Thursday, 31 March 2011

Attack on the Cybermen 07 - Earthshock

Too much Who is bad for you.  At least that's what I'm starting to think about the cyber stories.  Watching them in a row really doesn't seem to be doing them many favours. However, this could just be these particular stories as, if I think about it for a bit, the dalek ones have a lot more variety (but no, I'm not doing the dalek ones after these, that would just be masochism in the extreme). Tonight's viewing was Earthshock and boy does this story make me schizophrenic.  There are times when I've enjoyed watching it (such as on the recent twitter based view-a-long) but tonight it wasn't fun.  Partially because it's so damn repetitive (more of which to come), partially because in the "larger picture" it doesn't work and mostly because it's pretty crap.

Of course, the one off shock of the episode one cliffhanger can't ever be repeated (without lethal doses of alcohol anyway) so a lot of the viewing is done in the knowledge that the cybermen are turning up. I did try and put this out of my mind though, honest!  However, in doing so episode one became something of a cliche ridden drag.  People start getting killed, Doctor and co turn up and are accused.  Doctor charms his way out of it, real monster turns up, sting into theme. In the 24 and a bit minutes we've got clunky looking technology (even by 1980s standards some of the gear looks old fashioned), the obligatory soap opera TARDIS scenes (actually they're not too bad here but they do add to the rather padded feel of the story), cave sets less realistic than those in The Silurians (and by trying to explain away the whole lighting issue they just draw attention to it and make their explanation seem even more implausible than it might have been) and lots of sniggering like a schoolboy from me at all the talk of "going down" in the opening sequences.  The music's lovely though and people do seem to be taking it deadly seriously.  Sadly, once the cybermen turned up, I couldn't join them in doing so.

Having only watched Revenge of the Cybermen the other night it's very difficult not to spot the parallels plot wise.  Bomb in a convenient cave system that the Doctor manages to diffuse so the cybermen turn to plan B which is to turn a space ship into a giant flying bomb to blow it up instead. The problem being, Revenge did it better in my mind.  In Revenge there was the charm of the double agent, a vaguely realistic scenario where a geologist went down to Voga to map it out and presumably started the discussions and planning. Here there seems to be an absolutely huge plot gone on in the background that my mind can't quite fill in.  So, the Earth's on red alert so the cybermen went down to the planet to blow it up.  Presumably though they must have done it before it was put on red alert so how far in advance was the gathering announced and how quickly did the cybermen act? More importantly, how did they then also put together plan B which involved  finding a freighter with a bribeable crew member and getting it to pick up 15,000 shrink wrapped cybermen.  Unless, of course, plan B was the original Plan A and then the bomb thing just occurred to them when they found out about the conference? Though if it was only done when they found out about the conference, how did they get down there to plant the bomb in the first place?  The Doctor sort of asks these questions in episode two but they're never actually really answered...

Actually, a quick side comment about the androids... why are they different heights?  Do you think the cybermen ordered a tall one and a shorter one, or was the shorter one cheaper as it had a manufacturing defect?

My next issue is the sudden knowledge the cybermen have about the Doctor, the TARDIS and the time lords.  They seem to know EVERYTHING. They saw the TARDIS briefly in Tenth Planet but seemed to make no comment about it.  In the Moonbase they might have seen it on the surface of the moon but at no point did they go "Oi, you've got a time lord in there".  They never left their Tomb, it was invisible in Invasion mostly (even though there was the random missile fired from the dark side of the moon) and absent in Revenge.  Did they get up to serious investigation whilst the rest of us slept through The Wheel in Space?  Mind you, they have the advantage that they have all the adventures somehow recorded to be played back on their viewing screen.  And how convenient that they started with a first Doctor clip, then showed the second when, chronologically, they would have recorded Patrick Troughton first of all.... The clunkiness of the technology continues through the story as well, with the cyberbomb having a convenient set of seven segment displays to indicate a timer and a big red button for them to push to detonate the device.  I can, in part, understand why there's a padded leather chair on the freighter but are moon boots really the most practical footwear for a cyberman? 

Side note number two:  The cybermen see the TARDIS dematerialise and are able to track it through space through to the freighter where it rematerialises... have we got space flight TARDIS again?

Once the "action" reaches the freighter things start to become painfully padded and confused.  We get lots of corridor action (along with TARDIS based padding scenes for Nyssa) and talk of the "anti-cybermen" gathering which is vitally important.... even though no one seems to actually recognise the cybermen when they see them or when the Doctor names them.  Then there's the fortunate sci-fi convention that even if something's from another universe it's exactly the same as though it was from ours, in this case the gold edge to Adric's badge. In case you didn't remember 7 years back, we get the reminder that the gold effectively suffocates them.  Followed by the Doctor dismissing the suggestion to pump the air out of the hold because the cybermen don't need air.  Right.  Okay. 

Episode four seems to want to break the record for the most stupidities in one story.  We've got magic time travel that has no ill effects for anyone or anything.  Yup, just attach an alien device to your navigational computer and suddenly you can time travel (something that the ultra advanced cybermen don't seem to realise).  There's the sci-fi convention that if you travel back in time then the Earth is conveniently exactly where it was when you started your journey (rather than being millions of light years away), you've got the nearly destroyed cyberman who just makes it to the bridge in time to blow up the computer and then expire.  The ship develops mood lighting just in time for Adric's death and the cyberleader also seems to know the details of how to fly the TARDIS. 

The worst thing about Earthshock, other than being a retread of Revenge of the Cybermen without the funness, is that the cybermen aren't really cybermen.  There's no threat of conversion, there's no spare part nature to them, they're a bunch of "more than robots" who come across as silvery thugs who try and hide the fact they do really have emotions by passing them off as scientific research.  It's a mess of a story that really doesn't deserve any sort of "classic" status.  Oh well.  At least when I did it as the tweetview I was doing it with others so had lots to distract me from its crapness.  On a concentrated viewing.... ho hum.

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