Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Earthshock"

Written by Eric Saward
Directed by Peter Grimwade

Cyber Lieutenant: “A Time Lord. But they're forbidden to interfere.”
Cyber Leader: “This one calls himself the Doctor - and does nothing else but interfere.”

Without a doubt this is one of the most critically acclaimed serials that the series has ever done and to be honest, I can see why. While I prefer about six other Doctors to the Fifth incarnation, this is certainly a serial that I think might not have an impact if there were any other Doctor but Peter Davison doing it.

For one thing, the use of three companions works fantastically and for the second, it’s been ages since we’ve had an altercation with the Cybermen and this is by far, the best one we’ve had. Plus I’m deliberately reviewing it days before their return in the Tenth/possible Eleventh Doctor story “The Next Doctor” airs on BBC1.

The episode starts on a domestic front with both The Doctor and Adric arguing and the latter even threatening to return to his own world via the use of E-Space because he often feels like an afterthought. Given that he’s sharing a TARDIS with Tegan, a woman who could still be heard in the middle of a storm, I guess I can see Adric’s point.

Of course while the two of them are arguing, far more interesting stuff takes place with another group of explorers find that all the life in a certain cave are pretty much all but dead. This shouldn’t be the most worrying of things but when the TARDIS crew arrive, they’re not met with the biggest of welcomes.

I think for once it would be nice for The Doctor and his companions to show up to a place where a group of scientists and/or soldiers don’t either want to arrest or kill them on sight. Then again, you do need that little moment of hostility and with this serial, The Doctor’s lucky enough not to be permanently on their bad side.

In fact, he and Scott soon form an alliance when a group of Android are the ones killing people in the cave and there’s a fair amount of quick thinking used to best them. The androids are simply fun and a good warm up act for the Cybermen.

Of course the androids also serve the purpose of making the Cybermen aware that The Doctor is present in the cave. Having them revealed early into the story is a good thing as we benefit from seeing them scheme for a while before they come into actual contact with The Doctor.

It also seems that they’ve bagged themselves a human ally in Ringway. The second plot of this includes a spaceship containing 1500 silos destined for Earth but the Cybermen have their own plans for the planet they know The Doctor has tremendous fun. Sure it would be easy to threaten Gallifrey but audiences are always going to care more about the Earth than The Doctor’s home planet.

The other thing about this episode is that we are then lead into a moment of team splitting. With Tegan and Nyssa stuck in the TARDIS with Scott and Kyle, The Doctor and Adric do more exploring around the spaceship to learn more about what’s going on.

Of course this lead to the two of them getting captured by Ringway, who showed the usual bout of hostility that military type love showing to The Doctor. It really does amuse me how much soldiers absolutely hate The Doctor and not only that but often go into great detail about how much pleasure they would get by killing him. It’s amusing of course because they inevitably fail. Ringway’s really no different to this cliché.

He’s also no different in the fact that by helping the Cybermen he’ll reap some kind of reward from it. Did it ever occur to him to have some kind of a backup plan? Surely he couldn’t have really thought that they were going to keep his word and spare him. Cybermen aren’t exactly known for their loyalty.

Still he signed his own death warrant when he revealed his treachery to both Briggs and the First Officer as well as The Doctor and Adric. As soon as the Cybermen manage to take complete control of the spaceship, they reward Briggs by killing him on the spot.

The biggest strength of this story is its use of continuity. At this point, The Doctor’s history with the Cybermen was vast and writer Eric Saward has fun using this to his script’s advantage. The Doctor has no problem in reminding the Cybermen that he’s been able to defeat him in the past.

More importantly, there’s an ongoing debate of emotions. Now we all know The Doctor’s a big supporter of them and the Cybermen exploit his emotion by threatening to kill Tegan. When The Doctor begs for Adric to come back with them on the TARDIS, the Cyberleader takes great delight in denying him this request.

The Cybermen’s need for destroying the Earth in this story also stems from the fact that a meeting of several other races could threaten their existence. Tegan’s frank distraught over the idea of losing her planet is nicely used but it only highlights the Cyberleader’s determination in getting one on The Doctor and saving his race from extinction.

However it isn’t The Doctor that proves to be the big threat to them in this story. First off all their little explosion is cheekily used the excuse that 65 millions ago, the freighter was the thing that wiped out the dinosaurs. More importantly, Adric also sacrifices his own life in order to muck up their plans again.

For a companion that is largely divided among viewers (I’m not even sure myself how I feel about him), this is a wonderful way to write out Adric and actor Matthew Waterhouse. Tegan and Nyssa’s distress at the end with The Doctor unable to say the right words certainly gives this serial a bittersweet denouncement.

Also in “Earthshock”

This is one of the few serials that actor Peter Davison hasn’t criticised via commentary. I can see why for obvious reasons.

Kyle: “Who are they?”
The Doctor: “Androids. That's why they didn't register on your scanners.”
Scott: “Androids. Are they yours?”
The Doctor: “No. And if you want proof you'll find they'll kill me as willingly as they'll kill you. See what I mean?”

Like in the last serial, “Revenge Of The Cybermen”, we had gold used to the Cybermen’s disadvantage, thanks to Adric’s badge.

Cyberleader: “Destroy them! Destroy them at once!”

Kyle: “Is there nothing positive we can do?”
Nyssa: “Try not to worry.”

It’s interesting that the Cybermen were able to recognise The Doctor so easily when we’ve had stories where the Daleks haven’t immediately.

Briggs: “These you’re friends?”
The Doctor: “Definitely not.”
Adric: “What are they?”
The Doctor: “Cybermen.”

Ringway (regarding the Cybermen): “You know them?”
The Doctor: “Oh yes. We go back a long way.”

I believe this was the episode where Tegan’s ‘mouth on legs’ nickname sprang. Heck, it was her who described herself as it.

The Doctor (re destroying the Earth): “You’ve tried before.”
Cybermen: “This time we will succeed and you will live long enough to witness it.”

Briggs (about the Cyberleader): “Are they all so dedicated?”
The Doctor: “Compared to some, this one's positively flippant!”

We got some images of the serials, “The Tenth Planet”, “The Tomb Of The Cybermen” and “Revenge Of The Cybermen”. I’ve only seen the last two mentioned.

The Doctor: “Emotions have their uses.”
Cyberleader: “They restrict and curtail the intellect, and the logic, the mind.”
The Doctor: “They also enhance life. When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower? Watching a sunset? Eating a well-prepared meal?”
Cyberleader: “These things are irrelevant.”
The Doctor: “For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about!”

Tegan made an offhand comment about The Doctor’s abhorrence of guns, even though later he was forced into shooting a Cybermen.

The Doctor: “You have already presented your point quite accurately.”
Cyberleader: “A final demonstration should benefit any doubters.”

Briggs: “Nice to see where we’re going.”
First Officer: “We know where we’re going.”
Briggs: “Nice to see when we arrive.”

This episode was quite audacious with the silence instead of music for the end credits. Reminds me of the Buffy episode “The Body” for that reason.

First Officer (re logic codes): “That could take forever.”
Adric: “Well I suggest we start at once.”

Cyberleader: “You follow.”
The Doctor: “Where?”
Cyberleader: “Follow them.”

Adric did appear in the book “The Boy That Time Forgot” and we did get to see him briefly in “Time Flight” and “The Caves Of Androzani”.

Cyberleader: “You lie, Doctor.”
The Doctor: “Not at all. You lost. The Earth’s safe.”

The Doctor: “You failed, leader.”
Cyberleader: “You shall not enjoy this victory. I shall kill you now, Doctor.”

This serial was released in 2003 with a commentary from Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse. I liked the “Did You See?” review feature.

As a lover of the Cybermen, “Earthshock” is simply a stunning piece of television. Their pure menace as well as personal history with The Doctor is beautifully explored, all the companions are used to good effect (even Nyssa, who had less to do than anyone else) while Adric’s death certainly is quite poignant. The only thing that completely stumps is why the hell this wasn’t the season finale for the nineteenth season After all, you end seasons on stories like this, not “Time Flight”.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

No comments: