Doctor Doctor Who Guide

It didn't go very well, did it?

Decisions, decision. Is Attack of the Cybermen are decent story with a few plot holes, or a terrible waste of space with several moments of brilliance? Hard to tell.

What's wrong with the story? (I'm doing Season 22 in 25-minute episodes because that's how I saw it)

1) No unity of action. The first two episodes are set in the London sewers. Which have no bearing on the rest of the plot. All the important stuff is happening on Telos, which we don't see until episode two, and the TARDIS doesn't arrive until half way through episode three. The whole trip to London is irrelevent, and the Doctor might as well have landed straight on Telos and given the story a chance to breathe. Or maybe set the whole story in 1985 London for Lytton's attempts to leave the Earth, a kind of homocidal Ford Prefect, and his diamond hiest. Has there ever been a story like that? Seeing the Sixth Doctor and Peri caught in a bank robbery would be intriguing... But it's a throwaway plot, which leads us to...

2) Too many ideas, not enough interest. Like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack throws in a mass of ideas, plots and characters and after juggling them for a moment, gives up and ends in a massive explosion. The return of Lytton and his policemen isn't the epic it's supposed to be simply because the Doctor barely met the former and never met the latter. Peri's met neither! The idea that the Time Lords have manipulated the Doctor into getting caught in the plot are nonsense, as the TARDIS arrives in 1985 because the Doctor was already heading there, and any other manipulation was down to Lytton. Speaking of Lytton, why does he send out the distress signal before going on the raid? Why does he decide to aide the Cryons instead of just trying to hitchhike his way off Earth? If Halley's Comet is so crucial to the plot, why is it only ever mentioned in two scenes involving the Doctor? How are the Cryons responsible for all the Cybermen dying while frozen in the tombs? Who are Bates and Stratton, how do they have access to a time machine, and how do the Cryons know what they're up to? Why do the Cybermen leave the policemen's helmets on when converting them? If the Telos scenes are, as they appear, set in the far future, how did Lytton contact the Cryons from 1984? If the Cyrons have a spy camera in the cold room, how come they don't realize that Flast is in there as well? And how has a bimbo like Rost lived so long in a guerilla war?

3) Wasting Lytton. Now, out of the disparate elements of Ressurection of the Daleks, Lytton was worth coming back for. A cunning warrior capable of surviving a bloodbath that at the time seemed to have wiped out the Daleks and Davros and still take a potshot or two at the Doctor, I can see at least one person considering him a replacement to the Master (who was, after all, dispatched eight episodes ago). Who can forget the brilliant bit where Stein reminds Lytton that the Daleks will ultimately turn on him, and Lytton doesn't do anything but smile knowingly - he's already prepared for that. Doctor Who needed a recurring villain, and Lytton definitely passed the audition. Imagine if The Mark of the Rani had featured Lytton trying to get a lift off the evil Time Lady, or if it was Lytton out for revenge, not Orcini out for honor, that hunted down Davros in Revelation of the Daleks. But no, instead, he dies here, in his second appearance, with his sidekicks gone by the end of the second episode and forgotten. I thought this was written by Eric Saward who, after all, created and rather liked the character.

4) Wasting Lytton (b). At the end of the story, the Doctor discovers Lytton was working for the Cryons and suddenly he's a good guy. Uh, no, he isn't. In his debut, Lytton happily allowed a bunch of unarmed civilians and a passing tramp to be shot dead, deliberately gassed and shot helpless prisoners, slaughtered his own men and did with a smile. He threatens to have Russell killed and ultimately betrays Griffiths, Stratton and Bates. The only-in-for-it-for-himself Lytton clashes harshly with the big-bleeding-heart Lytton who condemns Peri for not having any compassion, and the one the Doctor mourns for at the end. The Doctor, despite his complete lack of on-screen evidence that Lytton was a bastard, did not misjudge him. Lytton could have told him what was doing and got the Time Lord on his side, could have sweet talked his way round the Cybermen. If the Doctor wants to feel guilty, it should be because he was prepared to leave Lytton on Telos, not because he ultimately failed to save him.

5) Decapitating Cybermen. It beggars belief that Saward wrote this story after Earthshock. The earlier Cybermen story showed them to be near indestructible, ruthless, powerful and was only able to defeat them by making it part of history. Take out the extinct dinosaurs and the Cybermen would have won. But here they can get stopped by bullets. Bullets! That's the one thing that has never effected the silver giants till now - but one shot from Griffiths can make one bleed to death, and Russell can blow another's head apart with a single round! Not to mention the endless scenes of Cybermen getting their skulls smashed from their soldiers by metal poles, laser blasts and bare fists... Worse, like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack shows this classic monster race on their last legs, with one overcomplicated time-travel-bomb-involving plan to stop them being wiped out... And it fails! Did Saward feel he had to kill off every character he enjoyed writing for? Only the regulars and two Cryons survive this story...

6) Too much continuity! As Gareth Roberts pointed out, building a sequel plot out of The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of The Cybermen, The Invasion and Resurrection of the Daleks is almost but not quite as pointless as building a sequel plot to The Smugglers, The Evil of the Daleks, The Mind Robber and Frontios. Worse, you can tell the really obvious padding of the scenes with the Doctor and Peri where they discuss his regeneration. Oh, and Totter's Yard. Why the hell was that there? Why? In Remembrance of the Daleks, it was there because it was one of the few places we saw the First Doctor visit in the first episode, and it also contrasts him with the Daleks - he used the yard as a home and spent most of his time in a police box, the Dalek uses the yard as shelter and spends most of its time killing people from the safety of a shed. There's no reason for the TARDIS to land there, in fact, all I could think of was that the chameleon circuit still thought that a police box looks good in a scrapyard... And imagine! Without all the pathetic scenes about the Terrible Zodin and the chameleon circuit and the Doctor running around London, he could have got straight into the plot. Is it a crime to have the TARDIS land in the action nowadays? And worse, the continuity is WRONG! The tombs don't look the same as in Tomb, which begs the question of why do it then? Why get the guy who played the Controller to come back when all the actor had no dialogue and was brought into wear a massive silver suit that hid his features? Not only does he make the Controller fat, twitchy and robotic, I can barely understand a word he says. Bring him back to play the Giant Robot (as Big Finish did), but not this! The Controller in Tomb was a creepy queen bee of the Cybermen, and this one is a jowly moron you get bored waiting for someone to attack!

Hmmmm. Pretty damning evidence. But there are good sides to.

1) The Sixth Doctor. For the last three years we had a Doctor who behaved realistically when a gun was pointed at him, being prone to panic, desperation and not being believed by people in authority. While that did have its merits, it is nice to see the Doctor have a gun pointed at him... and he beats the living snot out of his assailant, and then, for a laugh, puts on the police helmet and then wanders into the line of fire to give Peri a scare. There's also the brilliant moment where he offhandedly tells Peri to shoot the uncooperative Russell. No one can possibly believe the Doctor actually wanted her to do it, because if he did want Russell dead he would have done it himself. Like the fifth Doctor, this one is not exactly perfect as he causes the TARDIS to repeatedly malfunction, winds up his enemies to no avail and makes mistakes with fatal consequences. However, this Doctor is constantly building himself up as a genius and thus the moments he's exposed as a fraud all the more entertaining. The only downer moments are the noted 'Who cares about Lytton if he's not a good guy?' scene, and the moment when he agrees he wants the Cyber Controller and all his followers as dead as Flast. It's bloodthirsty and not the best.

2) The comedy. The Doctor's funny, and always has been, but the repartee between Lytton and his gang, not to mention Stratton and Bates who seem to have been written with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonsen in mind. Having seen the bloke who plays Stratton in countless police dramas as loud, psychotic overbearing fathers, seeing him young and punkish is a nice culture shock. There's lots of lovely humor moments, with only Rost's 'wit' failing. No one sheds a tear when a Cyberman punches a hole through her, so maybe it was intentional. The whole angle of fixing the chameleon circuit is a waste of time, but it's laugh out loud funny as the TARDIS assumes more and more impractical shapes so you don't notice at first that it's finally fixed. The line "time travel... in an organ!" deserves points for sheer postmodernist alone. The destruction of the Cybermen is worth a laugh too, like the panicked one that tries to pat out its exploding hand with "Naughty sleeve! Don't burn! Naughty sleeve!" or the "Oh, heavy!" wave from the Cyberman as he and his fellows jog casually away from a bomb about to detonate. And how cool is it to see Terry Molloy utterly baffled when people start mentioning Daleks?

3) The violence. Or rather, lack of it. People seem to think this story is one long bloodbath when it's nothing of the sort. Thanks to the dark and some poor pixelation, we can barely see humans getting their necks broken by the Cybermen, who kill people with nice clean laser guns. Even the Cryons dying is nothing more intense than smoke and light. All right, there is the infamous 'Cybermen crush Lytton's hands' scene, but this is after a story where the Cybermen beat the crap out of people with no blood spilt at all, making it quite clear these things are tough. When the impassive Stratton begins crushing Griffith's hand, that's to show you how powerful these things are. When the Cybermen do crush Lytton's hand, that's to show you how tough Lytton is. The small amounts of hydraulic fluid spilt during the fight scenes hardly matter, and its nice to notice the Cyber reinforcements accidentally kill themselves rather than the Doctor doing the deed.

4) The Cryons. Giving the Cybermen a foe other than humanity is always a good idea... and it couldn't be any worse than the Vogans in Revenge of the Cybermen... I mean, the Daleks get Thals, Mechanoids, Movellans and their own creator PLUS the Doctor and humanity to deal with. The Cryons look very creepy, almost like the ghosts of aliens (which ties in with them somehow surviving) and they have distinct personalities - albeit not very nice ones. They can even use the Cybermen's credo with irony. I like the way they're tactile and like to run their hands along each other, and thus visibly have to restrain themselves around Peri due to her body temperature. But the trouble is for an all-female race... why do they all have moustaches? And how can they survive in the presence of humanoids who continually raise the temperature? And just how have they been able to wipe out the Cybermen? How do they survive the destruction of Cyber Control?

5) Conversion. At last! Somebody remembers that the Cybermen can turn you into Cybermen! It's wierd, but watch their televised stories... it never happens! The closest comes in Tomb of the Cybermen, where Toberman gets a metal arm. And that's it. It's not even a background threat in The Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock or The Five Doctors. But the trouble is that the Cybermen still need to remind themselves not to kill people in order to increase their numbers (which is blatantly contradicted when one of the sewer workers is killed and later seen in a conversion booth). And the fact there are countless of Strattons and Bateses who didn't go through the conversion process... So you've got better arms and legs? So what! You can still feel, breathe, taste and do the nasty, stop complaining! Actually, these last two points are edging more towards negatives rather than positives...

6) The novelization. Truly, Eric Saward is a genius in this field. He manages to do the whole story without any real changes and yet improves it immensely. This is a good book, people. It still has the massive flaws but the characterization is improved, the violence turned down and the deaths don't seem so meaningless. The carnage at the end suddenly looks like there might be a happy ending. And the Doctor's annoyance at Lytton is a vent for his own guilt at not protecting Russell. There's also a beautiful scene at the beginning when Peri confronts the Doctor about his regeneration and threatens to leave unless her demands are met and... the Doctor agrees unconditionally, not even waiting to hear them and sending the TARDIS to a holiday destination, so delighted is he to be with her. A single paragraph makes the death of Griffiths somehow uplifting - his dying thought is the happy one that he didn't die alone and forgotten but killed by cyborg aliens on another planet while stealing a time machine with two millions' worth of diamonds in his back pocket! However, the fact is this changes are so minor... why the hell weren't they in the original?!

So, weighing up the facts... Sorry. Attack of the Cybermen is rubbish, littered with enough diamonds to make this fact all the more depressing. It could have been brilliant

Filters: Television Series 21 Sixth Doctor