Doctor Who #581: Earthshock Part 1

"I'm tired of being considered a joke."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Mar.8 1982.

IN THIS ONE... There are faceless androids running around some caves killing people, and in the TARDIS, Adric whines about wanting to go home (just as Tegan was cured of this affliction, too).

REVIEW: If The Ark in Space is Alien years before Alien hit our movie screens, Earthshock is Aliens years before THAT showed up in theaters. There's an awful lot of marines getting killed in dark tunnels by SOMEthing while someone stares at a radar screen on which people are represented by glowing dots. And by Part 3, Tegan will have become Ripley. Instead of alien xenomorphs, we have androids, but they're also black and have gleaming featureless domes. These belong to one of the Doctor's oldest enemies, a reveal well-played, and a secret well-hidden by the innocuous title. The cheat, of course, is that the killer androids don't look like they have any relationship with the "culture" using them, though I do like the simply, spooky design. Perhaps the Cybermen got them at a garage sale and merely reprogrammed them.

But all this running around in caves, while well shot and atmospherically lit, merely plays for time while the episode builds to that final revelation. It's not particularly interesting, at least, not beyond the butch commander's accidental double entendres. No, what this episode (and serial) is actually about is Adric's upcoming departure. Here he is, whining about going home to E-Space, and all his reasons point to what amounts to Tom Baker nostalgia. In some ways, Adric is the fan identification figure, though I doubt they meant it to go as far as complaining about this new "immature" Doctor. One thing's for certain, he feels neglected within the current TARDIS crew configuration, and teased by the older girls aboard. He's at this over-sensitive age. The Doctor oversells the dangers of going back to E-Space, at least from the evidence of Season 18, but that's not the fate reserved for Adric, it's just the red herring for people who've heard Matthew Waterhouse is leaving the show. At this point, the audience should be welcoming this departure. He's a whiny brat who shows open contempt for the hero of the series, and I can't personally stand to watch another scene of Adric with his hands in his pockets.

The Doctor's tantrum does brand him as a bit immature, but then, he's always been (in different ways). The adults are Tegan and Nyssa, especially the latter, who immediately set to work mending broken fences, angling towards a compromise. Unfortunately, they get side-tracked by fossils, and off we go into heavily padded educational discussions about what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. In Part 1, it seems a complete waste of time. By the end of Part 4, it'll look like an awkward and over-obvious plot contrivance. In any case, it seems really strange that the show would go educational over dinosaurs, but not over the significance of Pudding Lane in The Visitation. Seems to me the target audience would be a lot more informed about the former than the latter. As my favorite band (the Rheostatics) would say it: "I am a science boy, I grew up on dinosaurs." When you have a thin script, needs must, I suppose.

VERSIONS: The CGI effects option on the DVD gives a little more polish to the raygun effects, but the androids still seem to fire bullets from their hands.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Between what they're trying to do with the personal relationships and Peter Grimwade's well-executed marines vs. androids massacre, the episode manages to rise above the impression that it's a whole lot of padding.


CiB said...

Back then I'm not sure if fans would have known about Adrics departure before it happened.

Firstly, with this episode JNT was offered the chance to get Doctor Who a front cover on the Radio Times (A TV listing magazine in the UK), which he passed up on as said cover would be very big on "Cybermen return after 7 years" and he wanted to preserve the surprise.

Additionally, in order to throw off viewers from being spoiled about Adrics death, Waterhouse gets a small cameo in the next story, so that he's credited as playing Adric in the radio times and so no one notices that there is an episode he won't be in soon until after the death has aired.

Siskoid said...

You're quite correct of course.

I suppose the broader point is that from these scenes, Adric is telling us he'll soon be leaving. He's been around for a while, and only now asking to go home, it's a neon sign, really. Saward will defy expectation by having him leave without him going home.

snell said...

"Adric is the fan identification figure...

So Adric is Superboy-Prime?

Siskoid said...

You read that just like I meant it.


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