Today, boys and girls, we’re going to ruin ‘Earthshock’.
A while ago I did a video that combined Wolf Hall with Bing Bunny. Mark Rylance starred in both and it seemed like a natural crossover, partly because it seemed to go against the grain of everything that Bing stood for. Because if you’ve seen it – more to the point if you’re a mother or father who’s seen it – you’ll know that there is nothing to stir feelings of parental inadequacy than that wretched bunny, or more specifically the diminutive guardian who looks after him. Bing’s an emotionally precocious child with the uncanny ability to grasp important concepts more or less at the first time of asking, but his full time carer is saintly to the point of other worldliness. Flop, you feel, is the one who has it down pat – attentive, nurturing, and impeccably responsible. Bing breaks his mobile, chucks it in the bin and then hides under a blanket. Flop doesn’t bat an eyelid. As role models go there is none finer, but there is only room for one up on that pedestal. In an age of right-on hipster parenting, he’s Jesus.
But as a dad who defends his right to shout at the kids while trying to wash up, tidy the lounge and deal with the mother of all headaches, I confess I’m a little sick of all the Facebook memes that encourage me to ‘find my inner Flop’. When I can’t get into Joshua’s room because of the mountain of yoghurt cartons and greasy spoons, when Edward’s broken my laptop again and someone’s pissed all over the toilet seat for the third time that afternoon, the inner Flop is about as far away from my thoughts as Donald Trump is from publishing his tax return. I don’t want to clear up shards of broken glass from the kitchen floor and tell them that it’s no big thing. It damn well is a big thing because we can’t eat the trifle. It will cease to be a big thing only after copious amounts of wine. I’m not a fan of the ‘look at me, I’m a shit parent’ alcohol-quaffing pyjama-wearing chicken nugget-baking slummy mummy brigade (I defend your right to raise your children that way, just stop preaching about it on Facebook) but I’m human, and it’s sometimes a little tedious to be a captive audience for parenting lessons given by a creature that is categorically not.
So it was fun exploring that darker side of Flop, combining the sinister machinations of Thomas Cromwell with the cute adventures of Bing and his friends. Unfortunately Aardman weren’t very amused, and had it pulled – it was partly copyright, partly the combination of child-friendly material with adult themes. They had a point. It would be nice to think that young people’s YouTube activity is monitored by their parents / guardians / anthropomorphic sack toys, but you and I both know that isn’t the case, and all the advisory warnings in the world count for nothing because people don’t read these things.
So when it came to doing this one I was a little more careful. I’d like to hope it’s harder to find and the likelihood of some unsuspecting child stumbling across it is minimised. The irony is that this is arguably far less adult-themed than The Dark Side of Flop, given that it relies on the premise of a Cyber Leader dubbed over with dialogue from Bing until he’s…well, you’ve watched it by now, you see how he is. He’s a nutcase. Trudging through thirty-five episodes of Bing to find appropriate sound clips was no fun at all, but I had a riot actually matching things up and making them work. My favourite scene is still the bit in the TARDIS, which is the only one I think really works, but everything else just about hangs together.
Why ‘Earthshock’? It’s David Banks, really. Because when I look back through the history of the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen, he’s the one I remember. The problem with Cybermen is that by and large they lack personality, and thus the stories have to be truly frightening in order to have any real impact (which is why everything after ‘The Age of Steel’ is generally a dismal failure). The Cyber Leader in ‘Earthshock’ has personality in spades. It’s tempting to say that this is nothing more than an anomaly, but over the years I’ve been cultivating a theory: that the biggest mistake we can make about the Cybermen is to say that they have no emotions. I no longer believe that’s the case. Written within the confines of a single sentence such an idea sounds patently ludicrous, but I explain it all here. Go and have a read, then we’ll talk.
‘Earthshock’ was the first Doctor Who story I remember from my childhood, did I ever tell you that? It is quietly marvellous: the surprises, for the initiated, come thick and fast, and the ending is still gut-wrenchingly moving, loathing of Adric aside. Even if you know what’s coming, it’s still great – but it’s better still if you don’t. (I had a lovely conversation with someone recently who was watching it for the first time, having no idea at all that the Cybermen were about to show up. I didn’t think that sort of spoiler-free access was possible these days.) Put it this way: I think there’s a reason why that shattered badge and the silent credit crawl is my first memory of the show, and I do wonder if I managed to exercise a few demons this week.
In many respects this is a spiritual successor to Dalek Zippy, and is in fact the middle act in a trilogy, the climax of which is still under construction (with Willo The Silent the embarrassing spin-off that no one really talks about). It was a hard graft but worth it. It made my children laugh and it is their approval, above all others, that I seek. And it keeps me out of mischief and stops me wondering what other dreadful things I can be doing with Bing and Flop and the other inhabitants of their bright and colourful world.
Oh God, you really didn’t see this. Move along.