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
The Earth 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…
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Run the usual closing credits;
- Play a sad version of the Doctor Who theme; or
- 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
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.
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!
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