EarthshockBookmark and Share

Saturday, 9 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Not quite my favourite Davison story, but pretty damned close...

The strongest impact this story has is not-so-much its atmosphere, but its pace. One would not even necessarily describe that pace as breakneck. It has its moments of respite and rest (particularly as locations change from caves to spaceship) but the way in which this plot moves implies that something really big and really bad is going to happen by the time we reach the conclusion. And though the atmosphere of the plot also implies this, the pace or flow of the story conveys this just as, if not more, effectively. Which, to me, indicates some very gifted writing and direction on the part of the people who made this adventure. And yes, even with some of these "plot holes" that fans go on endlessly about, I'll still compliment the writer! This is some very solid storytelling. I may even be bold enough to say some of the best I've seen in the series. 

Earthshock certainly stands out in my memory as being exceptional in many ways. Its first episode, to me, is an excellent example of how to create some genuinely spine-tingling suspense with a shoe-string budget. Dress up a couple of extras in some black bodysuits, get the rest of the cast to wear some nice helmets with lights on them and then set up a "scanner device" that's just a screen with some cheap-looking blips on them. This should, to all intents, get some laughs from any discerning audience. But, again, the direction makes it all very creepy and downright disturbing (that shot where one of the soldiers finds a fizzled pile of goo with the name tag on it being exceptionally memorable). Only near the end of the episode, where the soldiers start firing and we must contend with some somewhat bad-looking post-editing effects, does the low budget seem evident. Otherwise, my suspension of disbelief during that entire episode is complete. 

But it's not entirely uncommon for a Doctor Who story to have an excellent first episode and then fall apart. So how does the rest of the story fare? Again, the pacing in this tale is magnificient. The bomb defusion sequence - which could have come across as blatant padding - instead maintains some excellent suspense. Whilst, at the same time, we get a brief Cybermen re-cap since we haven't seen these particular baddies in quite some time. And, by the way, if you think real hard, it's not hard to get the whole flashback sequence to fit in chronologically. I just assume that these neomorphic Cybermen are time travellers from after "Attack of the Cybermen" who are now going back in time to deliberately meddle with history. So, they can see a sequence from "Revenge of the Cybermen" because they are from a time that takes place afterwards and are deliberately going back in time to stop the events of that particular story from actually happening (it also gets the whole time travelling/decoder paradox to work a bit better at the end of the story).

And then, we move to the spaceship. Again, great work with using so little. A few symetrically-stacked cylinders, some nice model-work interspersed within the sequences and now we have another great creepy sequence where we know most of the humans involved are doomed to die at the hands of these merciless silver giants. Great stuff.

Next, we have episode three. The pace really starts to pick up now. The Cyber-army is unleashed. The battle sequences, though still a bit cheap-looking in spots, are magnificently created. The Cybermen seem truly mighty as most weapons seem entirely useless against them. Even Adric's gold badge will only do so much damage. The bridge-defending sequence creates another highly memorable image as the Cyberman breaking through gets frozen into the door. Gorgeous stuff. Done so effectively by just having a camera pan back really hard and fast! There's still so little to genuinely complain about here. And, upon my first viewing of this tale, I was so completely caught up in it. Even as episode three closes with a somewhat lack-lustre cliff-hanger, it seems impossible for Episode Four to go wrong.

And it doesn't. A great debate between Doctor and Cyberleader regarding emotions (a fantastic performance, in general, from both Banks and Davison in this story - they are both at their best here). Some super-creepy claustrophobic stuff where the Cybermen seem to be swarming about like a colony of ants aboard the spaceship (love that bit where Tegan keeps trying to avoid them in the halls and then finally gets grabbed from behind as she fiddles with her gun). And, finally, an absolutely stunning climax. Some of the most intense drama I've ever seen on the show. I had to pick my jaw off the floor as the absolutely bone-chillingly silent credits ran across the screen with Adric's mathematical badge lying in shards. This was not just 80s Who at its best. It was Who at it's best, period. There was nothing that could get me to hate this story. Even a few plotholes that were almost inconsequential anyway! 

I was a somewhat new fan as I watched this particular adventure. And this worked greatly to my advantage. For one thing, I had no idea that companions could die in the series. So my shock was two-fold as Adric crashed into the Earth at the end. And my emotional attachment to the story was almost self-contradictory by this point. I want Adric to be saved, of course. But I don't want Earth history to change either. And it was great to find myself so betwixt myself at the climax of the story. 

I also didn't know who the Cybermen were yet. This was my first experience with them. And, for my money, they couldn't have made a better first impression. Yes, it does not seem to make sense that they claim to be emotionless and then display sadism and pride in abundancy. But, to me, this somehow seems to work in this story. Though such a formula didn't work so well in other stories both before and after Earthshock and I can also see how wonderful the portrayal of the old Hartnell/Troughton Cybermen is, the way the Cybermen are treated in this particular tale agrees with me. I can't even necessarily say why it does, but it was this story that actually put the Cybermen down as my personal all-time favourite monsters. That's right, I even like them better than Daleks. If nothing else, they can climb stairs a whole lot more easily! 

But the strongest point of this story, for me, is that it still gives me nightmares now and again. I started watching Who when I was about fourteen (I'm Canadian, so it's not asserted into our culture like it is in Britain. We have to almost discover this series and we oftentimes don't do that til our teens) By that age, I was pretty familiar with the differences between big-budget and low-budget productions. And when something looked low-budget - it could do nothing to scare me. But this story, due to its clever use of doing so much with so little, effectively disturbed me. So much so, that it has crept into my Id and I still find myself, now and again, caught up in a dream sequence where I am trying to take flight through these dark metalic hallways with nasty Cybermen lurking around every corner waiting to grab me. That, to me, is the strongest testament to this story. Not only is it highly engaging to watch, it could also genuinely creeped me out to the point of having nightmares.

"Kinda" is still my all-time favourite Davison story. But this one comes a very close second!