Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros examine Attack of the Cybermen on region 2 DVD: 'Excellent!'
Ah, the early eighties—Thatcher was giving the unions a good shoeing and corporate avarice was just starting to rear its ugly head. Despite these ominous signs of the times, there was one thing that kids up and down the land could be sure of— Doctor Who would be there to whisk them away for about half an hour every week…
…until the production decided to extend the running time of episodes to just over forty-four minutes, meaning that although each story ran for more or less the same length, it allowed for greater story and character development, as the absence of a cliff-hanger at the twenty-five minute mark meant that characters and situations did not need to be reiterated.
Series twenty two kicked off with something that would possibly be seen as a ‘slam-dunk’ in terms of winning over sceptical fans—bringing back the Cybermen! This action comes only second to having a Dalek story in terms of cynical ways of boosting ratings, but it’s easy to forgive this, as they throw pretty much everything into Attack of the Cybermen to make it work.
The story opens in London, 1985, with the TARDIS intercepting a distress call—the Doctor never has been one to let such a cry for help pass him by and he decides to investigate. It is eventually established that the Doctor is being used in an elaborate plan by an old adversary, Lytton, whom he last encountered in Resurrection of the Daleks, but Lytton is the least of his troubles when the Doctor and Peri realise that there are bigger things afoot than just the seemingly petty plans of a London criminal…
Those of us old enough to have grown up in the eighties will find the sequence where one of the gang goes into a phone box, whilst being in possession of plastic explosives uncomfortably reminiscent of the way the IRA used to operate, and with recent events, this might cause one or two nervous shifts in seats during a screening.
When the first episode screened back in ‘85, at school the next day, Doctor Who was a hot topic of conversation, and not just because the Cybermen were back. The ingenious use of Halley’s Comet in the storyline (even though it’s a bit like their plans to destroy the world in Earthshock) provoked intense debate: why did the Doctor pronounce the name as Hal-lee’s Comet rather than Hay-lee’s Comet, as every school-kid knows to be correct.
Here’s a little tip if you want to keep harmony in a relationship: if your partner likes the show—in spite of an all-consuming hatred of Billie Piper—it’s not a good idea to get an opportunistic freeze-frame of Nicola Bryant and ask her ‘why can’t the new companions have tits like that?’
Obviously Brian Glover is another example of JNT’s misguided idea of casting names to provide higher ratings among the disinterested, but the man with nowt-taken-out ends up being a nice addition to the story. OK, there are instances where he can be somewhat out of place, but he’s much better here than his next—and significantly more expensive—slice of Sci-Fi: Alien 3. His delivery of the name ‘Mr Lytton’ is very similar to that of ‘Mr Clemens’, but don’t let that put you off. It’s impossible to estimate how many times we quoted his line ‘get-ting-a-bit-rough, is-it?’ after watching the show…
One of the things which is both a source of pleasure and annoyance in New-Who is the name-dropping of past enemies, but this has mainly been used as cynical spit-lube for adversaries which are being brought back into the show at some point. We get a bit of that here, but there is also mention of previous assistants. These days, it’s all calculated, but in Attack of the Cybermen, it is nicely used to remind viewers that there was a regeneration only recently, and that the new Doctor is still trying to get over it.
Baker shows that there were more strings to his bow than the majority of people would have you believe, and one of these was his physicality. Terrence Dicks once described him as ‘a bull of a man’, but Baker pulls off some very graceful moves, especially when dealing with a couple of very suspicious police officers. Ol’ Colin is the George Lazenby of Doctor Who, the only actor to thoroughly convince that he could take care of business when needed, whose term was cut unfairly cut short, and was cruelly underrated by the public.
We’ve gone on record as saying that we can’t stand the current incarnation of the Cybermen—the campy ones in New-Who—so any chance to see the original ones (apart from the crap examples in Revenge…) is a real pleasure for us. The characters are individuals, not a set of drones who march in unison as though all are listening to YMCA on their Ear-Pods—and of course, hearing David Banks once again saying ‘Excellent’ brings a smile to the lips.
There are many instances in the show’s history where the end-of-episode cliff-hanger comes across as artificial, as though merely thrown together and dropped in the right place because it’s expected:
Barbara has a run in her tights: “Eeeeyyyyyowwnnnngggg…ooh-wah-ooohhhh”.
Tegan has just got an entire Dalek stuck in her mouth. An entire Dalek, for God’s sake! Cue theme!
OK, so maybe we’re exaggerating a little with the last one, but you get the idea.
With a story essentially running for four parts but with only one cliff-hanger, it had better be a bloody good one, and it is. The first is that it comes as a complete surprise to find the Cybermen inside the TARDIS, but having them about to shoot Peri dead is the icing on the cake. Bryant screams a shriek which perfectly leaves the audience thinking that she’s going to be dead by the next episode. Perfectly done all round.
The above paragraph highlights another example of how the State of Grace goes flying out the window once again when the Cybermen and the eighties are thrown together. Maybe it’s because the breaking of such a rule inadvertently caused the death of Adric in Earthshock, so it’s possible that this uncertainty is what makes you think Peri is going the way of Katarina, etc. Or maybe we are just making excuses…?
The sewer scenes highlight something which always bugs us in the visual medium, and this is where lights are used (be them torches or flashlights) in supposedly dark environments, in spite of everything being perfectly lit. This occurs more in TV shows, as it is cheaper to just to throw a little less light on the sets and almost have actors pretend with torches.
We all know that running-times of stories were messed about with for the sake of saving the Beeb a few pennies, but it was another dispute about pay which stopped them from a real coup… or should that be Koo? Yep, royal-humper and Star Wars drop-out Koo Stark was brought in to play Rost, but it wasn’t the Cryon makeup that made her walk out, but a bust up about her fee. Pennies were pinched and another piece of star-casting blew up in JNT’s face.
With the recent news, you can’t help but have some of the past brought to mind when watching Attack of the Cybermen. When Mondas was destroyed, they Cybermen were displaced, settling on Telos and making it their homeland. The native Cryons are furious at the Cybermen marching over their world, plotting acts of terrorism to either drive them out or finish them off. There are other parallels to the Troubles, but we’ll let viewers pick them out for themselves.
When imprisoned Cryon Flast appeared for the first time, the words: ‘Jesus, look at the tits on that one!’ did echo around the room, but when the end credits rolled, it came as no surprise: it’s Faith Brown. It had slipped from the memory that she was in it, and this is a testament to her abilities that she was able to be so transparent in the role and not draw attention to herself. Another is that she’s the only person in the world to make Thatcher seem boneable.
The Cryons are bewitchingly polarizing in their design, with a crystalline beauty sharply contrasted with the driving force to kill and destroy their oppressors. Their makeup is especially noteworthy, and comes across as what the designers were hoping for back when they were working on the Atlantian Fish People in The Underwater Menace[i/]. Full credit should be given for the idea to use lenses in order to make their eyes bigger, giving them a more other-worldly feel, light years away from Neo-Trek’s usual ‘forehead variation’ technique.
Speaking of the Cryons, it brings a smile that their species live by the words: ‘We shall survive’, as this declaration is prominent in Tomb of the Cybermen, to which this story is a sequel. The Cryons’ use of it establish them as the polar opposite to the Cybermen, the fully organic flip-side, both warring over the same planet with an identical will to stay maintain their respective races.
Before this, the production team had taken the unusual step in having Colin Baker’s first full story as the finale to Peter Davidson’s last season—what should have been a fun way of getting the audience to see the new Doctor in action and have them salivating for more seemed to backfire because Baker’s first story, [i]The Twin Dilemma—apart from being generally loathed by Doctor Who fans—depicted the newly-regenerated Doctor as a dangerously unstable individual who tries to kill companion Peri. Davidson was a popular Doctor and his departure was doubtless heartbreaking for some fans, but watching the Doctor transform from the Wet Vet into a curly-perm-sporting homicidal psychopath was probably a step too far for some and got Baker off on the wrong foot.
We’ll not beat about the bush here—we’re big fans of Colin Baker. He was an actor brought into Doctor Who at the start of a difficult time for the show; Baker tried to make the best of scripts that were usually either lacklustre or plain lousy. To further confound matters, Baker was also saddled with a garish, multi-coloured costume that could quite comfortably slip into the description of ‘sartorial vomit’—this detracted from Baker’s intention to have his Doctor as one that just slips quietly into the background of a situation and eventually comes to the fore; such was the ghastliness of his outfit that it was quite impossible for him to do this.
Colin Baker brought an air of authority to the role that hadn’t been seen for quite a while—there are numerous echoes of previous Doctors in his portrayal, but there was something also totally unique that has not been seen since. There is more than a smidge of William Hartnell’s cantankerous Doctor, more than a pinch of Jon Pertwee’s pompous Doctor and a soupcon of Tom Baker’s commanding aloofness, but Colin Baker’s Doctor was also arrogant, self-aggrandising and almost vain. As for what Colin Baker took from Peter Davidson—well, they both have a nice smile…
Maurice Colbourne is great as Lytton, building on the work he had done in Resurrection of the Daleks and fleshing him out in unexpected ways. Lytton comes across as the villainous rogue through most of the story, until an unexpected revelation during the second episode forces the viewer (and the Doctor) to reassess opinions on the man.
David Banks is as good as ever as the Cyber-Leader, but whilst it is nice to see Michael Kilgarriff back as the Cyber-Controller, this is offset by the fact that the passage of time has seen an increase on the size of his waistline, leading him to be referred to amongst Doctor Who fans as the Fat-Controller. Kilgarriff’s portly frame detracts from the menace of the character, as it invites viewers to ask ‘who ate all the cyber-pies and microchips?’ It is true that deciding to bring back the Cyber-Controller also diminishes the power and effect of Banks’ Cyber-Leader, as having the black-handled head honcho taking orders from what is—in Cyberman terms—a fat, bald, impotent old man is pretty demeaning; one must wonder if the Cyber-Controller planned to buy himself a high-performance sports car when he left Telos…
Not unlike the Cyber-Controller, Attack of the Cybermen is overstuffed—there are so many references to other Doctor Who stories— The Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen, Resurrection of the Daleks, even An Unearthly Child—along with a large number of characters and storytelling cul-de-sacs that it is danger of burning itself out and confusing the audience, but it just manages to get away with it.
It is quite remarkable how Attack of the Cybermen polarises fan opinion—many think that it pretty much sums up what it wrong with the Baker era (or possibly looking at it from a broader perspective, then entire John Nathan-Turner period), others think that it’s an entertaining romp that throws in everything into the mix to ensure that the Sixth Doctor’s first full season got underway with a bang.
The first episode is wonderful—Colin Baker’s Doctor is firmly established as a likeable character, with Nicola Bryant on-hand to puncture his pomposity when necessary; it’s arguable that the two of them make for the best combination of Doctor and companion in the show’s history, but as the action moves to the planet Telos, things cease to flow nicely and end up congealing into something of a sticky mess. However, the climax sees the redemption of one character and leaves the Doctor wondering how he could get certain things very wrong.
It was also nice to have the Doctor finally get around to repairing the Chameleon Circuit in the TARDIS, allowing it to change its appearance to suit the surroundings upon its materialisation. The TARDIS appears in various forms, demonstrating what it really could do, but ultimately they made the right decision in just having this as a temporary measure because the blue police box is probably the most iconic aspect of the show.
Although the exterior of the planet Telos is obviously a quarry, the production tried to disguise it by bleaching out the colour to make it look more like a barren alien landscape. It works quite well, as it gives the impression of some other-worldly environment—perhaps after the blatant ribbing given to the Doctor and his companion landing in quarries in The Hand of Fear, it was just as well that they decided to make an attempt to conceal the nature of the location.
Sewers have always worked well in creating suspense and the subterranean scenes in Attack of the Cybermen are no exception—the low level of lighting really helps to create a palpable sense of tension and dread; it’s true that there’s nothing here that could equal the scene in the Patrick Troughton story The Invasion where a emotionally-crazed Cyberman lurches through a sewer, there still some great moments in Attack. Ironically enough, this was going to be a follow-up to the aforementioned The Invasion, with the return of the Cyber Director, originally to be found in a London garage, presumably discovered by some Cockney wide-boy in his lock-up.
When dealing with Doctor Who and sewers, you still expect a rather dodgy animatronic rat to menace the unsuspecting mob rather than Cybermen, although such an unconvincing mechanical beastie could be considered an apt metaphor when it comes to trying to remaster material shot on videotape in low-light. Apparently during the restoration work, the team discovered that there was a problem with the black levels, but this has been corrected this and the results are wonderful.
Once the action switches to above-ground, there is a very pleasing aesthetic which makes you feel as though you are watching an episode of Minder, with villains travelling around London in Ford cars as barrow-boy dialogue is bandied about. It’s a fairly safe bet that the original film elements vanished into the mists of time long ago, but the guys at the Restoration Team have done a great job with the film sequences, looking brighter and more colourful than ever before.
The usual restoration work has been undertaken on the mono audio, with the theme music providing a nice amount of punch and Malcolm Clarke’s partially-recycled themes from Earthshock also sound most pleasing.
Audio Commentary[i/]: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Terry Molloy (Russell) and Sarah Berger (Rost) are all on-hand to voice their thoughts on [i]Attack of the Cybermen as it rolls before their eyes. Baker and Bryant are old-hands at this and are as amusing as always, with Molloy chiming in with some interesting little factoids about the shoot every now and again before being ushered out at the end of the first episode to make way for Berger, who also proves to be engaging and knowledgeable about the production. Colin Baker’s commentaries are always fun and informative and the one for Attack of the Cybermen is no exception.
Isolated Score: This gives the viewer to watch the story with just Malcolm Clarke’s compositions. His work divides fandom (much like the story in general), but it’s pleasing to have the option to listen to the score unmolested.
The Cold War: This twenty-seven minute documentary is a nice little look at the genesis of Attack of the Cybermen, featuring interviews with most of the principles. Colin Baker opens it nicely by recounting the general fan reaction to his debut story, The Twin Dilemma[i/], being ‘crap’. This documentary also clears up the mystery concerning the authorship of the script, with the fictitious Paula Moore turning out to be Eric Saward (who used the name of a friend of his to cover up the fact that he, as script editor, wasn’t supposed to commission himself to write a script); excitable uber-fan Ian Levine, who has also taken partial credit for the story, is interviewed, but we wonder if he would have agreed to be interviewed if he knew how he was going to come across in this documentary? Director Matthew Robinson is also interviewed in his adopted home of Cambodia and contributes some interesting anecdotes.
[i]The Cyber Story: This takes a look at the history of the Cybermen, charting their origins from the dressed-up-out-of-the-kitchen-drawer look in The Tenth Planet, through to the campy-looking ones in New-Who. This is a fun romp, with plenty of clips of Mondas’ most infamous sons, but it could have been a little longer, as some incarnations are almost mentioned in passing.
Human Cyborg: Though it might be of interest to some, this might be one of the dullest features ever produced for a Doctor Who story, as Professor Kevin Warwick is interviewed about his role in the advancement of cybernetics. The Prof isn’t exactly the most interesting interviewee in the world and this extra was watched in a room with several people, most of whom started losing the will to live after two minutes of Warwick’s dry delivery.
The Cyber Generations: This is a pleasing little extra, showing various images of the Cybermen during their continuing refinement process, accompanied by appropriate music from the stories.
Photo Gallery: Eight minutes of publicity stills are presented along with Malcolm Clarke’s score for the story. Some nice images are included—it’s also good to see some shots of the quarry shoot that haven’t been bleached out.
Trails & Continuity: Just as you’d expect—some nice vintage announcements for the show and a frightening look at just how the Beeb used to market their shows.
Production Subtitles: As per usual, engage this option and the viewer will be bombard with more facts and trivia about than the production than you will ever need. There are one or two little slip-ups, but the sheer volume of information more than makes up for these.
PDF: There are a couple of nice PDF items in here, including the usual Radio Times listing for Attack of the Cybermen (along with the RT listing for The Invasion because it was overlooking in that story’s DVD release) and there is also an article from Cyberman co-creator Kit Pedlar that was published in a 1969 edition of The Listener magazine.
Attack of the Cybermen could be looked upon as the equivalent of a greasy cheeseburger—it hits the spot, it’s pretty satisfying, but you start to question the whole thing not long after you’ve eaten it. The first episode rattles along nicely, with sterling performances from all concerned—even though the second half is a complete mess, there’s still enough goodwill and a surprising conclusion that will keep fans watching. To quote the Cyber-Leader: ‘Excellent’.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 15th March 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Documentaries, Coming Soon, Isolated Score, Audio Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Matthew Robinson
Cast: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, David Banks
Length: 89 minutes
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