Wednesday 11 November 2009

Reviews in Time & Space: Earthshock

For my second Doctor Who review (Whoview? I quite like the sound of that...) I've chosen my favourite 5th Doctor (as portrayed by Peter Davison) story, one that proves that the Doctor's plans dont always go perfectly and the lifestyle he and his companions lead does often come at a loss, the grand return of the Cybermen....1982's Earthshock.

Set in 2565, the story sees the Doctor and his companions arriving in the middle of an investigation into the murder of a team of scientists in a complex of caves. They are being murdered by androids (who look strikingly similar to the Rassilon robots who would later appear in The Five Doctors), working for the Cybermen. Their plan is to destroy Earth to prevent the signing of a treaty of galactic powers against the Cyberrace. While their original plan of blowing up the Earth with a bomb fails, they then attempt to use a freighter to crash into the Earth, destroying all life upon it. However with the Doctor and moreso Adric's meddling the freighter travels back in time, turning out to be what killed the dinosaurs (a mystery discussed earlier on in the story). The Cybermen are defeated, however the Doctor has not won. Adric was still onboard the ship when it crashed into prehistoric Earth...

The story has some great moments, from the Cybermen discussing their past defeats at the Doctor's hands (along with specific clips) to the Doctor arguing with the CyberLeader about how emotions and the little things are what make up life. The story also makes great use of the 4 part story format, with the Cybermen not being revealed until the end of the first episode (which makes for a great cliffhanger, and in the days before the internet when it was easier to avoid spoilers that probably came as a great suprise), and the Doctor not actually realising who's behind it all until the 3rd part. The idea of the freighter travelling back in time to the age of the dinosaurs I think is an excellent idea and is executed very well. However my one issue with the story is the reasoning behind the Cybermen wanting to destroy Earth. A war against the Cyberrace? Really? And if they're such a threat how come the Earth people onboard the freighter don't realise who they are straight away? I thought that seemed very odd and anticlimatic.

The newly designed 1980s Cybermen look fantastic, much better than the Invasion-rehash ones that appeared in Tom Baker's 1975 story Revenge of the Cybermen. This design would be used until the very end of classic Who. Another trend that continued was the use of David Bank's superb CyberLeader, along with his very Mr Burn's-esque "Excellent!" catchphrase. My one point of criticism would be that sometimes these Cybermen's voices come across as being emotional, which is not a good sign for apparently emotionless beings. You can definitely hear anger and desperation in their voices at times. The voices even sound somewhat melodic at times, which is a bit odd but when I think about it harks back to The Tenth Planet era Cybermen too.

The story, as was the case with alot of the 1980s Who episodes, contains quite alot of references to older stories, whether it be just a few stories back with the E-space trilogy and Logopolis, or even some of the earliest Cybermen outings The Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen. If you know alot about the Doctor Who mythos and continuity, this is quite nice to hear. However, relying too heavily on previous continuity is one of the factors which led to Who's downfall in 1989 and this is certainly an early example of it. Having not seen every Doctor Who episode there are some instances where even I don't know what exactly they are referencing.

But perhaps the most important issue to cover in this review is the death of Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse). Having willingly chosen to stay on board and attempt to solve the logic codes that the Cybermen locked the controls of the freighter with, tragic as it may be I found it somewhat hard to feel sad at his death. While it is true that had the damaged Cyberman not destroyed said controls he might of been able to solve it, but hey...clearly curiousity killed the Adric. Besides, Adric didn't die here anyway, but I'll cover that a little later on. I can't say I was ever a huge Adric fan to begin with anyway, he ranks pretty high up in my worst companion list along with the extremely plain Nyssa (played by Sarah Sutton), who also appears in this episode and does absolutely nothing.

In conclusion despite its flaws, this is a fine Doctor Who story, easily makes my top 10 and as a Cyberman story is second only to the magnificent Tomb of the Cybermen. Unlike Remembrance of the Daleks (which I reviewed earlier) this is a little easier to grasp as a standalone story due to the brief history lessons certain characters give at certain points in the story. And with the tragic nature of the ending, it certainly dispels the notion that Doctor Who is just a happy, carefree sci-fi show with some scary monsters. Sometimes there are indeed consequences. I recommend Earthshock to both people getting into the classic series and old-school Who fans alike (although if you're the latter you've most likely seen it already!).

Also, if you're watching this on DVD, part 5 is the best ending the story could possibly have. Trust me. EXCELLENT!

No comments: