Saturday, 31 October 2009

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen

Part One

“I suddenly feel conspicuous.”

So, now we’re beginning a new 45 minute format, eh? It’ll never catch on. We’re also getting a new writer, apparently, in the shape of Paula Moore.

We begin with the new Doctor being very different from his predecessor- after procrastinating about it ever since Logopolis he’s finally getting around to repairing the Chameleon Circuit. Apparently he’s still a little unstable, which is worrying. This regeneration has been drawn out far too much.

Lytton’s back, still stuck on Earth, planning a heist alongside characters played by Brian Glover and an unmasked Terry Molloy. But mostly we’re just watching the Doctor and Peri hanging about in the TARDIS for ages before they land. They seem to bicker a lot, too. Still, they eventually land, in 76 Totter’s Lane. In spite of the Doctor’s claim that “This looks familiar”, it bears absolutely no relation to the junkyard seen in An Unearthly Child. It hasn’t got a roof for one thing. 

The Doctor and Peri are trying to trace a distress call from an alien being broadcast from Totter’s Lane in 1985, observed by those two policemen from Resurrection of the Daleks. Oh, and the TARDIS is changing it shape in scenes which I think we’re meant to find amusing. But it’s not just Totter’s Lane; this scene alone features a bewildering and self-indulgent excess of fanwank; not only does Peri recite the name of several past companions for no particular reason, but we’re told that the Terrible Zodin was “a woman of rare guile and devilish cunning.” And that’s only the beginning.

You can probably see already that I’m not hugely enamoured with this story, but I’ll defend it for one thing; for all the bickering between the Doctor and Peri it’s obvious that neither of them really means it and they actually come across as quite affectionate with each other, especially through body language. It helps that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant have good chemistry.

A Cyberman shockingly appears in the sewers- and is immediately shot dead, oozing green, er, ooze. This is a highly appropriate intro for the Cybermen in a story which shows them to be disturbingly easy to kill. We discover that Lytton made contact with their ship behind the dark side of the moon- all very The Invasion

It’s nice that cybernisation gets a mention, but then the fanwank continues; the Cyber Controller and Telos are mentioned, and suddenly we switch to an escape attempt on the part of a couple of slaves on Telos- and to be fair the location is a fair match for the Telos we saw in Tomb of the Cybermen. Our two escapers, Stratton and Bates, are very hard-boiled style characters, almost to the point of being characters in a script by Eric Saward. But of course that cannot be, as this story was written by Paula Moore. Definitely.

The Doctor and Peri find Russell, and there follows an amusing scene in which the Doctor and Peri get the gun off him, and the Doctor seems to tell Peri to shoot him. Oddly enough, I don’t have a problem with this in spite of my increasing unease with the tone of the programme. The Doctor’s clearly bluffing and the thing’s carried off with charm and humour- it’s the absence of these things, after all, that have been my main concern with recent scripts.

Russell, it seems, is an undercover copper, and so he joins the Doctor and Peri in venturing into the sewers.
Meanwhile, on Telos, Stratton and Bates seem to be killing Cybermen with the greatest of ease whenever they stop bickering for long enough to do so, while the Cyber Controller directs things. For some reason the rather rotund Michael Kilgariff has been pointlessly recast in the role, in spite of the fact that both here and in Tomb his entire body in covered, and in the earlier story he didn’t even provide the voice. The result of this is, of course, that a certain softly pronounced “c” in the line “It is a fact, Controller” becomes a moment of comedy gold.

The Doctor kills a Cyberman with a sonic lance (guns and the Doctor again!), unfortunately attracting their attention. As the Doctor and Peri return to the TARDIS, accompanied by Russell, who shows the customary lack of surprise at its dimensions for this era, they are attacked by Cybermen…

Part Two

“I can understand why they call them tombs.”

The Doctor queries the Cyber Controller’s survival and is told that he was “merely destroyed.” Er, yes. This begins a running theme of this episode; ridiculous plot points and fanwank references revealed to us by dull and often long-winded exposition. We get detailed references to The Tenth Planet and Tomb early in the episode which must have been utterly alienating to the casual viewer.

The Doctor, Peri and Lytton are stranded and, separately, all make contact with the planet’s indigenous Cryons, played by the likes of Sarah Green, Faith Brown and Esther Freud, all unrecognisable. The Cryons actually look great and, with their groovy hand movements, dignity and wit, are the best thing about this story.
It seems that Lytton was in fact working for the Cryons all along, which of course means he is an entirely a good guy and the fact that hitherto he’s behaved like a total arse in no way diminishes his unambiguously heroic status.

Anyway, the Cybermen want to prevent Mondas from being destroyed, so they’ve travelled back in time to 1985 so that they can use Halley’s Comet to destroy Earth, thereby saving Mondas. This is utter fanwank; the series is now becoming sufficiently self-referential that it’s eating its own tail. What on earth would the casual viewer have made of this?

Still, at least it fundamentally makes sense. Aside, that is, from a couple of tiny little flaws, such as the reason for Mondas’s arrival back in 1986 was that they needed Earth for its energy, and the question of whether the Cybermens’ survival is really served by changing history for the benefit of a completely different bunch of Cybermen and wiping out centuries of their own history.

There’s a nice scene where the Doctor wonders why the Time Lords haven’t sent an agent to help after he warned them earlier, only to realise that he is the Time Lord agent. Sadly, this is soon followed by a discussion of why the Cryons are helping him. As even the script points out, they stand to benefit from the Cybermen changing history as their planet would never have been invaded. The explanation that “The Cryons have accepted their fate” doesn’t really cut it. As for all that frozen explodey stuff that’s being kept in the cell- aaargh!

Things get even worse. I don’t mind violence as long as it’s not done in the service of an overly grim tone, but the scene where Lytton’s hands are crushed is utterly repellent. How was that allowed to get through? Also poor is the Doctor’s statement that the Cybermen “have only one weakness- they respond to the distress of their own kind”. I think, given the number of Cybermen we see being killed in this story, that his mathematical prowess may have deteriorated somewhat since Castrovalva.

More bad stuff rounds out the story; Bates, Stratton and Griffin almost reach the Cybermen’s control centre only to be killed at the last moment- very cynical. The TARDIS is suddenly stuck as a police box again with no explanation whatsoever. And the scene with Lytton begging the Doctor to kill him is just wrong.

Terrible, just terrible. The plot makes no sense, it’s unremittingly grim, the tone is all wrong and it’s all substandard fanwank anyway. 1/5. The nicest thing I can find to say about it is that at least it’s better than Underworld.


  1. Don't know why Ian Levine claims credit for this one... it's not something I'd claim credit for.

  2. Especially as even Eric Saward didn't put his name on this one...!