Earthshock

Adric is dead, and I find myself upset about that. This is a surprise, given that he’s a rubbish companion, played by a not terribly good actor, and that the show can only be improved by his absence. Plus, I’ve seen this once before – probably over a decade ago – and I knew exactly what was coming. But despite all of this, I feel moved and emotional. It’s partially due to the effect his death has on the other characters – is it still fridging if it’s a bloke that dies? – but mainly, I think, due to the quality of the execution.

The scale has to be huge in order to justify the death of a companion. I mean, this wasn’t quite as epic as the last time it happened, but still – he sacrificed his life to save the Earth, even if, somewhat aptly, the way he did it was largely accidental. But more than this, the direction gave it so much gravitas, and the frantic pace of the closing episode whipped the plot up to a point where desperate measures were required.

It was startling enough to see The Doctor and his companions using guns – in the console room, of all places – but you felt like they had no choice. Similarly, everyone who travels with The Doctor is imbued with qualities that will make them risk their lives to chase lost causes, but Adric seemed to be at a point of no return. This cause was so lost that he couldn’t solve everything, and nor could he be rescued or find a way to escape. It was so brilliantly done.

Adric didn’t have the best start to his final adventure; his temper tantrums a timely reminder of why he had to go. He was like a stroppy teenager in his bedroom, with The Doctor as his inattentive dad. On reflection, this has not been the greatest TARDIS dynamic, and I’m glad that it’s over – the aftermath of his death will give everything a good old shake up, and having one fewer companion will give the others more to do. Tegan rocked the boiler suit/trolley-dolly make-up combo here, and Nyssa – for possibly the first time – got her chance to shine when she assumed the position of power in The Doctor’s absence. More of this, please.

But anyway, after that initial wobble, Adric was actually pretty decent for the remainder of the story. It’s possibly his best performance ever, certainly of this season. When he and The Doctor pair off to go exploring/get captured, he’s useful, competent, not-annoying, and generally on his way to becoming more of an equal partner. Of course, this contributes to the tragedy of it all, but you also can’t ignore the quality of Waterhouse’s performance in the death scenes. “Now I’ll never know if I was right” is iconic, and the look he gives as he waits for the inevitable – the lost little boy – is just heart-breaking.

Oh yeah, also: The Cybermen are back! Man, that cliffhanger to episode one was so good. If I’d have been watching at the time, I would never have expected them in a million years. I mean, aside from the aforementioned previous viewing, the DVD cover does slightly give away the “shock” element from the title. But at least they didn’t go so far as to plonk on a sticker saying “the one where Adric dies”.

But anyway, I am glad to see them back. After such a long absence, it’s nicely nostalgic, and the recap of previous encounters was a great touch. Sadly, I am categorically not a fan of 80s Cybermen, from what I’ve seen. The design’s not terrible, and I can live with the fact that they’re nowhere near as creepy as they were in the ’60s. But I can’t get past all  the “excellent” nonsense. That’s an emotional response! You have no emotions!

It’s such a shame, because it almost all works, but there seems to be this crucial element that’s missing, and it happens to be what made them so appealing in the first place. If they want to capture The Doctor alive, it should be because they need him, not because “he should be made to suffer”. Revenge is not logical.

And it’s especially baffling that these inconsistencies exist, considering much of the best material comes from The Doctor and the Cyber Leader having these exact debates about logic vs emotion. Davison is brilliant in these scenes, and the Doctor’s dialogue is so sharp. That said, episode three contains a line that’s always stuck with me, as an example of either the best or worst Cybermen dialogue ever: “It is a word like any other. And so is ‘destruction’. Which is what we are going to do… to that planet.”

Oh man, I’ve written so much. Just quickly: the guest cast were great too, even though it was weird to have so many randomers in the TARDIS for two serials in a row. Beryl Reid was brilliant; an inspired choice to have an older woman playing a hardened space captain. I just loved this serial.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Doctor Who definitely peaked at some point in the mid-to-late ’70s. The consistency is long gone, and some utterly bizarre production decisions are sneaking in. But every now and then, an episode like this will come along and completely blow me away, which not only makes this project continually worthwhile, but also cements my belief that Doctor Who has an intrinsic, indefatigable brilliance that makes it very special indeed.

RATING: 10

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