5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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"I've just composed a particularly nasty epitaph for him."
Given that we knew what happens to Adric, needless to say we were looking forward to Earthshock. Most irritating companion of all time buys the farm - what's not to like?
Sadly, quite a lot. In fact, we found Earthshock one of the most unwatchable Doctor Who stories ever.
The first episode's apparently popular with a lot of people, but we're damned if we can see why. Yes, the androids are cool, but apart from that the plot's so seen-it-all-before that we had to pinch ourselves to stay awake.
Somewhere in a quarry (it's a mystery how any quarrying gets done at all, given that the things are constantly overrun by film crews), a bunch of vaguely futuristic Blake's 7-ish troopers investigate mysterious deaths in some underground passages. Blithely ignoring the strange flares on the radar (what did they lug it along for if they weren't going to pay any attention to it?), back and forth they go, gradually getting picked off and ending up as everybody's favourite - a pile of green goo. This is mildly interesting the first time it happens, but pretty bloody boring every time thereafter. What kind of military strategist is their leader anyway, sending off yet more people to be killed every time some of them disappear off the radar? Just to show that intellectual acuity isn't exactly his forte, after the scientist says she'll show them where her colleagues were killed, he says "Just in case she is lying, put her upfront where we can see her." Good plan, Scott, considering she'll be leading the way.
Meanwhile, in the TARDIS Adric is spitting the dummy, whining that the Doctor never has time to answer his questions (what is this, the University of Gallifrey?) and insisting on taking his ball and going home. Instead of giving him a well-deserved drop-kick through the TARDIS doors, the Doctor elects to throw his toys out of the pram as well, and they have an undignified little spat more worthy of a harassed primary school teacher than a Time Lord. (Have we mentioned how much we dislike this Doctor?) For once, we actually found ourselves in agreement with Adric when he says "Do you know, I think since his regeneration he's become decidedly immature". The Doctor delivers the unforgivable "I'm going outside now, I might be gone some time" and slams out of the TARDIS in a huff.
Back in the tunnels, it's the same old same old, enlivened only by priceless dialogue like "I've damaged my shoulder." "Can you walk?" and the radar operator telling Snyder "Get out of there, the others are dead!" just after he's seen all three lights wink off the screen. The troopers bump into the Doctor and, surprise surprise, suspect him of murder. Fortunately, that doesn't last long: they blow up the androids (boo), the Doctor discovers a bomb behind a cat flap and - ta da! - it's the Cybermen who are behind it all. Now if you like the Cybermen, this is probably a pretty thrilling moment, but given that we find them only slightly more interesting than watching our nail polish dry, all it did was plunge us into unspeakable gloom.
Gloom well-deserved, too, sinced yawnful as the first episode is, it only goes downhill from there. The troopers, who don't know the Doctor from a bar of soap, cheerfully let him whisk them away to some random freighter. The Cyberleader (whose inexplicable popularity we can only put down to his amusement value, given his cheesy delivery of even cheesier lines like "So, we meet again, Doctor") has a squint at old footage of the Doctor's previous incarnations and somehow from this manages to unerringly pick out the current one. For an emotionless being, he displays a considerable amount of glee at this, not to mention at various other times annoyance, sulking and smugness. (Wait a minute. Adric wasn't a Cyberman in disguise, was he?)
Adric insists on going on a recce with the Doctor, then spends the whole time trying to drag the Doctor back to the TARDIS. The Doctor manages to get himself suspected of murder again, which must be a record even for him, then vast numbers of Cybermen, hilariously wrapped in polythene, unpack themselves.
Apparently the army of the future is a lot more democratic than it is today, as one trooper decides to stay in the TARDIS as the others sally forth. The TARDIS's vast wardrobes on this occasion appear to come up blank, as Tegan insists on commandeering the girl's overalls; Scott lets her go with them, proving once again that he's not very bright, while Nyssa bizarrely stays put, hiding behind the console.
Endless running up and down corridors then ensues, with bodies piling up underfoot. On the bridge, it's business as usual when nobody will listen to the Doctor. Then there's a lot of excitement about stabilising the shields to keep the Cybermen out, and in the nick of time the Doctor freezes a Cyberman halfway through the door. Hurrah! Unfortunately, about half a second later more of 'em crash through another door. So much for that.
The Cyberleader effortlessly outwits the Doctor, forcing him to admit he cares about the fate of his companions. But the Doctor has the last laugh, abandoning Adric on the bridge with a cheerful handshake and even wishing him good luck. We've said it before and we'll say it again - no other Doctor would allow this kind of situation to come up in the first place, and no other Doctor would ever, ever voluntarily abandon a companion to take his chances. Now we know it's Adric, and the Doctor's probably as keen to see the back of him as the rest of us, but that's no excuse. It's about as unDoctorly as you can get.
Right about now, the mountain of plot stupidities gets too high to see over. If the Cybermen were able to sneak effortlessly onto Earth to plant their bomb, why all this faffing about with the freighter? Aren't fifteen thousand Cybermen against a crew of ten just slightly overkill? And exactly where are they "evacuated" to, anyway? If there's some massive conference going on on Earth about the Cybermen, how come Scott has never heard of them? The Cyberleader uses the Doctor's TARDIS because "the fleets are too far away" - so what was he planning to do if the Doctor hadn't shown up? And hello - state of grace, people?
Horrible, horrible, horrible. And the smaller idiocies are teeth-grindingly annoying, too. The Doctor explains that gold clogs the Cybermens' respiratory systems, then later announces that they don't need air. Tegan announces that guns really aren't the Doctor's style at all, shortly after which the Doctor blows a hole in the Cyberleader with a fecking great rifle. The Cybermen are sent off to search the TARDIS, for absolutely no reason that we can see. What were they expecting to find?
And then there's Adric. It's all supposed to be terribly moving: after tapping in the final code while standing practically on the other side of the room, he just has time for one last blank cross-eyed look before he is no more - cue credits rolling silently over the ever-so-poignant image of the broken badge. Got your handkerchief out yet?
We haven't. In fact, we think the whole thing couldn't have been flatter. The ending's supposed to show Adric engaged in this great act of heroism, sacrificing himself to save the lives of others, but we don't think so. It seems clear to us that what's important to Adric is solving the logic puzzle: that's why he dashes out of the lift, and that's why he says "Now I'll never know if I was right". And to top it off, it's all utterly pointless - not only does Adric fail to stop the freighter crashing, it wouldn't have made any difference in terms of people-saving if he had, and by changing the timeline he might even have prevented people appearing altogether. As for the scene with the girls sobbing on each other's shoulders while throwing reproachful looks at the Doctor, it's pure corn. Other scenes in Doctor Who have made us cry like babies, but this left us completely cold.
Apart from the androids, we can't think of a single thing about this story that we like. The original Cybermen were a bit dull, but at least they were scary: here any scariness is totally undercut by their constant emoting. Since it's pushing it far too far to expect us to believe that anyone actually likes Adric, all that adorable byplay between him and the Doctor goes down like a cup of cold vomit. The second episode's practically a carbon copy of the first, and all of them involve far too much tramping up and down corridors and red-shirt extras dying in heaps. The bomb plot simply defies belief, as does poor old Nyssa being forced to skulk in the TARDIS while Tegan makes like Ripley with a toothache.
The whole thing's a total, horrific mess. Come to think of it, as Adric's swansong that couldn't be more appropriate.
MORAL: Beware of hitchhikers.
YOU AIN'T SEEN ME, RIGHT?
Down in the caves, the last trooper in the line hears a noise and turns round. However, he fails to spot the honking great shadow moving along the wall.
CONGRATULATIONS, IT'S A TIME TOT
Scanner Guy says the Doctor's signal is ectopic and that this means he has two hearts. Huh? Women who've had an ectopic pregnancy might be a tad surprised about this.
ARE YOU SURE THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING?
Yep, it's the girls that keep tripping over again - mind you, given Tegan's hilarious high-heeled combat boots it's not all that surprising.
IT'S JUST A JUMP TO THE LEFT
On android-cam, the people it's looking at are in a different configuration than in the camera view - the android sees Tegan to the Doctor's left when a few seconds before the scientist was next to him.
NEWS AT TEN
Check out those bizarre "doinnng!" noises at some of the beginnings/ends of the early Cybermen scenes.
"Androids are just people"? What's the Doctor on about?
Doesn't that bomb look suspiciously like a ghetto blaster?
KLINGONS ON THE STARBOARD BOW
"Warp drive"? "Set on stun"? Has Eric Saward got no imagination at all?
IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS
The Cyberleader stabs at a button and misses - yet we still get the communicator-type noise.
Yay! We found one more thing we like! It's cool the way the script drops a clue that Ringway's a traitor by having him say "apprehend" after the Cybermen say it. They even have the Captain pick up on it in case we didn't notice.
IT'S THE SITS VAC, IF SHE'S GOT ANY SENSE
Just after Tegan complains she's exhausted, you can see a metal tube waving around, then there's a woman in the background looking at pages of something as they go up the stairs.
Those columns of marching Cybermen at the end of episode three are all-too-visibly mirror images - watch for the disappearance of the middle one's right hand as he gets closer. In the recap at the beginning of the next episode, they cut just before this so the hand doesn't give it away.
EYES DOWN, LOOK IN
It must be tough seeing through those Cybermasks - a Cyberman stumbles when negotiating the steps around the bodies, and the Cyberleader trips slightly on the bottom step when ushering the Doctor away from the bridge.
ALL THESE HUMANS LOOK THE SAME
When there are only four troopers left, a Cyberman grabs the only woman as the others dash into the TARDIS. However, once inside the TARDIS, the woman has magically reappeared while one of the men has vanished. Once back outside again, it reverses once more.