“Even under the threat of death, he has the arrogance of a Time Lord.” – Cyberleader
This was is much better than I remembered. I thought it was famous solely for the surprise ending but it’s actually a very well-paced and tense drama with some surprising twists throughout. While it is atmospheric from the start with the faceless androids patrolling in the shadows of the caves, the unannounced reveal of the Cybermen was probably a truly shocking surprise at the time. It is also rather unique for them to show (and at that time even to have found) significant video clips from previous eras. Indeed, though they come with a better and updated look, the whole story really hearkens back to the glory days of the Cybermen with an emphasis on their cold manipulation, emotionless killing, and their sheer force of numbers marching in unison.
The story is thus full of some iconic imagery like the Cybermen stomping up the stairs over the dead bodies of their enemies, bursting out of cold storage like on Telos, and wandering damaged down the corridor. One surprisingly striking well-done new effect is that of the Cyberman being frozen in the door by the matter manipulator. It really catches your eye. Of course the plot twist of the freighter hurtling back in time to bring about the very extinction of the dinosaurs that had been discussed in the cave full of fossils is amazing. The story also has a lot of strong characters (even when they seem to be odd choices like the jaded captain being played by a refined-looking old woman) and some real moments of sadness when people like Kyle are gunned down.
The familial squabbling of the TARDIS crew is ratcheted up again with the Doctor clearly playing a father dealing with a whiny teenage son Adric. This “family” feel is again put in place to make the later grief of his loss stronger. Meanwhile, it’s kind of a surprise to suddenly see “Battle Tegan” jumping into the fray with guns blazing. It makes an interesting arc for her character. Of course, the prime scene comes when they have to watch Adric die in the crash. I’d forgotten how it seems a triumphant moment for the Doctor at first when he realizes that the freighter’s crash is part of established history—a celebration that is sadly undercut with the radio transmission from the lieutenant that Adric is still on board. The reactions of Tegan and Nyssa are quite good. Considering Matthew Waterhouse was known as not having the most stellar performances, Adric’s last scenes–particularly his wistful “Now I’ll never know if I was right” and the scene of him holding his brother’s belt to his cheek–are amazingly well done.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
Adric’s death is underscored by the silent credits over his broken star and definitely leaves the strongest ending impression of the story. However, the entire opening sequence in the mines is also quite tense. As we keep seeing the faceless figures slipping through the shadows and the dots representing people on the screen suddenly blinking out at their deaths, it’s rather a horrific and helpless feeling progression. All the more so when they show the bubbling mess left behind by the blast from the androids as all that remains.
- “Braveheart, Tegan.”
The laser effects of the soldiers guns are not very well-placed and make the battle scenes look rather silly. (I also think it was a poor choice to have the sleek androids blasts sound like nothing more than gunshots.) In terms of story, how is it the Earth is having a huge multi-planet convention to sign a pact uniting to fight the Cybermen across the galaxy and yet not one of the crew or army people recognizes or even knows what a Cyberman is?