Unlike last month’s release, The Twin Dilemma, Earthshock is well-regarded as a TV story, even if it is one of the classic examples of John Nathan-Turner’s style over substance approach to Doctor Who. There are far too many plotholes in the story (Why is the Cybermen’s plot so overly complicated initially? Why doesn’t the Doctor bring Lt. Scott out of the TARDIS to prove his bona fides when he lands on the freighter?) but they’re overlooked in the fast-cutting visuals, and, at least for those of us who remember the first broadcast, the shock of seeing the Cybermen return.
Ian Marter gained a reputation for upping the horror quotient in his novels for the Doctor Who range, and Earthshock starts as it means to go on, likening a cliff face to a human skull. His descriptions of the Cybermen varies from the TV version (and are equally at odds with the new series voices that Nick Briggs presents in this reading), and he reworks scenes as he feels necessary, on the whole improving them.
Don’t be put off by the first half hour of this recording, in which it seems as if Peter Davison is phoning in his performance. Once things start heating up, the energy level rises sharply, and on more than one occasion, his rendition, combined with Simon Power’s well-judged effects and music, can evoke shivers. He doesn’t try to imitate the actors from the TV version (apart from an Australian accent for Tegan, and the occasional lilt for Beryl Reid’s Captain Briggs) but there’s never any doubt as to who’s speaking.
There are times when his vocal performance is at odds with the descriptor that Marter uses in the text, particularly when it comes to the Doctor’s lines, where he tends to deliver them as they were on screen, whereas Marter, working from a script, perhaps was reflecting Saward’s preferences for the lines?