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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

25 Comments

  1. Jarl
    January 2, 2015 @ 3:04 am

    This was the first time I had seen the episode, and out of its original context, it's even more alienating. With the cliffhangers edited out, the Cybermen reveal is basically just a single cut from some robots to some other robots. There's not even a sweet musical sting to make up for it. Outside of the context of "Doctor Who reeling in the wake of Star Wars" the action scenes fall even flatter. Of course, Star Wars had ILM doing its laser rotoscoping and Doctor Who had… well, judging by the shoddy production values and ostentatious, bright nature of them, let's assume JNT did it himself. Androzani would later hit on the right way to do sci-fi action scenes with a BBC budget: blanks. Odd that it took so long to rediscover the lost art of the Pertwee years…
    Anyways, in the context of the Doctors Revisited we don't care about Adric because we've never met him, we don't care about Cybermen because they're a yearly presence (and the 80s were the worst years of Cyber-designs), we don't care about the action because it's terrible, really all we care about is the Doctor (who's… well, very much the stereotypical 5th Doctor in this story) and about the plot, which actually ends up bizarrely playing to the serial's strength by revealing to the audience who just finished series 7 the exact nature of the war described in Nightmare in Silver.

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  2. Tom
    January 2, 2015 @ 5:45 am

    The Davison era is enormously hard to pin down – I remember Phil saying he found it a frustrating one to write about, and while Moffat and Tennant are both big fans, I don’t remember them ever crystallising why that is in any very convincing way (aside from “Davison is an excellent actor”, fair enough). The reason, I think, is that it’s pulling in 3 directions at once. His 20 stories divide fairly evenly into the cerebral (Castrovalva, Four To Doomsday, Kinda, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead, Enlightenment), the gritty/militaristic (Earthshock, Warriors OTD, The Awakening, Frontios, Resurrection, Androzani) and the garish romp, generally featuring plenty of continuity porn (The Visitation, Time-Flight, Arc Of Infinity, The Kings Demons, The Five Doctors, Planet Of Fire)*. Bidmead-y, Saward-y, and Nathan-Turner-y, if you like. The prominence of Earthshock and Androzani means the gritty stuff looms larger in hindsight, but focusing on one, or even two, of the styles is leaving a lot of the era out.

    In theory this split in emphases shouldn’t have been a problem, particularly as the series got a lot better at doing the gritty ones – the disaster of Warriors aside, I’d take any of the other season 21 examples over Earthshock, and even Warriors is thematically more interesting (for all they botch it). If you have the show on twice-weekly, on weeknights, varying it visually and tonally makes a certain sense, and the Davison era is the most “something different every story” since Hartnell. But in practise only season 19 managed a balance: season 20 lurches between thoughtful and romp-y, season 21 is dominated by grit. And the three styles infected one another in sometimes unhelpful ways – the “Black Guardian trilogy” is three thoughtful stories with some overlapping themes united mainly by the fact that the Black Guardian adds sod all to any of them.

    Then you have a leading man who is defined by his marginality – a Doctor most at home with diagnosis and patient care. This makes him very well suited to the cerebral (as a character happy to patiently let the story happen around him, and do the ‘right kind of nothing’) and also turns out to suit the gritty (as his inability to control the situation gives the storytelling more urgency) but in romps, the scenery-chewers around him take control. And you have a TARDIS crew that – as Phil pointed out a lot – seem to be fitted out for a fourth different kind of story, the emotional, character-driven piece, that nobody has any interest in writing (Black Orchid gets nearest, while still not being any good).

    So even people like me, who love the Fifth Doctor and have deliriously happy childhood memories of the era, find it tough to get a grip on: the show has never been as divided or messy, before or since.

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  3. Tom
    January 2, 2015 @ 5:53 am

    "any good at it" that penultimate para should read – I rather like a lot of things about Black Orchid.

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  4. Alan
    January 2, 2015 @ 9:00 am

    Can't wait to see how they handle Colin. Earthshock, for all its flaws, was a legendary and iconic story. Except for maybe Vengeance on Varos and possibly The Two Doctors, I can't think of any Colin Baker stories that are even on the same plane of competence as the stories shown for the other Doctors.

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  5. Terry
    January 2, 2015 @ 9:18 am

    As it happens, the Doctors Revisited are on DVD, as they were broadcast back during 2013.

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  6. inkdestroyedmybrush
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    The blandness of the the Doctor's Revisited for the 1980's ends up echoing the tone of DWM in those days: stick your fingers in your ears and go, "I'm not listening" Everything is fine!" Perhaps because the snark and withering criticism is so readily available on the DVDs and in interviews, there is little or no need to include it here. Given that the revisited series was to catch up new viewers, and we obsessive fans who have micro-analyzed each and every era all on our lonesomes simply tuned in to see if we agreed, perhaps there was absolutely nothing to be gained by including any of it.

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  7. encyclops
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:26 am

    the 80s were the worst years of Cyber-designs

    Gasp! I adored them.

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  8. Iain Coleman
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    Earthshock has plenty of faults in the cold light of day, but when I was 8 it was the MOST EXCITING THING EVER!!!!, and that's a pretty solid achievement for a Doctor Who story.

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  9. encyclops
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:29 am

    "Revelation of the Daleks," as creepy and awful and difficult to watch as I personally find it, is probably on par with Vengeance and T2D in terms of quality. But yeah, otherwise that's kind of it.

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  10. encyclops
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    As huge a fan of "The Stones of Blood" as I am, I know what you mean: its charms are myriad but, alas, deniable.

    If not "Earthshock" or "Androzani," really, though, what else? Of course I'd pick "Kinda" but we all know why that wouldn't fly. It's tempting to opt for a Master story, since the Davison/Ainley faceoff seemed like such a big part of the era, at least in theory, but which one? "Castrovalva" sidelines both of them for large parts of the story, and the rest of the Master stories of the era are rubbish.

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  11. Jarl
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:56 am

    As far as I've always felt, the two best approaches for the Cybermen are to make them look scary, which the Tenth Planet does with aplomb, or to make them look cool, which the CybusMen rock at.

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  12. encyclops
    January 2, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

    I agree with you on the goals, but not on which designs achieved them. 🙂 My first reaction to both the Mondas and Cybus Cybermen was "oh HELL no." So goofy, so clunky! I'm able to appreciate them both now if I squint but — and I think this is the key — they were among the last designs I saw rather than the first. My first Cybermen stories were almost certainly "Revenge" and "Earthshock," so that big-headed silhouette is still what seems normal to me.

    I have a long boring monologue in me about why David Banks' Cyberleader and their behavior in "Earthshock" and "Attack" still seems scarier to me than anything they've done before or since, but it would still probably be more persuasive if you could time-travel and show them to your impressionable preadolescent self. 🙂

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  13. Alan
    January 2, 2015 @ 6:39 pm

    I think Monday Cyber men are the scariest because of the voice and, oddly, because the costume predicts later horror icons like Leather face and Michael Myers.

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  14. Alan
    January 2, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

    I still think that giant rocks that float around like Daleks and sucks the blood out of anyone who touches them is creepy and awesome.

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  15. Ozy Jones
    January 2, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    Yes. Exactly this.

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  16. Ozy Jones
    January 2, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

    I will defend to the death Stones of Blood for the impact it made on me in my tweens. I still can't look at the monoliths at Stonehenge without hearing them pulse with life and fill with that unearthly orange glow. Still holds up pretty well… for a 70's BBC TV show.

    They missed a trick in Pandorica… a surprise twist as the Doctor's speech turns away the intelligent alien hoards, but the instinctive and basic Ogri come to life…

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  17. William Silvia
    January 2, 2015 @ 9:26 pm

    The big surprises being…smug, pro-torture Cybermen and the ham-fisted attempt to jam foreshadowing into the first episode?

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  18. William Silvia
    January 2, 2015 @ 9:27 pm

    ^ Cybermen created autocorrect, too.

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  19. encyclops
    January 2, 2015 @ 10:49 pm

    I'm glad I'm not alone on this. The two scariest Doctor Who monsters for me as a kid were the Ogri and Mr. Sin.

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  20. Prandeamus
    January 3, 2015 @ 1:18 am

    Metallic voice: Yew wheel bee comb lye cuss.

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  21. Ozy Jones
    January 3, 2015 @ 4:39 am

    You ever done any work with 'Text-to-speech', Prandeamus? You've got a job with me editing for phonetics anytime you want.

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  22. prandeamus
    January 3, 2015 @ 8:50 am

    Ah, that cheered me up, Ozy. As soon as I hit "publish", I found myself thinking, "Hang on, I'm sure Mondasian cybermen vocalised the ss on the final syllable and therefore that's not a correct transcription". Followed by, "Is there a word phonetically like 'cuzz', short of Shakespearean abbreviations for cousin." Which proves that the holidays are well and truly over and I need to get some real work done.

    I've done trivial stuff with TTS in the 80s with Superior Software BBC Micro ROMS, 'tis all.

    Does this job pay well? 🙂

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  23. John Seavey
    January 4, 2015 @ 10:01 am

    You say this wasn't snarky, but wasn't this special where Moffat made his claim that they could have done a better job with Adric if they'd asked members of the audience to step in for the part? I might be misremembering, but I could have sworn that he was brutal to Waterhouse in his recounting of Adric's death scene.

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  24. Anthony Strand
    January 7, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

    He might say it here too, but he definitely says that in the documentary on the DVD for Earthshock.

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  25. Michael
    July 10, 2020 @ 7:01 pm

    When this series of specials aired, I have to admit the pedantic fanboy deep inside of me was a bit annoyed they chose to go with the omnibus versions of the stories rather than the cliffhanger versions — and it kind of stood out on this one when Moffat in his intro talks about how Earthshock pulled off not one but two major shocks.

    Of course, it’s interesting that Moffat would choose this one since on the DVD, he’s pretty critical of it overall and of Matthew Waterhouse (I think Moffat is the one who says that it feels like Waterhouse was on a tour of the set and can’t believe no one’s asked him to leave yet).

    Like you, I think this one is good, but not great. Eric Saward tells the same story twice in the course of four episodes — strange stuff is going on and the Doctor and company are suspect of being behind until it’s shown they aren’t. “Kinda” would have been a more interesting choice (since I can’t see them showing “Caves”) but it can be a bit off-putting and actually requires viewers pay more attention than you have do to this one.

    Reply

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