To call Attack of the Cybermen a confused collage of tropes and ideas might be easy and justified but misses the point. In many ways less than the sum of its parts, it is not without some merits, even if it needed trimming back and reshaping. Whence does this confusion arise? Well the clue may be in the dubious authorship of Paula Moore / Paula Woolsey / Ian Levine / Eric Saward / … (read the wiki article). John Nathan-Turner also seemed to have taken his eye off the ball in the desire to stir the fans up (more on this later).
There is plenty I could say about this story, but I will limit myself to a digestible length. Meanwhile, back in Totter’s Lane…
The BBC themselves describe it thus on their defunct classic series page for Attack of the Cybermen:
The Cybermen plot to hijack Halley’s comet
Minimalist, but it does strip away most of the detritus of this 2 x 45 minute escapade. In long form the following things happen in roughly this order:
- The Doctor fixes the chameleon circuit and cue some comedy shape changes
- Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) reappears from the Fifth Doctor story Resurrection of the Daleks
- There’s some East London japes with sewers and criminals around Totter’s Lane and a certain junk-yard
- Terry Molloy appears not as Davros
- The Cybermen are fiddling with history and the cyber-controller from Tomb of the Cybermen is there and this story is set (in our chronology) before the events of Tenth Planet; the cybermen want to save Mondas from destruction
- Action moves to Telos and we have a new race, the Cryons (who need the cold)
- Telos is part-populated by people who have undergone varying degrees of light cyberisation (or whatever the word is)
- There’s the usual split the TARDIS crew, help the underdog, find out Lytton wasn’t too bad, gun fight, save the day shenanigans and move on back in a police-box shaped TARDIS.
Despite my earlier comments, some of this story could have worked. Peri is trying to help the Doctor deal with his regeneration (this is immediately post Twin Dilemma) and when she gets a chance to do something, rather than be pushed around I found this element worked. The idea of Lytton mixing with crooks worked to an extent but dissolved as an idea when we hit Telos and met the Cryons. Lytton comes to a very bad end and the story had lots of complaints about violence.
This is a bit of a mess. JNT fiddled with the TARDIS, brought back Totter’s Lane and other references just to mix things up. Meanwhile the story got lost and little care was taken. Consider the Cybermen – many are overweight and express emotion on several occasions. The Doctor takes some pleasure in using a weapon to destroy several of the Cybermen and the whole thing would have benefited from a trimming down and a polish. This story is much-maligned, and on this watching I can see why. Were it polished it would still need something to make it shine, and on the evidence I don’t know if anything would have been forthcoming.
What are your thoughts? Let me know!