Earthshock

earthshock cybermen.jpg

A Time Lord.  But they’re forbidden to interfere.

This one calls himself the Doctor – and does nothing else but interfere.

Cyber Lieutenant and Cyber Leader

Synopsis

The Eart is hosting a conference to discuss battling the Cybermen, so naturally, the Cybermen are plotting to destroy the Earth and the Doctor is in the midst of it…

Review

It is perhaps a testament to the strength of Earthshock that, even now the twists are well known and settled into Doctor Who lore, the story works consistently well.  One of the main twists is revealed on purchasing the DVD, with the Cybermen appearing on the front cover, which does slightly undermine the end of the first part, whilst the death of Adric is now a well-known event.  The story benefits from a strong cast as well as some great direction from Peter Grimwade.

Earthshock Androids

The first of the two shocks is the reveal of the Cybermen.  With the surprise saved for the last minutes of the first part of the story, the main antagonists are the sinister androids who skulk around the caves beneath the Earth’s surface.  They are utterly terrifying and ruthless, however, they don’t have enough about them to be a long-lasting antagonist in a story of this kind.  This story needs a major villain for the ultimate impact and the reintroduction of the Cybermen is really well handled.  This version of the Cybermen might be my favourites from the Classic series – I love the see-through jaw piece and the vocal performance as the Cyber Leader by David Banks.  These Cybermen seem a lot more effective than they have done in previous appearances in a story, which compliments with their streamlined appearance.  Grimwade’s direction does some really iconic things with them, like the Cybermen bursting through plastic as they wake up on the freighter or the Cyberman trapped in the door.  He also uses low angle shots well which makes them feel all the more imposing. The way that Ringway, a member of Brigg’s crew who has been helping the Cybermen, is so easily and callously killed shows that the director and writer really understand the Cybermen.

Earthshock Cyberman.jpg

The second shock is the death of Adric.  Adric’s death is the first companion death since Sara Kingdom in The Dalek’s Masterplan and the first and, to date, the only longstanding companion to die in the course of travelling with the Doctor.  There are hints dropped early on in the episode of Adric’s dissatisfaction travelling with the Doctor since his regeneration which makes the viewer suspect a departure may be imminent, especially as Adric starts looking into how to get back to E-Space.  Something that does make me chuckle is the fact that Adric states that the Doctor has become more immature since his regeneration – a bit of a strange statement as Davison’s Doctor is much soberer and mature than his predecessor.  When the moment does come, sadly Waterhouse’s timid typing on the computer does give away that something is going to happen.  Those who have read my other reviews of Davison’s first series as the Doctor will know that, by and large, I have found him incredibly irritating, which I’m not entirely sure is entirely Matthew Waterhouse’s fault.  Sadly, the character is one of those boy genius characters that some writers seem to think will appeal to the younger audience, like Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Having come to Classic Who in my late teens to early 20s, he’s sadly only ever really grown on me.

Now I’ll never know if I was right.

Adric

Then there’s the decision to not have the closing theme music.  It feels especially jarring after a noisy finale and it does feel like a strange decision to end on.  However, in the Putting the Shock into Earthshock documentary on the DVD, Steven Moffat says that there are three options, and all seem naff:

  1. Run the usual closing credits;
  2. Play a sad version of the Doctor Who theme; or
  3. Play no closing music.

Behind the camera, Peter Grimwade produces superb direction, making the caves under the Earth’s surface feel dark and atmospheric, perfect for the black-clad androids to sneak around undetected by the soldiers in the caves.  Grimwade was, according to actors like Peter Davison and Matthew Waterhouse, a difficult man to work with and unusually for the time, directed from the studio floor rather than the gantry.  It can’t be denied, however, that it got results in this story and a similar style of directing would be used by Graeme Harper in the later 1980s stories.  In terms of the story, it is quite nicely done, but definitely has Saward’s fingerprints, evident by the number of guns and deaths on show here, which would become more prevalent when he went on to become script editor for Davison’s later seasons.  The scene where we see Snyder’s remains sizzling on the rocks stands out as one that wouldn’t feel out of place in Colin Baker’s first season.  In front of the camera, the main cast give good performances and the soldiers that tag along with them are also compelling enough characters to keep you going.  The obvious piece of casting that feels jarring is that of Beryl Reid as the captain of the freighter, who does her best, but feels really out of place.  This is a prime example of John Nathan-Turner’s stunt casting, which would persist through his era of Doctor Who, however, in a story like Earthshock, it almost falls by the wayside.

Verdict: Earthshock is one of the highs of Peter Davison’s first season on the TARDIS, even when the two big shocks are public knowledge.  There are flaws, but I believe that they are so minor they don’t inflict too much damage on the story.  10/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), James Warwick (Lieutenant Scott), Clare Clifford (Professor Kyle), Beryl Reid (Captain Briggs), June Bland (Berger), Steve Morley (Walters), Suzi Arden (Snyder), Ann Holloway (Mitchell), Anne Clements (Trooper Baines), Mark Straker (Second Trooper), David Banks (Cyber-Leader), Alec Sabin (Ringway), Mark Hardy (Cyber-Lieutenant), Mark Fletcher (First Crew Member) & Christopher Whittingham (Second Crew Member)

Writer: Eric Saward

Director: Peter Grimwade

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Producer John Nathan-Turner took a gamble with this story by keeping the reveal of the Cybermen a surprise.  The public gallery at Television Centre, which overlooked the studio floor, was closed and a Radio Times cover photoshoot was cancelled in order to maintain the secret of the Cybermen’s return.
  • Adric’s death was yet another gamble, as no long-standing companion had died previously to this.  Part Four is the only episode of Doctor Who to be broadcast without the closing title music.
  • Adric’s death was intended to unambiguous, however, it has been materially changed by a Big Finish audio story, The Boy That Time Forgot, revealing that Adric lived on in a bubble universe.
  • This story marks the first appearance of David Banks as the Cyber Leader, a role he would reprise in the other Cybermen stories of the 1980s.
  • June Bland would go on to appear in Survival.

Best Moment

The cliffhanger at the end of part one is probably one of the best examples of cliffhangers in Doctor Who history.

Destroy them! Destroy them at once!

Cyber Leader

Best Quote

Emotions have their uses.

They restrict and curtail the intellect, and logic of the mind.

They also enhance life.  When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well prepared meal?

These things are irrelevant.

For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about!

The Fifth Doctor and Cyber Leader

Earthshock Doctor TARDIS

The Caretaker

One thing Clara. I’m a soldier, guilty as charged. You see him? He’s an officer.

I am not an officer!

I’m the one who carries you out of the fire. He’s the one who lights it.

Danny Pink and the Twelfth Doctor

Preamble

Gareth Roberts is a deeply problematic individual in Doctor Who currently. Earlier this year, Roberts was dropped from The Target Collection, a collection of short stories, after transphobic and racist tweets came to light. I want to make it absolutely clear that I in no way condone Roberts’ views personally, but my review below won’t take my opinion of his remarks into account.

To be clear, I find the views he expressed to be abhorrent but I feel that it is important to view and evaluate his work separately.

Synopsis

Clara’s personal life and life with the Doctor collide when the Doctor plans to use Coal Hill School as a trap for the Skovox Blitzer.

Review

There comes a time in every series of the revived Doctor Who in which it feels as though the frenetic pace from the opening drops, ahead of tensions being ramped up for the finale. In Capaldi’s debut series, The Caretaker feels like a moment of calm before a storm approaches breaking point in the following episode. Like The Vampires of Venice before it, this feels like it would be more place in the RTD era with the domesticity angle.

The strength of this episode is the trio of performance at its heart. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson turn in fantastic performances, which provide some fantastic moments, with the confrontation in the TARDIS between the trio being one of the standouts. Capaldi’s little look and muttered ‘interesting’ when he realises that Clara is lying to him is great, whilst the confrontation between him and Danny is really well done. The underlying central conflict between Danny and the Doctor is different to anything that we have seen previously – we have previously had romantic triangles with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey and Amy and Rory, but this, due to the age of the lead actor is substantially different. There is almost an overly protective paternal vibe around the 12th Doctor when confronted with the fact that Danny is actually Clara’s boyfriend, rather than Adrian, who looks like his previous self. This story also seems to approach the Doctor dealing with his acceptance of the War Doctor following The Day of the Doctor, however, this means that the reason he has a problem with Danny Pink is not solely because he is a soldier, but because the Doctor recognises those same characteristics in himself as well. Meanwhile, Danny is inherently distrusting of the Doctor due to him perceiving the Doctor as someone of social standing and therefore an officer. This relationship is interesting as, under other circumstances, Danny may seem like a ready made hero and companion, however, this potential is snuffed out through a fundamental but unreconcilable perspective on both sides.

With jointly written stories such as this one, it is difficult to attribute credit accordingly, but it is safe to say that some of the strongest moments of the writing are the moments of comedy. The idea of the Doctor making such little effort to actually go undercover, and being astonished when Clara is able to see through it is such a nice moment, and equally the Doctor’s interaction with Courtney Woods is particularly strong, and Courtney seems to really intrigue this incarnation of the Doctor. It’s always interesting seeing the Doctor interacting with children, and this Doctor might seem less child-friendly than his predecessor for instance. However, Courtney has something different and the fact that she readily identifies herself as a disruptive influence seems to appeal to the punk rock aspect of this Doctor. A moment that always makes me smile is when Danny speaks to her parents at parents evening, where they try and take the positive that Courtney has been downgraded from a very disruptive influence to just plain disruptive.

Can’t you read?

Course I can read. Read what?

The door. It says “Keep Out.”

No, it says “Go away humans”

Oh, so it does. Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign.

The Twelfth Doctor and Courtney Woods

With the focus of the story focussing more on character development and comedy, perhaps the weakest elements involve the villain of the piece, the Skovox Blitzer. This robotic antagonist seems to have potentially leapt up a band from The Sarah Jane Adventures, and it never really feels as though Skovox Blitzer as the Doctor would have us believe. The character design is pretty impressive, however, that’s as much as I can say positively about it. It feels like a very generic villain, but, arguably, the focus of the episode was never really on it in the first place. I do enjoy the stinger on the end of the story, however, with Seb and Missy, which does feel quite ominous.

Verdict: An interesting character piece which slows the pace of Capaldi’s first series down a bit, and the story does lack a decent antagonist. 7/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Edward Harrison (Adrian), Nigel Betts (Mr. Armitage), Andy Gillies (CSO Matthew), Nanya Campbell (Noah), Joshua Warner-Campbell (Yashe), Oliver Barry-Brook (Kelvin), Ramone Morgan (Tobias), Winston Ellis (Mr Woods), Gracy Goldman (Mrs Woods), Diana Katis (Mrs Christopholou), Jimmy Vee (Skovox Blitzer), Chris Addison (Seb) & Michelle Gomez (Missy).

Writer: Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat

Director: Paul Murphy

Behind the Scenes

  • Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffatt wanted to match the threat of The Lodger rather than that of Closing Time.

Best Moment

The confrontation between the Doctor and Danny in the TARDIS is fantastically performed.

Honourable mention for this though – The Doctor whistling ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ by Pink Floyd (all together now) – HEY! TEACHER! Leave them kids alone!

Best Quote

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 1796.

This is Mr. Smith, the temporary caretaker, and he’s a bit confused.

Not in 1797, because she didn’t have the time. She was so busy doing all the –

Oh, what? And I suppose, what, she was your bezzie mate, was she? And you went on holidays together and then you got kidnapped by boggons from space and then you all formed a band and met Buddy Holly!

No, I read the book. There’s a bio at the back.

Get down.

Boggons?

Go!

The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald

Terror of the Zygons

TotZ Doctor and Brigadier.jpg

When I left you with that psionic beam, Brigadier, I said that it was only to be used in an emergency!

This is an emergency!

Oil? An emergency? Ha! It’s about time the people who ran this planet of yours realised that to be dependent on a mineral slime just doesn’t make sense.

The Fourth Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry answer the Brigadier’s summons to Scotland, where something has destroyed three oil rigs.  When pieces of the wreckage are found to have teeth marks, the investigation inevitably leads to Loch Ness…

Review

With this kicking off the first series that producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes had full control over, Terror of the Zygons seems to have much more of a gothic angle which becomes synonymous with the Hinchcliffe era.  Like Robot before it, there is the potential to say that this is a Third Doctor story that just happens to feature the Fourth Doctor instead, however, this serves as a much better departure from Baker’s predecessor’s era, with the story feeling all the more different for the slightly more ambivalent and alien Fourth Doctor.

TotZ Doctor and Broton

I really enjoy this story.  Robert Banks Stewart’s debut story is really strong, full of great lines and memorable moments, which is all the more surprising when you take into account the fact that he had never seen Doctor Who before.  His script balances humour and science fiction concepts balance nicely into the script, even despite some Scottish stereotyping – the story is top and tailed by characters talking about haggis, bagpipes and a joke about the frugal nature of the jokes.  This feels slightly less malicious than other nation’s stereotyping in Doctor Who, possibly because Banks Stewart was Scottish.  The story feels like a spy thriller in places, with the audience not being certain who they can trust at times.  The scene in the barn between Sarah Jane and the Zygon duplicate of Harry is superb and it really feels like a much better send-off for UNIT than Robot, even if Harry’s departure from the TARDIS team seems very poorly handled.  However, the Brigadier gets a good part to play in the story and it is fitting that the antagonist in his final appearance is susceptible to bullets.

The titular enemy are hardly original, however, owe a lot to production design and direction, which make them a truly memorable villain.  The reveal of the Zygon during the first part is superbly executed by Camfield, with the appearance of the Zygon’s arm, then the briefest glimpse of the eyes.  This builds up anticipation for their eventual reveal at the end of the first part of the story, which is superbly executed.  The impact of the Zygons owes a lot to some superb production design of both their costumes and their spaceship, which feels a lot more organic than spaceships of this era and certainly makes them look striking.  Sadly, some of their threat is undermined by the Skarasen, with the practical effect look really poorly executed, especially in the climactic scenes of the final part, which ultimately lets the episode down.   It is to the story’s credit that it doesn’t completely derail it.  The story also struggles to regain the pace after Broton tells Harry everything about the Zygons, including their ultimate plan to conquer the World using the Skarasen.  This exposition dump does make the closing part feel particularly anti-climatic.

TotZ Brigadier, Sarah and Harry.jpg

The TARDIS team are all on top form here, even if Harry’s departure feels very sudden.  For production reasons, I can see why he may seem redundant, however, I really like the character despite his old fashioned nature, and I really like having two companions as it enables the team to go off and investigate separate elements of the plot more effectively.  For instance, the Doctor is able to go off with the Brigadier, Sarah can investigate the pub and Harry is able to investigate the shoreline where wreckage of the oil rig has washed ashore.  Tom Baker gives a great performance as the Doctor and his performance here really emphasises the difference between himself and the previous actors to play the Doctor.  Whilst Pertwee may have flown off the handle at authority figures to do with the oil rig, this incarnation of the Doctor doesn’t seem quite so fiery or so concerned with human matters and really comes across as an alien.  It sounds obvious, but Elisabeth Sladen is as brilliant as ever, and this is a bright start to a new tone of Doctor Who stories.

Verdict: A slick, well directed story which is let down by a lack of tension towards the conclusion and poor practical effects for the Skarasen.  8/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (RSM Benton), John Woodnutt (Broton/Duke of Forgill), Lilias Walker (Sister Lamont), Robert Russell (The Caber), Angus Lennie (Angus), Tony Sibbald (Huckle), Hugh Martin (Munro), Bruce Wightman (Radio Operator), Bernard G. High (Corporal), Peter Symonds (Soldier), Keith Ashley and Ronald Gough (Zygons).

Writer: Robert Banks Stewart

Director: Douglas Camfield

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The last appearance of John Levene and Ian Marter until The Android Invasion and the last appearance of Nicholas Courtney until Mawdryn Undead.
  • Terror of the Zygons was originally intended to close Season 12.
  • The only appearance of the Zygons in the original series, although a sole Zygon would have appeared in Shada.  They certainly made an impression though, especially on a young David McDonald (better known as David Tennant) and they would reappear in The Day of the Doctor.
  • In a weird bit of coincidence, the Brigadier is seen talking to a female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher had become Leader of the Conservative Party seven months before broadcast.
  • The first complete story directed by Douglas Camfield – if you discount Inferno, as during the production, Camfield fell ill.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: John Woodnutt (Spearhead from SpaceFrontier in Space and Keeper of Traaken) and Angus Lennie (The Ice Warriors)

Best Moment

The scene with the Zygon-Harry and Sarah Jane in the barn is a highlight – it is beautifully directed by Douglas Camfield.

Best Quote

You can’t rule the world in hiding.  You’ve got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.

Fourth Doctor

TotZ Harry and the Zygons.jpg

The Vampires of Venice

TVoV Vampires

The life out there, it dazzles.  I mean it blinds you to the things that are important.  I’ve seen it devour relationships entirely…It’s meant to do that. Because for one person to have seen all that, to have tasted the glory, and then go back.  It will tear you apart.  So! I’m sending you somewhere.  Together.

The Eleventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor brings Amy and Rory to Venice in 1580 to allow the two to focus on their relationship, however, things are not as they seem.  There are reports of plague, despite the disease dying out previously and there are pale skinned girls in Venice who avoid sunlight, attending a school run by the mysterious Rosanna Calvierri.

Guest Reviews (an exclusive feature for this blog only):

“The Doctor shows up and meet Narcissa Malfoy, surprise surprise, she’s a bit of a witch.  Typecasting much?”

“There are vampires, but they aren’t vampires.”

Thank you Rob and Alice for your insights!

Review

When I watched The Vampires of Venice for the purposes of writing my blog, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised.  I’d always regarded this story as being quite fun but throwaway, however, I felt much more positively towards it after this time.  Largely, I think this is down to bringing Rory on-board the TARDIS and Arthur Darvill gives a really strong performance.  The story does feel quite similar to stories in the RTD era to the point of potentially being derivative, however, in hindsight the story acts as part of an effective bridge between these two eras.

TVoV The Doctor.jpg

On the point of derivation, this story does feel quite familiar due to reusing quite a few of the Eccleston and Tennant eras, and even contains quite a few similarities to Whithouse’s first story he wrote, School Reunion.  We have the last of a species hiding on Earth within an institution and looking to make the Earth their new home, the introduction of the companion’s boyfriend as part of the TARDIS team and aliens disguising themselves as humans.  The over-familiarity of these plot elements certainly cause some issues, however, Whithouse and Moffat do something different with these elements to indicate a change in the era.  This most notable way this is done is with how the story treats Rory, and after a couple of series of having the Doctor posing as a romantic interest, it is a nice change of pace to see the Doctor trying to ensure that Amy maintains her relationship with Rory, despite how misguided his efforts may be.  This story really establishes Matt Smith’s Doctor as being an asexual alien rather than the confident romantic presented especially by the Tenth Doctor.  This incarnation doesn’t really understand human romantic relationships or social scenarios, indicated by his bursting out of the cake at Rory’s stag do, and telling Rory what a good kisser Amy is, for instance.

Rory! That’s a relief.  Thought I’d burst out of the wrong cake. Again.  That reminds me, there’s a girl standing outside in a bikini.  Could somebody let her in and give her a jumper?  Lucy.  Lovely girl.  Diabetic.  Now then.  Rory.  We need to talk about your fiancée.  She tried to kiss me.  Tell you what though, you’re a lucky man.  She’s a great kisser.

The Eleventh Doctor

Arthur Darvill is a definite highlight of this episode, as the story forces him front and centre, with Karen Gillan taking a slightly reduced role.  Rory is somewhat different to other characters since the revival, as someone who is not afraid to question and challenge the Doctor, and unlike Mickey’s initial portrayal as a bit of an idiot, is clever and curious enough to research things like faster than light travel.  His dynamic with Matt Smith is really lovely too, and I especially like how deflated he looks when Rory states that he understands how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.  Rory’s reaction to travelling with the Doctor obviously has an impact on the Time Lord, evidenced by the Doctor telling Amy to go back to the TARDIS towards the episode’s conclusion.  Despite Rory’s cowardice, he is shown to be brave too, challenging Francesco with a broom to protect Amy, and it is nice to see how differently Amy reacts to Rory’s decision to join her and the Doctor to how Rose reacts at the end of School Reunion to Mickey deciding to do the same.

TVoV Amy Rory Francesco.jpg

As mentioned above, the Eleventh Doctor’s attitude to relationships is a drastic departure from his predecessor, and Smith characterises this perfectly.  Whithouse’s script really allows Smith to shine, showing both decent humour and some real steel.  His interactions with Rosanna Calvierri are superb, aided of course by the acting ability of his counterpart, Helen McCrory.  I like the fact that the Saturnyns know of both the Time Lords and the Doctor and are aware of his actions in the Time War as it makes this new villain feel much more of an equal to the Doctor.  I particularly like that indignation that leads the Doctor to state that he will bring the aliens down – they do not even remember the names of their victims.

This ends today.  I will tear down the House of Calverri stone by stone.  Take my hands off me Carlo.  And you know why?  You didn’t know Isabella’s name.  You didn’t know Isabella’s name.

The Eleventh Doctor

The Saturnynes are a suitably creepy villain too, which owes a lot to some stylish direction and high production values.  The relationship between Rosanna and her son, Francesco, is played with explicit incestuous overtones, adding to the idea of Vampires as being quite a sexual creature anyway.  The “vampire” teeth are suitably creepy and the converted Venetian girls are quite scary and are made to look quite striking.  The ultimate tragedy of the fates of the gondolier Guido and his daughter Isabella really cements the Saturnynes as a real threat, and the suicide of Rosanna at the close of the episode is quite dark for this story, with her ultimate fate being torn apart by the remaining Saturnynes.

Verdict: A good fun, if slightly derivative, story, The Vampires of Venice is better than I remembered, with it being a really strong story for Rory. 8/10

Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Helen McCrory (Rosanna), Lucian Msamati (Guido), Alisha Bailey (Isabella), Alex Price (Francesco), Gabrielle Wilde, Helen Steele, Elizabeth Croft, Sonila Vieshta & Gabriela Montaraz (Vampire girls), Michael Percival (Inspector) & Simon Gregor (Steward)

Writer: Toby Whithouse

Director: Jonny Campbell

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is notable for being filmed in Croatia, making it the first episode of Doctor Who to be filmed in a former Communist country.  It is the third episode to be filmed overseas since the revival, after The Fires of Pompeii and The Planet of the Dead.

Best Moment

It feels like a cheat to have my best moment be another quote, but it has to be

The people upstairs are very noisy.

There aren’t any people upstairs.

See, I know you were going to say that.  Did anyone else know he was going to say that?

The Eleventh Doctor and Guido

Best Quote

You know what’s dangerous about you?  It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you.  You make it so they don’t want to let you down.  You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.

Rory Williams