Doctor Who: Earthshock finds Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor nicely settling into the role, initially displaying some crotchety short temper that harks back to William Hartnell’s incarnation of the Doctor, effectively setting up the most emotionally powerful finale in the show’s 26-year run.
In this, the penultimate adventure of Doctor Who‘s 19th season, a scientific expedition in a cave system on 25th-century Earth is wiped out. An army rescue unit led by Lieutenant Scott (James Warwick) and including the one woman, Professor Kyle (Claire Clifford) who survived the original massacre, goes in to recover the bodies. The scenario deliberately evokes Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), and uncannily foreshadows James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), developing into a tense actioner on a space freighter bound for Earth carrying a very deadly cargo of Cybermen.
Tightly paced, refreshingly free of the camp humour that sometimes blighted the show in the 1980s, and with a notable guest turn from Beryl Reid as the ship’s captain, Earthshock is one of the Doctor’s finest adventures. Overlook a few gaping plot holes and by the end they simply won’t matter; when the final credits roll in silence the effect is as powerful now as it was shocking to audiences back in 1981. If only Star Trek: The Next Generation had done the same to Wesley Crusher!
On the DVD: Doctor Who: Earthshock is presented in the original broadcast 4:3 with a near flawless picture, though the source videotape does show just the occasional sign of damage. The mono sound is excellent. The extras begin with a strong 32-minute documentary, more retrospective than making-of. Then comes the commentary, with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), which like so many Who commentaries is both informative and wonderful fun. Both commentary and the episodes have optional subtitles. Other options include detailed on-screen information titles, an isolated musical score, and the ability to watch with selected effects shots replaced with new computer graphics. There’s a scored, five-minute photo gallery that even includes a shot from the recording of the commentary, a pointless assemblage of the seven minutes of footage shot on film, and a three-minute clip montage set to a dreadful techno reworking of the title theme to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary. Much more interesting is a 10-minute section from arts review Did You See? looking back on the show’s aliens, and including clips from Earthshock, while the very brief Episode 5 is a hilarious new animation. –Gary S Dalkin