Doctor Doctor Who Guide

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion, in my opinion, that for all its good intentions and some fine cast members, ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was a poor start for the Doctor’s sixth incarnation and a disappointing end to one of the best seasons of the eighties. Despite this I could certainly see potential in the direction the regular team of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant were taking the series. I can vaguely recall the excitement I felt regarding entering 1985 with the series not only returning to Saturdays (I feel the time is rather immaterial, although I suspect amongst others, fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker would probably argue the point on that) but weekly episodes extended to forty-five minutes.

Now I have to confess that the Cybermen are my all time favourite Doctor Who monster so although biased I always approach their story appearances with a detached and objective perspective. Apologies to all you Dalek fans out there but I feel that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis’ creations are the best long term adversarial race that the Doctor has ever encountered. Through their many appearances in the series we have seen them evolve from the cloth faced figures in their first ‘The Tenth Planet’ story through to the streetwise look as featured in the rather poor ‘Silver Nemesis’ adventure but whatever they look like the overriding menace that they present remains. They must certainly have influenced the development of the obviously successful Borg race which have featured in many episodes of the various Star Trek series and of course, in my opinion, the finest spin off film from the franchise, 1996’s ‘First Contact’. It is their close association to humans, further heightened by the truly excellent, and for me most disturbing, cyber-origin Big Finish release ‘Spare Parts’ that puts this race above the Daleks. So therefore, for me at least I still have very fond memories (despite its faults) of when I watched ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ on its original transmission, purely due to the escapist adventure nature it presents. On the one hand it was obviously important to herald the new series with the return of a popular adversary however I suppose it would have probably had greater and more memorable impact if the Cybermen’s return to the series had been more of a closely guarded secret. That point aside there is much to enjoy in what is, in essence, a rather fast paced action story whose plot is mostly steeped in Cyber history. Admittedly it is a violent piece of drama (typical with much of this seasons stories), lots of character deaths and of course the eventual brutal treatment of Lyton at the hands of the Cybermen (crushing his hands till they bleed and his eventual cyber conversion) but this is truly in keeping with the true nature of this evil unfeeling lifeform.

‘Attack of the Cybermen’ opens with the mystery surrounding underground sewer tunnels located under London’s Fleet Street. We first observe two workmen (their yellow hardhats clearly indicating that they work for Thames Water) who are clearly mystified about the identification marks they find on the walls in relation to the maps they are carrying. Their presence clearly does not go unnoticed, and something, out of the darkness rushes forward and kills them.

Also showing an interest in the area, albeit for an entirely different reason is a sharp suited shady character called Lyton who pulls his Ford Granada saloon car to a halt on the side of a busy road whilst peering out towards a modern office block nearby. The plan, as he outlines to the three men travelling with him, is to commit a diamond raid (£2 million in uncut gems apparently) on said establishment. Whilst it is certainly a pleasure to have Maurice Collbourne’s former Dalek taskforce leader return one briefly wonders how much time has elapsed between this story and the previous ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ tale. From his dialogue and character’s posture you can gain the impression that he is clearly tiring of his continued time on the Earth and he enters this story clearly with some hidden agenda of his own in which to leave. Griffiths (played by broad Yorkshire actor Brian Glover who works well primarily in conjunction with Maurice Collbourne’s character) and Russell (the former Council labourer) are clearly the criminals they appear to be although by his nervous disposition James Beckett’s Payne character is certainly less trustworthy and suspicious of the groups mysterious leader. This is, we later discover, with good reason, as having been asked to, at very short notice, obtain a large amount of explosives for the job, he leaves the group. On making a phone call from a near by call box his real identity of police officer becomes apparent from his conversation.

On his return the four men enter the sewers unaware that their presence below ground has been observed. Similar stalking techniques to that which was used by the androids used in ’Earthshock’ are employed by an equally darkened figure which leisurely takes its time and picks off Russell. The activity of knocking a wall down clearly appears to be a way for Lyton to announce their presence to not only the Cyberman sentry but also the Cyber base. With only the shaven headed Yorkshireman by his side (Payne evidently having used the Cyberman diversion to flee), Lyton shows little surprise as a wall slides back and numerous Cybermen filter out. At this point a Cyberman is apparently killed by machine gun bullets, quite unthinkable! Well my thoughts on this is that this Cyberman must be a newly converted being from the underground Cyber base and therefore his ability to withstand this form of attack had not been completed. Naturally showing no emotional sense of concern, the Cybercontroller asks how Lyton, a mere human, managed to locate their base. Much to Griffith’s surprise (illustrating how easily taken in he can be) he replies he is not from Earth and is infact from Vita 15 (Riften 5) in the star system 690 (not from Fulham as he’d previously said). It is the signal detection point in the story which is noteworthy as this two way transmission between Earth and the Cyberman’s (adopted) planet of Telos is what leads to the Doctor and Peri’s involvement in the story.

Quite wrongly the Doctor assumes that the ‘Intergalactic Distress Call’ received in the TARDIS is from a stranded friendly alien and, being the good Samaritan, he sets out to locate and rescue whatever being is sending the signal. It is only when, having encountered a seemingly lost Payne wandering the sewers coupled with running into a Cyberman patrolling the entrance of the base that the situation becomes clearer. From this point the simple mystery element of the story slowly fades, the story changes pace and begins to make references to Cyber series history. This subtle change of pace primarily as we enter the second episode is good for long term fans and should not unduly perplex the casual viewer to the series due to the comprehensive manner in which the historical ground is covered. With their eventual capture on their return to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Peri encounter Lyton and Griffiths which leads to an interesting Cyber series history conversation briefly recalling the events of William Hartnell’s ‘The Tenth Planet’ story and the planet Telos history. The reacquaintance of the Doctor and Lyton following onto their (supposed (unfilmed(?)) encounter in the previous season’s ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is also enjoyable as Colin Baker conveys his character’s contempt of the former Dalek mercenary, something he would later come to regret.

The cold sterile atmosphere of Telos is established straight away as we shift to watching an escape by two men from a work party that the Cybermen have assembled on the surface of the windswept, barren world. Stratton is clearly a hard embittered figure, tired of working for the Cybermen and all too aware of their master plan for the planet. His companion Bates is a timid follower who is easily lead and follows Stratton with the hope that he can deliver the long term survival and freedom from the Cybermen he desires. During his emotional conversation with his fellow escapee we learn from Stratton that the Cybermen are lining the surface of the planet with explosives which they intend to detonate once they have left with no regard for the human workforce which had been arduously working in their service. The chances of success of the Cybermen’s plan to deflect Telos in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Mondas (their home planet) rather depends on the amount of explosives used and their positioning but that doesn’t really concern the viewer. Stratton is seemingly unique amongst the assembled workers in his desire to escape before this happens. Choosing his moment the intention was to escape with two colleagues and then launch an attack on Cyber Control to attempt to capture the Cybermen’s time capsule. However as the plan goes wrong with only Bates joining him, following venting his anger on his timid follower he quickly decides on an alternate plan. Whilst enjoyable to see the brutal attack of a lone Cyberman, smashing off head of said adversary the plan of using Bates to wear the cleaned out receptacle and proceed to their target as prisoner and escort seemed ultimately flawed and smacks of further desperation. It was only their seemingly unexpected meeting up with Lyton and Griffiths that greatly improved their chances of success, something that I will touch on later.

Obviously on their arrival on Telos the seemingly legendary tombs realised for this story do not meet the splendour presented in the previous highly rated Patrick Troughton adventure ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ which is naturally disappointing but, due to budgetary considerations are not entirely surprising. The use of this simplistic setting does allow for the customary splitting up of the four characters to aid the progression of the plot. It therefore falls to Peri and, more importantly Lyton and Griffiths, to encounter the native Cryon lifeform. With bulbous heads, rippled glass flat unbroken collars, matching half arm/wrist adornment with long thin nails wearing white plastic jumpsuits these aliens are certainly a curious creation. On encountering them it struck me as noteworthy that this was a female race and with the Cybermen being clearly male we once again have a battle of the sexes conflict similar to the Hommiks and Seska primarily featured in the season four episode of Blakes Seven entitled ‘Power’ evidently with a similar outcome.

Having learnt that Lyton is infact working for the Cryons it is their subsequent attempts to reach Cyber Control using a Cryon created ‘safe route’ map which is one of the more interesting plot developments in the second half of this story. With Griffiths acting as bodyguard this leads to their emergence onto the surface and the memorable meeting of Stratton and Bates whom are clearly known to the Cryons. It is chilling to discover that humans like Stratton are infact Cyber rejects, beings whose Cyber conversion was not successful. The scene where Stratton removes his right glove, pulls up his sleeve revealing a metallic appendage which he then coldly and dispassionately proceeds to grip Griffith’s hand with is both most effective and memorable in conveying what he (and presumably many others) have been through at the hands of the Cybermen.

The Doctor has his own initial encounter and conversation with a Cryon, albeit an elderly one during his initial imprisonment in a cold storage room but these scenes are I find, largely forgettable. Presumably this individual, identified as Flast was played by noted comedy actress Faith Brown although such was the nature of the Cryon head gear it is impossible to detect the identity of the individual. This is similar for children’s presenter Sarah Green although their voices can give some clue to their identity.

Despite the seriousness of the plot ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ does present viewers with some lighter moments. The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has subtly evolved although Peri is still showing concerns about the Doctor’s mental state (attempting to do so much work on the TARDIS and the amusing street scene (‘I suddenly feel conspicuous’) shortly after they first land in a London scrapyard in glamorous(!) Acton). To my knowledge I believe this is the only story (apart of course from ‘Logopolis’) where the Doctor makes a serious attempt to repair the TARDIS chameleon circuit which, to a degree, is temporarily successful. I particularly liked the pipe organ coupled with the Doctor showing some musical skill, however ultimately you can’t beat the blue police box appearance which makes its welcome return at the stories conclusion. There is a surprise nod to the past with the TARDIS initially materialising at 76 Totters Lane and whilst it’s pleasing to see the Doctor’s brief reaction when he sees the sign proclaiming the address and ‘I.M.Foreman’ sign on their return to the TARDIS the location bears little resemblance to that which appeared way back in ‘An Unearthly Child’.

Although possibly weighed down with the events of ‘The Tenth Planet’ (the destruction of Mondas) and The Tombs of the Cybermen’ and a plot which undoubtedly has its faults there is much to commend in a story that stands up well with others featured in this twenty-second season. I know that its not exactly perfect and the story does falter the further it develops over its total length but viewed overall it must surely rate better than their next appearance in the series, the unsatisfactory mess that was ‘Silver Nemesis’. If the rumours are true regarding Colin Baker recording a commentary for a possible DVD release (don’t you just love these rumours?) I feel it would be a fine addition to BBC Worldwide’s growing collection of highly regarded titles representing the series and a further indication of how great an adversary the Cybermen have become.

Filters: Television Series 21 Sixth Doctor