Wait, watch and learn. Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen

attack

Attack of the Cybermen (lousy title by the way) seems to have been born out of a fannish desire to recreate some of the Cybermen’s greatest moments.  With Tomb of the Cybermen apparently lost forever, there was a certain sense in creating a new story which revisited the Tombs on Telos (although the dinky cubicles in Attack lack a certain style – Tomb did it much better).

For those playing continuity bingo, Mondas and its destruction gets a mention (The Tenth Planet) and the Cybermen once more have a liking for the sewers and also keep their ship hidden on the dark side of the Moon (The Invasion).  And Michael Kilgarriff reprises his role as the Cyber Controller, eighteen years after Tomb.

"It is a fat controller"
“It is a fat controller”

The authorship of Attack has always been a slightly thorny issue.  Some maintain that Paula Moore (alias Paula Woolsey) never wrote a word of the script and that it was all Eric Saward’s (with suggestions from Ian Levine).  Although there are contrary opinions (Levine had greater input, Woolsey did contribute to the script, etc) for the sake of argument we’ll assume that the bulk was written by Saward, as it certainly bears his hallmarks (high body-count and violence, for example).

Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) who had been created by Saward in Resurrection of the Daleks returns. It’s tempting to think that Saward decided to reuse the character after watching Colbourne’s performance in Resurrection.  His first appearance was a fairly nothing part, but Colbourne (by the sheer dint of his personality) certainly made something out of it.

The Lytton in Attack is a subtly different character – for example he has a sharp sense of humour, which is seen in his exchanges with Russell, Griffiths and Payne in the first episode.  These early scenes are some of the best in the story and feel quite out of place in Doctor Who (although in a good way).  They could have quite easily come from a contemporary police series, like Strangers, and it’s a shame that they didn’t remain on Earth for the rest of the story – as a story with the Doctor and Peri tracking Lytton and his merry men through London’s underworld could have been a decent yarn.

Plot hole number one.  If Lytton’s two bogus policemen are still around, why does he need Russell, Griffiths and Payne?  It’s established later that a crew of three is needed to pilot the Timeship, so Lytton plus his two phony coppers would seem to be more than adequate.

"You said you came from Fulham".
“You said you came from Fulham”.

There’s one good reason for having Griffiths around, and that’s Brian Glover.  A familiar face (and voice) on British television for a number of years prior to this appearance, he’s terribly good value.  He often finds himself the butt of Lytton’s acid remarks, and this adds an unexpected twist of humour to the story.  Lytton’s unique take on employer-employee relations is best illustrated when he deals with some dissent from newcomer, Russell –

LYTTON: You are new to this group and have yet to gain my confidence, that’s why I tell you nothing. These two are muscleheads and wouldn’t understand what I said anyway.
GRIFFITHS: You’ve got a rough tongue, Mister Lytton.
LYTTON: Which you will learn to live with, Griffiths, otherwise you’re out. And as your earnings have never been better, that would be rather foolish, wouldn’t it? Let’s go. Come on, Payne, there’s work to be done.
PAYNE: Right.
(Payne gets down into the narrow access tunnel.)
PAYNE: Oh. Hey, how thick is the sewer wall?
LYTTON: Oh, nothing you can’t handle.
(Payne takes the heavy lump hammer.)
PAYNE: I used to use one of these when I worked for the council.
LYTTON: This time it’s for swinging, not leaning on

It turns out that Russell (Terry Molloy) is an undercover policeman, sent to investigate the mysterious Lytton.  Russell is a chance for Molloy to make a Doctor Who appearance as himself, rather than encased in latex as Davros.  He’s rather good, and as Russell he underplays very well, a sharp contrast to the creator of the Daleks.

Whilst all this is going on, what’s happened to the Doctor and Peri?  Well, they spend the early part of episode one not achieving very much – mainly dashing from place to place attempting to answer an intergalactic distress call.  This has little overall relevance to the plot and mainly seems to be designed to keep the Doctor out of the loop until Lytton has allowed himself and Griffiths to be captured by the Cybermen.

nicola

One side-effect of the move to 45 minute episodes, is that for a 90 minute story there would now only be one cliffhanger.  It’s a pity that the one in Attack is rather inept (“No, no, noooooooooooo!”) and the resumption in episode two is also slightly iffy.  The Cyberleader (for no apparent reason) orders the death of Peri and a Cyberman steps up to deal with her.  The Doctor, of course, pleads for her life, but there’s a long gap until the CyberLeader agrees.  Why did the Cyberman not kill Peri straight away?  Why listen to what the Doctor said?  He’d been given a clear order by the CyberLeader.

So we’re off to Telos, where all the characters meet up with the Cryons, who are a bit of a rum lot.  Sarah Berger, Sarah Greene and Faith Brown are amongst their number and they certainly are a memorable creation – I think it’s the long fingernails that does it.  The masks do look a little cheap, but overall they work quite well as an alien species with their own unique take on events.

Lytton and Griffiths, along with two escapees from the Cybermen’s work party (Stratton and Bates) attempt to steal the Cyber Controller’s Timeship.  Plot hole number two.  How did the Cryons and Lytton know that Stratton and Bates were at large on the surface of Telos and also planning to steal the ship?  Also, it’s fair to say that Stratton and Bates have to be the most pointless characters in the story.  We spend a long time with them as they make their attempt to escape from the work party, ambush a Cyberman, etc, but in the end this plot-thread doesn’t go anywhere.  And even when they team up with Lytton and Griffiths, they achieve nothing.

This being (probably) a Saward script, people start to die – Griffiths, Stratton and Bates are all quickly killed off, whilst Lytton is captured and taken to be turned into a Cybermen.  First, though, Lytton’s hands are crushed to a bloody pulp – one of the most infamous scenes of the story.

Although I haven’t mentioned him much, Colin Baker is already (in just his second outing) very assured as the Doctor.  There’s still a trace of the erratic behaviour of The Twin Dilemma but he’s much more in command here and more than able to hold his own against both the Cybermen and Lytton.  The best of his scenes in episode two come when he’s locked up with the Cryon, Flast (Faith Brown) who describes the Cybermen’s plans for Earth.

DOCTOR: How do they intend to destroy Earth?
FLAST: It would only be necessary to disrupt it.
DOCTOR: It would still take rather a large bomb.
FLAST: They have one. A natural one. In fact, it’s heading towards Earth at this very moment.
DOCTOR: Halley’s comet?
FLAST: That’s right. They plan to divert it, cause it to crash into Earth. It’ll make a very loud bang.
DOCTOR: Indeed it will. It’ll also bring about a massive change in established history. The Time Lords would never allow it.
FLAST: Who knows? Perhaps their agents are already at work.
DOCTOR: Well, if they are, they’re taking their time about it. For a start, why? Wait a minute. No! No, not me! You haven’t manoeuvred me into this mess just so I can get you out of it! It would have helped if I had known what was going on!
FLAST: You are a Time Lord?
DOCTOR: Yes. And at the moment, a rather angry one.

Although there’s a lot to enjoy about Attack (Baker and Bryant, Maurice Colbourne, Brian Glover) the ending does leave a little bit of a nasty taste.  It’s not the first Doctor Who story to end in violence and it won’t be the last, but there’s something a little off in seeing the Doctor blasting down the Cybermen.  The Doctor’s used a gun before (for example, the third Doctor in Day of the Daleks was quite happy to gun down Ogrons) but it’s a pity that the resolution of the story couldn’t have been a touch more imaginative.

Still, following the fairly calamitous opening stories of the previous two seasons (both courtesy of Johnny Byrne) as a season opener Attack is a definite step up in quality and a good marker for the type of stories to come during the rest of S22.

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