Doctor Who and the Attack of the Cybermen
5-12, Jan 1984
Still recovering from an unstable regeneration, the Doctor answers what he imagines is a distress call and instead faces the threat of a Cybermen invasion. The mercenary Lytton, no longer an agent of the Daleks, hatches a scheme so brilliant and crafty that he unfortunately fools the Doctor as well, who discovers too late his error in judgement.
A popular monster of the 1960′s, the Cybermen had fallen in favor until 1983′s Earthshock, which saw the robotic menaces rise again as a danger the universe. An alien race who sought immortality by replacing their failing body parts with cybernetics, the inhabitants of Mondas, once a proud and powerful race, were reduced to a life of scavenging for body parts where they could find them. After attacking the Earth in the classic adventure, The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen had revealed their intentions to the human race. The loss of their home planet Mondas (thanks to the Doctor’s intervention) was a crippling blow. From the ice tombs of Telos, the Cybermen devise a plan to alter history and save themselves from years of torment and death.
Ghost-scripted by Eric Saward (under the name Paula Moore), Attack of the Cybermen is a weak younger brother to the explosive Earthshock. A convoluted plot, shifting locations and too many characters prevent Attack from living up to its full potential. The direction of Matthew Robinson (Resurrection of the Daleks) gives the story a haunting atmosphere that helps it from falling too flat, but it’s still an uphill battle to enjoy this one.
An unusual shift in tradition, Colin Baker was introduced in the closing story of the previous year in the dire Twin Dilemma. This move was intended to whet the audience’s appetite for the coming year but instead it caused many to switch off completely.
As a fan at the time, I was shepherded into Doctor Who during the 20th anniversary season only to find myself the only person still watching the following year when Colin Baker arrived.
Bombastic, divisive and aggressive, the sixth Doctor also was adorned with the most painful costume ever. Baker, known at the time as a dramatic actor, was prone to villain parts in soap operas. As such, his acting style is far more stilted and dramatic than his predecessor, the rather subdued Davison. Stunted by both a distracting costume and a persona that challenged viewers, Baker took some time to gain a following as the Doctor and has since found a devoted fanbase in the Big Finish audio productions.
The plan for the 6th Doctor was that he would start off as unlikeable and grow more appealing over time (much like William Hartnell’s First Doctor). In Attack of the Cybermen, Colin Baker was playing a more heroic character and was more appealing than the madman who was prone to violence and cowardice in equal measure that he appeared to be the previous year. Even so, in this adventure the Doctor is still quite unstable and even takes up a gun against the Cybermen in an unexpected firefight.
The increasingly violent tone of the program, already seen in 1983′s Warriors of the Deep and the aforementioned Resurrection of the Daleks is in full effect here as limbs are torn off, heads whacked away and Lytton himself is tortured by having his hands crushed to a pulp. I have often cited the increase in violence seen in Series 21 and 22 as indicative of the time the stories were filmed in. The early 1980′s was largely an optimistic and positive era that grew dark as the decade wore on, causing the Doctor Who stories from 1983 onward to mirror that cynicism with dark tales. Attack of the Cybermen is hardly a cerebral story worthy of much analysis, but it is terribly violent and full of more grey and white than viewers were used to seeing, offset by the rich red of blood and Colin Baker’s awful coat.
The Doctor (Colin Baker) turns the tables on the Cybermen
The plot seems to be made up of various ideas that bravely attempt to combine as a cohesive story but never really come together. As the viewer struggles to figure out why they are watching Terry Molloy play an undercover cop in a sting operation, we watch the Doctor and Peri wander around London, each looking more undignified than the other (Nicola Bryant as Peri squeezed into a hot pink top, hot pants and high heels looks like a waitress from Hooters) before the action switches again to an alien world (quarry) where two other characters are trying to escape a prison planet populated by Cybermen. There’s also something about Halley’s Comet. Then the female tinsel-bearded Cryons arrive and you feel like giving up.
It’s such a mess of ideas and it’s very hard to care about any of them.
Lytton is tortured by Cybermen
As if to make up for the lack of quality in the script, the program rewards viewers with violence and Cybermen spewing green goo as they walk drunkenly around the ice tombs. Like Earthshock, there are many references and homages to the Cybermen stories of the 1960′s, but seeing as how they were not available for viewing it all comes off as anoraky even for the devoted fans watching.
The guest cast is quite good with Maurice Colbourne returning once again as Lytton and Brian Glover as Griffths. Even Terry Molloy (usually seen under a mask as Davros) is good to watch in this one. I am very hard on this one, but it still does deliver as a ‘monster story.’ The Cybermen again look very good and even though he looks like he has developed a pot belly, it’s nice to see Michael Kilgarriff return as the Cyber Controller (a part he played in 1968′s Tomb of the Cybermen). Colin Baker is very good in this and if you are looking for a story from his era to watch, this would probably rank as #3 or #4 (after Revelation of the Daleks, Mark of the Rani and the Two Doctors).
I have had something of a mad love affair with Cybermen recently only to discover that there not many worthwhile classic stories featuring the metallic monsters. The 60′s stories (Tenth Planet, Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Tomb of the Cybermen and Invasion) are fantastic and Earthshock is probably the best modern Cybermen story to date… but that’s it. 1975′s Revenge of the Cybermen and 1985′s Silver Nemesis are both very juvenile and disappointing. In comparison, Attack of the Cybermen comes in just above both of these duds and below Earthshock, so that’s not terrible.
An exclusive set of action figures has been released by Character Options consisting of an all-black ‘Stealth Cyberman’ seen in the tunnels of London and the rare Sixth Doctor bearing a tracking device. I found this odd as Colin Baker is one of the less popular Doctors and this will mark the fifth action figure so he must have fans somewhere!
Available in the UK at Forbidden Planet and in the US at Mike’s Comics.