What’s It About?
An archeological team disappears in a recently exposed network of caves. A military investigation looks for answers and finds the Doctor, Nyssa, Teagan, and Adric, who have materialized in the cave after the Doctor and Adric had an argument over whether or not it was possible to return to E-Space. The team falls under attack by two mysterious androids who are guarding something alien.
Eating a Well-Prepared Meal
I’m trying to decide what I think of the title “Earthshock.” While I suppose it works to refer to the shock wave from the collision of the freighter and the earth which this story posits is the reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs, it more accurately seems to refer to the two major shocks in this story, both of which are rather muted due to modern marketing and information-obsessed internet culture.
At the time, the two shocking moments in this story were the return of the Cybermen at the end of episode one and the death of Adric at the end of the story. Neither of these was revealed to the press ahead of time. Neither was used for marketing. And so, the shock was very real and unexpected. However, any copy of “Earthshock” on DVD or VHS has a Cyberman on the cover, thus negating the first shock, and any casual research into Doctor Who story developments or companions reveal that Adric died. There is no shock.
But is the death of Adric really so shocking? Sure, from the standpoint of character death in a fairly light show which has not had a major character death since the 1960s, yes, it would be shocking. But was Adric liked enough to elicit a moment of genuine surprise? As the story stands, I think Adric’s death is nothing more than trivia about the show; why is “Earthshock” important? Because Adric died. But Adric has not been an interesting character since season eighteen. This could be due to the current production team and script editor. This could be due to having too many companions in the TARDIS. Regardless, Adric’s death is not very meaningful (he had a way out), and many fans of the show didn’t like him anyway. His death is now marked by the question of whether people cry or cheer. But is it Adric’s fault that his character hasn’t been written well for this entire era? Is it Matthew Waterhouse’s fault that there were too many companions that the writers didn’t really have a way to handle them well? None of the companions at this point are interesting. They have potential, but that potential is never achieved, but the hate falls disproportionately on Adric, I think, because falls into the child-identification trope and because stories about Waterhouse on the set painted him in a bad light.
But stories are stories. In the commentary of “Earthshock,” the cast complains about Peter Grimwade’s directing, but the results of the directing show that Grimwade knew what he was doing. “Earthshock” is extremely well direct. From a production standpoint, “Earthshock” is nearly flawless. And I genuinely think that is what works in this story’s favor. The direction is great. The pace is perfect. This is Doctor Who at its action-packed, suspenseful best. But apart from these production points and the well-handled shocking moments, there isn’t really much to this story. If given to another director, this story would have fallen flat because there is nothing below the surface of the story. “Earthshock” is base-under-siege revisionism, putting it more firmly on the “Visitation” side of the season as opposed to the “Kinda” side of the season. “Earthshock” looks backward rather than looking forward.
For me, I really enjoy “Earthshock.” It is a lot of fun, although I admit that I now find Adric’s death a hindrance to the story. But when it comes to Doctor Who that fires my imagination or fills me with joy at having watched something brilliant, “Earthshock” doesn’t satisfy. It is fun, but it is consciously formulaic, attempting to connect with the distant past of the show in a way that feel superficial in a we-can-do-that-type-of-thing-better-than-they-did way.