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25 May 2014 @ 07:40 pm
The Randomizer: Earthshock  
Ooh! it was fascinating to watch this (Eric Sawards other "masterpiece") so close to Revelation of the Daleks. I liked this much better.

It's fascinating because Earthshock shares many features with Revelation - particularly the slow build to the introduction of the Doctor. However it also has some stark contrasts - it isn't particularly trying to be funny, and it is much more restrained when it comes to pointless deaths. In general, in this story, when a character has served their purpose they are shuffled quietly to one side rather than being randomly killed off. That said though poor old Professor Kyle gets sidelined and then bumped off, and Adric's has to be a considerably higher profile pointless death than any in Revelation (I recall being upset by it at the time, though not as upset as I was by the end of Blakes' 7). Adric incidentally, is really very brattish in part 1 of this story (as is the Doctor, to be fair), much as fan opinion has presented him though not as I actually recalled the character. The story is certainly attempting to showcase him a bit, presumably in the build up to his death, but the TARDIS crew feels over-crowded and it isn't really Adric's story in any particular way.

Episode 1 is really interesting. It is almost a separate story and my memory of it, as scary and gripping, was mostly accurate. It works as a self-contained doctor-less atmosphere piece in a way, I think, the first episode of Revelation does not. Of course Revelation's first episode is twice as long which means it's original characters have to carry the audience a lot longer than those in Earthshock do, but I think it is also much less focused than Earthshock's exploration of the tunnels. It does suffer, slightly, from "let's split up" syndrome though - tame layman started muttering about it. I also very clearly remember my excitement at the reveal of the Cybermen at the end of the episode, a surprise the DVD doesn't even attempt to replicate (there are Cybermen on the cover).

There are a lot of women in Earthshock. When I went back and compared to Revelation of the Daleks I realised there were a lot of women there too so it was curious I found it far more obvious in Earthshock. I suspect that is because of a combination of factors. Of the (by my reckoning) five main speaking parts in Earthshock (outside the TARDIS crew), three are female while in Revelation there are twelve main speaking parts of which three are female so the proportion is much lower. I think the larger number of main parts also suggests that Revelation of the Daleks is trying to do too much in its running time, something I'd not really considered as part of my dissatisfaction with it. I think it is also striking that, to my memory, all the extras in Revelation of the Daleks (all the low-level workers at Tranquil Repose) are women while the extras in Earthshock (mostly soldiers) seem pretty evenly split among the sexes - in an odd way I think the predominance of women in the Tranquil Repose workforce makes them seem less significant than their more equal weighting in Earthshock by suggesting that they are doing "women's work".

I don't think Earthshock's last three episodes are as good as its first Doctor-lite episode, but they remain pretty solid. At the time there was considerable surprise at Beryl Reid's strong performance as a starship captain. I don't think it is a great performance. I felt she was working a little too hard, and was more strident than authoritative which seemed to be what the script was striving for. That said, it was streaks ahead of Sylvia Sims' lack-lustre performance in The Mysterious Planet a few years later which lived down to everyone's expectations of the kind of thing you would get from a Carry On star cast in Doctor Who.

The story is a fairly straightforward and pretty linear - spare characters are mostly kept out of the way in the TARDIS until needed - but I actually think the simpler storytelling works in Earthshock's favour (certainly when compared to Revelation of the Daleks). The nature of the threat is obvious, no one exists purely in order to explain things to the Doctor, there is, in general, less running around and more dealing with problems and obstacles. The characters, in being simpler, are easier to sympathise with than the somewhat unpleasant grotesques in Revelation. I think Revelation's very ambition is its undoing (NB. I realise this is not a universal opinion and that daniel_saunders, at least, rates Revelation highly).

I much preferred Earthshock to Revelation of the Daleks. I think in part this is because I think Eric Saward is being much more restrained. It has a simpler plot structure, fewer characters, comparatively little humour, and allows more people to survive. Saward may (I'm not sure) feel he was being too cautious here. I suspect, in Revelation, he was pushing his vision much harder and opinion is probably divided on whether he went to excess or not. I think he might argue that Earthshock is too enamoured of its military characters and in general too ready to elide over the brutality of which humans are capable in favour of a simplistic contrast to the Cybermen. I thought the simpler tale was more effective.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/116454.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 25th, 2014 10:21 pm (UTC)
Earthshock is a story that I think I like in spite of itself, a classic guilty pleasure. I think I took a while to warm to it because of its position in the Graham Williams versus JNT wars, but even once I got passed that I think I found its linear nature too simplistic. I complained a lot about plot errors and emotional Cybermen when I reviewed it. However, I watched it again about a year ago and enjoyed it a lot more. I probably had to grow up enough to realize that Doctor Who doesn't have to be deep and meaningful all the time. It is basically an action film in a three-camera BBC studio, which shows considerable ambition in itself, and it mostly succeeds in a way that, say Warriors of the Deep does not.

One review I read cited Earthshock as a prime example of a story that has a first episode so great that it overshadows the rest of the story, which I would agree with. That said, I've always found the shift from caves to spaceship clumsy and felt a claustrophobic opening episode could just as easily have been spent in the hold of the ship. I've never understood the criticism of Beryl Reid, but I don't think I've seen her in anything else except the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I had never noticed the relatively large proportion of female characters here and in Revelation. It's interesting as Saward is considered a fairly macho writer (I mean that his writing is macho, not that he himself is). Resurrection of the Daleks also has several female roles, although the female casting of the Cryons in Attack of the Cyberman (assuming Saward wrote it!) was, I believe, a directorial decision.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 29th, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten the emotional Cybermen. Tame layman was muttering about that, though I did think it he was taking it a bit far when he announced "that Cyberman is smug".

I was actually expecting Beryl Reid to be better than I found her this time around. I recall a lot of negative excitement surrounding her casting at the time though (having looked at her filmography on Wikipedia just now) the "oh noes a Carry On actress!" gnashing of teeth would appear more than a little hyperbolic in retrospect. Then, once the story aired, I recall a fair amount of relief at the performance.

And you're right, Resurrection is also notable for having a lot of female roles in it, both as speaking parts and, if memory serves, in the background.
parrot_knight: Davison Clockparrot_knight on May 26th, 2014 12:36 am (UTC)
Revelation takes even longer to bring the Doctor into the action than Earthshock, though it's rapid compared with some other season 22 stories. By the time of Revelation Saward was firmly a student of Robert Holmes and was taking away, perhaps, some of the wrong lessons, including the limited number of female roles. Another factor, as you point out, is that the first episode stands alone, telling most of the caves story where the Doctor and companions begin a parallel exploration to the survey team rather later in the episode, after the character exposition scene in the TARDIS.

Emotional Cybermen have been around since The Moonbase; there's almost always been a suggestion that their proclaimed lack of emotions is self-delusion, or at least a failure to recognise their own emotional capacity.

I think Beryl Reid's casting worked on paper - it's co-opting her butch-leaning lesbian persona from The Killing of Sister George, apparently, which I haven't actually seen - and does on screen even though one can imagine more effective readings of her lines.

Edited at 2014-05-26 12:40 am (UTC)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 29th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
Revelation is clearly twice as leisurely as Earthshock and isn't trying to tell a, more or less, self-contained story with its Doctor-less section. Possibly Saward was learning the wrong lessons not only from Holmes but also from his earlier successes.