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

Black Orchid

Black Orchid 1

A superb innings, worthy of the master.

The Master?

Well, the other doctor.  W G Grace.

Sir Robert Muir and The Doctor

Synopsis

The TARDIS arrives in 1925 England, where due to a case of mistaken identity, the Doctor ends up playing in a local cricket match. The travellers accept an invitation to a costume party but events take a more sinister turn when the Doctor finds a dead body.

Review

Black Orchid, sadly, feels paper-thin.  Observing some of the best detective dramas, thinking of programmes like Inspector Morse, manage to build up dramatic tension and uncertainty about the eventual reveal of the murderer.  I don’t think that it is entirely the story’s fault, as there are only fifty minutes to work with, but there is nothing similar here.  There is no uncertainty as to who the murderer is, and the story does wear its literary allusions on its sleeves, pastiching stories like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Agatha Christie novels.

The writing and runtime certainly contribute to my issues with this story, as it ultimately feels like filler.  I strongly believe that Doctor Who is a flexible enough programme to be able to adapt to any type of story, however, the reduced time really means that none of the aspects of this story really work very well. None of the guest characters feel very fleshed out or believable, and the whole issue of Ann and Nyssa being identical feels extremely contrived.  It’s almost as if the long cricket playing sequence is also completely unnecessary, but I do quite enjoy Adric and Nyssa’s complete bemusement and Tegan trying to explain cricket to them, so I guess it’s actually quite a nice moment for this TARDIS team.  I completely agree with the main cast that this story lacks any dramatic tension – as soon as the first murder takes place, you know exactly where the story is going.

Black Orchid 2

On the positive side, however, it is nice to see the TARDIS crew out of their normal uniforms.  The costume designs at the ball are pretty fantastic – I’m particularly in awe of the Henry VIII costume seen in the background.  I also like the fact that, despite the fact that he is no longer wearing his pyjamas, Adric retains his Badge of Mathematical Excellence.  The party is a nice chance to see the team let their hair down, and it is particularly nice to see Tegan getting along so well with Sir Robert Muir, especially as the majority of the previous stories have seen her getting more and more irritated about the Doctor’s failings to take her to Heathrow.  It’s nice to see her and Nyssa having a good time at the party and dancing the Charleston.

I do feel like the climax is ultimately rushed though.  The Doctor’s arrest is rapidly undone by just showing the police officers the interior of the TARDIS, and even the fact that the police box is missing from the station is rapidly resolved, where elsewhere this would have been a cliffhanger.  I know ultimately the Doctor isn’t cleared of the murder of James until the police see the deformed George Cranleigh threatening Nyssa.  The second episode feels very rushed and thus denies a really satisfying conclusion.  The whole ‘Black Orchid’ element feels like a bit of an undeveloped and problematic plot point too, focusing on the British colonialism aspect that any foreigners would obviously wreak horrible revenge on George.  The fact that his two victims are servants and barely mentioned is also extremely problematic.  In a story with a relatively short running time, the Doctor’s companions don’t have very much to do other than spend time at the party, and in Adric’s case, eat.

Verdict: Black Orchid sadly never really feels like anything other than a two-part filler.  There are some nice moments, but they don’t redeem a paper thin plot and a rushed conclusion.  3/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa/Ann Turner), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Barbara Murray (Lady Cranleigh), Moray Watson (Sir Robert Muir), Michael Cochrane (Charles Cranleigh), Brian Hawksley (Brewster), Timothy Block (Tanner), Ahmed Khalil (Lakoni), Gareth Milne (The Unknown/George Cranleigh), Ivor Salter (Sergeant Markham) & Andrew Tourell (Constable Cummings)

Writer: Terence Dudley

Director: Ron Jones

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse and Janet Fielding hated this story, citing a lack of mystery and any dramatic tension.  Sarah Sutton was more positive, but still rather dismissive of this story.
  • The first story since The Highlanders not to feature any science fiction elements other than the TARDIS and its occupants.  There is some dispute as to whether it is a ‘pure historical’ as the story does not focus on real people or real events.
  • The first two part story of the 1980s.
  • Peter Davison is a keen cricketer, and performed all of his cricketing scenes.
  • Ahmed Khalil had to have his voice dubbed in due to his lip disk.

Best Moment

Probably no surprise, but the cricket match is probably the best part of the story.  Despite it being overly long, it’s quite nice to see Davison’s talent at bowling!

Best Quote

So what is a railway station?

Well, a place where one embarks and disembarks from compartments on wheels drawn along these tracks by a steam engine – rarely on time.

What a very silly activity.

You think so?  As a boy, I always wanted to drive one.

Adric, The Doctor and Nyssa

 

The Visitation

android visitation

I have appeared before some of the most hostile audiences in the world.  Today I met Death in a cellar.  But I have never been so afraid until I met the man with the scythe.

Richard Mace

Synopsis

Failing to take Tegan to Heathrow Airport, the TARDIS lands in the 17th Century.  After exploring, the Doctor and his companions find a space capsule has crash-landed, and three Terileptil prison escapees intended to wipe out the population of the Earth by releasing rats infected with an enhanced form of the great plague.

Review

The Visitation is a notable episode in Doctor Who history for being the debut of Eric Saward, who would play a major role in shaping the tone of the show as the script editor.  This doesn’t feel as dark, violent and grungy as some later Saward stories would become, however, and it largely comes across as an enjoyable if rather a straight-forward romp for the Fifth Doctor and his companions.

Visitation Adric and Tegan

The story feels really atmospheric, largely because of the large amount of location filming and the amount of research that Saward did into making it feel authentic to the period.  The story is notable for being the first since Horror of Fang Rock to solely be set on Earth, and while it’s a pseudo-historical tale, it feels true to the period.  There are hints of the violence that would come to be synonymous with Saward’s time as script editor, with the Doctor being involved in hand to hand combat and the killing of the family at the beginning of part one.  It is far from a perfect story, and feels quite straight forward in places, and only features one really developed guest character in the shape of Richard Mace.  Peter Moffatt’s direction is, as usual, pretty standard and fairly non-descript, but he is well known for having happy casts and crew and this may have helped some of the performances here.  One of the biggest problems with the story are the scenes with Nyssa making the sonic booster on the TARDIS, which seem to just be there to fill space without really adequate explanation of why Nyssa is doing this.

How do you feel now?

Groggy, sore and bad tempered.

Almost your old self.

Fifth Doctor and Tegan Jovanka

I do quite like the Terileptils, especially their design and the use of animatronics to give them more expressive faces.  This is all the more impressive considering the limited budget that they would likely have had to work on in this story, which is essentially a period drama, thereby requiring lots of costumes and hair work.  The remaining Terileptils plan to commit genocide by modifying the plague to make it all the more potent is quite a good idea, and the fact that Terileptils are fond of beautiful items is an interesting element to add to villains that could be quite one dimensional.  The android still to this day looks pretty decent, except for the cricket gloves, but these can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

visitation death

With regards to the central cast, Peter Davison is pretty solid here as the Doctor, and I particularly enjoy his frustration and resignation when he is told that he is going to be executed is superb.  He also gets to spend some time away from his bickering companions, which seems to be just in time for the character, as I think he is ready to just leave Tegan at the next destination he comes to.  This being said, there are signs of a promising relationship between this incarnation of the Doctor and Nyssa, with them exploring the house, showing the same kind of inquisitiveness.  Sadly, Tegan is pretty insufferable, being written as being determined to get back to Heathrow rather than actually appreciating the situation that she is in, whilst Adric yet again gives up the fact that the Doctor is a time traveller yet again!  Fortunately, the saving grace of the story is the performance of Michael Robbins as a failed actor turned highwayman Richard Mace.  Robbins has fantastic chemistry with Davison and steals every scene that he is in, which is perhaps fortunate.  Every other guest character in the story has no development, and is under the control of the Terileptils for the majority of the story, which feels like a bit of a waste, all things considered.

Verdict:  A good story which does suffer sometimes with pacing and being a bit too straight forward.  6/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Michael Robbins (Richard Mace), Peter Van Dissel (Android), John Savident (The Squire), Anthony Calf (Charles), John Baker (Ralph), Valerie Fyfer (Elizabeth), Richard Hampton (Villager), James Charlton (Miller), Michael Melia (Terileptil), Neil West (Poacher), Eric Dodson (Headman)

Writer: Eric Saward

Director: Peter Moffatt

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story marks the last appearance of the sonic screwdriver until the TV Movie.  John Nathan-Turner wished to get rid of it as it allowed the Doctor to escape difficult situations too easily.  Eric Saward originally intended for the Doctor to replace it at the end of the story.
  • First contribution to Doctor Who by Eric Saward, coming prior to his promotion to script editor.
  • This serial had very high ratings – it is one of the few serial stories to improve ratings episode on episode.  The final episode is one of only five episodes produced in the JNT era to achieve viewing figures of more than 10 million.  It was also one of only four times in this era that an episode broke into the top forty most-viewed programmes of the week.

Best Moment

I quite like the ending of Part Four, showing the Doctor’s actions in stopping the Terileptil plot causing the Fire of London.

Best Quote

Where is this Doctor from?

He’s never told us.  He likes to be mysterious, although he talks a lot about…er, Guildford.  I think that’s where he comes from.

You’re being a very stupid woman.

That isn’t a very original observation.

Terileptil and Tegan Jovanka