Thursday, January 28, 2010

6B1 - Earthshock 1

As fresh a change in style and direction as the John Nathan-Turner era has been in the nearly two seasons since he took over the reins of Doctor Who, with Episode One of Earthshock, you can tell that this story might just be the best thing that JNT ever directly engineered in his time Doctor Who.

That's not to say that the remaining seven years of his time as producer were worse than Earthshock, but Earthshock was made when JNT was still hungry to make changes for the better, and in a time when the words "cancellation", "hiatus", "firing", and "just one more year" hadn't worn his will down to a bloody nub. Episode One of Earthshock contains so much that is brilliant - a tense, rapid script from Eric Saward (who was about to become the series' next, and penultimate, script editor), some brilliant set design for the caves (complemented by some superb moody lighting), and some terrifying androids whose shapeless ambiguity and lethal powers made them some of the most effective enemies seen in the series.

But despite accumulating the right people for the rights (including director Peter Grimwade, about whom more later), JNT's greatest success was to block any publicity of the return of the Cybermen after seven years to ensure their surprise appearance at the end of Episode One. This is the same JNT who had a penchant for casting light entertainment stars (including one, Beryl Reid, in this story), especially as his era went along, to try and bolster Doctor Who in the public eye. Turning down the Radio Times cover for this story was the key moment in JNT's era. Little did he know at the time that he would only have one more opportunity to have Doctor Who grace the cover, and such an honour was no certainty even in the wildly popular Tom Baker era.

The shock appearance of the newly redesigned Cybermen at the end of Episode One is a moment that Doctor Who fans who saw it at the time still remember today. Very rarely is there a definite shared experience in Doctor Who in its long history, but a country of twelve-year-olds can tell you where they were and what they did when the Cybermen returned. Doctor Who, to borrow a phrase from another popular TV show in the UK at around the same time, had their "Who Shot JR" moment. In eschewing any publicity, Doctor Who gained more positive publicity than it ever could have hoped to gain, making Episode One of Earthshock one of the landmark moments in Doctor Who history.


Brackers said...

Unless you grow up watching it on VHS, where there's a bloody great Cyberman on the front cover. Missed out on that surprise, sadly.

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