The entire Doctors Revisited series takes a fundamental turn here, and largely not for the better. Where the Tom Baker episode merely brought in the actor who played the Doctor as one of its primary talking heads, here the show has access to essentially all of the major stars of the era. Where the first four episodes were basically anchored by two Scottish fanboys, here Davison, Strickson, Fielding, Sutton, and Waterhouse are the stars, with Tennant and Moffat contributing only choice insights.
For this specific instance, at least, it is to the program’s detriment. The thing is, of course, that we know both Moffat and Tennant’s opinions of the Davison era, since they each, in their own ways, expressed it in “Time Crash.” Moffat, in particular, has been an outspoken defender of the Davison era for nearly twenty years now. There are hints of their impassioned defense of Davison throughout, but it’s easy to wish they’d spent a little less time spoiling all the twists of Earthshock right before they showed it and a little more time fleshing out the initial claim that Davison brought “believability” to the part.
And yet it’s equally worth noting what isn’t here. Nobody is being snarky. Davison and Fielding, in particular, have been positively withering about aspects of their time on the program elsewhere, but here both of them give thoroughly enthused performances. Nobody says anything nasty about Adric or the effects. The only thing anyone giggles at is the celery. As we turn the corner into 1980s Doctor Who, there’s not a hint that they’re entering a problem area. Indeed, people were generally more willing to laugh at the Troughton and Pertwee eras than they are this.
The result, though, is soulless. The era is presented as good, but without the clear case for what was good about it that the first four installments made. It feels like people mumbling bland platitudes and explaining the plots of thirty year old television episodes, which, of course, it is, just like the first four installments, but they did much better jobs of covering that. And we should, perhaps, wonder what bits of interview got left on the cutting room floor.
Which does rather bring us back to Earthshock. It was inevitable, of course, that we were going to get this or The Caves of Androzani, and while one might have hoped for the latter, you kind of knew it had to be this. And in some ways that’s good. We complained that Spearhead From Space made it too easy on the Pertwee era. The same could easily have been said about Caves of Androzani, and it really can’t of Earthshock, which strays into camp in more ways than just Beryl Reid. And while nobody introduces the episode that way, the fact that they hype its surprises while simultaneously spoiling both of them does, shall we say, set up a few other surprises for audiences for whom this is an introduction to history.
I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of Earthshock, but it’s one of those ones like Inferno where if the rest of the world would just agree to stop claiming it was an all-time classic, I’d be happy to stop criticizing it. It absolutely has its charms – it’s just that those charms are more akin to The Stones of Blood than City of Death. But after a somewhat disappointingly bland summary of the Davison era, there’s something charmingly appropriate about good old Earthshock. Following this particular documentary with that particular episode is, at least, going to give everyone a very solid sense of what the Peter Davison era was like. It may not have been what they were going for, but it worked nicely.