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The Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric vs. The Cybermen,
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This review is from: Doctor Who - Earthshock [DVD] (DVD)
Believe it or not, this was the first `classic' Doctor Who story I ever watched following on from seeing the new series with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant.
It was in 2006 after seeing 'Army of Ghosts'/'Doomsday' - the series finale with David Tennant's Doctor in his first season (series 2). I enjoyed watching that story so much with the Daleks and the Cybermen as well as `Doctor Who' in general. But it meant I had to wait a while before the new series would come back with 'The Runaway Bride' on Christmas Day that year. I just couldn't wait to see more of this amazing show. Then I realised that there had been other `Doctor Who' stories that were shown in the days before I was born. I decided to pursue in purchasing these stories in order to fill in the absence of my `Doctor Who' enjoyment.
The first story I went for was with Peter Davison as the Doctor, and I wanted to see Peter's Doctor first since I had seen him as Tristan Farnon in the hit BBC drama series `All Creatures Great and Small' which was about vets in the 1930s. I looked up the long list of `Doctor Who' stories on Wikipedia and decided I wanted something with Cybermen in it. I found the story I wanted and it turned out to be `Earthshock'. Once I saw it on display in Tesco's close to where I lived, I immediately purchased it and watched the story with my parents when I got home. And I really enjoyed watching it since it was an unusual experience and not like the `Doctor Who's' I'd seen from watching the new series. People said I picked a good choice in watching `Earthshock' first from the classic series, and I'm very glad that I did.
Before watching this, I already had Peter Davison in my mind as being Tristan from `All Creatures'. I was curious as to what Peter would be like in playing the Doctor since I always envisaged him for being this cocky and rather mischievous vet who acted alongside Robert Hardy and Christopher Timothy back in the day. I amusingly was expecting him to put his arm up a cow or doing something that involved chasing pigs or cats or whatever else vets tended to do. But as I got into watching this story, Peter completely surpassed my expectations of him. Here he's not Tristan anymore. He's the Doctor! And I was convinced that what he was doing in this story was exactly what the Doctor would do nowadays. He once was the youngest actor to play the part of the Doctor and has set off a line/trend of actors who would play `younger' Doctors with the likes of David Tennant and Matt Smith, which makes him one of my favourites.
This was where I also got to meet for the very first time my favourite companions from the Peter Davison era, including my most favourite. Sarah Sutton who plays Nyssa; Janet Fielding who plays Tegan and Matthew Waterhouse who plays Adric. All three of these companions have recently signed my DVD cover for this story at a convention in Newcastle last year in October, 2013, for which I'm immensely pleased to have it signed by all three of them.
Sarah Sutton who plays Nyssa in this has become my favourite `Doctor Who' companion to this day. `Earthshock' was the first time I ever saw Sarah as Nyssa in `Doctor Who' and it was a true joy. I honestly thought though that she was the only companion to be with Peter's Doctor during his time on the series. This was because I looked on Wikipedia and saw a picture of her as Ann Talbot in 'Black Orchid' with a caption saying she was a lookalike of Nyssa, which convinced me that she was the only companion. Also I had it in my mind-set that only one female companion travelled with the Doctor since from watching the new series I'd seen Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. Just goes to show how I getting to know `Doctor Who' and its past.
When I asked Sarah to sign the DVD cover of this story for me, I mentioned this was the first time I saw her as Nyssa in `Doctor Who'. She was pleasantly surprised as she thought it was 'The Keeper of Traken' I first saw her as Nyssa. I explained to her about I came across this story from watching the new series and telling her I didn't watch `Doctor Who' when I was a kid. She replied saying that she didn't watch it either as a kid. I don't know whether that was to comfort and reassure me or if she was making a connection with me since I've been getting to see her at so many conventions in the past number of years. I've seen Sarah in so many things as well as `Doctor Who' and have enjoyed listening to her in the Big Finish audios as `Nyssa'. I've been getting to know her and chat to her at many conventions (saw her for breakfast once recently) and enjoyed being in her company and embracing my fandom and fondness of her. Sarah has really appreciated me as her fan and I'm glad she knows me whenever I see her. It's because of that, I have such fond memories of this `Doctor Who' story in particular.
Sarah has considered `Earthshock' to be one of her favourite stories from working on the series since it has the Cybermen in it. Though in saying that, I'm not sure that Nyssa gets much to do here since she's locked up in the TARDIS most of the time with Kyle and doesn't get much of the action outside. As you can see, and Sarah quite rightly points it out, Nyssa does look fed up when she's locked up in the TARDIS. I did enjoy it when Nyssa and Kyle look up on the monitor screen and see the Cybermen on patrol outside, saying `What's that?'; `I don't know. A robot!'; `They're huge!'. I'm sure it was quite amusing for them both when they said it. Also I like it when Nyssa picks out the transmitter being sent by the androids, and she's working at the TARDIS controls when they're trying to deactivate the Cybermen's bomb in the caves. Also things like detecting the electromagnetic field aboard the freighter and warning Scott and the others advising them not to go out too soon before things settle down. I got a thrill when Nyssa used a Cyber gun and shot at a Cyberman entering the TARDIS console room in order to save the Doctor. I also enjoyed her scenes with Adric when she tries to comfort him and encourages him to make the calculations for a potential journey of the TARDIS returning to E-Space to show the Doctor after a bitter argument. It goes to show what a reassuring character Nyssa is when we see her on television.
This was also the first time I saw Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka in `Doctor Who' (who I've now seen twice at conventions). She remembers this story very fondly for its direction under Peter Grimwade, but more on that later.
When I first saw Tegan, I initially thought she was a lovely character who had a spirit of her own and tended to be rather bossy and combative when it comes to her getting upset or angry. She doesn't get to be so bossy and combative in this one as she tends to be in other stories, as there's certainly a balance of it made here. I liked it when Tegan's trying to calm the Doctor down and telling him to breathe deeply and relax, though she should have put her arm around him at some point to do this I think. Tegan also gets into the action when joining Scott and his troops on finding the Doctor aboard the freighter. She really gets gun-ho in the story when one of the Cybermen's down and she manages to blow it up by using its own Cyber-gun on him when fallen to the ground. It gets really tense whenever Tegan's captured by Cybermen. Or when she gets angry and upset and can't take it gently when the Doctor tries to calm her down in the TARDIS and she rashly pulls one of the controls for the TARDIS to lurch after watching what the Cybermen are doing to destroy the Earth. My first impressions of Tegan at that point were ones of her being rather bossy and emotional to contend with, but I would soon grow to like her in time.
I find Janet Fielding really likeable and funny when you're either chatting to her or watching her at a panel during conventions. I had the pleasure of meeting her during a drinks reception and a signing session in Newcastle when I asked her to sign the DVD cover of this for me and it certainly was a treat to behold. I think it's fair to say Tegan's not on my top list of favourite companions, but I do like her in a strange sort of way. And Janet Fielding certainly does have that fiery intelligence and knows what she's on about on any subject regarding film, television and especially fashion (`that hair. I hate my hair' during commentaries) due to her experience as an actress and certainly as an agent in recent years.
I also saw Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse) for the first time in this story, and also the last considering what happened to him at the end. I've had the pleasure of meeting Matthew four times at conventions and also read his book `Blue Box Boy' - memoirs of his time on the show. He's really nice to talk to (chatted to him in the lift once at a recent convention). When I asked him to sign the DVD cover for this I told him how much I enjoyed this story and it was a great story, and he agreed since 'it's a classic' and he's right too.
When I saw Adric initially, I thought he was rather annoying and unreasonable especially since he complained a lot to the Doctor and wanted to go back home. There's that bitter argument the Doctor and Adric have in `Part One' in the TARDIS, and Adric's working out the calculations for the TARDIS' journey back into E-Space using his mathematical excellence. Eventually however I grew to like Adric in a strange sort of way especially when he and the Doctor said sorry to one another and eventually forgave each other in `Part Two' and Adric reveals he didn't want to go home anymore. I was immensely surprised and `shocked' (as the correct term should be) when I found out what happened to Adric at the end of `Part Four'.
People have criticised Adric since his inception into the series from the start and also on Matthew Waterhouse's acting. But in fairness I have to say Matthew gives off a good strong performance as Adric and has certainly grown over the time he was on the show. Matthew gives his all as Adric, especially when he's desperately determined to save Earth and stop the freighter from crashing by decoding the logic codes of the Cybermen's computer on the bridge. It defines Adric's heroic qualities in this story and it would have been nice to have seen more of that had the production team thought more about Adric considerably. This is obviously Adric's show in this and he gets to do so much in his final story as he gets to join Peter's Doctor and be the one in on the action when they're on the freighter fighting the Cybermen.
In talking about the story, I was very impressed with how Eric Saward, the writer of this, managed to keep the Cybermen's presence a secret all the way through `Part One', holding them back until they were seen at the end of the episode. It meant John Nathan-Turner had to close off the public viewing gallery to avoid the press getting wind of this story in order to keep the Cybermen's return a secret. I can't help but smile when Sarah was so disappointed that they weren't going to be on the front cover of the `Radio Times' since JNT decided not to have the Cybermen's presence discovered until they were actually seen onscreen. What would that have been like to have seen Peter, Janet, Sarah and Matthew on the front cover of the `Radio Times' with Cybermen in tow?
It was a well-kept secret and made for an immensely tense and atmospheric episode especially in the caves when Scott and his troopers were trying to search for the aliens that attacked Kyle and her archelogical crew and some of the troopers getting killed by androids protecting the Cybermen's bomb. I'm sure fans were extremely excited when the Cybermen appeared at the end and had to wait until tomorrow for the next instalment to see more of these metal monsters. It had been seven years since the Cybermen were in `Doctor Who' and fans of the show were truly rewarded in waiting for their comeback to be memorable. For me, it was exciting to watch the first episode and being teased as to when the Cybermen would appear. I'd been used to the forty-five minute run of episodes and hadn't expected the first episode to end so abruptly in half-hour as they were done in four-part half-hour episodes back in the day. But it didn't matter, since I was able to see the following episode almost immediately, and I couldn't wait to find out more about what happened next.
Talking about the 80s Cybermen seen in `Earthshock', I'm afraid I have to say I'm not wholly impressed by them altogether. I've been spoilt by the new series Cybermen in stories such as 'Rise of the Cybermen'/'The Age of Steel' with their mechanical robotic march, their stomping footsteps and their robot-like voices with their catchphrase of `Delete! Delete!'. When I saw these Cybermen, I was utterly `shocked' and not for the right reason. Don't get wrong, the voices are fine and the headgear's fine, but the actual way they walked and spoke made me realise that these were men in silver suits and weren't the Cybermen I've come to love and loathe. The way they moved was wrong and how they spoke to one another was wrong and they didn't act like Cybermen. I get it that they were once human and they have vestiges of humanity left in them, but surely it should have been less human when they march or walk about, and the mechanics should have been emphasised more thoroughly in the story. Also the way they fall down after being shot was rather daft and the way they groan when getting killed was easily laughable. Mind you, I did find the actual human mouth moving in a transparent glass in the head rather disturbing.
They don't have the `ultimate upgrade' with these Cybermen which to me is wrong, and they say `destroy' instead of `delete' to which I was appalled.
Also, the language the Cybermen used put me off and how they spoke. For example, the Cyber Leader has a habit of constantly saying `Excellent!' all the time. It's his favourite catchphrase. That's wrong in my opinion! Cybermen shouldn't be saying `excellent' like that. Every scene you cut to the Cyber Leader he went `Excellent!', `Excellent!', `Excellent'. My best mate saw this story back at my house after we went to see `Doctor Who Live - The Monsters Are Coming' stage show in Cardiff, 2010. He cringes whenever the Cyber Leader kept on saying `Excellent!'. He couldn't take it any more when the Cyber Leader went too far and got ecstatic in the TARDIS by saying `This is `excellent' news, Doctor!' I don't think I could take it any more either when watching it.
I expressed my feelings about the 80s Cybermen in `Earthshock' to Sarah and Matthew during a coffee club at the Newcastle convention. They wondered and asked me what was wrong with the Cyber Leader saying `Excellent' and I honestly explained to them that `excellent' was an emotive word and that Cybermen shouldn't use it since they have no emotions and they certainly seemed to display it on odd occasions during this particular story. This has nothing to do in disrespect of David Banks who plays the Cyber Leader, as I'm sure he gave a strong, bold performance in this character. He seems rather pompous but he certainly gives off an aura of menace and power when playing the Cyber Leader and he should be credited with giving such an intriguing and interesting interpretation of the Cybermen.
I know how critical I've been about these Cybermen, but I can't help being honest. I hope Sarah and Matthew appreciate me for being honest on how I feel about these Cybermen. In a strange way I can't help but like them and appreciate them for what they were of their time, despite their flaws and faults. They certainly are an improvement from the `Tenth Planet' versions and the ones in`Revenge'.
I enjoyed it when the Doctor defies the Cyber Leader about emotions and using examples like 'watching a sunset; eating a well-prepared meal' and saying that small things is what 'life's all about'. Then I found it really disturbing when the Cyber Leader threatened to kill Tegan to prove the Doctor's weakness to emotions to which he utterly prevailed.
A notable moment in this story is a fan favourite, as during the story we get a flashback sequence showing previous Doctors and encounters with the Cybermen. It's when the Cybermen want to find out who's been attacking their androids in the caves in `Part Two' and in their visual scan they spot the TARDIS. They realise it's the Doctor who's against them and we get to see various versions of the Doctor and the Cybermen recounting their foiled attempts by him, including William Hartnell (from 'The Tenth Planet'); Patrick Troughton (from 'The Wheel In Space') and Tom Baker (from 'Revenge of the Cybermen'). It was a fan's dream come true and I'm sure it was a delight for those who were watching this story at the time on transmission to see faces of past Doctors on screen. It certainly was a delight for me since I was getting to know the series and being able to see glimpses of these classic Doctors of the time and would later see in `Who' stories to come. Thanks must go to Ian Levine, who's an expert on all to do with classic 'Who' and was a continuity advisor for the show at the time.
The stars of the show are obviously Peter, Janet, Sarah and Matthew as the TARDIS team. But there's also some really good guest stars supporting this story. This includes James Warwick playing the brusque Lieutenant Scott leading his troopers inside the caves; Clare Clifford who plays Professor Kyle (who I saw at my first convention with Sarah Sutton and has recently been in an `Torchwood' episode) and most notably Beryl Reid who plays Captain Briggs of the space freighter.
Beryl Reid is well known for her appearances in comedy before this. I thought she was rather good as this toughened starship captain with her tango hair. I know people have said she was miscast, particularly Eric Saward. But considering her reputation, I think she did a remarkable job playing tough especially when it comes to disregarding Wingway with her `sly remarks and bullying ways'. I thought it funny when Peter Davison told the story of how after each take Beryl Reid went `what was that I just said? I've no idea what I've said, darling!'.
Mention must be made to Peter Grimwade who directed this fantastic story. Grimwade is known to be hard work when it comes to actors, as they find him difficult to work with. I know Sarah doesn't find Grimwade easy to work with and got nervous when he directed her in one of the stories she was in. Matthew also says Grimwade got pretty wound up on set when directing. Janet seems to applaud Grimwade's efforts as I mentioned earlier. Grimwade is more of a technical director rather than an actor's director, but he seems focused on getting the action right and camera shots right, which he does tremendously well. I found it amusing when Matthew and Peter Davison tell the story of how Grimwade creates a diamond shape out of his fingers as a camera angle and shoves it right in the actor's face when directing. It seems rather rude in my opinion that he should shove an actor out of the way to get his shots and he's constantly rebuking the actors for their lack of strength in their performances.
Saying that however, this is Grimwade's fourth directing job in `Doctor Who' and he's done a remarkable and incredible job in coming up with an action-packed adventure that's just right for its time. It does have the feeling of a movie according to Eric Saward, and it proves how committed a director Grimwade is in getting his shots right and to keep the pace flowing at a constant rate to make the thing all the more exciting. And the emotion is certainly strong in this, and if by prompting the actors to keep the emotion consistent throughout the scenes really works then it's makes the whole thing better.
The question of violence and vulnerability in this story is debatable in my opinion. As Stan Lee - creator of many Marvel superheroes - once described the difference between action and violence. Action is where you get the adventure feel of being excited and enjoying the battle between good guys and bad guys which makes it fun. Violence is where you see something horrible and it's distasteful to look at on screen.
For this story in particular, I don't think the violence is that strong as some people make out. It's only when Peter's Doctor has to face the Cyber Leader towards the end of this story and fires a Cyber gun into his chest whilst in the TARDIS that's debatable. For the most part, the story's very action-orientated and gripping to watch. In later stories it would get more vicious in its violence under Eric Saward's supervision of the series, which to me is a bad move and frankly a mistake to make as the violence shouldn't dominate the stories rather than underpin them and it's probably what led the series to its downfall in later years.
The idea of the Doctor being vulnerable in this story is always an interesting concept, particularly with Peter Davison's Doctor. It's something they've done recently for the new series in showing the Doctor's vulnerability with regard to his loss in the Time War and how he places concern for his companions. Peter Davison balances this quality as well as his heroism remarkably well, and it's something that fans can appeal to when it comes to seeing his Doctor in action or when he's trying to defend himself and protect his companions. Many have said Peter's Doctor is rather feeble in certain stories, but I don't believe that for a moment as it's showing a more humanness to the part compared to how Tom Baker played the part with his alien-ness and it's a welcome change in my opinion. It's something I've grown used to with David Tennant's Doctor and I've always thought is essential in terms of portraying the character and interacting with his companions.
As the story draws to its conclusion, it's time to say goodbye to Adric who departs in this story. It's something that fans say it's the most noble and worthy thing Adric's ever done in this story, and there's some element of truth in that.
The problem that had been running on in Peter's first season as the Doctor is dealing with the number of companions he had with him in the TARDIS with their distinct personalities. Nyssa was the quiet one, Tegan was the abrasive one and Adric was the one who was whining and complaining all the time and on odd occasions tended to be useless according to fans. It was getting difficult for writers working on the show to provide something for each of the characters to do in each story they were in with the TARDIS getting so crowded. With all these problems culminating, it left the production team with a decision. One of the companions had to go. And it didn't take long for them to decide who it was that should leave.
I hadn't known Adric that long since this was the first time I had seen this one with Peter's Doctor and the TARDIS team that I would grow to love and enjoy. So it doesn't take one to figure out that I was immensely shocked and surprised to see that Adric gets killed aboard the space freighter crashing into prehistoric Earth when it warps back in time causing the dinosaurs to be wiped out. I hadn't seen it coming. Nor was I wanting it too. I had just recently watched Rose's departure in `Doomsday' and nothing would compare to this shocking departure as the cord was cut with Adric dying. I don't know how it would have affected children at the time who were watching this, but I'm sure it would have been very traumatising. I couldn't help but be upset at what happened to Adric, as I saw those final scenes in the TARDIS when Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor were equally shocked about what happened and bursting into tears. It was a really horrible moment and very gun-wrenching to watch.
Then the end credits came up. And it was silence. All the way through the credits there was silence. No sting or familiar Doctor Who theme music could be found at the end of the story after just what happened to Adric. All I could see was the credits over Adric's badge on a black drape that was now shattered and discarded. I couldn't help but feel empty when I was watching this as I felt like staring into a void. Silence is golden as they say, but nothing could be quite so comforting as this silence following the tragic end. I would have preferred it if they ended on the theme music to get over the shock of what happened, but it's now television history. It was JNT's idea to end the story in silence in mourning for Adric, and it certainly is very moving. Adric certainly won't be forgotten during that awful experience.
The special features on this DVD are really good on one disc.
First there's a special exclusive documentary focusing on the making of `Earthshock' called `Putting the `shock' into `Earthshock''. It covers pretty much everything I've said about this story, and it contains interviews with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse, Eric Saward, Ian Levine, Peter Grimwade (which is an archive interview from the Myth Makers series) and contributions from fans and writers of the new series including Mark Gattis, Gary Russell and future show runner Steven Moffatt of all people, etc. It's a very enjoyable retrospective `making of' the story and was a joy to watch when I first saw it with fond memories from those participating.
There's a music video of `Doctor Who' which at the time of this DVD's release to celebrate 40 years of the show, and for me was a great help in getting to see what past `Doctor Who' was like since I was a new comer to this. There's also film sequences of the scenes outside the cave shown in `Part One' with Trooper Walters talking to himself during takes of his scenes. There's a photo gallery for this story as well as a info text commentary option to watch during the story that's very informative.
There's a `Did You See?' programme that was shown in 1982 celebrating the return of the Cybermen and showing a list of all the monsters that had previously appeared in the series. This was of great help to me since this feature gave me an insight as to what monsters I was to expect if I was to watch some these classic `Doctor Who's to which I eventually did. The list includes monsters as well as Cybermen with the likes of Daleks, Menoptra, Yeti, Sea Devils, Sontarans, Mandrels and Marshmen from `Full Circle'. It's amusingly presented by Gavin Scott who was on `Did You See?' at the time.
There's also a CGI effects option to watch on this story where the original 80s effects shots can be replaced by CGI ones when you click the `On'/'Off' buttons. This includes sequences like the laser shots that originally looked like candy canes in my opinion, and also a brilliant CGI shot of the freighter crashing into Earth with Adric on board.
There's also a really entertaining audio commentary on `Earthshock' with actors Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse providing insight on this amazing story. I sometimes feel sorry for Sarah and Matthew through the commentaries on these stories as Peter and Janet overtake them and sometimes talk such nonsense about things not relevant to the story. There's a lot of laughing between these four during the commentary which makes me laugh.
Also, there's a music only audio track to play with an isolated score of Malcolm Clark's music for 'Earthshock'. I really enjoyed the 'March of the Cybermen' music that seems so catchy and easy to follow.
There's also a little parody episode of `Earthshock' that is `Episode 5' with Adric landing safely to Earth and he gets eaten by a dinosaur and it's all made out of clay. The Cyber Leader's severed head ends the episode by saying `Excellent!'. I found this rather weird when I first saw it, and couldn't see the funny side to it at the time. But recently I think I can.
There's also an Easter Egg clip to be found on this DVD which if you want to look can be found on the 'Special Features' page by going left on the '40th Anniversary Celebration' button.*
Wow! That was definitely a mouthful I can tell you. Just goes to show how much I enjoyed this story from the `Peter Davison' era. It's certainly one of the best of Peter's `Doctor Who' stories and a classic of the original series and a favourite amongst fans. It was my first experience of watching classic Who, my first with Peter Davison and definitely my first with Nyssa played by lovely Sarah Sutton as well as Adric and Tegan who I was looking forward to seeing more of in other stories. This story is the one that embraced me as a `Doctor Who' fan from thereon, and I've never been the same since.
The next story to follow this is 'Time-Flight' with the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan.
*Thanks to Paul Tapner for the reminder of the Easter Egg.
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Initial post: 25 Jul 2014 18:02:30 BDT
This is the Ben Hur of Doctor Who reviewing an Epic...
The attention to detail here is jaw dropping, from the storys plot points to the performances & special dvd features it's all here & you add your own personality to your review with great anecdotes.
Outstanding review of the highest quality.
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