Attack of the Cybermen

Written by:
Paula Moore (Eric Saward)
Directed by: Matthew Robinson
Starring: Colin Baker
Year: 1984
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

The story opens in a BBC set pretending to be a sewer. With the "more bulges than an antenatal clinic" line the more adult referencing of the era is evident.

What really annoys me about this story is that Peri is clothed in a sickly, neon pink jumpsuit. It looks hideous, and produces nauseau every time you look at it. It's almost as if you'd gone to a shrink with "excessive looking at Peri's jugs" and he'd prescribed Pavlovian aversion therapy. Any story that makes you feel sick for looking at Peri's chest is a bad, bad, bad thing.

One truly awful thing about this story is the music. Concentrate on Colin's acting and it's really not THAT bad in this one. It's just that his every mood swing is punctuated by OTT stings, causing you to think his performance is OTT, too. And poor old Lytton can't even have a poo on the toilet without hearing "Da-da-da-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa". Malcolm Clarke was also behind The Sea Devils (okay, it worked in that instance) and The Twin Dilemma. Having a full blast rendition of Tocatta and Fugue is subtle in this guy's book.

Maurice Colbourne gives a class performance as Lytton, even if James Beckett and the guy from the Tetley Tea ads aren't the most convincing hard man villains. "Ditch the motor!" they sound about as convincingly working class as Sophie Aldred.

I've always thought the Tardis Chameleon Circuit (or the cloaking device, McGann fans!) fix drew undue attention to one of the series' more eccentric money-saving devices. Having the Doctor fix it is like having him say "why do all the planets I land on look like quarries in Surrey?" Peri's a pretty rubbish companion, but aren't her shoulder blades nice?

This is also the episode where the Doctor does over a "policeman" and you hear seven smacks. Quite a roughian this Doctor, ain't he? Peri also shows rare bravery by throwing rubble into another "policeman"'s eyes. Why is it she's brave at gunpoint but useless at any other time?

Someone pointed out somewhere that having a quarry pose as a quarry on another planet is quite postmodern, though the subplot with those two blokes shows that the writing team had problems with the forty-five minute format, as the subplot goes nowhere. As an experiment the lengthy episodes were commendable, but it rarely - if ever - worked.

The Cybermen - plastic-looking and not scary - lack presence, and the fat controller is silly. The costume is different, so is the voice (which he didn't do anyway) so why rehire the actor fromTomb? Who but fans would know or care? Maybe it's the cosy blue carpeting that distracts from their menace. Monsters who have time to nip out to IKEA just don't have that terrifying hold over an audience.

The cliffhanger to this one is one of the poorest in the show's history ("No! No! No!") and is appallingly set-up, but, well, I dunno. Maybe I was just in a lenient mood, but I quite enjoyed it to be honest.

How DID the Cybermen get into the Tardis at the end though? With better music this one might have been above average, actually. My copy is a copy of the off-air transmission, which has a bored announcer who obviously doesn't give a toss about the programme saying: "This Doctor Who adventure with the......... Cybermen continues-" How weird to hear a Queen's English announcer again too.

Anyway, enough rambling. This review is longer than usual, but then so's the episode.
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The weakest episode opens with Colin upping the ham stakes to try and compete with the acting skills of Colbourne.

The Cybermen in this story are possibly the most inaudible of all. Unlike the Daleks (despite mild variations) the Cybermen never had a fixed vocal arrangement. Here they mumble all over the shop, while the controller has a worrying habit of talking direct to camera.

All the Time Lord guff and Cyberbackstory exposition at the start of this one is pretty jarring. Resurrecting the travelling planet theme from The Tenth Planet is silly because; A. As Dreamwatch pointed out, the 1986 of The Tenth Planet is futuristic, this is contemporary, and B. A moving planet may have been passable in the 60s, but isn't very sophisticated any more. The story actually rips off all previous Cybertales, including the underrated Revenge, where a perceived baddie is revealed to be covertly working for the Cybermen's large-headed enemies. Here the large-headed aliens aren't Vogans, but Cryons. Here's an idea for a Doctor Who story: have Sarah Greene and Faith Brown dressed up in shiny plastic with mirrored eyes expanded that look like Syd Little's. Have them talk in silly "ethereal" voices, have sappy music to accompany them (like The Web Planet never ended) and have them waft their hands about in a would-be "exotic", "balletic" motions. If you think this sounds like a good idea then I can provide you with a number for counselling.

Colin gets some very nice lines with Flast, though the idea of having a prison room packed full of temperature explosives is straight out of the "reverse polarity" textbook. Sarah Greene also breaks the fourth wall, while basing a story's plot around another's from two decades previously is a really stupid thing to do. Rather like poo book The Eight Doctors, this is less of a story in its own right, more of an "undo past stories" tale. The Doctor's thermal lance is also a sonic screwdriver by any other name, a very clear sign the writers were short on genuine ingenuity. (Always an Eric "blow 'em up" Saward failing). And I can't believe this one got away with a "U" certificate when it had that sadistic hand-crushing scene. (Note how the music goes into a downbeat "Da-da-da-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" for this bit. If they'd shot Clarke this story would be so much better. In fact, if they ever wiped the soundtrack and rerecorded a better one for a DVD release I'd probably give it an extra * just for that alone. It really is one of the worst scores - if not THE worst - of all time).

The scene where Flast dies is also quite horrific, and Faith Brown is far too well-endowed for the part. How do the Cryons reproduce when they're all women, anyway? Is it a lesbian race? Doctor Who on the Planet of the Lesbians... now there's a story!Why all the effects in season 22 look like they were done on a BBC Micro? "Didn't go very well, did it?" No, not really, Colin. It all ends a bit overkill, with lots of shouting and explosions. The Doctor killing Cybermen isn't great, but this isn't so bad as all that.
* *

Maybe I was just expecting this to be so bad that it couldn't live up to its own poor standards. I've seen it several times before and each time I've hated it. But while definitely below par, it wasn't as bad as I recalled. Maybe I was just in a good mood? Surely not!!
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