Doctor Who #582: Earthshock Part 2

"You could hide an army down here and no one would find it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.9 1982.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor disarms a cyber-bomb and brings a platoon to a ship commanded by Beryl Reid.

REVIEW: It's clear to me there really wasn't material for four episodes of Earthshock. After a full episode of running around in caves, we get half an episode of running around in a spaceship's cargo hold. The one big plot point has the Cybermen, just revealed as the story's big bad, trying to signal their bomb on Earth to explode while the Doctor blocks it and disarms the thing. It's not exactly riveting television. Even the firefight manages to be mostly uneventful even though it goes on forever. The marines are very very good at missing. Eventually, the androids do fall, and in what feels like a reprise of The Visitation, their "deaths" are rather needlessly violent. Just machines, I know, but having your face blown off is a violent image, and is there even a reason why one of the androids has a female shape?

And we may have cheered Adric's departure prematurely. After he's helped the Doctor disarm the bomb and traded apologies with him, Adric reveals he didn't really want to go home, it was just an elaborate cry for attention! Well now I hate him even more! He gets his wish too. Nyssa and Tegan are sent to the back rooms with the marines (and a surprisingly eager to fight geologist), leaving Adric to hog all the action. And it doesn't even make sense! The Doctor and Adric do a recce on the ship which unsurprisingly ends with them getting caught crouching suspiciously over corpses, while the marines OF THIS TIME AND CULTURE could more easily have made their way to the bridge AND have carried the authority to stop these clichéed misunderstandings.

The minimal crew aboard the ship shouldn't make the traitor too hard to spot, but I do have to say a few words about Golden Globe nominee and BAFTA winner Beryl Reid as the captain. Now, I don't know her from Adam (uhm... Eve), even if she WAS in the original Tinker, Tailor. To me, she's just an odd casting choice, a posh old lady in a leather jacket throwing wicked barbs around and crouching over a console. It's a bizarre choice no matter Reid's cachet (to Brits, or perhaps to a certain generation). If you do know who she is, then you're the target audience for this bit of stunt casting, and it IS a stunt. JNT was always trying to get people to watch the show, and his methods usually consisted of big names (note how the companions are no longer right after the Doctor in the credits roll this season), exotic locations and other things you could announce to the media in advance, infamously leaving the hows and whys to distraught script editors. To an audience unaware of what's going on behind the scenes, it creates some real non sequiturs. Like this ship's captain. Historical note: The Doctor says "Brave heart, Tegan" for the first time.

THEORIES: Earthshock takes place in 2526. At one point, the Cybermen review past encounters with the Doctor, specifically the events of The Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen and Revenge of the Cybermen. Oops! Doesn't that last one take place much later? Like the 29th century or later (the age of Nerva Beacon)? I guess these guys are time travelers. And that would make sense unless you're ready to believe Adric can turn the ship into a time machine with the power of mathematics in Part 4. The actual mistake is one of dating, but given what happens, and that the Cybermen's next appearance (Attack of the Cybermen) gives them a time-ship, the retroactive mistake seems to be that time travel isn't mentioned in this particular outing. So when trying to make sense of Cyber-History, Earthshock might even take place after Attack (though they would have looked at impossible 6th Doctor footage too if it did). It's a matter of trying to blow Earth up before they get caught up in the Cyber-Wars referred to in Revenge. Silver Nemesis is another story where time travel isn't mentioned, yet must be at work in the background, or else we must accept "modern" Cybermen and a whole Cyber-Fleet on Earth's doorstep only a couple years after Mondas is destroyed.

VERSIONS: The DVD's CGI option gives a little more glitz to the raygun effects, but leaves the model shots alone.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - While not unpleasant, it's a whole lot of padding and then more padding. It's time for the Cyberman to walk out of that room they're in.


karl said...

Beryl Reid was a long-established comedy actress here in the UK when it was announced she was guest-starring in this, and it caused some consternation when we learned she was playing a tough starship captain.. She has always played dotty and silly characters and we were dreading this but she wasn't too bad.
Unfortunately her success here then paved the way for JNT to invite more stunt-casting for other comedians to appear in the show, turning it into more of a pantomime than it already was.


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