It’s November. It’s cold and something scary involving a police box and time travel is about to hit the screen – no, we’re not talking about the first episode of Doctor Who but a screening of the newly-polished-up Earthshock on the screen of the British Film Institute. Peter Davison’s first season is poised to come out on Blu-ray with many extras and to mark the occasion not only is there a screening but a small quiz and two panel discussions. Comedian Frank Skinner wins a DVD after correctly identifying himself as one of the players in a Doctor Who skit.
Davison himself was represented by a video interview from the forthcoming box set but there in person were the sound engineer Mark Ayres and picture restorer/extras maker Paul Vanezis to explain how the new prints were made; Ayres confessed to upgrading, downgrading and downright fakery, but being blessed by the amount of original material to work from.
More fan-friendly was the episode’s writer Eric Saward and actor Matthew Waterhouse, who played Adric in the story. Spoilers (if you don’t know what happens, and one of the kids in the audience certainly didn’t) ahead.
Waterhouse has heard many times that he was upset by the news of his character’s impending death and actually burst into tears. “I didn’t,” he said. “I knew it was coming, I knew the programme and thought two years was a perfectly respectable time for a companion and I knew what killing Adric meant as it was such a rare thing. I thought it was brilliant.” He also knew before he was supposed to; lead actor Davison had his scripts a month before the rest of the cast so Waterhouse helped himself and read it.
There were complaints of course, but Saward concurred with Waterhouse’s view that if you were upsetting the likes of Mary Whitehouse (a campaigner against violence on TV) then you were probably getting something right. One thing that does seem to annoy Waterhouse is the idea of bringing characters back after they’re dead: “They spent millions on a Star Trek film in which Spock died, then millions more on the next one getting him back. I say no, if a character dies it’s got to mean something.”
There were many stories – Saward’s approach more than of the jobbing writer putting the series together and Waterhouse sounding more the little boy in the sweetshop having the time of his life and only too pleased to be playing Adric again on the Big Finish audios. He had fond memories of the cast and of Beryl Reid, one of the guests in the newly-digitised episodes.
And the newly-polished Earthshock itself? The atmosphere is enhanced. The creeping noises and screams now surround the viewer in reality, just as they did in the imagination on the first broadcast. For a few hours on the South Bank this 50y-odd year-old was transported back to his schooldays, adjusting to this new, younger Doctor and physically jumping when the unexpected arrives in this beautifully-made story.