Monday, 30 January 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Earthshock (Revisited)

Cybermen! Awesome!
See here for my initial look at this story.

Doctor Who - Season 19, Story Six - Earthshock (Revisited)

If one follows only the Dalek and Cybermen stories from the 80s, you get the impression that the era was filled with futuristic space scenarios. My look in context tells a very different story. Season 19, at least, exploits mainly cerebral stories (Castrovalva, Kinda) and historicals (The Visitation, Black Orchid). Hard science fiction is surprisingly hard to come by, and ignoring the weird Four to Doomsday the first real glimse of it comes with today's story, Earthshock.
     Earthshock, as you should know from the image there, is a Cyberman story, but the main attraction in 1982 was that for one of the last times in Who, people had no idea. The fact had been hidden from the press, kept secret from the Radio Times and even missed out of test screenings. Understandable for me, maybe, but at the time it didn't really make sense to hold the big surprise angle; in 1982 only one Cyberman story was believed to remain after the Sixties tapes were wiped, and this had been broadcast in 1975 - a good seven years before this story's audience had been born.
     The story is also known for its final cliffhanger, with the death of Adric. Only two companions had ever died before, during "The Daleks' Masterplan" in 1965. The companion killed would have been Nyssa but for the insistence of Peter Davison, who believed that Nyssa was the best companion for his Doctor. JNT instead decided to kill off Adric, who had been earning a significant amount of hatred in the fan community for his irritating attitude and his constant appearance of siding with the villain. In all honesty, I think that Matthew Waterhouse was set up from the beginning to be hated, and his lack of acting experience didn't help.
Bye Bye! Don't come again.
     The plot sees The Doctor and crew happening across a scout team searching for a lost team of archeologists in the 23rd Century (on Earth, for the third time in a row). After they are accused of killing the team, they are attacked by a pair of androids controlled by The Cybermen. Tracking the signal back to a space-freighter headed for Earth, the Cybermen soon reveal themselves and explain their plan to crash the Freighter and invade the planet, stopping a peace conference designed to organise an alliance against Cyber forces. For whatever reason, the alien computer system travels back in time to the Cretatious period. As everyone escapes the crashing freighter, Adric randomly decides to stay behind and is killed when the Freighter causes the death of the Dinosaurs.
     There's just something about Earthshock that rubs me the wrong way. I know it isn't Davison's performance, at least, which is brilliant. After the fresh-faced enthusiasm of Black Orchid, Davison's Doctor takes a turn for the serious and you can see his anguish at the return of his most persistant adversaries. Even the usually irritating Adric doesn't get much to say past the first episode. I think, then, that my beef comes with the Cybermen themselves. Earthshock was the first story that I actually asked for; I'd seen other classic stories on UK Gold and had been given them by older family members, but Earthshock was really the first. The JNT Cybermen have a nifty design that moulds together all of those that came before it, but they've become far too anthropomorphic and camp to seem threatening. I still enjoy their performances, but they're not at all initimidating in the way that the story needs.
     The script itself is written by the arguable creator of the JNT Cybermen, Eric Saward, who first met back in The Visitation. To his credit, the first part is very tense and the buildup to the reveal of the Cybermen is spetacular. The dialogue with Adric does strike a little odd in context, though, behaving like a clingy girlfriend. That, and The Doctor and crew don't really get in on the action for a while; they isntead find some fossils and have a lengthy chat about the extinction of the dinosaurs. It's also tiring to see The Doctor accused of committing murder repeatedly, especially after the debacle in Black Orchid. It happens twice in this serial alone.
Silence for... a great man?
      Earthshock is as it has always been; an attempt to make Doctor Who more up to date. It doesn't really do what it wants to do because of sloppy writing and a low budget, and the epic cliffhanger to the first part falls flat in the context of the average 1982 viewer. After that, the story hangs off of a tired Aliens-esque scenario and the finalĂ© feels more of a relief than it does a tragedy. Earthshock should have been so much more than it is, and while it is entertaining it fails in all of its other goals.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The end of Season 19 with the off-key Time-Flight.
P.S. No more Adric! Woo! My viewing experience has improved dramatically.