Yesterday, Critical Popcorn was extremely fortunate to be invited to a special screening of one of Doctor Who‘s most memorable stories, Earthshock. Arriving at the BFI and settling into our seats with an 80’s Cyberman looking on, anticipation was high for this sneak preview from the upcoming Season 19 Blu-Ray collection, which, along with Earthshock, collects all 26 episodes from the Fifth Doctor’s debut year in the TARDIS, now fully remastered in stunning HD.
An undeniable classic from the Peter Davison era, Earthshock set the tone for much of Doctor Who‘s 1980’s output – gritty and unrelentingly bleak, yet confident and daring to be edgy and different. First aired in 1982, the four-parter shocked viewers with both the surprise return of the dreaded Cybermen (now sporting a nifty looking redesign) and the sudden death of a regular companion, namely the boy genius Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). Watched today, almost forty years later, it remains a powerful and engrossing story – perfectly paced and boasting excellent production values and performances.
Writer Eric Saward‘s script riffs on films like Alien (1979), delivering a dark, claustrophobic story peppered with interesting character dynamics and relatable drama. Once it boils down to it, the plot is pretty basic, but Earthshock succeeds in taking these familiar story beats and imbuing them with a sense of dramatic weight and high stakes not previously witnessed in other Who serials of the period.
Suffice to say, the new HD transfer is fantastic. The new 5.1 surround sound mix has been beautifully assembled by sound guru Mark Ayres, whilst the picture looks better then ever (particularly the film sequences). Blazoned across the impressive screen of NFT1, it certainly stands up to close scrutiny.
As well as the newly restored episodes, we were also treated to a few sneak peeks of upcoming extra features included in the aforementioned Season 19 Blu-Ray Collection. As well as some fascinating (and hilarious) behind the scenes footage from the studio recordings, we also saw a bit of the new, candid interview with the Fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison, moderated by Culture Show regular Matthew Sweet, whilst both Ayres and special features producer Paul Vanezis were on hand to discuss the hard work that has gone in to creating the new Blu-Ray releases.
Following this, the event rounded up with a wonderful stage Q&A with writer Eric Saward and star Matthew Waterhouse. The first time the ‘murderer’ and his ‘victim’ have met in over 30 years, the chat was wonderfully relaxed and fun, with Waterhouse recalling his thoughts on first getting the script, the myths behind his reaction to reading it, whilst Saward discussed how he got the assignment and his thoughts on the guest cast.
As the Cyber Leader would undoubtedly exclaim, the new Season 19 Blu-ray looks “Ex-celent”.