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Attack of the Cybermen

You can see a clear progression with Eric Saward's Doctor Who work. The Visitation is a nice, textbook straightforward romp. Earthshock is an action movie-type story, with a fairly easy to follow plot for the most part until it all goes a bit mad at the end. Resurrection of the Daleks was a slickly-directed collection of set pieces linked by a somewhat schizophrenic narrative. And Attack of the Cybermen is a mess of indistinct plotlines, continuity references and two-dimensional cyphers. And yes, it is a Saward script. If Paula Moore did have any input, Saward script-edited this one to the extent that it's very much his story.

When dull Hinchcliffe fans bleat on about how dependant the JNT era was on past continuity, they often don't really have much of a case. Generally, the references were harmless. It's fandabbydozy if, say, you can name which stories the clip reel in Mawdryn Undead references, but if it's about all you've seen it doesn't overpower the plot. However, Attack of the Cybermen is something of an exception. To fully appreciate what's going on, you could do with knowing that Mondas was destroyed in The Tenth Planet, that the Doctor thought the Cybercontroller dead from Tomb of the Cybermen, that there are Cybermen in the sewers most likely left over from The Invasion, and that Lytton was in Resurrection of the Daleks. And that's not to mention the references like 76 Totter's Lane...

But the biggest problem Attack of the Cybermen has is that it's horribly dull. The thing takes until nearly the end of the first episode before it threatens to really get going. Until then, we have to put up with Lytton and his bunch of Sweeney rejects bumbling around, and the Doctor and Peri mucking around looking for a distress signal. The running joke of the 'fixed' chameleon circuit is amusing for about nine seconds of its first appearance, while the references in the score to Steptoe and Son and Phantom of the Opera are cring-inducing. Colin Baker, having been hammy and fun in The Twin Dilemma, is hammy and irritating early on, having to deal with the clunky mood-swings in the script - notable the dreadful "Unstable?!?" moment. He settles down a bit later on, though the script lets him down, notably the overwrought scenes with Vlast and when he orders the shooting of Russell. I always got the impression that the violent overtones of Season 22 were not so much Saward's attempts to subvert the gentle fifth Doctor, but in fact his belief of how the character should be, turning the Doctor into some sort of revenge figure.

Still, Colin does well from the script compared to poor Nicola Bryant. While I don't think she's as bad an actress as is sometimes made out, she certainly can't save bad scenes. She also suffered from a part that was heavily underwritten. Here, Peri's largely superfluous, simply nagging and whinging at the Doctor for the most part.

Saward is far more concerned with Lytton. While Maurice Colbourne gives an efficient performance, the character's scripting is odd. We have the Doctor's moral quandry about misjudging Lytton [who he never met in Resurrection, but still...], but the character does very little to show he's any different than he was - remember, the Cryons are paying him to help them. Colbourne is never quite able to imbue the character with any more depth than that of a well-spoken heavy.

However, Lytton does better than most of the guest cast. Brian Glover's much-praised performance as Griffiths isn't actually all that much cop, the character being a standard slightly-squeamish henchman. Terry Molloy is similarly bland as Russell. The idea of getting Michael Kilgariff to reprise his role as the Cybercontroller is inexplicably bad seeing as the role basically entails being quite tall, wearing a costume and shouting a bit. That he's fat seventeen years on hardly helps the menace factor. David Banks does fairly well as the overshadowed Cyberleader, but the Cryons are a faceless bunch, not helped by silly costumes and cod-alien dialogue. But by far the worst element are Stratton and Bates.

It doesn't help that they're in the most superfluous of many pointless subplots which Eric seems to have crammed into the story for no readily apparent reason. We're subjected to these two idiots legging it from a work party, indulging in disguise japes, meeting up with Griffiths and Lytton and then being sharply killed off. Of course, the alleged characterisation hardly breathes life into this strand of the story. Stratton is shouty, Bates is a bit wet. Eat your heart out Bob Holmes. What really seals it is that the chap playing Stratton [he doesn't deserve me actually checking to see who played him] gives what's probably the worst performance in the series' history. That's a history that includes turns from Christopher Robbie, Dolores Grey, Leee John, Rick James, andJon Pertwee in the second half of Season 9. The chap seems to have decided to simply shout his lines at poor Batesy at all times in the hope this will work. It doesn't, and the result is excruciating.

By the second episode the plot is ludicrously contrived. We have the Cybermen planning to blow up Earth using a comet to save Mondas, but to help their cunning plan they lock up the Doctor in a room stacked with explosives, not even bothering to remove his sonic lance first. It must be some sort of Cyberarrogance programming, as they don't bother taking Lytton's knife off him later either.

But then this is the worst bunch of Cybermen we've ever had. Worst than the chaps with the balaclavas and silly voices in The Tenth Planet, and worst than the Monty Python and the Holy Grail-inspired squad that spend most of Silver Nemesis running away from a bow and arrow. Cybernetic monsters from the future aren't very scary when ninth-rate London hoods and labourers take then out with pistols and spades. I smoke twenty cigarettes a day and eat junkfood constantly, but I'd quite fancy myself in a fight against an Attack Cyberman.

It's all based on coincidences and large lapses of logic. It's stupid and boring. Thankfully, it was to be the rough nadir of the show in the 1980s, and very gradually the show would bounce back. Thank God.

Review by Tom Prankerd

You visited the Whoniverse at 3:38 pm GMT on Sunday 12th February 2006