and Tegan that he'll see them soon, but from the tone in his voice, you can tell he is uncertain. Tegan is saddened by his decision and has to be taken out by the Doctor.

The ship crew help Adric all they can while he starts punching in mathematical numbers. The ships crew realizes that they have an escape pod and they all go to it and have to literally pull Adric away, saying there is nothing he can do. But Adric, after a moment of being in the escape pode knows the sequence to the final section of the Cybermen's device and he runs out bravely to finish it and the escape pod leaves. So there is no way out for him. He is too busy punching out the numbers to notice the mortally wounded Cybermen Tegan had shot, crawling into the room. The Cybermen, before dying, destroys the device and Adric then realizes he is going to die.

Matthew's performance is outstanding in this episode, he has always had a rocky time in the Davison era, but he finally brings back the great performance that he had given from E-Space to Keeper of Traken in his last show. In the TARDIS, Cyberman are taunting Tegan about destroying Earth, and she gets upset, which she has every right to be, considering they are planning on destroying her planet. The Doctor gets one of the guns and begins firing at the cybermen, hitting the console, so that there was no way to get Adric back.The Doctor kills the Cyberleader by smashing Adrics mathematical badge of excellence, a gold star, into the chest of the Cyberleader. Since Cybermen are allergic to gold, he dies fairly quickly.

Once the Cybermen are finished off, great performances are done by all. Janet Fielding, glossy-eyed, watches the ship fade in and out, Sarah Sutton screams out Adric's name in what seems like great sadness, Peter Davison looks up wide-eyed in sorrow as they watch what is coming to their friend, who is sacrificing his life for them. The camera zooms slowly up to Matthew as he watches and prepares to face what is coming to him, and he clutches the rope that had belonged to his brother Varsh, who had also sacrificed his life for the Doctor and Adric.

We see the TARDIS crew mourning for the loss of their friend, Nyssa crying on Tegan's shoulder, Tegan holding Nyssa, looking completely bewildered and sad and the Doctor just standing in the background. The end credits have no sound and it shows the image of Adric's smashed star. For many fans they gleefully rejoice at this destruction of Adric. But to many others, such as myself, we find it extremely sad. For a true friend, no matter how annoying they are, will sacrifice their lives for their friends if need be, and that's exactly what Adric did. And he proves he was a great friend to all of them.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

'Earthshock' is a classic. I know this, because other fans have told me so. Regardless of whether I actually agree or not, the fact remains that it's importance to Doctor Who's history is undeniable, since of course it sees the return of the Cybermen for the first time in seven years and sees a companion killed off for the first time since 'The Daleks' Master Plan'. Despite these memorable aspects however, the question remains, is it actually any good?

Actually, yes and no. 'Earthshock' has both good and bad points in equal measure. Firstly, there are the Cybermen. There are two basic ways to write for the Cybermen; the first is to focus on what they represent, which is dehumanization, the second is to treat them as little more than marauding robots from outer space. The former is what makes the Cybermen unique; the real horror of the Cybermen lies in the fact that they don't just want to kill you, they want to make you like them. Some fans have suggested to me that in the twenty first century, with transplants and prosthetics commonplace, the Cybermen are no longer scary in this regard. To those fans I say, imagine having your genitals lopped off then being forcibly lobotomized. The Cybermen worked so well back in 'The Tenth Planet' for this very reason, and their lack of emotions meant that they were a foe that couldn't be appealed to. The second approach is far less original, as marauding robots from outer space are commonplace in science fiction, but it can admittedly work on occasion as 'The Invasion' demonstrated. This is the approach that Eric Saward adopts here; with the Cybermen seeking to destroy Earth, they are committed to destruction rather than conquest and their survival imperative is not to convert more humans into Cybermen, but to prevent the Cyber-pact. 

Portraying the Cybermen as rampaging robots potentially reduces their menace from the start, and there is another problem; Christopher Robbie is rightly ridiculed for his emotional performance as the Cyber Leader in 'Revenge of the Cybermen', but David Banks is just as guilty here. He plays the Cyber Leader with a voice dripping with vocal inflections, and the Leader announces "Excellent!" repeatedly and makes expressive hand gestures throughout. I might be more able to forgive this if it were not for the fact that Saward includes in his script an effective exchange between the Doctor and the Cyber Leader on the importance of emotion, which works well in itself but only goes to highlight the fact that the Leader has been exhibiting emotions throughout. Smugness included. And the Cybermen suffer in other ways; the pointless sequence with the thermal lance is illogical padding, since they prove more easily able to break onto the bridge with explosives. Worse still, although not Saward's fault, we see two Cybermen standing around making embarrassingly chatty hand gestures as they guard the stairs in the hold. Perhaps they are arguing about how unemotional they are… 

And yet despite all these criticisms, the Cybermen work really well in 'Earthshock'. They look and sound great, and seem genuinely unstoppable in a way that they certainly didn't in their last story, and director Peter Grimwade wrings some great suspense out of the story. The Cybermen bursting out of their cocoons in the hold, advancing remorselessly on the bridge, appearing out of nowhere and attacking first Tegan and then the troopers entering the TARDIS, are all extremely dramatic scenes. Their redesigned costumes make them look physically impressive, and the silver chin visible behind the transparent mouthpiece is a nice touch. Moreover, David Banks performance as the Cyber Leader, for all that it betrays the emotionless heritage of the Cybermen, is incredibly effective; the Leader works supremely well as a specific villain to represent the Cyber race, and in this respect his booming cry of "So, we meet again, Doctor!" makes sense, as he greats the Time Lord not as an individual, but as a representative of his entire species. What also works is the scale of the Cybermen's plan, which puts at stake the Earth and makes them far more than the pathetic bunch of tin soldiers seen in 'Revenge of the Cybermen'. This is however slightly undermined by some ill thought out aspects of the plot, a problem that would return to haunt Saward again in the future; as The Discontinuity Guide points out, the power drains caused by the revival of the Cybermen nearly put the entire mission at risk as they come close to causing the engines to misphase. It could be argued that they are precise enough to know exactly how much of a power drain they can cause before this happens, but it is also worth noting that a sane captain would have dropped the ship out of warp drive and the ship would have been stopped. Possibly Ringway assured the Cybermen that Briggs wouldn't risk her bonus for anything, but it does rather create the impression that Saward is getting carried away. 

Mention of Briggs and Ringway brings me to my next problem with 'Earthshock', and another problem that will return to haunt Saward; the characterisation is appalling. Aside from the Cyber Leader, only two characters are really of any note. The first of these is Ringway, but he's very badly written; as a Cyber agent, he knows precisely what is going on, but he frets and moans about the missing crewmembers above and beyond the call of duty. Presumably he's engaging in double bluff, but it is taken so far that it makes his eventual revelation as a traitor seem horribly contrived. Secondly, there is Briggs. Beryl Reid plays the character with considerable relish, but the fact remains that she is so obnoxious, and so clearly in dereliction of her duty (she puts her bonus before the safety of Earth) that it raises the question of how she ever managed to reach and keep such a senior position. Especially given that Berger clearly finds her conduct alarming. Perhaps Saward is providing a clever homage to 'The Wheel in Space'. Perhaps not. The upshot of this, and the fact that Berger is given almost no memorable personality at all, is a common failing of Saward's; I simply don't care what happens to any of the characters. Fans of Saward like to argue that he brings an adult feel to Doctor Who, but this seems to be a rather juvenile concept of what constitutes adult. Saward racks up the body count, and 'Earthshock' is filled with death. The troopers introduced in Episode One are mere cannon fodder, and are superfluous after Episode Two; their roles on board the freighter are fairly minimal and could easily have been rewritten, but instead we get a lot of pointless running around or hanging about in the TARDIS. Kyle's death strongly suggests that Saward suddenly realises that he needs to do something with the character, so he kills her off. But Saward's death scenes seldom carry any weight because they are gratuitous; we don't get to know any of the characters well enough to care (with the obvious exception of Adric). 

But again, despite these deficiencies, 'Earthshock' remains compelling viewing. The constant slaughter is largely meaningless, but Grimwade's direction squeezes tension from the story regardless. Episode One is very atmospheric, as the troopers are gradually eliminated by an unseen killer, and the featureless black androids when they are eventually revealed are memorably sinister. Once the androids are destroyed, the bomb provides suspense; once the bomb is disarmed, the Cybermen step in. Whilst I may not care about the supporting characters, the regulars are constantly in peril during 'Earthshock', and this is where the tension lies. Design also benefits 'Earthshock'; the freighter is very well realized, especially the ominous, gloomy hold. The cave sets in Episode One are reasonable, although admittedly they bear very little resemblance to any caves I've ever actually been in. Most of all however, Malcolm Clarke's incidental score is incredibly effective and adds considerably to the drama. 

The use of the regulars in 'Earthshock' is interesting. Nyssa is once more largely redundant, but Tegan and Adric are used prominently. Adric I'll come to below. Tegan gets an important role in Episode Four as she is used by the Cyber Leader as a means of controlling the Doctor; prior to this however, she is left with Scott and his troopers and this result in some extremely dodgy characterisation, as she leaps over fallen Cybermen in search of weapons and generally gets trigger happy. It's utterly ludicrous, especially given her usual terror in really dangerous situations, and whilst it could be argued that fear motivates her to extreme actions (such as when she desperately wrenches at the TARDIS controls in Episode Four), she seems far too safe in the presence of the troopers for this be convincing. Despite this however, Saward does make some decent use of both the girls, by repeating a trick from 'The Visitation', but making it work this time. The opening TARDIS scenes are once more in soap opera territory, but here they work because they cause the TARDIS crew to fall out; once the androids are defeated and the bomb disarmed, the four of them get together in the TARDIS for the last time and apologies are made; having faced crisis together, this shows how close the four have become, especially the Doctor and Adric, which lays the groundwork for the finale. By first causing the Doctor and Adric to fall out, Saward is able to show them making up, which emphasizes the depth of their friendship. In addition, the final scene works well too, as Tegan and Nyssa hug one another in grief, and the Doctor stares in shock at Adric's shattered badge. Davison is on form throughout, despite the fact that Saward has a tendency to place the Doctor in situations that he is unable to cope with. Whilst he successfully directs the destruction of the androids and disarms the bomb, once on the freighter the Doctor is unable to stop the Cybermen. With the threat of Tegan's death held over him, he can do little and it is only when the Cyber Leader decides to kill him at the end that he risks using Adric's badge. This slightly impotent portrayal of the Doctor is not one of which I am especially fond, but Davison at least rises to the challenge, his performance brimming with angst-ridden frustration. And he looks devastated at the end…

Which brings me to Adric. I find the silent end credits to Episode Four embarrassingly melodramatic, but I can't deny that Adric's sacrifice is highly effective; all the more so because he is such an irritating character that in saving the Earth he rather redeems his habitual petulance. After his childish tantrum and subsequent sulking during Episode One, his insistence that the Doctor leaves him behind to save Tegan shows that he has started to grow up, and his desperate attempt to break the Cybermen's control of the freighter at the cost of his own life is undoubtedly heroic. It is also ultimately tragic; his initial tampering causes the freighter to spiral back in time, safeguarding Earth and ensuring humanity's future. He achieves nothing further after he nips back out of the escape pod. It is easy to joke about the demise of such an unpopular companion, and it doesn't help that Waterhouse's amateurish acting robs his final moments of some impact, since he just looks bored, but it remains true that on its first broadcast Adric's death was really shocking. Ultimately, it makes 'Earthshock' the classic that it is often described as. I'm not sure personally that 'Earthshock' qualifies for this term; it is inherently flawed and often poorly written, but there remains about it something utterly compelling that always makes it worth watching.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

Adric’s rubbish isn’t he? Totally rubbish. What did the production team think they were doing when they cast an inexperienced Doctor Who fan as one of the male leads in one of its longest running television programmes? Thank goodness they got rid of him in the end. Except in the last few seconds of Earthshock you won’t be thanking anyone. Part of you will be hoping against hope that this time the dying Cyberman isn’t going to blast the control panel and condemn Adric and the spaceship to a messy dinosaur exterminating end. Why? Because Adric’s death touches us all.

Episode one of Earthshock is, for me, Doctor Who at its best. It’s got some lovely character moments for the Tardis gang; crew doesn’t really describe those four does it? More of a mob (funny how the fifth Doctor’s Tardis seems crowded with four where the First Doctors never did). Including a reference to the previous story in the shape of the ‘Black Orchid’ book (a reference that I really enjoy for some reason). Nyssa and Tegan ‘handling’ the Doctor and Adric is lovely to watch and Davison and Waterhouse perform a couple of great character scenes with style.

The game, meantime, is afoot with a bunch of jump suited pot-holers getting turned into bubble and squeak by something nasty in the darkness! It’s tense, it’s convincing, it’s cheap and it looks great. Naturally it isn’t long before Blue Box Army get blamed for the murders and the Rastan Warrior Robot’s less anatomically correct cousins show up. Then the killer as, in what was at the time a complete surprise, the Cybermen turn up for the first time in eight years. JNT did well to turn down a Radio Times cover, such a surprise would be impossible today. Just like the Master’s anagrams. Episode one of Earthshock is damn near perfect Who.

So what about the rest of the story? The plot itself is simple but so well delivered that it doesn’t matter at all. Sawards script ties in some continuity but not enough to weigh the serial down. Malcolm Clarke’s music, with the exception of the Cybertheme, is a little pedestrian. There is a guest appearance from the boom mike in episode four and an hilarious Cyberslip as the villains negotiate some tricky stairs. Peter Grimwade’s direction is tight as usual. The guest artists are fine though James Warwick is excellent and Beryl Reid, though fine, is an undeniably odd choice to play a starship captain. Of the guests David Banks excels as he delivers a towering performance as chief baddie. His Cyberleader behaves in ways we do not expect a cyberman to. He is without mercy but far from without emotion. His penchant for gloating leads to some great exchanges with the Doctor. He is sadistic, forcing Tegan to watch the destruction of her world. His thirst for revenge upon the Earth and the Doctor is palpable. The words are Saward's but the performance is Banks. He is magnificent. The moment he struts onto the bridge he moves and behaves like a leader. I’m reminded of David Prowse in thinking how stunning it is when people act through that much costume. Many have speculated that this emotional Cyberleader is a mistake, a goof, an item of discontinuity. I say rubbish. I’m sure we can, between us, come up with a reason why Cyberleaders display some types of emotion. Whatever it takes don’t take my vengeful, spiteful Cyberleader away.

We round off this little excursion with a massacre which starts on the spaceship and concludes with the death of the Doctors youngest companion. Selfish, greedy, childish Adric fragged in the stratosphere of a planet he only visited three times but decided to settle on! Does it hurt? Of course it does, it’s the Doctors greatest failure. The twenty-sixth century Earth is only saved by accident and Adric, well. He doesn’t put up much of a fight does he? Adric's death is touching but more than that it’s essential. Every time the sixth, eighth, seventh, ninth or tenth Doctors companion is in trouble I will see in his eyes Adric twisting his brothers belt in his hands. Never again. So join me in thanking Matthew Waterhouse, John Nathan Turner and Eric Saward for that little bit of pain and that extra bit of depth of the Doctors character that is Earthshock.

Thank you.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

People often complain about the contrivances and plot holes in ‘Earthshock,’ and first off I’ll acknowledge that they’re there. The suggestion that the Cybermen’s computer can be ‘code-cracked’ to make another vehicle travel in time is particularly bothersome, and I’m always troubled by the implication that the Doctor’s (and Adric’s) interference caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and set Earth’s history on a radically different evolutionary track. I’m reassured by fans that this is not actually a paradox, but it still seems to me to create a circular timeline (Adric crashes freighter, which causes Earth to evolve differently, which [presumably] causes the Doctor to become fond of it, which causes the Doctor to become involved in Cyberman gambit in the first place, which causes the freighter to travel in time and crash in the first place, etc.) that, if not technically impossible or ‘rule-breaking,’ is still more annoying than clever. In my view, anyway.

But I won’t say anything more about that, and truly, it’s not the plot holes that bother me so much about this story. Generally speaking, I’m much happier with a Doctor Who plot that *seems* to make sense when it doesn’t, as opposed to one that works the other way round, and ‘Earthshock’s’ storyline is definitely the former. But even with a tolerant attitude towards sloppy plotting, ‘Earthshock’ isn’t really all that good. Eric Saward’s writing is a big part of the problem here – his unrelenting ‘badass’ dialogue wants desperately to be serious and adult, but instead comes off as just macho and dull and comic-book-ish. Saward’s story is obviously influenced by ‘Alien,’ but in its scripting it actually more anticipates James Cameron’s (much-overrated, in my view) sequel ‘Aliens’ – like that film, ‘Earthshock’ is also dominated by mock-American war-movie clichés, and they’re not even well fleshed out or entertaining ones at that. It doesn’t help that the supporting cast is uniformly uncharismatic, with the obvious exception of Beryl Reid, who makes a surprisingly sporting attempt, despite being impossibly miscast. (It’s not really a successful attempt, but it’s appreciated for its sheer oddity, if nothing else.) And of course there’s David Banks’s booming portrayal of the Cyber Leader – how funny that this character turns out to be one of the script’s most human characters!

But even all this might not be such a problem, if Saward’s tough-as-nails style didn’t also extend to his characterization of the Doctor, both in terms of dialogue and concept. To be fair, Peter Davison, bless his heart, acts himself into a frenzy here – scowling, snickering, squeaking, and displaying all the little tics that make his Doctor unique – but it still can’t save a writing approach that seems so false to the character. For instance, when Adric asks the Doctor how much damage will be inflicted by the bomb, and he responds “Enough to make life intolerable for the few who survived,” it’s an odd moment: this is evidently Saward’s stab at Doctorish wit, but it almost makes the Doctor sound impressed, as if he’s bragging about the weapon’s capacity for destruction. Similarly, when he casually describes the victims not as dead but rather “finished,” he sounds more like a war-hardened general than an appalled humanist. And the sight of the Fifth Doctor pressing a gun into someone’s chest, even a Cyberman’s, and repeatedly firing, is extremely unpleasant, and justly criticized by some critics of this story. There really is no other way to put it, except to say that, at moments like these, one really does feel that the series is going horribly wrong.

That’s not to say that everything is bad here. Peter Grimwade’s direction is actually very good throughout, with the android scenes in Episode One being especially well handled – when those dark shapes approach from the shadows, we can’t be sure if they’re friendly troopers or something else, and it’s genuinely scary. Later on, things become more routine, but it’s all still well done enough, and there are occasional nice touches throughout (e.g. when the Cybermen’s shadows appear around the corner before they do). Matthew Waterhouse is a controversial figure, of course, but personally I don’t find his acting all that bad – I actually think a lot of fans project their dislike of Adric’s *character* onto the performer, and that’s never entirely fair. At any rate, I find him pretty convincing here, with his final moment as he breathes heavily while gripping the belt suitably underplayed. (What would people rather he did, start screaming for help, or banging wildly on the controls?) Tegan and Nyssa aren’t given much to do, but that’s appropriate enough given the story is Adric’s swan song, and at least Tegan provides the inspiration for that fine exchange between the Doctor and the Cyber Leader – it’s one of the few points in this story where the Doctor really seems like himself. 

And I suppose I must also mention that world events since this story have added a truly frightening resonance to the terrorist tactics attempted by the Cybermen here, and this fact, while accidental, undeniably contributes to the overall effect of ‘Earthshock.’ Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the story.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

Earthshock is one of the most dramatic and exciting stories the original series ever put out, and yet it makes a fatal mistake: where The Caves Of Androzani tempered its thrills with fleshed-out characters and an engaging story, this seems to think that action and dramatic tension are all that are needed for a good story. While they certainly don’t hurt when done right (and they are, with Peter Grimwade at the helm), they just aren’t enough by themselves.

For the first episode though it’s possible to enjoy the story simply on its own terms and in that sense it’s a corker, all about atmosphere and dramatic tension; the caves are well lit – although they never escape the studio-set feel – and the shots of the androids slinking around in the darkness are some of the most iconic visuals of the Davison era, and rightly so. They look so good that at this stage it’s easy to dismiss how little sense they make to the plot (more on that later).

The opening TARDIS scene isn’t great, but they rarely were in this period anyway. This time, as well as the usual charmless “performance” from Matthew Waterhouse we have to contend with an explosion of continuity, with I think six previous stories alluded to either visually or by word within a few minutes. In faint mitigation none of them would have been overly obscure to viewers of the time, but that isn’t really the problem: the scene, with the Doctor and Adric having a blazing row, is a rather heavy-handed attempt at foreshadowing the future events of the story. This would have passed unnoticed with viewers at the time, which is very telling: this story relies on surprise and tension for the entirety of its power, and is therefore held back by the simple fact that it’s no longer March 1982. Buying the story on DVD, with its cover art of a Cyberman and a wistful-looking Adric, sucks the wind right out of its sails. However, it is refreshing to see Davison unusually authoritative here.

Back in the caves, and another spadeload of atmosphere arrives with the flaring scanner. Critical of the TARDIS scenes I may be, but it’s difficult not to like the rest of the first episode. The androids’ killings are all the more affecting for happening off-screen, and melting the humans down is a good scary touch – it’s only the way the androids manage to leave their victims’ name badges intact that detract from their believability. Unfortunately we also have to put up with the fossil scene, where the knowledge of the story’s ending makes it seem like very unsophisticated storytelling and a throwback to the Hartnell years’ preoccupation with teaching people basic facts.

The confrontation between Scott and the Doctor is tense and exciting, even though it shows up how basic the characterisation is with the butch soldier shoving round the vulnerable Doctor. It’s followed though by an amazingly shot action sequence, with only the barber’s-pole laser beam special effects failing the test of time. The cliffhanger is another example of Grimwade’s directorial mastery (how can someone so knowledgeable about how to construct the show have such a stupid idea as Time-Flight?) but also serves to represent how the story sabotages itself. Why, for example, do the Cybermen use the androids to guard their hatch if they’re “too valuable to waste”? Since there are apparently 15,000 Cybermen on board the freighter, why not send two of them? There isn’t really a satisfactory answer to that since the androids have no plot function at all; they are simply a narrative device to delay revealing the Cybermen and to construct the cliffhanger. The first time round the sheer shock of the sight of the Cybermen would have been enough, the story’s failure to hold water makes it hard to believe it in the cold light of subsequent viewings.

On the subject of the Cybermen, these new ones are fairly impressive; although they were never as good as they were in the Troughton era, these certainly beat the pretenders from Revenge Of The Cybermen. Unfortunately, they are rather misconceived as characters and while David Banks undoubtedly gives a good performance the impassioned dialogue he is given misses the point of the Cybermen – especially since their lack of emotions is something that will later be afforded some prominence in the script.

The Doctor manages to defeat the androids with logic, which shows some real and convincing thought put into how to resolve this problem; sadly, as far as Earthshock goes this is an exception rather than a rule.

One thing I’ve noticed is that this story, for much of its duration, allows the viewer to be streets ahead of the Doctor, who doesn’t find out about the Cybermen until the end of part three. This is something of a double-edged sword as while it adds to the tension of waiting for the Doctor to work out the problem for himself it also takes away any sense of mystery that might have remained beyond the first episode. However, this criticism pales when compared to the masterpiece of suspense that is the Doctor’s attempt to deactivate the bomb, and it isn’t until the action transfers to the freighter that the story’s limitations begin to detract from it in a really meaningful way.

The replay of clips from previous episodes is fannish; unlike the similar (and longer) one in Mawdryn Undead this doesn’t have the excuse of being necessary to the characters experiencing it, as the Cyberleader knows about it already and its lieutenant doesn’t particularly need to know.

The crew of the freighter are, like most of the guest cast, well acted. However, they are also an equally clichéd bunch of characters in writing terms: grizzled, blue-collar space-bums, just like 90% of all spaceship crews since Alien came out three years earlier. The exception to that is Beryl Reid as the captain, one of the weirdest pieces of casting the programme has ever had (and yes, I’ll repeat the age-old assertion that she is indeed brilliant). This helps though, as the science-fiction dialogue is so po-faced in these sequences that without Reid it would quickly sound silly. In this context, Berger sounds ironic telling Ringway not to be so earnest. However, it is this seriousness that lends the second cliffhanger its impact, even if Alec Sabin plays the campest security guard who ever lived.

The third episode features the Cyberleader’s order that the Doctor “must suffer for our past defeats”, the line that almost single-handedly removes all the credibility that the Cybermen ever had, going completely against the whole idea of the Cybermen; this wouldn’t be so bad if elsewhere Saward didn’t try to engage with this concept. Their mass activation is a brilliant sequence though helped immensely by the music, which is unusual as elsewhere in the series Malcolm Clarke wrote a whole lot of rubbish.

It’s dispiriting to see the Cybermen’s weakness to gold, one of the programme’s very worst ideas, wheeled out again; and to add insult to injury there’s the contrivance of having Adric’s badge made of the stuff. Also, there’s the inconsistency of the Doctor explaining how gold kills Cybermen by suffocating them, and then two minutes later telling Berger that they don’t need air.

The Cyberman becoming stuck in the door is a great scene in visual terms but overly technobabbly; it seems that every great moment of production has some shaky piece of writing to cancel it out. There’s an unusual lapse in production when the Cybermen blow the door in one of the least spectacular explosions ever recorded, and this also highlights yet another deficiency in the writing: why didn’t the Cybermen just blow the doors in in the first place? The story is so light on proper storytelling that moments like this – and also the way the bomb has to be deactivated by the Doctor twice – really feel like ways of procrastinating and killing time until the hundred minutes are up.

The Cyberleader’s comment that “it [“fondness”] is a word like any other – and so is “destruction”, which is what we are going to do to that planet” is of the show’s clunkiest lines, and the cliffhanger is no more exciting or dramatic than anything else that’s happened in the preceding twenty-five minutes. This is turning out to be such a negative review that I should point out that the story is never really bad, but just massively flawed, and it’s a crying shame that something that initially had so much promise can have fallen so far by the third episode.

The killing of Kyle is an early sign of the violence that Eric Saward became notorious for; Nyssa acts all upset, but the scene isn’t really about emotions – it’s a cheap way of writing out a character who’s ceased to have any real function since part one and has spent the intervening time stuck in the TARDIS whining about things. It is this cynical attitude to violence that, scaled up, would make Resurrection Of The Daleks one of the most depressing episodes of all time, but since in this story it happens in isolation it’s not so bad and on the whole the story’s high mortality rate (not including Adric, who is a special case) of over 71% seems fairly appropriate to it.

The “emotions” debate is unusually preachy but helped by being a genuine exchange between the Doctor and the Cyberleader rather than being one big speech. What completely ruins it though is how blatantly emotional the Cyberleader is: when it claims that “these things are irrelevant” it sounds, paradoxically, genuinely disgusted.

The Cybermen’s machinery sending the freighter back in time is a contrivance of monumental proportions, and Adric’s death – while another superbly made sequence, as Peter Grimwade can do no wrong as a director – is let down by advance knowledge of it since the foreshadowing of it, including the “goodbye” scene, feels inconsistent with the idea of a shock twist. The Cyberleader’s death though is satisfyingly brutal, although I can’t help but wonder if a theoretically emotionless creature should evoke such a response in the viewer. This is followed finally by the silent credits, television’s equivalent of removing its hat. Many have criticised it; in principal I can live with it, although Adric is such an unpopular character that it sometimes feels like a mickeytake.

Despite being the best colour Cyberman story, Earthshock is a major disappointment – not because it’s bad, but because it had so much potential which it squandered. I can see why it was so successful the first time around, but equally – despite remaining the traditionally popular episode of season nineteen – it’s right and proper that in the years to come it would take a severe blow from Kinda. While it’s thrills and tension dazzle the viewer on first viewing, it cuts too many corners to really hold up afterwards. I would compare this to Rose in that, when taken out of the context of its original broadcast, it’s enjoyment value is severely limited.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

Not quite my favourite Davison story, but pretty damned close...

The strongest impact this story has is not-so-much its atmosphere, but its pace. One would not even necessarily describe that pace as breakneck. It has its moments of respite and rest (particularly as locations change from caves to spaceship) but the way in which this plot moves implies that something really big and really bad is going to happen by the time we reach the conclusion. And though the atmosphere of the plot also implies this, the pace or flow of the story conveys this just as, if not more, effectively. Which, to me, indicates some very gifted writing and direction on the part of the people who made this adventure. And yes, even with some of these "plot holes" that fans go on endlessly about, I'll still compliment the writer! This is some very solid storytelling. I may even be bold enough to say some of the best I've seen in the series. 

Earthshock certainly stands out in my memory as being exceptional in many ways. Its first episode, to me, is an excellent example of how to create some genuinely spine-tingling suspense with a shoe-string budget. Dress up a couple of extras in some black bodysuits, get the rest of the cast to wear some nice helmets with lights on them and then set up a "scanner device" that's just a screen with some cheap-looking blips on them. This should, to all intents, get some laughs from any discerning audience. But, again, the direction makes it all very creepy and downright disturbing (that shot where one of the soldiers finds a fizzled pile of goo with the name tag on it being exceptionally memorable). Only near the end of the episode, where the soldiers start firing and we must contend with some somewhat bad-looking post-editing effects, does the low budget seem evident. Otherwise, my suspension of disbelief during that entire episode is complete. 

But it's not entirely uncommon for a Doctor Who story to have an excellent first episode and then fall apart. So how does the rest of the story fare? Again, the pacing in this tale is magnificient. The bomb defusion sequence - which could have come across as blatant padding - instead maintains some excellent suspense. Whilst, at the same time, we get a brief Cybermen re-cap since we haven't seen these particular baddies in quite some time. And, by the way, if you think real hard, it's not hard to get the whole flashback sequence to fit in chronologically. I just assume that these neomorphic Cybermen are time travellers from after "Attack of the Cybermen" who are now going back in time to deliberately meddle with history. So, they can see a sequence from "Revenge of the Cybermen" because they are from a time that takes place afterwards and are deliberately going back in time to stop the events of that particular story from actually happening (it also gets the whole time travelling/decoder paradox to work a bit better at the end of the story).

And then, we move to the spaceship. Again, great work with using so little. A few symetrically-stacked cylinders, some nice model-work interspersed within the sequences and now we have another great creepy sequence where we know most of the humans involved are doomed to die at the hands of these merciless silver giants. Great stuff.

Next, we have episode three. The pace really starts to pick up now. The Cyber-army is unleashed. The battle sequences, though still a bit cheap-looking in spots, are magnificently created. The Cybermen seem truly mighty as most weapons seem entirely useless against them. Even Adric's gold badge will only do so much damage. The bridge-defending sequence creates another highly memorable image as the Cyberman breaking through gets frozen into the door. Gorgeous stuff. Done so effectively by just having a camera pan back really hard and fast! There's still so little to genuinely complain about here. And, upon my first viewing of this tale, I was so completely caught up in it. Even as episode three closes with a somewhat lack-lustre cliff-hanger, it seems impossible for Episode Four to go wrong.

And it doesn't. A great debate between Doctor and Cyberleader regarding emotions (a fantastic performance, in general, from both Banks and Davison in this story - they are both at their best here). Some super-creepy claustrophobic stuff where the Cybermen seem to be swarming about like a colony of ants aboard the spaceship (love that bit where Tegan keeps trying to avoid them in the halls and then finally gets grabbed from behind as she fiddles with her gun). And, finally, an absolutely stunning climax. Some of the most intense drama I've ever seen on the show. I had to pick my jaw off the floor as the absolutely bone-chillingly silent credits ran across the screen with Adric's mathematical badge lying in shards. This was not just 80s Who at its best. It was Who at it's best, period. There was nothing that could get me to hate this story. Even a few plotholes that were almost inconsequential anyway! 

I was a somewhat new fan as I watched this particular adventure. And this worked greatly to my advantage. For one thing, I had no idea that companions could die in the series. So my shock was two-fold as Adric crashed into the Earth at the end. And my emotional attachment to the story was almost self-contradictory by this point. I want Adric to be saved, of course. But I don't want Earth history to change either. And it was great to find myself so betwixt myself at the climax of the story. 

I also didn't know who the Cybermen were yet. This was my first experience with them. And, for my money, they couldn't have made a better first impression. Yes, it does not seem to make sense that they claim to be emotionless and then display sadism and pride in abundancy. But, to me, this somehow seems to work in this story. Though such a formula didn't work so well in other stories both before and after Earthshock and I can also see how wonderful the portrayal of the old Hartnell/Troughton Cybermen is, the way the Cybermen are treated in this particular tale agrees with me. I can't even necessarily say why it does, but it was this story that actually put the Cybermen down as my personal all-time favourite monsters. That's right, I even like them better than Daleks. If nothing else, they can climb stairs a whole lot more easily! 

But the strongest point of this story, for me, is that it still gives me nightmares now and again. I started watching Who when I was about fourteen (I'm Canadian, so it's not asserted into our culture like it is in Britain. We have to almost discover this series and we oftentimes don't do that til our teens) By that age, I was pretty familiar with the differences between big-budget and low-budget productions. And when something looked low-budget - it could do nothing to scare me. But this story, due to its clever use of doing so much with so little, effectively disturbed me. So much so, that it has crept into my Id and I still find myself, now and again, caught up in a dream sequence where I am trying to take flight through these dark metalic hallways with nasty Cybermen lurking around every corner waiting to grab me. That, to me, is the strongest testament to this story. Not only is it highly engaging to watch, it could also genuinely creeped me out to the point of having nightmares.

"Kinda" is still my all-time favourite Davison story. But this one comes a very close second!

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor