March 16th is a significant day in the history of Doctor Who with FOUR momentous moments!
Earthshock: Part 4
First Broadcast March 16th 1982 @ 7.05pm (9.6m viewers)
Viewers watching Doctor Who live vicariously through the onscreen companions as they go on adventures through time and space with the Doctor. However, at times the audience needs reminding that the journey is not always a safe one. Amazingly, given the nasty monstrosities which the TARDIS crew encounter on a weekly basis they always survive to fight another day, those at home watching safe in the knowledge that the Doctor will win. Well, in this case, he doesn’t.
Over the last few years of Tom Baker’s tenure in the role there was little in Doctor Who which genuinely surprised the audience. Whilst producer John Nathan-Turner was often criticised for his attempts to woo the press to promote the programme he was very keen to keep the return of the Cybermen a big secret, declining the front cover of the Radio Times in order to achieve that. Similarly, Adric’s appearance in part two of ‘Time Flight’ meant that Matthew Waterhouse was credited in the issue of Radio Times for the following week which was published on the same day as this episode aired, thus concealing the dramatic conclusion to the story.
This episode is one of the most riveting examples of Doctor Who ever made, consisting of over 100 scenes inside the 24 and a half minutes and so rattles through at a fantastic pace with credit having to go to director Peter Grimwade who actually managed to film it all. Earthshock also features the Cybermen at their very best. With a new design the creatures look more impressive than ever and they also benefit from having David Banks excelling in the role of Cyberleader, proving beyond all doubt that even the monsters can deliver riveting dialogue. As the episode unfolds it seems that for once things are not going to work out as they should.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
The start of Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor saw him accompanied by a trio of companions which at times proved difficult for the writers. Earlier in the season Nyssa was written out of ‘Kinda’ and in this story she would again be stuck in the TARDIS whilst the action occurs elsewhere. As a result it was clear to the production team that the Doctor and three companions was no longer a viable option and one had to go with little debate about which. Adric is left on board the freighter which allows for the Doctor and Tegan to bid him a subtle farewell, however even at this point viewers are still confident that the Time Lord will solve it all, he always does. Faced with the Cybermen’s control device overriding the computer Adric’s skills in mathematics come to the fore for the first time really. Sadly Adric’s confidence in his own abilities result in his demise as he foolishly darts out of the escape pod in order to test his assumptions. Suddenly, an unnerving feeling of tension begins to build as events spiral out of control. If at all possible I would recommend watching the DVD release of the episode with the CGI effects activated as the image of the freighter breaking the Earth’s atmosphere and striking the planet add, no pun intended, real impact. The remaining characters convey the shock and despair equally felt by the audience. Whether you were a fan of Adric or not, the impact of his shocking death would be felt for the remainder of the Fifth Doctor’s era.
Earthshock is, in my humble opinion, the best Doctor Who story ever. It features an iconic enemy at their best, offers an alternative theory to established historical events and also reminds viewers of the drama and emotion which the programme can deliver. Those three elements are unachievable for any other television programme or even big budget movie to match and elevate Doctor Who as a truly unique piece of entertainment.
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Adric – Matthew Waterhouse
Nyssa – Sarah Sutton
Tegan – Janet Fielding
Kyle – Clare Clifford
Scott – James Warwick
Director Peter Grimwade
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Writer Eric Saward
Also first aired On This Day…
- Fury from the Deep: Episode 1
- Death to the Daleks: Part 4
- The King’s Demon: Part 2
- The Caves of Androzani: Part 4
- Timelash: Part 2