Doctor Who: Earthshock - Episode 122 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Doctor Who: Earthshock finds Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor nicely settling into the role, initially displaying some crotchety short temper that harks back to William Hartnell's incarnation of the Doctor, effectively setting up the most emotionally powerful finale in the show's 26-year run.
In this, the penultimate adventure of Doctor Who's 19th season, a scientific expedition in a cave system on 25th-century Earth is wiped out. An army rescue unit led by Lieutenant Scott (James Warwick) and including the one woman, Professor Kyle (Claire Clifford) who survived the original massacre, goes in to recover the bodies. The scenario deliberately evokes Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), and uncannily foreshadows James Cameron's Aliens (1986), developing into a tense actioner on a space freighter bound for Earth carrying a very deadly cargo of Cybermen.
Tightly paced, refreshingly free of the camp humour that sometimes blighted the show in the 1980s, and with a notable guest turn from Beryl Reid as the ship's captain, Earthshock is one of the Doctor's finest adventures. Overlook a few gaping plot holes and by the end they simply won't matter; when the final credits roll in silence the effect is as powerful now as it was shocking to audiences back in 1981. If only Star Trek: The Next Generation had done the same to Wesley Crusher!
On the DVD: Doctor Who: Earthshock is presented in the original broadcast 4:3 with a near flawless picture, though the source videotape does show just the occasional sign of damage. The mono sound is excellent. The extras begin with a strong 32-minute documentary, more retrospective than making-of. Then comes the commentary, with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), which like so many Who commentaries is both informative and wonderful fun. Both commentary and the episodes have optional subtitles. Other options include detailed on-screen information titles, an isolated musical score, and the ability to watch with selected effects shots replaced with new computer graphics. There's a scored, five-minute photo gallery that even includes a shot from the recording of the commentary, a pointless assemblage of the seven minutes of footage shot on film, and a three-minute clip montage set to a dreadful techno reworking of the title theme to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary. Much more interesting is a 10-minute section from arts review Did You See? looking back on the show's aliens, and including clips from Earthshock, while the very brief Episode 5 is a hilarious new animation. --Gary S Dalkin --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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This story starts off in the gravel pits and then leads us into the papier mache caves. So far, so ordinary. However, then the Cybermen show up, the action suddenly shifts to a deep space freighter on a course for Earth, and most of the characters die (which, as Peter Davison notes in the commentary, happens a lot in his stories).
This is a dark and exciting story, tautly written and directed. Compared to preceding Tom Baker stories, it injects a new lease of life into the stale old formula, but on its own, it works even better. I'd never seen an episode with the companion Adric in before, I just knew he was widely despised. You don't need to have seen any Doctor Who to understand the relationships going on here. The Doctor is very clearly a frustrated father figure dealing with a frustrated teenage son. The pair of them share this character arc across the four episodes that just adds to the poignant finale (though I'm not too sure about the Coronation Street-style silent credits at the end).
The extras on the DVD aren't particularly notable. There's the par-for-the-course CGI effects, which I would seriously recommend watching instead of the dire original effects in the last episode particularly. Also worth a look is the brief claymation fifth episode, which works as an alternative ending aimed clearly at Adric haters.
The documentary about this particular story is quite good, featuring the writer, the actors, and numerous science fiction commentators (most funny of which is the Tory MP blaming the Labour Government for the direness of the 1970s Cybermen stories). All in all, though, it's a great package.
As I understand it, some people love writer Eric Saward's "Earthshock" and some hate it. Just to be awkward, I'm going to say that I like it, but it's not perfect.
Earthshock carries with it a bleak atmosphere not uncommon in the Peter Davison era alongside such stories as Resurrection of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani, particularly in the death-heavy first episode, with which its sequences of caves and androids is actually a massive diversion from the real enemies - the Cybermen - who only appear at the episode's climax. I imagine that if I was watching Doctor Who in the early 1980s I'd have been pretty impressed with the revelation.
I've never found 1980s Cybermen particularly menacing, but there's no doubt that in Earthshock they do have a certain edge that they would subsequently lack in stories such as The Five Doctors. In Earthshock they really are a powerful force, breaking out of their hibernation silos in droves, murdering anybody who stands in their way and getting up to a fair amount of scheming, too. The voices may not be as chilling as they were in the late 1960s, but they're more intelligible, and it does allow the Cyber Leader to have better lines.
Other aspects are less successful. The numerous supporting characters introduced in episode one, such as Lt. Scott and his troops, become somewhat redundant once the story switches location to a space freighter in episode two (and picks up its new supporting characters in the form of the freighter's crew), none more so than Professor Kyle, the leader of the archaeological expedition, who spends the rest of the story hanging around with Nyssa in the TARDIS until she eventually gets shot. Like many stories of this era, there are too many companions - but that, of course, is all about to change.
Weaknesses notwithstanding, the plot of the story is well constructed and there's a dramatic send-off for Adric as the TARDIS crew is reduced in number by one.
Earthshock comes with a strong package of extras, including a chaotic commentary with the full TARDIS crew, a thirty minute documentary on the making of the story with numerous leading contributors, the usual on-screen production notes, a few film trimmings and bits and bobs from the TV archives, and informative on-screen production notes. Excellent.
Earthshock sees The Doctor, Adric, Teegan and Nyssa accidentally invloved in an archeological dig which eventually leads to them coming face to face with the Cybermen. A number on incidents eventually leads them to a spaceship where The Doctor finds himself in a huge predicment which eventually leads to the loss of one companion.
Earthshock rightly deserves its position as one of the best Fifth Doctor serials, featuring some of the best performances of the era even if the end is decisive amoung viewers. The Cybermen are show in a string light once again allowing Earthshock to rank amoungst the best Cybermen stories alongside The Tenth Planet and The Tomb of the Cybermen.
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