Friday, 13 March 2015

Story 121 - Earthshock

In which the Doctor and Adric are arguing, and Tegan and Nyssa are left to keep the peace between them. The young man wants to return to E-Space, and the Doctor refuses to take him as the trip would be too dangerous. Adric has worked out the co-ordinates, and says Romana can help him find his own people once he is through the CVE. The Doctor materialises the TARDIS in a cave system and goes outside to cool down. Tegan and Nyssa follow, and they note the number of dinosaur fossils in the rocks. The Doctor tells them of the asteroid strike theory explaining their extinction - and muses how he always meant to go back and find out... Unbeknownst to the time-travellers, a military expedition has just entered this cave system in search of a missing scientific party. It is the year 2526, and Earth is on high alert due to an imminent conference. The expedition is led by Commander Scott, and he is being guided by Prof. Kyle - sole survivor of the missing party. Monitors on the surface detect the Doctor and his companions. In the cavern where the party was last seen, Scott captures the Doctor and accuses him of being responsible. They are then attacked by two figures who do not register on the monitors.

They are androids. Their weapons have totally disintegrated the missing scientists. They are programmed to protect a buried hatch. Scott and his troops manage to destroy them. When the hatch is opened, it reveals a powerful bomb. The TARDIS systems are used to jam the detonation signal whilst the Doctor defuses it. One of the androids proves to have contained a signal booster. Whoever is trying to detonate the bomb is based somewhere in deep space, as Nyssa tracks the signal there. The culprits are Cybermen.
With the bomb deactivated, the Doctor decides to travel to the source of the signals, and Scott insists on accompanying him, with Kyle and his troopers.
In space, a freighter is approaching Earth. The captain, Briggs, is annoyed at the delays caused by the extra security. Security chief Ringway is more concerned that a couple of crewmembers have gone missing. The TARDIS materialises in the hold, and the Doctor and Adric set out to explore. They are captured by Ringway and taken to the bridge - accused of being behind the disappearances. Second Officer Berger reports strange power fluctuations - the ship's energy is being drained. With their bomb deactivated, the Cyber-Leader has devised a new plan. In the hold are thousands of silos. Each contains a dormant Cyberman. The ship's power is being directed to these. Soon, a whole army of Cybermen is reanimated, and they fight the crew in order to take over the ship.

Ringway reveals that he is in the employ of the Cybermen, paid to smuggle them to Earth. The conference about to start has been designed to forge an alliance against them, and this is why they planted their bomb. Now that this has been foiled, the Cyber-Leader intends to seize the freighter and crash it into the planet. The ship's power systems utilise anti-matter. Scott and Tegan emerge from the TARDIS and give battle with the Cybermen. Ringway is overpowered, but the Doctor fails to stop the invaders taking the bridge. The Cyber-Leader kills Ringway for his incompetence. Tegan is captured, and the Doctor is forced to allow the Cyber-Leader to take the TARDIS - in order to use it to observe the crash. Adric must stay on board with Briggs and Berger. On entering the TARDIS, the Cybermen kill Kyle. A device is installed on the navigation system of the freighter to prevent it being diverted from its collision course. Adric begins to unlock it. His tampering causes the ship's engines to go out of phase and it starts to move back through time. The Cyber-Leader orders the Doctor to follow it. Scott reaches the bridge and frees the captives, and they make for an escape pod.
At the last moment, Adric returns to the bridge to complete his work and the pod leaves without him. A dying Cyberman destroys the locking device - preventing Adric doing any more. The Doctor notes that the freighter has travelled back some 65 million years. It was not an asteroid which destroyed the dinosaurs... The Cybermen have caused humankind to rise, rather than destroy it. Scott radios the ship to say Adric is still on board, but there is nothing the Doctor can do. The freighter crashes - and Adric is killed. The Doctor destroys the Cyber-Leader with the boy's badge for mathematical excellence, which is gold-rimmed. It lies broken on the floor...

This four part adventure was written by Eric Saward, and was broadcast between 8th and 16th March, 1982. The credited script editor is Anthony Root, but he did next to nothing with this - a means whereby Saward could get away with script editing his own script.
The story is significant for two things - the return of the Cybermen after a 7 year absence, and the death of Adric. This was the first companion demise since both Katarina and Sara Kingdom perished in The Daleks' Master Plan back in 1965 / 66. It was obvious that the TARDIS was too crowded, and that someone would have to go. Generally, there wasn't enough plot to go round three companions. The producer's first choice was for Nyssa to leave - but Peter Davison stepped in and fought for Sarah Sutton to be kept on. He always maintained that she was his "best-fit" companion and he would have been happy just to have her and her alone on board the TARDIS. Matthew Waterhouse wasn't happy that he was being killed off - hoping to leave the door open for a potential return at some point.
The Cybermen are totally redesigned since their last appearance. The basic shape of the headpiece is retained, with the trademark handles, but now the chest unit is incorporated into it. A nice touch is the inclusion of the silvered jaw of the actor visible - reminding us that these are not just robots but converted humanoids. The main body of the costume is from a flight-suit, with all the sub-surface heating elements. As with the previous Cyberman story, the Cyber-Leader is denoted by having black handles on his helmet. His No.2 is the Cyber Lieutenant. It is not just their appearance that has undergone a transformation. The Cybermen are once more shown to be a real threat, rather than the bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an antiquated spaceship. They are back, big time.

Since JNT took over as producer, he has started to include some fan-pleasing excerpts from previous stories in the narrative. The demise of the Fourth Doctor had seen glimpses of all of Tom Baker's companions, plus a few of his adversaries. In Part Two of this story, the Cyber-Leader informs his Lieutenant about the Doctor - and this is illustrated with clips from The Tenth Planet, The Wheel In Space, and Revenge of the Cybermen. Fans who had wet their trousers at the climactic moment of the previous evening's episode went and wet them all over again.
Onto the guest cast. Woefully miscast is Beryl Reid - one of the worst cases of stunt casting for the publicity ever perpetrated by JNT. The character should be something akin to Ripley from Alien, rather than your grandmother. Scott is James Warwick. he was in Robert Holmes' The Nightmare Man (directed by Douglas Camfield). Kyle is Clare Clifford, who was well known for medical soap Angels. Berger is June Bland, who will return to the series as the blind landlord's wife in Battlefield.
The Cyber-Leader is David Banks - a part he will reprise for the remainder of the Classic Series. His Lieutenant is Mark Hardy, who will also reprise this role.
Episode endings are:
  1. Realising that the bomb signal is being boosted from elsewhere, the Doctor wonders who might be responsible. Cut to the Cyber-Leader and his Lieutenant. "Destroy them. Destroy them at once!"...
  2. Exploring the hold, the Doctor and Adric hear screams and find two dead crewmen. Ringway suddenly appears behind them, telling them that murderers are executed on this ship...
  3. On the freighter's scanner, the Doctor sees that there are hundreds of Cybermen...
  4. Adric's broken star badge lies on the floor...

Overall, still one of the great Doctor Who stories. It was voted 24th out of 241 in last year's DWM anniversary poll. The Cybermen are brought back and brought back well. The first cliffhanger is still one of the best ever. Adric has been poorly written of late, and Matthew Waterhouse's performance has often shown up his inexperience, so it is time for him to go. He might not have been happy with the way he went, but it made for a real shock at the time - no pun intended.
Things you might like to know:
  • The decision was taken to roll the end credits of Part Four silently, with the broken badge against a black background. At the time it seemed the sensible way to do it but, on watching later, it does look a bit naff. JNT got the idea from Coronation Street, when one episode went out with silent end credits, but that was for the death of Rovers Return stalwart Minnie Caldwell, who was a bit of a national treasure. Adric just never quite warranted the same respect.
  • Despite being a fan of a certain age, I have so far managed to avoid the "you had to have been there" bit that a lot of others come up with. But the end of Part One makes this an exception. You Had To Have Been There - that evening, 8th March 1982. When people talk about squealing and running around the room (or indeed losing control of their bladder functions), they aren't making it up. 
  • Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street was first choice to play Briggs. Still wouldn't have worked.
  • You'll notice that the Cyberman chin sections become opaque after a while. This was due to the battery packs, on the top of their heads, sliding down the actors' faces as perspiration unstuck the tape holding them in place.
  • And look out for the lady reading a script under a stairwell at one point (as Tegan is on the stairs).
  • One of the android costumes will return, with a respray, for the Raston Warrior Robot in The Five Doctors - where it slaughters Cybermen. Oh, the irony.
  • The Cyber control console contains elements reused from the set of the "Nostromo", in Alien.
  • The dialogue accompanying the clip from The Wheel In Space refers to events in Tomb of the Cybermen. At the time of production, that story was still lost and no relevant clips existed.
  • Of course the story is not perfect. Some things don't make sense (but when the Cybermen have a plan, things rarely do). The Cyber-Leader can get quite emotional at times, and we also see a couple of Cybermen apparently having a bit of a gossip in a corridor. There are still loads of them on the freighter after the others have left, and their reactivation is never explained - we just get a cut to a lever moving by itself.
  • "So, we meet again - Time Lord". At the time, this sounded as if it was this specific Cyber-Leader who had met the Doctor before. He could have been referring to we, as in the Cybermen as a whole, of course. It has since been established that when a Cyber-Leader is destroyed, its knowledge, experience etc. are transferred to another Cyberman who then gets upgraded.
  • As well as reprising the Cyber-Leader role for the remaining Cyber stories through to 1988, David Banks got quite obsessed with them. He also played the Cyber-Leader in The Ultimate Adventure stage play (and the mercenary leader, plus getting to play the Doctor when Jon Pertwee took ill), as well as writing a book about them - which includes the first serious attempt at Cyber-Chronology. And he also penned a Cyberman New Adventures novel (Iceberg).

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