Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Some dates are indelibly etched on our minds. For me, one such date is 5th January 1985, a time pregnant with possibilities if you were a Doctor Who fan. Me, I was a music fan and I was into girls, That day I hooked up with my new girlfriend, Sarah, hit the town, bought U2's Unforgettable Fire. Oh and I was looking forward to watching Attack of the Cybermen. What a title! I still love it. Cybermen. Attacking. What more could you want? Twin Dilemma was a false start, wasn't it? Colin Baker was great in it, a little theatrical, perhaps but he boded well and made a dramatic contrast to Peter Davison. The story was complete tosh, the production values were poor, the twins were... Best not to dwell on the inadequacies of this tale, everything would be put to right in ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN! 

Yes, Attack of the Cybermen. This got 9 million viewers, you know. I'm sure Mr and Mrs Joe Shmoe and little Jimmy looked in the paper to see what was on TV and came across Doctor Who and one look at that title and, well, you'd have to check it out, wouldn't you?

Doctor Who - he's back and it's about time. An apposite description for this story, but first lets go back to 1982 and Earthshock. It was a revelation. Episode 1 is still premium Who. Anyone watching it for the first time was genuinely enthralled by the time the closing credits began. The Cybermen were back and we'd had no warning! (If the 2005 series can deliver a similar coup then I'll eat all the celery you can set before me.) Unfortunately the remaining 3 episodes don't really live up to the 1st. The fact that it is virtually plotless doesn't really matter. it's simply a vehicle to reintroduce an old enemy and kill off a hapless companion. The dinosaur twist is neat but there are roughly 60 minutes of meandering narrative and chatty, boastful Cybermen. I reckon the more they talk, the duller and more ridiculous they become. For my money, The Invasion represents the Cybermen at their best, keeping them in the background, tantalisingly. All the talking is done by the Cyber-Planner. The Cybermen look great: sleek, functional and with blank, impassive faces (no 'scary' grimaces here). Revenge of the Cybermen doesn't muck up the design and the 'head-guns' are a GREAT idea, think about it, it makes total sense - it's logical However they have become rather talkative, not Gerry Davis' fault, I feel but it's obvious that Robert Holmes dislikes writing for them. He was the wrong (re)writer for the story because he likes to create CHARACTERS and that's not a trait the Cybermen truthfully have as The Invasion (and Tomb of the Cybermen) nicely demonstrates.

Attack of the Cybermen represents the nadir of a self-destructing series. The seeds were sown with the re-introduction of the Master in Keeper of Traken. A perfectly fine story, as was the atmospheric Logopolis. At a pinch his presence in Castrovalva was acceptable, but Time Flight? The King's Demons? The Five Doctors? Etc, etc... Overkill. This exercise had already been tried from Terror of the Autons onwards and to dubious effect but at least it was novel at first. Season 20 brought back an 'element from the past' for every story and in the process alienated casual viewers and didn't exactly enthrall the fans either. A year later, and we had some reason for optimism:The Awakening, Frontios and, of course, The Caves of Androzani. Otherwise there was a worrying preoccupation with old villains and, increasingly, unwarranted violence. The blood and gore was laid on even thicker in the following season (Lytton's torture, general torturing in Vengeance on Varos, rat-eating and an inappropriate stabbing in The Two Doctors. Revelation of the Daleks at least had the black wit of it's script and the sheer verve of Graeme Harper's direction to carry it along. It's Colin Baker's best story by a country mile.

Michael Grade wasn't the enemy of Doctor Who. The main problem with the latter Davison, early C. Baker stories lay squarely with the production team. There is no unifying vision for the voyages of the Doctor. Whether we like them or not, we can see what Hinchcliffe/Holmes, Letts/Dicks, Williams/Adams, Lloyd/Davis, et al, were trying to achieve. They set an overall tone; they aren't necessarily trying to be original but they ARE trying to tell good Doctor Who stories. John Nathan-Turner presided over some great (or at the very least, interesting) stories: Warriors' Gate, Kinda, Enlightenment, Caves, Revelation, Greatest Show in the Galaxy and most of Sylvester McCoy's last season. But there is no overall tenor to the seasons that contain them, no direction (well, not until Andrew Cartmel came along...). Shock tactics are employed - virtually everyone dies in Resurrection of the Daleks, some horribly. The aim of Eric Saward and Nathan-Turner seems to be to make the series more adult. Inferno showed how this could be done without resorting to needless violence. The Green Death has a great, topical story and some chills but no gratuitous injury or maiming. The Dalek Invasion of Earth is surprisingly grim, even now, but Verity Lambert and co. doesn't smash the viewer in the face with it. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against violence, per se, in Doctor Who or any other drama but just using it for effect is an empty and somehow degrading gesture. Nathan-Turner didn't seem seem to be interested in scripts, just recurring monsters, guest stars and strait-jacketing, inappropriate costumes (all his Doctors, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric, Turlough, Peri...). His best script editor was Cartmel.. He made the series more cohesive. You can argue the pros and cons of his version of the Doctor but at least he gave it some thought, and with Ace he brought character development into the series. Again, it's arguable whether or not you agreed with the way he did it but he tried and, more or less, succeeded. Saward simply wasn't reined in enough and in any case he shared Nathan_Turner's desire to make the series great by simply apeing the past. It's a shame because he showed a flare for dialogue and witty one-liners ("mouth on legs") and his debut, The Visitation, is a sound, traditional tale. 

Where does all this leave Attack of the Cybermen? It's akin to a dodgy Easter egg: thin, tasteless chocolate - hollow - wrapped in crinkly tin foil and containing sweets that leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Could you sustain yourself on such a diet? Colin Baker couldn't and neither could the viewers. Attack of the Cybermen is no better or worse than most of the stories that surround it and that's not a good thing.

Attack of the Cybermen - such a good title, promising much and delivering nothing. I haven't seen Sarah for years and The Unforgettable Fire saw U2 slide into bombast and self-importance. Ring any bells?

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