Thursday, January 28, 2010

6B2 - Earthshock 2

What sets apart Earthshock from pretty much every other classic series Doctor Who story ever made is the pace of events, or rather, the apparent pace of events. On the whole, just about as much, if not even less, has happened by the end of Episode Two than in any other four-part story. The Cybermen are still in hiding (a pre-requisite in Cybermen stories, it seems), having apparently only just killed their first two victims, and The Doctor has only just arrived on the freighter.

But it's the sheer number of quick little scenes, cut together and directed with expert precision by Peter Grimwade, that makes it seem like this story just hums along. Look at the sequence where The Doctor diffuses the Cyberbomb in the caves. There are three separate scenes that are occurring during this sequence - one in the cave with The Doctor and Adric, one in the freighter where the Cybermen are watching the countdown, and a third in the TARDIS with Nyssa and the others observing The Doctor's progress. There are about 40-50 different cuts between the three sequences during that whole sequence, and it is exhilarating to watch.

Such a thing is commonplace in today's production of Doctor Who, or in television production in general. But these scenes in Earthshock were shot in the same conditions as every other 1980s story had to contend with, and in the space of five or six days in the studio. Each time we cut back to a scene, even thought the dialogue between the characters picks up from where they were in the last scene, the camera has changed position, different shots have had to be lined up, and so on. That Peter Grimwade managed to squeeze in every one of these shots, yet actually make them look good, as well as getting top notch performances out of the cast (despite being not at all popular with them because of his methods), is an extraordinary achievement and one that often gets overlooked. Grimwade was a great talent, one of a handful of people who wrote and directed for Doctor Who (as well as his years spent as a production assistant), and a person who we lost far too soon.


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