It was notable for its high ratings, the deliberately unannounced return of the Cybermen, and the death of Adric. Indeed, this serial and Time-Flight together offered producer John Nathan-Turner his highest consistent chart positions. Earthshock was the only serial in JNT's time as the producer whose episodes were all in the top fifty of programmes watched on British television.
JNT took a now-well-known publicity gamble with this serial by deciding that he wanted to keep the return of the Cybermen a surprise. Normally, there was a public gallery overlooking the studio floor at Television Centre which allowed public viewing of proceedings. For Earthshock, JNT had this area closed and security kept people out. Nathan-Turner also turned down a Radio Times photoshoot to ensure this secret did not leak out.
The death of Adric was also a considerable gamble since no long-running companion had ever been killed on Doctor Who before. Special, downbeat titles were commissioned for the end of part four, making the final part the only episode, as of 2018[update], to have no end theme music and play only silent credits.
While there is no doubt that JNT and his team absolutely intended Adric's unambiguous death, the ending of the story has been materially changed by Big Finish's The Boy That Time Forgot, during which it was revealed Adric did not die but went on to live in a bubble universe the Fifth Doctor accidentally created, before finally crossing back into the normal universe in Victorian London.
A conference to unite military powers against the Cybermen is taking place and the Cybermen plot to destroy the Earth by crashing a space freighter into it. The Doctor must stop them, whatever the cost...
Lieutenant Scott and his team climb up a bleak hillside on Earth, escorting Professor Kyle to a camp set up by Scott's team. The scanning equipment at the campsite is directed at a cave to detect mammalian life forms. Kyle had been part of a scientific expedition investigating the caves for fossil remains, but the expedition has disappeared. The lack of readings suggests they are all dead. Kyle's knowledge of the tunnels is necessary to direct Scott and his team into the caves to find out what happened, while two troopers remain outside to maintain a constant scan. As they investigate, the squad is being stalked by two dark figures.
Meanwhile, in the TARDIS, Adric begins arguing with the Fifth Doctor about the lack of attention and respect he receives compared to Tegan or Nyssa. Finally, he declares that he wishes to return to his home planet of Terradon, which the Doctor loudly proclaims is not possible. However, Adric is insistent that he can calculate the coordinates to guide the TARDIS back into E-Space; to the Doctor's displeasure, Adric begins to write down his calculations.
Scott's squad splits into two groups, but a strange jangling sound comes over the communications system, and one group ceases contact. Outside, a flare appears on the outside scanner. Walters and Snyder, who remained outside, see more life-forms appear on the scanner — the TARDIS crew, which have just landed in the caves. Scott instantly assumes that the newcomers must be responsible for the deaths, especially when he is informed that one of the new life signs shows two heartbeats.
While Adric computes his calculations, the Doctor has gone for a walk in the caves. With Tegan and Nyssa, he examines the fossils of dinosaurs on the cave walls, musing that he had always wanted to go back and determine exactly how they died. As the wounded party is making slow progress, Snyder goes in to help, but they are attacked by the dark figures. The jamming increases and Snyder is reduced to a pile of smoking remains. As the survivors start to investigate, they continue to be picked off one by one.
Scott and the remainder of his squad come across the Doctor and his companions and capture them. Scott accuses the Doctor of the murders and, while the Doctor tries to convince him otherwise, the dark figures continue their approach. Digging away at a recent rockfall, they discover the remains of the scientists as well as a metal hatch which begins to emit a trilling sound; Scott orders the Doctor to open the hatch. The dark figures pick up their pace and begin to attack as everyone dives for cover.
The Doctor realises that the attackers are androids, which is why they did not show up on the scans. The androids appear to be defending the hatch and shrug off the troopers' counter-attacks. Kyle recognises the sound the androids are making and realises that they were the ones who murdered the others. As an android focuses its gaze on the Doctor, the image is transmitted elsewhere to their masters... the Cybermen. The Cyber-Leader orders that the androids "destroy them at once."
Inside the TARDIS, a signal is detected. Adric wanders out of the TARDIS, trying to locate the Doctor and determine the source of the signal. He is able to distract one of the androids long enough for Scott and his team to destroy it. The other one is subjected to an intense fire attack, also resulting in its destruction.
The Doctor has realised that the signal is being transmitted to whatever is inside the hatch. He runs back to the TARDIS and is able to jam the transmission. He and Adric return with the Doctor's toolkit. Tegan and Nyssa usher the rest back into the TARDIS where they will be safe as the Doctor and Adric open the hatch to discover an explosive device within. The Doctor fiddles around with the bomb and inadvertently reactivates it, but together with Adric, disarms it before it detonates.
Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor informs the others that they are going to trace the source of the transmission. He then thanks Adric for his help in the cave and apologises for their earlier argument, telling him he's willing to try and enter E-Space. Adric apologises too for overreacting and reveals he doesn't actually want to return home, he was just trying to make a point. The Cybermen, are puzzled as to why the bomb failed to detonate. Reviewing the recorded images transmitted by the androids, they see the TARDIS. They realise the Doctor is involved, and begin to review their past encounters with the Time Lord.
Meanwhile, out in space, a freighter is being inspected by Earth security forces while replenishing its supplies and crew. However, the morale of the crew is low, kept going only because of the promise of their bonus for delivering the cargo on time. Ringway, one of the bridge crew, wonders if the bonus is worth it, with several disappearances having already taken place. Berger seems to think that it is, and suggests Ringway adopt a more cheery attitude towards the crew to maintain their morale and his.
Having arrived on board, the Doctor goes to explore the freighter with Adric deciding to tag along also. However, Berger spots the two travellers on the camera and tells the captain, a woman named Briggs. Briggs orders that Berger sound the alarm.
The Doctor and Adric hear the alarm and start back towards the TARDIS. Hearing screams, Adric and the Doctor run to investigate. Adric spots the bodies of two crewmen and goes to examine the bodies. Unknown to them, Ringway arrives behind them and raises his gun. Having examined the bodies, they turn to face an armed Ringway, who states that "on this ship we execute murderers..."
Ringway escorts the two travellers to meet the captain, Briggs, who is only concerned about the bonus.
Scott and Kyle start to worry about the Doctor and Adric, although only Scott says anything. Scott announces that he wants to go find the Doctor, but Nyssa replies that the Doctor will not thank them for taking such a risk. Scott takes no notice. Tegan, also wishing to help, goes with Scott and his remaining soldiers.
The Cyber-Leader decides that it is time to take control of the freighter, and orders a unit of Cybermen to be activated. The unit marches on the bridge and is spotted on one of the monitors. Briggs orders a blockade set up outside the bridge, despite the Doctor pleading that her men won't stand a chance if they do that. Sure enough, the Cybermen effortlessly blast through the barricade. At the same time, Ringway turns on the crew and announces that he now works for the Cybermen, having grown tired of Briggs. The Doctor disarms him and closes the bridge doors before the Cybermen can get inside. Briggs seems confident that they can hold out until they get back to Earth, as there are only a few Cybermen; when Adric inquires as to how many cargo containers there are, she realises that all 15,000 are probably full of Cybermen.
As Scott, Tegan and the others kill one Cyberman and damage a second, the Cyber-Leader has his troops soften one of the bridge doors with a thermal lance. The Doctor taps into the antimatter storage system and uses it to stabilise the door just as a Cyberman breaks through, with the result that the Cyberman is fused into the door. The Cyber-Leader had also fitted explosive charges to the other bridge door, however. Just before it goes to detonate them, the Cyberman that escaped from Scott and Tegan crawls up. His lieutenant points out that all the crew have been accounted for and the Cyber-Leader erroneously concludes that Ringway lied about the crew numbers.
The explosives are detonated, destroying the bridge door. The Cybermen take the bridge, and the Leader has Ringway killed for his "deception". The Doctor then sourly jokes, "You never change; always the perfect guest." The Doctor and the crew members all watch as the additional Cybermen are revived, in order to deal with the other humans. As they march through the hold the Leader declares, "My army awakes, Doctor!" The Doctor looks on, horrified, as the Cybermen march through the hold...
The Cybermen fit a device to the ship's computer which locks it on course to collide with Earth. The Cyber-Leader then explains his mission - several galactic powers are going to meet on Earth that day and hold a conference that will unite them in a war against the Cybermen. Their original plan was to use the bomb to virtually destroy Earth, commandeer the freighter and use the army to kill anyone who survived. Due to the Doctor's interference, the Cyber-Leader has switched to his backup plan - crash the freighter into Earth. As it is powered by antimatter, the resulting blast will be every bit as devastating as the bomb would have been.
Tegan gets separated from Scott and his men and is eventually captured. Scott returns to the TARDIS but is followed by a pair of Cybermen. The troopers kill the Cybermen and take their guns, but Kyle is killed in the process. Tegan, meanwhile, is taken to the bridge. Noting the Doctor's reaction when she is brought into the bridge, the Cybermen comments that emotions must be a severe handicap for the Doctor. The Doctor argues that emotions are what makes life worth living - in response, the Cyber-Leader orders that Tegan be killed. The Doctor throws himself in front of Tegan, and the Cyber-Leader remarks that emotions are a disadvantage, as now he only has to threaten to kill Tegan for the Doctor to obey him.
Scott and the troopers leave the TARDIS again, as the Cyber-Leader decides to leave the ship in the TARDIS. Briggs, Berger and Adric are left on-board so that a few remaining Cybermen can observe their reactions, and thus better understand human weaknesses. The Doctor and Cybermen leave in the TARDIS, and Scott takes out the Cybermen guarding the bridge. Briggs wants to abandon ship, but Adric tells her that he might be able to override the device controlling the ship's computer. He overrides one segment of it and Berger tries to bring the ship out of warp, but this has an unexpected effect - the freighter jumps into a time warp and goes backwards in time. Tegan is relieved at this, believing the Earth to be safe. Her relief is soon shattered when the Doctor points out that it has made the situation far worse - not only will Earth still be destroyed, but with the freighter now back in an earlier point of its history, the planet's whole existence will be nullified.
Adric overrides another part of the control device, bringing the freighter out of warp - but still perilously close to Earth. Briggs decides that it's time to abandon ship, but Adric is still determined to break the codes. Scott drags him into the escape pod, only for Adric to jump out at the last second and continue his efforts. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor points out that they have travelled back 65 million years - at about the time the Earth collided with an object which killed the dinosaurs. Tegan realises that the object was really the freighter and that rather than erasing Earth's history, the explosion will form a key part of it.
While Adric continues in his efforts, Scott signals the TARDIS and informs them that Adric's still on-board. The Cyber-Leader decides to kill the TARDIS crew, but Tegan jumps on him and the Doctor breaks up Adric's gold-plated Mathematics Achievement badge into the Leader's chest unit. The maddened and asphyxiating Leader fires its gun aimlessly, damaging the TARDIS console in the process. The Doctor grabs the gun and shoots the Leader, killing it.
Adric is closing in on fully deactivating the control device, but is thwarted when a damaged Cyberman tries to shoot him. The shot misses Adric and destroys the freighter's controls instead, leaving no chance of altering the freighter's course. Adric serenely muses that now he will never know if he was right. The Doctor tries to save Adric, while Nyssa quickly deals with the Cyber-Lieutenant. The TARDIS console is too damaged. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan watch helplessly as the freighter explodes, killing Adric. As Nyssa and Tegan begin to weep, the Doctor remains silent, shocked at his failure in saving his companion and friend...
The episode ends with silent credits to mark Adric's death, rolled over an image of his shattered star-shaped badge.
- The Doctor - Peter Davison
- Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
- Tegan - Janet Fielding
- Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
- Lieutenant Scott - James Warwick
- Professor Kyle - Clare Clifford
- Captain Briggs - Beryl Reid
- Berger - June Bland
- Walters - Steve Morley
- Snyder - Suzi Arden
- Mitchell - Ann Holloway
- Trooper Baines - Anne Clements
- Second Trooper - Mark Straker
- Cyber-Leader - David Banks
- Ringway - Alec Sabin
- Cyber-Lieutenant - Mark Hardy
- First Crew Member - Mark Fletcher
- Second Crew Member - Christopher Whittingham
- Assistant Floor Manager - Nick Laughland
- Costumes - Dinah Collin
- Designer - Bernard Lloyd-Jones
- Film Cameraman - Keith Hopper
- Film Editor - Mike Houghton
- Film Sound - John Gatland
- Incidental Music - Malcolm Clarke
- Make-Up - Joan Stribling
- Producer - John Nathan-Turner
- Production Assistant - Jane Ashford
- Production Associate - Angela Smith
- Production Manager - Geoffrey Manton
- Script Editor - Antony Root
- Senior Cameraman - Alec Wheal
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Fred Wright
- Studio Sound - Alan Machin
- Technical Manager - Alan Jeffery
- Theme Arrangement - Peter Howell
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Videotape Editor - Rod Waldron
- Video Effects - Dave Chapman
- Vision Mixer - James Gould
- Visual Effects Designer - Steve Bowman
- Adric considers returning to Terradon, in E-Space.
- The freighter was stopped in Sector 16 prior to departing for Earth.
- The Doctor doesn't know what killed the dinosaurs, but always meant to go back and find out.
- The Doctor doesn't want to go back into E-space because of the uncertainties of travelling there.
- The Cybermen are aware of TARDISes and that a single person can pilot one, the Doctor being a Time Lord, regeneration, and, significantly, that Time Lords are "arrogant" but forbidden to interfere.
- The Cybermen's androids fire beams from their palms that dissolve tissue.
- The freighter functions by simulating the use of anti-matter.
- The Doctor's TARDIS has limitless power, at least according to Tegan.
- The Cyber-Leader is able to damage the TARDIS console while damaged.
- Producer John Nathan-Turner was keen to keep the return of the Cybermen a surprise, and thus ensured that this aspect was given no advance publicity — even going so far as to arrange for the studio observation galleries to be closed for the duration of recording and turning down Radio Times when they offered to feature the Cybermen in a cover photograph and article to mark the start of the story. The Cyber-Leader and Cyber-Lieutenant were referred to as simply "Leader" and "Lieutenant" in the combined Radio Times cast for parts one/two.
- Adric's appearance in part two of Time-Flight is solely so he would be credited in the following week's issue of Radio Times, which would be published on the day part four of this story aired — thus hiding his death here.
- This is one of the few serials in which the ending credits have been changed from the regular credits. Adric's star-shaped badge for mathematical excellence is shown broken in pieces while the credits roll in silence. It was the only story in which the main theme was not used in the credits until Rosa. It's also the first time a serial has used scrolling credits since TV: The War Games and the only story in the JNT era to do so.
- The multiple rows of marching Cybermen in part four was actually a single row duplicated and placed side by side using photographic editing.
- The Cyberscope prop was built using parts the modelmaker had scavenged from the Nostromo set constructed for the movie Alien. Similarly, the digital readouts on the device flash up a random series of numbers which were also seen on the monitors of the Nostromo set.
- One of the android costumes would later be repainted silver and used as the costume for the Raston Warrior Robot in The Five Doctors.
- The androids were played by Barney Lawrence and Carolyn Mary Simmonds, who remained uncredited both on-screen and in Radio Times.
- According to the research website BroaDWcast.org, there are reports that part four's silent credits were re-edited to include the regular theme music for its broadcast on the YTV network in the 1990s.
- Part four is the first episode since The War Games episode ten to feature rolling credits. They would not be seen again until Rose.
- The story was chosen by BBC America to represent the Peter Davison era during their 50th-anniversary programming. Edited into an omnibus format, it was aired by BBCA on 26 May 2013, after the debut of their homegrown special called The Doctors Revisited - The Fifth Doctor. It also aired in the United Kingdom later in the year on 26 October, along with the Revisited special, on the Watch channel.
- Archive footage from TV: The Tenth Planet, The Wheel in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen is shown in part two. The reason for the Third Doctor's omission from the flashback clips was that he never encountered the Cybermen during his original tenure. In relation to this story, the Cybermen's 1985 encounter with the Sixth Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen would have also been part of their chronological past, as would be their 1988 encounter with the Seventh Doctor in Silver Nemesis. Neither were seen as part of the flashback clips. The real world reason for this, of course, was that although these events would have happened already in the timeline, these serials with their respective Doctors had not yet been created for the show.
- This story also exists in the BBC archives as 2 x 50 minute compiled episodes broadcast as part of the Doctor Who and the Monsters repeat season in 1982.
- In a 2018 interview about his career, actor Steve Morley (Walters) recalled being recognised many years later by Doctor Who fans in the shop of the former Exhibition in Llangollen.
- Part one - 9.9 million viewers
- Part two - 8.8 million viewers
- Part three - 9.8 million viewers
- Part four - 9.6 million viewers
- Sprinwell Lock Quarry in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire (This was the only location work, which featured at the start of the story, not featuring any of the regular cast)
- BBC Television Centre (Studio 8), Shepherd's Bush, London
- The opening credits for all episodes shake and vibrate violently. Even with the precise restoration by the Doctor Who Restoration Team, it is still very noticeable.
- Actor James Warwick changes Lt. Scott's accent without narrative cause. There's a clear and inexplicable difference between his work on location and his later-recorded scenes in the studio. This fact was remarked upon by Janet Fielding and Peter Davison on the DVD commentary.
- As Tegan complains that she's exhausted, something that looks like a stick is being waved around in the darkness. Then, as they climb the stairs on their way to the bridge, a person holding a script can be seen in the background. This fact, too, is highlighted by the DVD commentary.
- When the Cybermen are marching the Doctor and Tegan back to the TARDIS, the Cyber-Leader misses the bottom step and nearly falls.
- When the Cyberman breaks through the softened bridge door, the damage to the door and the Cyberman's arm change size and position between shots.
- When Scott returns to the TARDIS, he has two men and a woman with him. A Cyberman grabs the woman, but when they enter the TARDIS, the man is missing. Later, when they leave, the woman is gone again.
- In part two, the Cyber-Leader's finger misses a button on the console, but we still hear a beep anyway.
- Near the end of this serial, Peter Davison must shove Adric's gold-laden badge into the Cyber Leader's chest from behind. Through the Cyber-Leader's faceplate, a silver box can be seen pressing against David Banks' face. The Cyber costumes had radio microphones in them for recording so the modulation of the actor's voices could occur in real time. The batteries for these mikes were taped to the top inside of the actor's helmets. Over time, of course, the tape would work free and the batteries would fall out of place, resulting in the silver box seen in the Cyber-Leader's faceplate for this scene. Also, when the Cyber-Leader explodes, the wire attached to the small microphone can be clearly seen.
- The dead crewmembers at the end of part two can be clearly seen breathing.
- When Ringway is running down a corridor, supposedly in a tearing hurry, he visibly pulls up just before going out of shot.
- Just before Tegan and the soldiers find the bodies in part three, a white baton mysteriously appears behind them — apparently placed there by a crew member.
- The director commits a line-of-sight blocking error at the end of part one. When the Doctor is discussing the androids, Nyssa and Tegan are nowhere to be seen — yet from the android's viewpoint they are right beside the Doctor.
- When Scott is first walking up the stairs to reach the bridge on the freighter, a very small glimpse of a trainee production assistant can be seen in the background of the shot. She is wearing a white jacket and has a script in her hands, and can be seen turning a page of it. This was pointed out by Peter Davison on the DVD commentary.
- When Adric is attempting to crack the code on the computer just before it is destroyed, he is lightly tapping it while trying to keep his distance (as Matthew Waterhouse knows it is about to explode).
- Adric mentions that Romana is still in E-Space, and could help him if he returned. (TV: Warriors' Gate)
- Adric also states that he would not return to Alzarius, but rather to Terradon. (TV: Full Circle)
- The Doctor uses Adric's gold star badge (TV: Full Circle) to asphyxiate the Cyber-Leader. (TV: Revenge of the Cybermen)
- The Cybermen watch scenes from other encounters with the First Doctor (TV: The Tenth Planet), the Second Doctor (TV: The Wheel in Space), and the Fourth Doctor (TV: Revenge of the Cybermen).
- The alien computer the Cybermen used and the fate of the freighter and Adric are explored further in AUDIO: The Boy That Time Forgot.
- Unknown to the Doctor, a future companion named Jack Harkness is, for reasons unknown, on Earth at the time of the freighter explosion, though Jack would believe the destruction of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteor hitting Earth. (TV: Fragments)
- The Eleventh Doctor would implicitly refer to Adric, Katarina and Sara Kingdom by telling Brian Williams that some of his companions "but not many, died." (TV: The Power of Three)
- In an alternate timeline, the Doctor was able to save Adric. (PROSE: So Vile a Sin)
- The Fifth Doctor is reading Black Orchid before his argument with Adric. (TV: Black Orchid) He started reading it before the TARDIS materialised on Fleming's Island off the coast of Ireland in December 1981. (AUDIO: Iterations of I)
- Amongst the objects in Adric's room is the skull mask worn by the Terileptil android when it went out in public as the figure of Death (TV: The Visitation), and one of the many pendants worn by the Kinda tribe's male members (TV: Kinda).
Home video and audio releases
This story was released as Doctor Who: Earthshock.
- PAL - BBC DVD BBCDVD1153
- NTSC - Warner Video E2022
- Commentary by actors Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and Matthew Waterhouse
- Putting the Shock into Earthshock - Charts the development and creation of the story, and the unique effect it had on viewers.
- CGI Effects
- Episode 5 animated spoof
- Location Film Sequences - Contains shots and dialogue cut from the broadcast version
- Did You See? - A 1982 BBC Two review programme takes a look at Doctor Who's most memorable monsters
- Music-only Option
- Photo Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Easter Egg- Navigate down to the special features option on the first menu and press select. Move down to the 40th Anniversary Celebration option and hit left to highlight a hidden Doctor Who logo. Hit select and you'll get a comedy sketch featuring a clip of Earthshock that's been over-dubbed.
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team. The most prominent of these edits is to the serial's final scenes, when the freighter crashes into prehistoric earth. The edit mainly revises the scene so that, instead of the TARDIS's monitor showing a still image of the freighter, followed by several bright flashes (meant to represent the explosion of the impact), the screen actually shows the freighter slamming into the Earth, with the explosion being represented by a pulsating light over the impact site.
This story was released as Doctor Who: Earthshock.
- UK September 1992
- PAL - BBC Video BBCV4840
- Australia 1993
- PAL -
- NTSC -
A soundtrack album of the music from this serial was released by Silva Screen Records as Earthshock: Classic Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Vol. 1 (FILMCD 709). This is an edited re-release of the "BBC Records" release, "Doctor Who the Music: Volume 1". Of the 22 tracks, only three are from "Earthshock".
- Earthshock at the BBC's official site
- Earthshock at RadioTimes
- Earthshock at BroaDWcast
- Earthshock at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Earthshock at The Locations Guide