So that brings on onto the episode Earthshock, which features the fifth Doctor (this was when the BBC started to cut the budget and generally try to snuff Dr Who because they were sick of having to have it on TV next to new shows they were trying to premier) , his three whiny companions, Adric and Teagan and Nyssa, all of whom basically serve no point in this story until the final part, so forgive me for skipping their introductions. I will spoil you here and say Adric dies at the end of Earthshock in one of those ways that is meant to be touching and sombre, but comes off as stupid if you stop to think about it.
The Cybermen are back and look like their costumes are an uncomfortable mix of Bakelite plastic helmets and jump suits wrapped in tin foil and moonboots made silver. The episode was called Earthshock because the writers wanted the return of the Cybermen to be a surprise for the end of the first part, thus drawing the audience in to watch the remaining parts. Apparently, this worked and Earhshock was a highly watched and highly rated episode. For the life of me, I can’t think why. Maybe by the standards of the early 80s Dr Who it is, but this sits on the uncomfortable bridge between modern Dr Who which can look amazing (CGI aside) and early Dr Who where the low quality of the cameras and sets gives enough of a weird vibe to feel alien. However, let’s begin on why I dislike this episode so much. Again, TL;DR at the bottom so you don’t have to join me on the deconstruction.
Part one: This is probably my favourite part for two reasons. Firstly, it starts with the Doctor and his friends arriving on earth in the 2500s. They start with The Doctor arguing with Adric that although he is a companion, he should do as the Doctor says because he is not the intellectual equal of the Doctor so he shouldn’t try to alter anything or wander off without permission. Adric, supposedly a mathematical and logical genius, finds this upsetting and decides to stay in the Tardis. Secondly, it takes place underground in a cave complex which is always interesting to see with lighting and the wideness of shots. Unbeknown to the Doctor, a team of archaeologists have been exploring the caves for some time and have recently begun losing members for unknown reasons. A group of them have been reduced to one survivor, who has called upon the local military to help them. The military have spotted new lifeforms on their instruments and presume these people must be the killers. They move to intercept them, with half remaining back at base and a few exploring over parts of the cavern. As the group move to intercept, the other explorers life signs drop off. The military are informed and finally catch up with the new lifeform signs, which turns out to the Doctor and his group. After he is questioned, the military assume he is the killer and move to arrest him, but not before the Doctor explains that he is only here because he is tracking a signal. Given one chance to redeem himself, he moves with everyone to look investigate. Whilst tracking the signal, they are suddenly ambushed next to the source. As they take cover, they see their attackers are androids, which the Doctor says proves he didn’t kill the rest of the team because the androids attack him as well. This also explains why they were not registering as lifeforms. The view is then from the androids masks as they look around and focus on the Doctor, where it is revealed the Cybermen are controlling the androids and order the team destroyed.
Part two: The androids are fought off and the Doctor and crew go in to inspect the safe the androids were guarding, where The Doctor attempts to open it, a cutaway reveals the Cybermen are planning on detonating the cyber bomb in the safe. The bomb starts a 2 minute countdown (that’s one), so the Doctor attempts to block the signal being linked to the Cybermen’s ship, thus defusing the bomb. Of note here is the particularly painful dialogue. This is an ongoing trend in Dr who which I will call the Joss Whedon theory, IE every character is a one liner machine who always has an answer for everything. This makes the bad story of Earthshock worse when you can’t bear to listen to the dialogue. Anyway, after activating the bomb, the Cybermen claim they will have to make do with a partial victory and attempt to reactivate the bomb. The Doctor and Adric talk about the why the bomb is there and who planted it and why they wanted it to be set off later rather than when the archaeologists discovered it. Suddenly, the bomb reactivates it, but just in time the doctor uses a laser cutter to destroy the signal for the bomb, thus making it useless. This angers (that’s two) the Cybermen who think that they have either been betrayed (that’s three) or that there is an unknown factor at work. The Doctor ponders why there was a bomb, hidden in a cave network and not a missile fired at earth or a full invasion. The Cybermen review footage from the androids memory banks and see the Tardis. Meanwhile, the Doctor tries to ditch the military and archaeologists, but they insist on coming along and confronting the source of the android signal. The Cybermen at base realise that there is a new regeneration of the Doctor with them and think about who it might be. A brief recap is given of all their past confrontations with the Doctor, of particular note is the confrontation with the last Doctor in which they tried to destroy a planet made of gold, which is like poison to the vital running of the Cybermen, clogging their “breathing” circuits. it ends that the Cybermen leader claiming that the Doctor was be immediately found and destroyed as he is the only person they consider smart enough to foil their plan of destroying earth. (this is important, take note). The Cybermen’s probes pick up the Tardis going to a freighter, which is the source of the signal for the bomb. Only the Doctor and A|dric leave the Tardis, saying they will scout first. The crew on the freighter have apparently going missing, but the captain and the first officer don’t mind as much as the security officer. He spots the Doctor and Adric on a camera and sends a patrol to get them. The cyber leader learns the freighter has received clearance to get to earth, past the security cordon. He order a Cyberman to get his “minions” (that’s four) to get the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers the body of a dead crewmen, right as he is captured by the patrol and security officer.
Part three: The Doctor is taken to the bridge (that’s five) for questioning. Cybermen looking at the footage of the camera finally realise who the Doctor is by his “arrogance” (that’s six). The Cybermen move to take hold of the freighter and then orders that the Doctor and his friends must be taken alive (that’s seven) and “suffer for their past defeats” (that’s eight). The Doctor is briefly questioned before the crew detect a power surge and the Cybermen hidden on board of the freighter come to life. The patrols are sent to investigate, whilst the Doctor and Adric fruitlessly urge the captain to stop the ship. She won’t, as it would lose her the bonus payment for speedy delivery and thinks the threat is too minor to not be dealt with. At this point, I have to confess that I think the Cybermen have been on board this ship without anyone noticing or the inspections beforehand spotting them, but at no point is it explained or told to the audience, you have to generally infer and take a lot for granted. The crew on the Tardis are worried and send out the military and one of the Doctor’s crew to go and search for him and Adric, but witness the Cybermen coming to life and attacking the ship’s crew. Again the officer suggests locking the Doctor and Adric away in the brig, but the captain claims she wants them where she can see them (that’s nine). The Doctor sees the Cybermen kill all the patrol and storm into the upper parts of the ship. As the Captain prepares to leave for safety, the security officer comes in and orders them to stop, revealing he is working with the Cybermen. Again, the Doctor mentions his past victories over the Cybermen, especially about their reactions to gold. Adric tries to tear a gold star (yes, really) of his outfit, but the security officer notices and confiscates it from him. This distracts him long enough for the captain and the Doctor to overpower him and lock the Cybermen out of the bridge. The next scene needs to be exactly transcribed: Cyber leader: “have you tested their defences?” “Yes, leader, we are unable to break them” “excellent[that’s ten], prepare to break through the bulk heads”. Again, the cyber leader says he wants the Doctor taken alive. The captain says that she’s confident the security forces of earth can deal with the Cybermen on the ship, rather than just jettisoning the whole ship and going in an escape pod. The Cybermen are attempting to break through the doors with a thermal lance, but the Doctor thinks he can use the antimatter on the ship (I’m not even going to attempt to explain this scene, it’s Treknobabble at its finest) to stabilise the shields. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s crew fire on two Cybermen, killing one with his own weapon (that’s eleven) and sends one wounded trying to warn the rest of the Cybermen. The Doctor’s plan works and the shields and essentially locked in place as a Cybermen tries to break in, however the other door to the bridge was being wired with explosives in the meantime. The cyber leader sees the damaged Cyberman and thinks the security officer has betrayed them as they have already killed the remaining crew outside the bridge. The cyber leader orders more Cybermen to come to reinforce them from the holds on the ship, essentially revealing he has a small army stored in the freighter (that’s twelve). The door is blown and Cybermen storm the bridge, in which the cyber leader briefly mocks the Doctor (that’s thirteen). He then gestures to his men, with one advancing menacingly on the Doctor before turning on the security officer and shooting him. The cyber leader says he knows the Doctor has a fondness for earth, again the dialogue at work: The Doctor: “fondness? I am surprised your brains can understand that emotion” Cyber leader: “it is a word like any other word. As is destruction. Which is what we are going to do to that planet.” The cyber leader then says this time his plan will succeed and the Doctor will live just long enough to witness it (that’s fourteen). The cyber leader, then says “you will see the strength of Cybermen!” before clenching his fist and making a gesture to the doors.
Part four: I could stop here, but I might as well finish this off. Here, we see a cheap shot of three Cybermen walking towards the camera, but superimposed to look like there are more than there really are. The Cybermen spot the Tardis and Teagan wanders off from the rest of the crew on the freighter whilst the Cybermen add an override to the ship’s controls. With the clearance the ship is given, the ship is free to drive straight into earth and explode. The ship will be set to hit a conference of planet heads who are planning to unite their force to wipe out the Cybermen. Cybermen claim it would be a great psychological victory (that’s fifteen), the freighter effectively replacing the bomb. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s crew are trying to return to the Tardis. The Cybermen reveal that they are going to use the freighter to destroy the conference then wipe out any survivors of the crash. The Cybermen catch Teagan and bring her to the bridge (that’s sixteen), whilst the rest of the crew get back to the Tardis, with two of them being killed by Cybermen. On the bridge, the cyber leader learns of Teagan is a companion to the Doctor, but this scene does feature some of the best dialogue from this episode, so I will show it here:
The Doctor: Emotions have their uses.
Cyber Leader: They restrict and curtail the intellect and logic of the mind.
The Doctor: They also enhance life! When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal?
Cyber Leader: These things are irrelevant.
The Doctor: For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about!
The cyber leader orders Teagan Killed, but the Doctor intervenes, where the cyber leader then says he is right because he now has power over the Doctor. Because he cares too much, the Doctor is cannot stop the Cybermen. The Doctor’s crew now believe they must save the Doctor and get off the ship before it crashes, which means returning back outside (so why did they go back to the Tardis?). The cyber leader says he is giving the captain back her ship (that’s seventeen), saying he wants two of his guards to “observe their reactions when they are about to die to learn about emotions of humans they are going to fight” (that’s eighteen). He then orders all remaining Cybermen out of the ship (ok, at this point, where are they going? They are in Earth’s security cordon) The cyber leader takes the Doctor and Teagan back to the Tardis, but says Adric must stay. Before the Doctor leaves, he slips him the gold star from earlier. The Doctor bids Adric farewell, saying he will find some way to save them. The cyber leader says he watch the destruction of earth from the Doctor’s Tardis and asks the Cybermen to “meet him there”(???) The Doctor’s crew manage to slip intro the bridge and kill the Cybermen guarding Adric and the captain. Meanwhile the Cybermen remaining on the ship awaken and start to patrol (I’ve sort of given up at this point), Adric dries to solve the “three logic codes” and disable the Cybermen’s technology. Adric solves the first logic puzzle and then attempts to see if it does anything, thereby sending the ship out of time (that’s nineteen). The Doctor is threatened to follow the freighter’s time jump. Although the freighter is going back in time, it is still locked onto the same coordinates, meaning it will still smash into Earth. The cyber leader says the news is “excellent”, not seeing the obvious flaw in his plan. A wounded Cybermen is seen slowly crawling to the bridge. The captain and the remaining crew all board the escape pod, but Adric quickly dashes out of the escape pod before the door closes and tries to crack the final 2 codes. I’m so fucking sick of this stupid fucking episode that I’m just going to show you the final clip.
So..that’s a lot of bile in a summary alone, so I’m going to take a few seconds to say what I liked about this and who isn’t deserving of damnation. Firstly, the acting is all terrible, but that’s a Dr who staple, but Peter Davidson’s Doctor is worthy of praise for the most part because he plays him as a sort of slightly eccentric gentleman’s son who would rather play cricket than fight alien monsters. David Banks, the cyber leader, puts in a good performance, even though his emotions are out of place. The Cybermen costumes look very uncomfortable so I won’t fault him for not knowing what he is doing positioning wise. The story, whilst awful, does somewhat stay in line the Cybermen’s plans of veeeeeeerrrryyy slowly putting their plan into motion as to not alert people. The people who did the sound and sound effects did a good job. That’s about it, really.
So, about all those (that’s one) parts I have been putting in. These are either plot holes, stupid moments or the Cybermen doing something that will greatly endanger their plan. Here goes;
That’s one: If you’re going to have a bomb on earth when the conference is going on and to have it completely secreted away, why have a countdown? You want something like that to go right off asap, like dynamite.
That’s two: Cybermen are not me, IE they don’t claim to have no emotions but then get suddenly angry. They genuinely don’t understand emotions and have, in past iterations, called humans retarded for being emotional. If they decide someone should die, they want them dead.
That’s three: The security officer was on the ship, how could he betray them? Also, are they aware that someone could have second thoughts? Feel bad about betrayal?
That’s four: Cybermen calling others “minions” pushes them into cartoon villain (I know it’s a fucking show for kid’s, shut up) territory.
That’s five: The Doctor is believed to be, quite rightly, the only man smart enough to figure out the Cybermen’s plans and stop them. Being logically minded and not guided by emotions (ha), the first thing to do should be to kill him. Throw him in the airlock and jettison him into space so he can’t fuck up your plans.
That’s six: This is pushing it a bit, but given that the Doctor can essentially be anybody, assuming he is someone is a bit of a risk just because you think Time Lord’s are arrogant.
That’s seven: Why would the Cybermen need anyone alive at this point? Maybe the Doctor to capture his Tardis and turn it over to cyber control.
That’s eight: Why would you need them to suffer? What use would sadism be to a robot?
That’s nine: At this point, throwing prisoners into a safe space where they can do no harm and also no harm can come to them would make sense, but this captain is basically incompetent and does everything to keep this lazy script going, so.
That’s ten: These emotionless machines sure love that word
That’s eleven: Why would you design guns that could be used on yourself? I think they essentially use miniature microwave emitters, so you want something that won’t work on your obvious chest weakness.
That’s twelve: Those people inspecting the freighter’s cargo sure did a poor job given that a very important conference was about to take place.
That’s thirteen: Again, emotions, don’t have them.
That’s fourteen: Ok, this is a repeat, why does he need the Doctor to see why emotions are bad? What’s he trying to prove? The Doctor isn’t going to believe him, so this is really villain of the week formula.
That’s fifteen: So the conference is to unite all world’s against the Cybermen because they are a threat, right? Wouldn’t the Cybermen killing all the world leaders just prove the point to them all about how dangerous they are? This is basically going to be a galactic 9/11 in which the Cybermen would only piss off everything organic life against them.
That’s sixteen: Teagan being brought to the bridge is only there so the scene can later be played out where she is threatened. There is no reason to keep her alive. In fact, killing someone in cold blood that we care about (theoretically) would give us reason enough to truly hate the Cybermen.
That’s seventeen: Even if you completely evacuate the ship, It can be assumed the crew won’t just sit there and wait to die. They’ll either try to destroy the ship or at the very least destroy the device and sacrifice themselves to save Earth.
That’s eighteen: The Cybermen are basically emotionless humans, but it’s not as if they don’t understand emotions. If this were the case, every psychologists would have to also be insane to understand an insane patient, which isn’t the case.
That’s nineteen: How does a piece of alien technology give your conventional starship the ability to travel in time? This is cartoon logic of strapping rockets to a bike to make it go super fast, instead of falling apart and exploding. Also, the Cybermen are advanced, but not so advanced they can time travel, otherwise they would go back in time and save their planet from being destroyed. I believe because of this story, the idea of Cybermen being able to time travel came to exist, which puts them as one of the most powerful races in the universe, not the small, ragged band they really are.
So, a bit extra: This was filmed when Dr Who was definitely getting worse. The actors are awful, the scenes are cheap, the scripts were lazy. Apparently it was called “Earthshock” because they wanted to keep the return of the Cybermen a secret and draw people back in, which worked because it was a highly watched and rated episode. It was also a way to conveniently kill off Adric, who I think wanted to leave the show.
TL;DR: So what have we learnt? Well, you can have a shoestring budget, but good writing, directing and clever use of budget can create a really well made story, so long as you have a clear idea of what you want. Earthshock seems to me to be a highly rated story precisely because it is a “shock”, with actions and Adric’s death, which seems entirely pointless when you realise he could have just realised the plan was foiled and escaped to safety. For some reason, however, this episode persists as a fan favourite when the “good era” was behind classic fans and I really fail to see why. To me, this embodies the worst of a long running series that is trying to spice things up again. Yet between the two episodes, the story is somewhat the same: The Cybermen are trying to destroy the Earth and are foiled by the Doctor. But see in Moonbase where they don’t consider the Doctor a threat and suffer for it, the writer uses the later part of the episode to show the Cybermen are now planning on killing everyone once they get in. Earthshock has a good basic story, but the script, dialogue and director really let it down. So there you go, my two part review of why I’m smarter than some Thatcherite hacks in the 80s making shit shock TV on a children’s sci fantasy programme. See you next time, folks!