Doctor Who: Earthshock [DVD]
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Another adventure for everyone's favourite Time Lord. Landing on Earth in the 22nd century, the Doctor (Peter Davison), Adric, Nyssa and Tegan help to defuse a subterranean bomb being operated from space. The bomb's operators are tracked to a star freighter where they are revealed to be none other than the Cybermen. The Doctor has to prevent the Cybermen from destroying the Earth, and is caught in a race against time to save Adric's life.
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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After only one, slightly dodgy showing of the Cybermen through the whole of the 1970s, the impact of this story was huge. We really didn't know they were coming back, we couldn't have guessed where the plot would lead. Two shocks in silver that made this story a legend. But when you know the Cybermen are in it, and maybe expect the second shock too, how well does it still deliver?
In a cave system on 26th century Earth, two lethal androids are reducing a team of scientists and marines to something unpleasantly like pizza topping. Where else would the TARDIS materialise? The atmosphere of this first episode is superb; Eric Saward's script plus excellent direction, set design and lighting create a dark mystery with a stunning cliffhanger. We now know the Cybermen are behind it all, but their sudden appearance still packs a punch - imagine this coming as a total surprise in 1982, a great moment in the life of `Doctor Who'. James Warwick leads a very good guest cast as the marine Lieutenant who initially suspects the Doctor but soon comes to rely on him - shades of a certain young Colonel meeting the Doctor in `The Web of Fear'; the tunnels, the darkness, the military under attack - even the moustache!
The Doctor defeats part one of the Cyber-plan, then action shifts to a huge space freighter on course for Earth, to which the Doctor has traced the Cyber control signal. Again the set designs are excellent, conjuring the eerie gloom of a vast freighter running between planets with a minimal crew. The middle section of the story doesn't quite live up to the excellent first episode; the marines hang around a bit indecisively, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) is left in the TARDIS with nothing to do and Beryl Reid never quite convinced me as a tough-as-nails freighter captain. She gives a good performance of grim determination but in 1982 was too familiar from many light entertainment roles.
The story picks up again as the Doctor is forced into a battle of wills with the Cyberleader (a definitive performance from David Banks), with some good dialogue on the nature of emotion and humanity, while down in the hold the marines and Tegan (Janet Fielding) battle for the ship. `Earthshock' saw the peak of Cyber-design with the actors giving not-quite-living menace to the classic monsters; infinitely better than the stomping, stamping, far too robotic platoons seen in the new series. Peter Davison's very likeable Time Lord is a good take on the character, even if events sometimes get the better of him.
The climax nears with exciting plot twists, quite violent action of the `ray-gun' type and edge-of-the-seat tension as the Cybermen take control of the ship and hold the Doctor prisoner in his own TARDIS, leaving it to Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) to save both the freighter and the Earth, a hero at last ...
With the sag in the mid-section this might be a 4 star story, but it richly deserves an extra star for delivering two of the greatest shocks in the series' long history. A gold-edged star, originally awarded for mathematical excellence ... 5*
New CGI effects can be turned on from the `Special Features' menu; the existing effects are good but the new ones help.
DVD Special Features:
The commentary is `a hoot' (as an Aussie like Tegan might say). `The Doctor' and all three `companions' obviously had fun remembering the story and swapping anecdotes.
`Putting the Shock into Earthshock' is a good `making of' feature.
`Location Film Sequences': doesn't really add much, sandpit scenes from episode 1.
`Did You See': a BBC review show from 1982, looking back at some `Doctor Who' classic monsters.
`40th Anniversary Celebration': a fun, fast moving clip-fest featuring all the classic Doctors.
Finally, there are two comedy gems on this disc to appreciate after you've seen the story: `Episode 5', and an Easter Egg hidden on the Special Features menu. "Excellent!"
There are more plot holes than you can shake a stick at, but both the end of the first and, of course, the fourth episodes were tremendous shocks at the time.
The Cybermen return after and absence of several years with a great new look, but are a little too emotional for my liking and Adric's death at the end of the episode is one of the greatest surprises the series has ever managed. Despite disliking the character, one can't help but feel sorry for him.
All in all, Earthshock is very watchable, fast moving and exciting, but probably not as good as it could have been with a bit of script editing.
There is also a shocking twist to the end too, and since all Doctor Who fans know what the twist is anyway, what with one of the companions being killed off. As far as I can recall, that was the only time a companion met such a tragic fate.
A good all round production which I enjoyed. Sharp eyed viewers may also spot references in some scenes to Ridley Scott's "Alien". The shot of Tegan dressed in army uniform, clutching a weapon, prowling around the cargo hold trying to avoid the aliens was one such reference. Another was the finding of one of the army personnel's uniform amidst a pile of gluey substance.
It was also good to see the veteran actress Beryl Reid in a serious role. Although, I must admit I found it funny at times listening to her plummy dialect.
There are some good extras which Who fans will enjoy. A decent enough package being offered at a good price. Good picture and sound too.
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