Sunday, May 26, 2013

Earthshock - "A Time Lord. But they're forbidden to interfere." "This one calls himself the Doctor - and does nothing else but interfere."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Earthshock - Details

Season 19, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #122) | Previous - Next | Index

For an episode oft-times cited as a classic, this one doesn't hold up quite as well as one would hope. The first episode manages to generate some tension, but ends up feeling largely like padding. And the initial squabbling between the Doctor and Adric makes them both unlikable while it's happening. Both are behaving immaturely and seem to know it. Even the return of the Cybermen after a long absence from the series isn't quite enough to elevate this one above a run-of-the-mill story hampered by faults all-too-typical of the series during the 80s.

The final episode has most of the action and famously culminates in Adric's death as the freighter he was trying to gain control of crashes into Earth. His death is abrupt and ultimately moving. It's a signature moment for the series. Companions have been killed before and since, but I for one had never seen it before Adric. Katarina and Sara Kingdom were well before my time and part of a story ("The Dalek's Master Plan") I'd never seen. (Nine of its twelve episodes are missing.) Even knowing Adric's death is coming, as I did back when it first aired in the U.S. because we were so far behind the original BBC transmission, it's disturbing and stays with you. If nothing else, even for those that disliked the character, we can appreciate that something more than just formula is playing out.


Cybermen tactfully not commenting on their old look.
Probably keenly aware they're wearing goofy 80s moon boots.
When the Doctor and Adric sort out their differences in the second episode, we can't forget that those differences were out-of-character and felt forced, specifically to allow them a scene of reconciliation. It speaks well for the actors that the resolution of their spat is both believable and a relief, so I think it's the writers we can assign the blame for the failure of the earlier scene. Also hold the writers accountable for all of the second episode, apart from the Doctor and Adric getting over their tiff, feeling like even more padding. There's not *as much* milling about in the hold of the ship as there was milling about in the caves in the first episode, but taken together, these two episodes end up feeling mostly like milling about.

There's some decent acting from the supporting players, but even that's undone by that tedious lady they stuck in the TARDIS with Nyssa to blather and pout during the numerous check-in scenes. (Not hard to imagine the writer thinking: 'It's been a while since we showed what Nyssa's up to, let's stick another scene in here to show her telling that irritating paleontologist to just chill to show we didn't forget about her.')

"Is there nothing positive we can do?" *pouts*
Pretty sure that's Sarah Sutton suggesting acting lessons as positive action.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to point out how stone ridiculous some of the science and plot points are here as well. I don't normally like to go over ground so well-covered in the goofs sections of so many reference sites for these classic episodes, but the cumulative effect of nonsense distracts from some stories more than others. The Doctor isn't carrying this episode, more on that in a moment, so it's more important for the supporting characters and the plot to hold our interest. Given that, things like: why is the freighter travelling backwards in time to begin with? And once past that, if it's locked on spatial coordinates and we are to understand coordinates as a fixed point relative to something, how exactly do they know the ship hurtling backwards through time is going to hit Earth? If it was aimed at wherever the Earth was going to be on a given day in the 26th century, it's not like the planet just sits in the same spot! And what was the scientific benefit again that the Cyber Leader thought made it smart to leave all those folks alive on the freighter, so they'd have a chance to thwart the plan, as Adric nearly did? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Too much dumb.

"More power!"
Despite the boneheadedness of the Cyber Leader's plan, it was pretty cool to have them come back and be kind of bad ass. They commandeer the TARDIS, end up shooting up the console, and they did manage to crash a giant freighter/anti-matter bomb into the planet after all. Just turns out they killed off the dinosaurs instead of the humans. For emotionless beings, the Cyber Leader doesn't actually strike one as the cooly logical type, but despite that he's actually quite fun to watch.

Moar Moon Boots!
Even if we write off the plot holes and silliness as the cost of doing business, which we often do, there's another troubling aspect of this story. It's very difficult to figure out what the Doctor does here to actually be part of the resolution. He does dismantle the bomb in the cave, forcing the Cybermen to their contingency plan, but that he did by dumb luck. His first attempt to neutralize the device failed and he was reduced to randomly hitting it with his laser spanner or whatever that was. It's made clear he's rolling the dice and the thing is either going to shut off or blow up right then and there. Hard to give him credit for saving the day under those conditions.

And things get worse. After getting lucky, his actions for the rest of the story boil down to: drawing attention to himself so he can be captured, failing to keep the Cybermen off the freighter's bridge, useless arguing with the Cybermen about emotions, leaving Adric behind, letting the Cybermen take control of the TARDIS, and failing to save Adric. Sure he kills the Cyber Leader, with Tegan's help, but that's a reminder she took out as many Cybermen as the Doctor did in the story, so it's not like he was much of an Oncoming Storm here.

I'm being hard on this one, I know. It's actually not as terrible as I'm making it sound. Adric's death was moving and allowed him a dignified exit. It was illustrative that even the Doctor suffers defeats, and it underscores the risk the companions take in travelling with him.

It's a shame they couldn't get the somber, silent ending quite right. I don't care how big a star this Beryl Reid may have been, she shouldn't have gotten her name above Waterhouse's in the final credit scroll. (Oh, there were probably some union rules or contract stipulations that made it necessary, but still ... tacky.)

Dissed in his own silent tribute.

In the end, the thrill of seeing the Cybermen, the poignancy of Adric's death, and some of the cave and cargo hold scenes being reasonably tense make this a marginally successful story, despite its shortcomings.


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