Doctor Who episode 574: Earthshock – Part Three (15/3/1982)
‘Apprehended! Why can’t he say caught? So melodramatic!’ There are moments of visual brilliance in this (the Cybermen fused into a shield door; the Tomb-inspired scenes of Cybermen waking from hibernation and bursting out of cling-film). The bits lifted from Alien – like the scenes where the alien hunt is watched on a ship schematic – are new to Doctor Who, and quite punchy. Brigg’s horrified realisation that there are 15 thousand Cybermen aboard is great.
But… The characterisation is all over the place. Berger seems to swing between criticising Briggs for listening to the Doctor (‘Why are you listening to this fool? He’ll say anything to wriggle his way out of it.’) then siding with him, and then recommending he get locked up. Briggs seems totally unbothered by her crew’s murder, making her deeply unsympathetic, but then declaring ‘we must help.’ The Cyber Leader is as emotional as he was in Revenge, relishing the idea of making the Doctor ‘suffer for our past defeats.’ Ringway gets killed offhandedly with no pay-off for his betrayal. Nyssa and Kyle wring their hands in the TARDIS and bemoan, ‘Is there nothing positive we can do?’ in cutaways that seem to have been written to remind us they exist, and to allow Saward to claim the prize for the show’s most scenes ever.
This choppiness actually makes the story harder to follow than it needs to be – the biggest issue with most of Saward’s scripts. It has a magpie freneticism, hopping from one thing to the next, and risks becoming noisy pictures. Things happen then are immediately undone – the Doctor forgets there are two doors into the bridge and having secured one is immediately captured via the other. ‘I should have realised,’ he says haplessly. He’s again desperate to use the TARDIS to prove his credentials to Ringway because he hasn’t got the wit to think of anything else.
I admire the ambition of this, but I wish as much thought had been put into things like characterisation and motivation as making sure a bunch of stuff is happening. The end result starts to look like one of those frenzied Whose Line Is It Anyway? sketches.
Next episode: Earthshock – Part Four