THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORIES "THE TWIN
"VENGEANCE ON VAROS."
(ERIC SAWARD & PAULA
WOOLSEY with IAN
THE COLD WAR
'ATTACK OF THE
DVD 2436) RELEASED
THE TARDIS IS LURED TO
EARTH, LONDON, 1985
BY AN ALIEN DISTRESS
THE DOCTOR AND PERI
STUMBLE UPON AN
THROUGH THE LONDON
SEWERS BY A FAMILIAR
FOE - EX-DALEK AGENT,
LYTTON. BUT WHO IS HE
WORKING FOR THIS
FOR THEY SOON
DISCOVER THERE IS
SOMETHING FAR NASTIER
LURKING IN THE SEWERS
WHY DO THE SILVER
GIANTS NEED A TIME
MACHINE? WHAT IS
PLAN OF ATTACK? AND
WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO
DO WITH A
THAT HAPPENED SO
LONG AGO IN THE
5TH JANUARY 1985 - 12TH JANUARY 1985
(2 45-MINUTE EPISODES)
Despite the tumult of condemnation directed against it, Doctor Who’s twenty-second season has always been one of my favourites. I am a huge fan of the rambunctious sixth Doctor (blame DVD liner note scribe Stewart Sheargold for the latest addition to my already pompous vocabulary), and I think that the 1985 run made some radical leaps in terms of content, lending the stories a much more ‘adult’ feel. And so, given my affection for this particular season, I am pleased to see that it is one of the first to become fully represented on DVD thanks to the release of its controversial season-opener, “Attack of the Cybermen.”
“Attack of the Cybermen” is a remarkable story in its own right, but it is also significant in the larger scheme of things as it rung in quite a few changes – changes that were not all well-received. Whilst almost all were quick to welcome a return to the series’ ancestral Saturday night tea-time slot, many were unconvinced as regards the shift to forty-minute episodes and, worst of all, producer John Nathan Turner had riled a great many already antagonised viewers by threatening to do away with the TARDIS’ recognisable police box exterior.
The story is also a potentially litigious one as to this day nobody seems to know for certain who wrote the damned thing! ‘Paula Moore’? Gerry Davies? Eric Saward? Ian Levine? Eric Saward from a story by Ian Levine? From what I gather, the pseudonymous ‘Paul Moore’ had absolutely nothing to do with the writing of “Attack of the Cybermen”, her credit being nothing more than a means to get story editor Eric Saward’s script past the relevant union bodies, who back then frowned upon (to say the least) story editors commissioning themselves to write for their own shows. However, the series’ continuity adviser Ian Levene has since claimed a degree of authorship over this story; a claim that Saward robustly disputes. To me, it seems fairly evident that “Attack of the Cybermen” is positively dripping with Saward’s ineradicable style, but there is also a hell of a lot of fanwank bludgeoned into it; so much so, in fact, that I suspect Levene did indeed suggest an idea or two to Saward. Not that it really matters at the end of the day to anyone other than the two of them, but it is nice to know whom to credit (or slate) when reviewing a story!
“I am as stable as you will ever see me.”
For me, “Attack of the Cybermen” was the perfect way to kick off Colin Baker’s first full season in the role. It is a shame though that his debut was not handled with a little bit more foresight; by the time that the first episode of this serial aired in January 1985, the audience had had almost nine months to dwell on the sixth Doctor’s appalling behaviour in “The Twin Dilemma” and to set their faces against him (the Doctor’s costume was enough on its own
to poison the minds of most viewers!) Nevertheless, whilst the performance that Baker gives in this two-parter may be far from diluted, it is certainly much closer to what his character would ultimately ‘settle down’ to for the rest of his tenure on television.
Watching this story again today, it also struck me just how quickly Peri managed to establish herself in the series. On television she shared only a brace of adventures with Peter Davison’s Doctor prior to the regeneration, yet by “Attack of the Cybermen” it felt like she had been around for much longer. Here Nicola Bryant does not disappoint, ‘Paula Moore’ giving Peri more than her fair share of the action, and the costume designer giving Peri a much more flattering outfit to wear than the one that she was forced to adorn in “The Twin Dilemma”!
Sadly though, like many of the sixth Doctor’s televised adventures, “Attack of the Cybermen” comes in for a lot of stick. I really cannot see why this serial is so lambasted; as ‘classic’ Doctor Who stories go, I certainly do not think that it is one of the very best, but I do think that it is somewhere up there in the top third. There is just so much about it to like: we have some beautifully shot scenes in the sewers that evoke strong memories of “The Invasion”; a weasely Cyber Lieutenant who is always kissing the Cyber Leader’s arse (not great characterisation for a supposedly emotionless creature I will grant you, but very amusing nonetheless); Davros unmasked (i.e. Terry Molloy in a human role); the hilarious character of the meathead Griffiths (Brian Glover); not to mention one of the classic series’ best ever cliffhangers, Cybermen in the TARDIS... again! And after “Earthshock”, I could really believe that they were going to kill Peri!
And then we have the return of the mercenary Lytton. In “Resurrection of the Daleks” Maurice Colbourne brought to life a character that was both sinister and cool; in “Attack of the Cybermen”, the storyline allows Colbourne to really step things up a gear and take Lytton
into new territory. In the space of two episodes his character gains so much depth, and in
the end it turns out that he was not such a bad guy after all. Of course he is no saint, but that only makes him all the more remarkable given the standards of the day; indeed, Lytton is one of those gorgeous shades of grey that the classic series really needed more of. I particularly liked how Lytton brought out the very worst in the new Doctor. Spellbinding drama.
“Didn’t go very well did it, on a personal level?
I don’t think I’ve misjudged anybody quite as badly as I misjudged Lytton.”
In fairness though, there are some elements of “Attack of the Cybermen” that I am not a big fan of. As much as I love the ostensibly fan-pleasing plot (which can be summed up wholly by the quote “they intend to prevent Mondas from being destroyed”), it does admittedly rely a bit too much on continuity for the casual viewer. I sincerely doubt that even half of the 8.1 million people watching in 1985 were able to remember either “The Tenth Planet” or “The Tomb of the Cybermen”. I do not think I am alone in criticising the design of the new Cybercontroller either – he looks fat for one thing, and for another you cannot see his brain! And as for the awful score…
Nonetheless, the one aspect of “Attack of the Cybermen” that tends to be criticised above
all else is its violence. We see Russell stab a Cyberman and gun down several others,
Lytton undergoes bloody and horrific mutilation at the hands of the Cybermen, and that dastardly Doctor attacks one of Lytton’s policemen with zeal and also cold-bloodedly kills
the Cybercontroller! I must say though, this is not a criticism that I share. Do people not care that the fifth Doctor rammed a gold badge into a Cyberman’s chest in “Earthshock”? What about when he gassed all the Silurians and Sea Devils in “Warriors of the Deep”? Did they not cheer when week in, week out the third Doctor would dish out karate chops willy-nilly? This arguably violent nature is not something came on overnight with the regeneration. And besides, as Baker points out in the commentary, often the Doctor has no other choice -
when you are dealing with ‘baddies’ sometimes there is not another way. Sad but true.
A lot of the divisive issues integral to “Attack of the Cybermen” are addressed in some
detail by the DVD’s flagship special feature, “The Cold War”. This scrupulous 27-minute documentary looks back at the making of “Attack of the Cybermen”, with particular
emphasis on the contentious issue of the serial’s authorship, as well as certain unpopular changes encouraged by director Matthew Robinson (such as his reinvention of the Cryons) and of course the sweeping changes – popular and otherwise - that were rung in as season twenty-two opened.
The disc also features another very inspiring featurette, “The Cyber Story”, which as the title suggests takes a look at the Cybermen’s story across the whole television series. This 22-minute featurette opens with an exquisite CGI title sequence, and serves as a comprehensive guide to the evolution of the Cybermen on television, all the way from their first unforgettable appearance in the 1966 serial “The Tenth Planet”, right up to their renaissance in the 2006 episode “Rise of the Cybermen”. I was particularly grateful that, in compiling this feature, the Restoration Team did not limit themselves to recently conducted interviews – Cybermen voice artiste Roy Skelton and monochrome Cybermen director Morris Barry both appear here, cut and pasted from the 17 year-old Cybermen – The Early Years video, which I can now rid myself of!
The above also features an excerpt from an interview with Kevin ‘Human Cyborg’ Warwick
(also included in full on the DVD), which I found as disturbing as I did fascinating. This guy can essentially upload his nervous system onto the internet and use it to control robotic hands and such like on the other side of the world, and for his next trick he is looking to link together two human brains for ‘thought communication’. The likes of the Cybermen and the Borg might be closer than we think…
And in addition to the above, this release earns a few extra brownie points for putting a new spin on one of the range’s regular features. This DVD still features the customary photo gallery, but in addition it includes a jazzed-up version that includes stills from all of the Cybermen’s appearances in Doctor Who, set to music from the appropriate stories. Generally I cannot say that I am a fan of such features, but it has to be said that “The Cyber-Generations” did impress.
On balance then, “Attack of the Cybermen” is an impressive DVD release in every respect. The story - in my view at least - is first rate, and the high quality of abundant special features on offer are at least equal to the two episodes themselves. An absolute must.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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