Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen (or “Don’t Let Superfans Write For The Show: A Cautionary Tale”)

Colin Baker didn’t get off to the best of starts as the Doctor, did he?

The Twin Dilemma was a disaster on every level, the worst of which was the character of the Sixth Doctor and Baker’s choice of acting.

But let’s not carry that with us; let’s try to be positive.

It’s a new season and the production team have had the chance to take stock. Surely in that time they would see the problems they’d created, sort them and get the show back on an even keel.

With that said, we move into Season 22 and the first story, Attack of the Cybermen.

Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen Review: What’s This One About?

Fanwank continuity.

Basically it’s a story written for superfans by a superfan (although he insists he had nothing to do with it. Or maybe he insists he does and Eric Saward insists he doesn’t, I’m not sure) that probably flew over the head of most of the people watching at home.

And they wonder why it got cancelled…

Thoughts – Let’s Make A Story Based On Continuity!!!!

The immediate problem with Attack of the Cybermen is that it’s a story based around events that have happened in the show’s past.

By all means have a Cyberman story, by all means redo Tomb of the Cybermen if you want, but don’t write a new story that is linked to old ones that the majority of the viewers haven’t seen.

"Don't look at me, it's all Ian's fault"

“Don’t look at me, it’s all Ian’s fault”

In 1985, The Tomb of the Cybermen was presumed wiped and the Tenth Planet wasn’t in broadcastable condition due to Episode 4’s disappearance.

So why write a story that assumes they were transmitted in the last week?

By its very nature, the plot of Attack of the Cybermen takes it as read that the viewer knows all about the Tombs on Telos, The Cyber-Controller, Mondas and its destruction.

But at best, the tiny percentage of viewers who did know about it would have to rely on hazy near-20 year old memories and maybe some pictures in a book.

So again I ask; why write it?

Because people like Ian Levine simply had too much influence over what was going on at the time. But the bizarre double-standard is that JNT wouldn’t allow Michael Craze to be cast in Caves of Androzani.

Anyway, at the time the average viewer probably struggled to follow it, while now, the keen viewer who has copies of the Tenth Planet and the since-rediscovered Tomb of the Cybermen will know that Attack of the Cybermen actually does a very bad job of paying homage to those stories.

Even with the limited amount of pictures they had available to them at the time, surely they could see what both the Tomb set (the most impressive thing about the serial) and the Cyber Controller looked like? So why did they go with a tomb that looked like a specialist freezer showroom, and a Cyber Controller that looked like a normal Cyberman with a particularly bad bump on his head?

And yet, while not considering it important to get details like that correct, they do go to the effort of recasting Michael Kilgarriff as the Controller, even though he was fully covered up and unrecognisable at the time, and by 1985 was a fat bastard. Also wasn’t the character conclusively killed off in Tomb anyway?

As for the Tenth Planet stuff? Well it didn’t make sense.

I mean where do you even begin?

The Cybermen want to go back in time to prevent Mondas from being destroyed. Their plan is to divert Halley’s Comet to Earth the year before the events of Tenth and stop it that way. I’m not exactly sure how that will stop it anyway, but even if it did, would it still not have been a better plan to travel back in time to Mondas and influence things that way? Not only would it be more peaceful, but it’d be more logical, time efficient and make better use of resources. The Cybermen are

I found that bit somewhat gratuitous. I imagine there were complaints.

I found that bit somewhat gratuitous. I imagine there were complaints.

meant to be logical and without emotion, so if continuity is so important, surely that key element of their character should be considered when writing for them? Of course not…

Anyway, if they do stop Mondas from being destroyed, they plan on blowing up Telos, just to see what happens. Why not keep Telos as a secondary base? And let’s not forget that if they do go back in time and prevent Mondas from being destroyed, that would create a paradox that would mean they’d never moved to Telos in the first place, so not only could they not blow it up, but they couldn’t even have been there to plan to go back and save Mondas.

Ha, think about that!

If I was writing the show at the time, I’d have taken a different approach. If it was Tomb of the Cybermen that I wanted to redo, I’d simply take the same key elements – i.e. have the Doctor, Peri and a bunch of humans end up in another Cyber tomb – and pay homage to it that way. It doesn’t take a genius to find a way to make that story work without treading on the continuity toes of Tomb of the Cybermen.

If they’d done that, they’d have a better story, one that the public could enjoy and one that fans – who at that stage couldn’t envisage a time where every Who story would be available in their homes to watch, let alone a time when Tomb had been rediscovered – could invest in and get excited about.

It’s not rocket science.

Instead we got that.

The Road To Nowhere

Another element I didn’t like was the storyline with Stratton and Bates.

To me, a story has to go somewhere. There’s got to be a beginning, middle and an end, and the end has to have some level of pay-off and satisfaction.

"Mon then"

“Mon then”

With this storyline, Sawar…I mean Paula Moore spends 80 minutes or so building them up, giving them a reason for being there, a quest to follow and characters to interact with.

They spend ages trying to get a Cyberman’s head so they can use it to infiltrate Cyber Control, only to then not need it because Lytton has a map. Then once they overcome…erm…nothing of any note, they finally get to the ship only to be caught in a trap and killed.

Other than a boyish need on the part of the writer to kill as many people as possible, what was the point of that? To pad out the story, our time has been completely wasted. There’s no pay-off, no satisfactory ending; it’s just stupid.

The Character of the Sixth Doctor

Well, apart from the early scenes in the TARDIS and on Earth with Peri, I’ll give both the writers and Colin Baker some credit.

They’ve settled the Doctor down and made him a bit more normal. I wouldn’t go as far as to say more likeable or anywhere near as good as the actors who have played the part before him, but it is an improvement.

He’s stuck with that awful costume though.

Other Elements That Don’t Make Sense

There are loads of issues with Attack of the Cybermen that don’t stand up to examination. Here’s a few more I’ve spotted…

  • Considering they had two scenes together with minimal interaction in Resurrection of the Daleks, how come The Doctor & Lytton know so much about each other?
  • How come Lytton both expected the Doctor to return and assumed that he was responsible for sonic lancing the Cyberman?
  • How did the Cybermen get into the TARDIS before the Doctor?
  • If Lytton wanted a crack force of mobsters to help him in his plan, how did he make the assumption that two of the four would be killed before he got to Telos and why did he choose a bumbling Yorkshireman, a spiv and an Undercover Cop?
  • And why did he not just take his two policeman chums with him instead?
  • What are the Cyberman actually doing in the sewers of Earth in 1985? Oh wait…the sewers; that’s an Invasion reference isn’t it? That literally only just occurred to me, showing just how needless this whole continuity thing is.
  • If Lytton’s distress signal had been picked up, why keep it running?
  • And surely he’d have been better served trying to help the Cryons by contacting and explaining his plans to the Doctor rather than risking death with the Cybermen?
  • How did the Cryons not notice their mate was being held in that room if they had CCTV footage of the Doctor there?
  • And yes, the obvious one, why did the Cybermen lock the Doctor up in a room with enough explosives to blow up the whole of their base?

But Is It Any Good?

These are all big issues with Attack of the Cybermen, but I suppose the main question to ask is whether or not it’s any good to watch?

Remember how I said I didn’t get the Caves of Androzani all that much as a youngster but appreciate it far more as an adult?

The Fat Controller has been tucking in since we last saw him

The Fat Controller has been tucking in since we last saw him

Well this is the reverse.

I think Attack of the Cybermen will seem cool to children, but it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny as an adult.

Although it’s watchable enough and sorts out some of the issues created in the last story, it’s average at best.

And that’s a pity because it could have been better.

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

Attack of the Cybermen finishes on a close-up of the Doctor’s face which means we’re up to 4 out of 6.

Interestingly, the other two have been close-ups of Peri’s face, so the count is now…

The Doctor 4 – 2 Peri

Random Observations

  • There’s even less original Incidental Music here, with Malcolm Clark borrowing again from his old stories. Mostly it’s from Earthshock but there’s a bit of Twin Dilemma and Resurrection of the Daleks action here too. Disappointing.
  • Peri’s dress sense baffles me, or should that be the costume department’s choices for her. They’ve got her wearing a skin-tight Lycra top, presumably to excite teenage boys with her fuller figure, but then in contrast to that she’s wearing a pair of baggy cargo shorts that serve only to make her look dumpy on the bottom half. I don’t get it.
  • Considering the original plan was to kill off Griffiths in Episode One, where did the story go without him in it?
  • The bit where Lytton has his hands crushed is another example of Saward’s boyish need to make things gory. I don’t think it needed to be in there and I can see why people disapproved.
  • Having a Cyber Controller and a Cyber Leader confuses matters. It’s a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
  • What was the story with the Cybermen rotting in the tombs? I’m sure they explain it but I must have missed it this time.
  • The end bit, where the Doctor just kills all the Cybermen in the control room just screams “Shit, we’re running out of time and have to kill these guys off”. Poor.
  • I haven’t really touched on the acting of the guest cast. On the whole they are fine, although it’s difficult to know quite how well actors in full costumes actually do. Brian Glover, Terry Molloy and Maurice Colbourne are all good enough though.
  • The continuity with the I.M. Foreman Yard barely deserves a mention.
  • And the Chamelion Circuit gimmick either should have been kept for a while or not used at all.
  • I don’t know if it’s meant to be, but the Cryon’s response of “I don’t know; I don’t have an instrument for measuring time” to the Cyber Leader’s question about how long the Doctor has been gone may well be the most brilliantly sarcastic response anyone has ever given in any context.
  • Speaking of lines of dialogue, I remember the continuity announcer on UK Gold taking the piss out of the amount people scream “No” at the end of Episode One. It’s six by the way.
  • One more about the dialogue: I find Stratton and Bates converse almost entirely in exposition.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #161 – probably about right but that’s still only one lower than Keys of Marinus, which is a disgraceful rating for the 1st Doctor story to have.

Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen Review: Final Thoughts

So they did manage to sort some of the issues with the Twin Dilemma although it seems to be a matter of replacing old problems with new ones.

Continuity has its place – after all, it would have been stupid to have the Silurians come from Siluria – but they’ve taken it to far. Once again, that leaves us with a story that is alienating to a large section of the viewer base.

Attack of the Cybermen is riddled with nonsensical plot developments and threads that end up going nowhere.

It’s the sort of show you’ll enjoy as a child but balk at as an adult, especially one with the old stories its supposed to be paying homage to at your disposal.

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4 Responses to Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen (or “Don’t Let Superfans Write For The Show: A Cautionary Tale”)

  1. LegoDaleks says:

    Shittest review I’ve ever read. I’m not even going to bother wasting my time to tear it apart.
    If you didn’t like Attack of the Cybermen, steer clear of 21st century Who. They have the alternative history set on Earth with Cyber-Davros in which they cry oil. The design is the Wheel in Space head on the body of a plastic version of the tinman & the Cyber-theme is some generic orchestrated track. Nu-hu makes even the crappy American movie look like a masterpiece.

    • sgmilne says:

      Nice.

      Love Attack of the Cybermen, hate Post 2005 Doctor Who.

      Gotcha

      • Slavin Ivanov says:

        Wow, this has to be the most negative comment I have ever read on this blog! As TV Tropes would say, that’s Insane Troll Logic (No offense!). 🙂
        Go on, Stuart, and review “Nu-hu”!

  2. Ralph Burns says:

    Loved this story as a child back when it went out. It still works fine for me as an adult, I must admit.

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