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24 September 2014

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Attack of the Cybermen

Production Code: 6T

First Transmitted

1 - 05/01/1985 17:20

2 - 12/01/1985 17:20

Plot

The TARDIS is lured to Earth in 1985 by a distress call sent by Lytton, who has made contact with a group of Cybermen based in London's sewers. The Doctor and Peri are then captured and forced to take Lytton and the Cybermen in the TARDIS to the Cybermen's home planet Telos. The Cybermen have stolen a time vessel from another race and plan to change history by crashing Halley's Comet into Earth and obliterating it before it can bring about the demise of their original home world, Mondas, in 1986.

Lytton is, however, a double agent employed by the Cryons - a species native to Telos. His mission is to capture the stolen time vessel, but he fails and is partially converted into a Cyberman. The Doctor is unable to save him, but manages to kill the Cyber Controller. The Cryon leader Flast sacrifices her own life and a huge explosion completely destroys the tombs.

Episode Endings

The Doctor, Peri and an undercover detective named Russell enter the TARDIS, only to find that the Cybermen have got there before them. The Cyber Leader enters the ship and orders that Peri be destroyed at once. Peri screams.

The Doctor and Peri leave in the TARDIS. The Doctor feels that things haven't gone very well and, despite reassurance from Peri, reflects: 'I don't think I've ever misjudged anybody quite as badly as I did Lytton.'

Roots

The bank robbery subplot is drawn from the productions of Euston Films.

There are visual and musical references to Steptoe and Son.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "The TARDIS, when working properly, is capable of many amazing things. Not unlike myself."

Russell : "Who are you?"

The Doctor : "I've already told you. I am known as the Doctor. I'm also a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous."

Russell : "You're bonkers."

The Doctor : "That's debatable."

Peri : "What is that terrible smell?"

Lytton : "Death."

Griffiths : "Trust him to cheer everyone up."

Peri : "What do you mean, death?"

Lytton : "The sour, rank odour of death is unmistakable."

Dialogue Disasters

Lytton : "I can understand why they call them 'tombs'."

Double Entendre

The Doctor : "You can't use that thing - it's obscene!"

Continuity

The Doctor wants to repair the TARDIS chameleon circuit, and seems to get it working for a while. The TARDIS appears as a stove, a playable organ, and a tomb-like doorway. If the TARDIS shell were ever punctured the occupants would find themselves trying to breathe in a vacuum. The TARDIS arrives at I.M. Foreman, 76 Totter's Lane, some years after the events of An Unearthly Child. The Doctor is able to set the TARDIS to self destruct.

It is implied that the Time Lords have engineered the Doctor into position so that the web of time might be protected from the Cybermen. These Cybermen are much weaker than those previously seen: they are vulnerable to bullets, feel the effects of the Doctor's sonic lance, and lose their heads rather easily. There are black ['stealth'] Cybermen in the sewers [left overs from The Invasion]. The Cybermen already in the tombs are identical to those that are rescuing them (and virtually identical to those of Earthshock) [and therefore one can only speculate that the Cybermen left in the tombs (and those in the sewers) have kept pace with developments. The tombs themselves seem to have evolved, too.

Therefore, and also because the Cyber Controller remembers the Doctor, the tomb sequences must take place after those of The Tomb of the Cybermen, and the sequences in 1985 feature Cybermen who have travelled through time in their 'borrowed' time machine]. The Cybermen can detect time disturbances. The origin of the time machine they use is not specified, although it takes three people to operate it.

The process that turns people into Cybermen is not always successful, and in addition to cybernetic 'enhancements' the process involves drugs. Diamonds are common on Telos.

As in Resurrection of the Daleks, Lytton's two accompanying 'policemen' are shown, watching over his transmitting station. Lytton himself says that he comes from a satellite of Vita 15 (Riften 5) in the star system 690 (and not, as he told Griffiths, Fulham).

QV

Cyber History

Temporal Grace

Location

London, 1985; Telos [in the future].

Links

Trivia

Faith Brown, better known as an impressionist and entertainer, plays the Cryon leader Flast.

Children's television presenter Sarah Greene plays Varne, one of the Cryons.

Former wrestler Brian Glover, well known as the voice of the 'Tetley Tea Folk' in television commercials, plays Griffiths.

Terry Molloy, better known to Doctor Who fans as the third actor to play Davros and to the general public as Mike Tucker in the BBC radio serial The Archers, appears here as Russell.

The TARDIS changes its exterior shape for the first time in the series' history. It takes on the appearance of a cupboard, then a pipe organ and then an ornamental gateway before reverting back to its normal police box shape.

Myth

This story was written by Eric Saward and fan Ian Levine under a pseudonym. (It wasn't, although Paula Moore is indeed a pseudonym, for Paula Woolsey. Several plot ideas were initially suggested by Levine however and, due to Moore's complete inexperience as a writer, Saward played a significant part in development and rewriting.)

This story replaced one called The Opera of Doom featuring Lightfoot and Jago, Padmasambhava, Omega, the Master, the Rills and the Cybermen. (This was a rumour deliberately started by fans and printed as fact in the news magazine DWB.)

Goofs

The Cyber Controller has a bit of a tummy on him.

The Cyberman guarding the Doctor and Flast tries to extinguish his flaming arm by batting it with his gun.

The Cyberman's head that the Doctor investigates, searching for the distress signal, contains no organic parts [although it does at least have a silver chin, a nice piece of continuity].

When Lytton stabs the Cyber Controller some of the green fluid squirts onto the camera lens.

Towards the end, when a Cyberman realises that Cyber Control is soon going to blow up, he makes 'leg it' motions to his companion.

Why does the Doctor berate himself for misjudging Lytton when they didn't even meet in Resurrection of the Daleks? [An untelevised adventure, perhaps?] (And is he really that nice anyway?)

Why is Lytton's distress signal still transmitting some months after the Cryons have made contact? (How do they do this, given that they are in the future?)

How was Lytton able to build a sophisticted communications system with 1985 components?

Why does Lytton abduct Griffiths when he could have taken his policemen with him?

How can you turn a comet (a large snowball) into a bomb?

Why do the Cybermen want to destroy the surface of Telos?

Why do they leave the Doctor in a room full of explosives?

There's at least one Cyberman left in the TARDIS.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Colin Baker

Peri - Nicola Bryant

Bates - Michael Attwell

Bill - Stephen Churchett

Cyber Controller - Michael Kilgarriff

Cyber Leader - David Banks

Cyber Lieutenant - Brian Orrell

Cyberman - John Ainley

David - Stephen Wale

Flast - Faith Brown

Griffiths - Brian Glover

Lytton - Maurice Colbourne

Payne - James Beckett

Rost - Sarah Berger

Russell - Terry Molloy

Stratton - Jonathon David

Threst - Esther Freud

Varne - Sarah Greene

Crew

Director - Matthew Robinson

Assistant Floor Manager - Pennie Bloomfield

Costumes - Anushia Nieradzik

Designer - Marjorie Pratt

Film Cameraman - Godfrey Johnson

Film Editor - M A C Adams

Incidental Music - Malcolm Clarke

Make-Up - Linda McInnes

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Llinos Wyn Jones

Production Associate - June Collins

Production Associate - Sue Anstruther

Script Editor - Eric Saward

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Henry Barber

Studio Sound - Andy Stacey

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - Chris Lawson

Writer - Paula Moore

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

The Bottom Line: 'Didn't go very well, did it?' A much more complex story than Earthshock, and as a result it's one of the most disappointing Cybermen stories. It cheapens the memory of The Tomb of the Cybermen, and tries to tie up too many loose ends. It should have been so much better.

There are also hints of later violence: it sounds like there's a nasty fight between the Doctor and the first policeman ('He's having a little lie down'), and he later orders Peri to shoot Russell. Worst of all is the sequence where Lytton's hands are crushed, which does seem a touch non-fantastical and therefore sadistic.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Attack of the Cybermen is one of the most derivative stories that Doctor Who ever turned out. It seems that the production team had by this point become preoccupied with making the series in a style that would appeal to dedicated fans and, with this aim in mind, had decided to cram in as many elements from and references to past stories as they possibly could. Indeed they had even starting using certain fans as unpaid continuity advisers.

Unfortunately, not only did this represent a complete misunderstanding of what the great majority of fans really wanted - i.e. well-told, original stories in the series' traditional style - but, at least if the viewing figures are anything to go by, it also succeeded in alienating many members of the general viewing public.

The major 'blasts from the past' in Attack of the Cybermen include: 76 Totter's Lane (100,000 BC), Lytton (Resurrection of the Daleks), the Cybermen in the sewers of London (The Invasion), the cryogenic hibernation units on Telos (The Tomb of the Cybermen), the Cyber Controller (The Tomb of the Cybermen again) and Mondas's imminent destruction in 1986 (The Tenth Planet). Out of this jumble of elements emerges a strange and confused tale of the Cybermen trying to prevent Mondas from being destroyed in the past while their domination of Telos seems assured in the future.

The question has to be asked: what is the point of it all? Like Resurrection of the Daleks, it may be superficially exciting but it does not stand up to considered scrutiny or repeated viewing. Quite apart from anything else, one has to wonder what motivated Nathan-Turner and Saward to commission such a story - season opener, return of the Cybermen, lots of continuity - from someone who had, by her own later admission, no previous professional writing experience whatsoever. Is there any wonder that the scripts needed a lot of work?

To add insult to injury, having decided to put in all these elements from past stories, they have so badly failed to do them justice that the only possible effect is actually to irritate those whom they hoped to please: the fans. Tim Westmacott, writing in Queen Bat Issue 1 in 1985, drew attention to a specific example of a problem that arose directly as a result of a slavish, and in this case particularly pointless, adherence to the series' past: 'I'm tempted to... ask whether the Controller's real purpose in maintaining the ice tombs was to keep a well-stocked larder that he would frequently nip into when no one was looking. Only hard-core Doctor Who fans would be aware that Michael Kilgarriff played the original Cyber Controller from The Tomb of the Cybermen, yet it is also we Doctor Who fans who are most offended by the result. They should get actors to fit the costumes, not make Cyber-tents for the sake of an obscure point of continuity.'

Not only does the Cyber Controller conspicuously lack the impressive sleekness of his debut appearance in The Tomb of the Cyberman but the tombs themselves also look totally different and, similarly, nowhere near as effective.

Again like Resurrection of the Daleks, however, Attack of the Cybermen does have some saving graces, including Matthew Robinson's polished direction. The scenes in the sewers where a black-painted Cyberman kills some workmen at the start of the story are marvellously eerie, for example, and the moment when the sewer wall slides back to reveal the Cyber Leader is also nicely handled. The location work for the scenes set on the surface of Telos is magnificent, too.

In amongst all the continuity references there are even one or two new ideas in the scripts. The references to Halley's Comet were nicely topical at the time of transmission, and the Cryons are well thought out and interesting aliens with suitably distinctive appearances and mannerisms. Lytton's return is also a welcome one and actor Maurice Colbourne manages to give a boost to every scene in which he appears - although the gratuitous incident in which the Cybermen crush his hands is unnecessarily nasty and gory.

There are, in fact, some reviewers who have responded very warmly to this story. Andrew Evans, for example, wrote in Shada 19, dated November 1985: 'It had plenty of action, excitement and humour, old monsters, lots of continuity for the fans and of course heralded the first full season of a new Doctor. Colin Baker was brilliant and took advantage of a witty and lively script to fulfil the promise he had shown in The Twin Dilemma... I was very pleased to see Maurice Colbourne again, and I think it's very healthy that [John Nathan-Turner] is at least generating some new continuity by bringing back recent characters... The two policemen patrolling the junkyard harked back to the very beginning of [the series' first episode,] An Unearthly Child. I would rather the TARDIS hadn't changed shape, simply because it was pointless,... but thought it was done quite tastefully.'

This is perhaps the best that could be said of the story as a whole: pointless, but quite tastefully done.

< The Twin DilemmaSixth DoctorVengeance on Varos >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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