Saturday 23 June 2012

578 Earthshock Part One

EPISODE: Earthshock Part One
TRANSMITTED: Monday 08 March 1982
WRITER: Eric Saward
DIRECTOR: Peter Grimwade
PRODUCER: John Nathan-Turner
RATINGS: 9.1 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Earthshock

This is one of those occasions where I'm going to say go away and order the DVD NOW if you haven't yet seen it. Trust me on this one. You will be making an excellent choice.

We need to look at this episode in two halves. I say halves but it really splits into "most of the program" and "the last 20 seconds". Why will become obvious..... As it is we're going to have to do this one blow by blow......

On Earth, in the year 2526, Professor Kyle has called in the Army to help search her seven colleagues lost surveying a fossil rich cave region.

A big hello here to the Helmets worn by the troopers. They'll go into the costume store and reappear again and again.

The sole location work for this story is the surface scenes at the mouth of the cave dig which were filmed at Springwell Quarry in Rickmansworth.

In the caves bellow two black clad figures wander the tunnels.
Dimly lit tunnels! Wooo! You might think this isn't an obvious thing to celebrate but it enhances the atmosphere no end when you can't quite see what's happening in the tunnels and that *something* should be there. Sadly as Doctor who goes on there's an increasing amount of overlighting sets so stuff filmed in a tunnel like this you'd be able to see everything in perfect detail. Credit to director Peter Grimwade (Full Circle, Logopolis, Kinda).

There's two of these black clad figures identified as Male and Female. The actor playing the male one is Barney Lawrence, a regular extra on the series who'd been a Marshman in Full Circle (uncredited in part 1), a guard in State of Decay (uncredited) and a Foster in The Keeper of Traken (uncredited). Uncredited here again he'll return as a seabase guard in Warriors of the Deep (uncredited).

Scott's line here "I realise going down again must be hard" is one of the all time greatest double entendres in the entirety of Doctor Who.

As the party of army troopers, led by Lieutenant Scott, makes it's way into the tunnels, two trooper, Walters & Snyder, are left on the surface detect odd momentary flares on their lifeform scanner. The Doctor & Adric argue in the Tardis with Adric insisting he wants to return home to E-Space. The Doctor says no but Adric insists on making the calculations.
This is the first time we've seen Adric's bedroom in the Tardis. Instead of the traditional walls with roundels he's got our old friend the tessellating triangle/hexagon patterned panels seen ad nauseum since The Mutants
One of the troopers, Baines, is injured and is taken back towards the surface while the communications between surface and the party underground are disrupted. The Doctor materialises in tunnels and the Doctor goes out for a walk, with Nyssa & Tegan accompanying him, leaving Adric in the Tardis to make his calculations.
The Doctor's Line "I'm going out, I may be sometime" is a famous quote from Captain Oates, a member of Robert Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic Expedition, as he walked from his tent in a blizzard to die. Note that the commanding officer of the Troopers is also Lieutenant Scott, played by actor James Warwick. He's one of the few actors from Doctor Who with a Babylon 5 episode on his CV, appearing in Exogenesis as Matthew Duffin. He has also voiced Qui Gon Jinn in many Star Wars computer games.
On the surface the scanning team pick up the Doctor, Nyssa & Tegan in the tunnels, and transmit the position to the troopers in the tunnels. Snyder leaves Walters on the surface and descends to help the wounded party. Nyssa finds dinosaur bones in the tunnel walls leading the Doctor to explain to her that he believes the Dinosaurs were wiped out by an Asteroid impact.
Hang the loaded gun on the wall.....
The wounded party encounter the black figures in the tunnels and their signals flare & disappear on the life form scanner as Snyder hears their screams before her signal too disappears.
The shot of Snyder's remains with her name badge lying in a gooey mess stayed with me as a child: for some reason the white panel, with that black font reminded me of a Smarties packet!
The troopers stop to rest and Walters informs Scott of the disappearance of Snyder & the wounded party. Sgt Mitchell takes a couple of troopers back to look for the missing men. Walters detects more scanner flaring close to Mitchell. Scott, Kyle & the Army party arrive at the dig site as Mitchell's team find the remains of their colleagues. They encounter the black figures and report to Walters but are cut off. The Doctor, Nyssa & Tegan enter the dig chamber and are captured by Scott and his party who blame them for the deaths of Kyle's team and Scott's missing soldiers. The Doctor protests his innocence. In the Tardis Adric detects an odd signal.
The music heard here is a little audio clue to what's coming.
The rockfall in the cavern is cleared, personal effects of the missing archaeological team are found and a hatch is uncovered. The Doctor is ordered to open it but as he goes to they are attacked by the black clad figures. The troopers return fire while everyone takes covers and the Doctor identifies their attackers as androids.
Loved those laser blasts as a child
Kyle recognises the androids as the killers and wonders why they were attacked by them, saying that there's no reason for them to do so. The Doctor replies that whoever's controlling the Androids thinks there is.....
Dimly lit tunnels, an almost unseen menace stalking & killing people, the Doctor mistaken as a murderer. It's all fabulous stuff and a really decent episode of Doctor Who. Doctor Who does Troopers in the future hunting for something years before Aliens. Top work from Peter Grimwade. But just a few seconds later and you'll have forgotten all but the sketchiest of details due to what happens next .. ...
Everything the Androids see is relayed to a control room elsewhere where three giant silver figures stand watching. Their leader orders the androids to "Destroy them, destroy them at once!"

Yes, the Cybermen are back! For the first time since 1975 (excepting the cameo in Logopolis and the planned appearance in Shada) the Cybermen are in a Doctor Who story. There's a generation of children who would have grown up not knowing who the Doctor's second greatest enemy was because the show had lost it's reliance on returning monsters after after Tom Baker's first year. Since then the Daleks have been in the show once in 7 years and the Sontarans once. The Master's appeared four times but three of them have been in the relative recent past. But I saw this and I knew immediately who these silver robot things were. By the time Earthshock came out I'd probably read several Doctor Who books with the Cybermen in: Revenge & Tomb were in my local library and The Cybermen (Moonbase) was an early purchase all of which featured a very similarly styled Cyberman on the cover.

And the lengths that the BBC went to to conceal their presence was huge: The live feed from the cameras wasn't shown on monitors in TV Centre as recording happened. John Nathan-Turner turned down a Radio Times cover to promote the story. David Banks and Mark Hardy were credited in that week's Radio Times as "Leader" and "Lieutenant" respectively without a hint of the word Cyber being used. But it did the trick: the buzz in the playground the next day was "Did you see Doctor Who last night? The Cybermen are back!"

Earthshock is perhaps the last time that Doctor Who manages to do anything big in secret without people knowing about it and, as we'll see, it does it twice. The New Series has had two goes. One worked: nobody knew Billy Piper was in series 4 until she appeared in the closing moments of Partners in Crime. The other earlier one, the appearance of the Daleks in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday they very nearly got away. Unfortunately at the National Television Awards, shortly before the show aired, a Dalek was requested for some publicity photos. The props department sent the black Dalek Sec which at that point hadn't appeared in the series clueing fans in that the Daleks were coming back. Surprisingly this wasn't picked up on in the press who at the time were taking a big interest in the series to the extent that certain details were showing up in National Newspapers only known to certain high ups at the program. You can read Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T Davies for constant references to plot details being given away and RTD wondering how the press had got hold of the information. Since that book was published Christopher Eccleston revealed he had been phone hacked.....

Since this is the first appearance of the new Cybermen we need to say a big hello to the actor playing the Cyberleader, David Banks. He'll return to the role for all of the Cybermen's appearances during the 1980s and his excellent performance will do much to shape the perception of the Cybermen.

Most of you will be aware I've got a few blog entries in advance for the blog. Well over time the lead has got quite substantial. The first time I got to 50 episodes ahead I thought I was doing well. Then I got to 100 hundred episodes and spotted that I was getting close to only needing to watch 4 episodes a week for the rest of the blog's time period. 2 weeks ago, the last weekend in February 2012 I started the Davison episodes and shortly afterwards I spotted that the 30th anniversary of this episode was fast approaching. Consequently I watched it on the morning of 8th March 2012, exactly 30 years after it originally aired.


  1. I really must comment on your loaded gun reference: its orgin is not that cited previously; it belongs to the playwright Chekhov. I can't remember the quote verbatim but it was to the effect that if you use a gun in act 3 then you must refer to it in act 2.

  2. Oh I'm sure the quote does have an origin elsewhere, it's just that the place I've seen it used is on the DVDs by Uncle Tewwance. Several Times. But not as often as the Bouffant story ;-)