of the Cybermen
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
imagine the same can be said of many genre shows, but when you’re a fan of “Doctor Who,” there are always a few stories that you enjoy but the rest of fandom shuns. For me, “Attack of the Cybermen” is such an installment, and a big part of my appreciation for it comes from having viewed it repeatedly at a time in my life when I only had about five different “Who” stories on VHS. I know every beat of it as well as I know “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” During those precious teenage years, criticism was much harder to come by than it is today, so I was blissfully unaware that “Attack” was unpopular with the fans. Having read plenty of critical pieces on it since then, I can sort of see where the distaste comes from, and yet it hasn’t really changed my feelings about the story. Sure, it’s far from a sterling example of the show, but it’s an immense amount of fun regardless.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the story – the one that folks rant about incessantly – is its over-reliance on continuity. It is true, “Attack of the Cybermen” is quite the fan-wankfest, and in order to get the most out of it, it helps to know some Cyber-history. For starters, it’s something of a sequel to 1968’s “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and along the way it also pays homage to the ‘60s serials “The Invasion” and “The Tenth Planet.” Further, there’s a major reference to the very first “Who” story ever, “An Unearthly Child,” and it brings back the character of Lytton (Maurice Colbourne), the intergalactic mercenary who’d worked for the Daleks in the previous season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks.” And just to make sure you’ve been paying attention all these years, it features the singular instance of the Doctor actually fixing the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit, so that for this story only, the exterior of the time/space machine changes to fit in with its surroundings (or not, as it turns out, but those are gags better left seen than talked about here). Surprisingly, most of these minutiae are mixed together pretty well, and only the most anal of fans would have a problem with any of this. I mean, really, what could possibly be more ridiculous than a hardcore devotee complaining about continuity? It’s not as if they don’t get all these references. In any case, it’s doubtful that a lack of knowledge of these stories would interfere with your enjoyment of the serial. When I first saw “Attack,” while I had read about them, I hadn’t seen any of those Cyber-tales; and today is, again, a much different animal than the mid-80s – all of the aforementioned entries, save for “The Tenth Planet,” are available on DVD and easily viewed.
But on to the story itself. Ahhh! Here’s where we run into some problems. I’m not even sure “Attack of the Cybermen” has much of a story. Instead, it’s really more of a premise, and perhaps that’s the real reason many dislike it, which is understandable. In lieu of an engaging plot, what you really get is all those continuity references, linked together by Halley’s Comet and a slew of sparkling characters and smart dialogue and characterization. The discourse and banter in this thing is a huge amount of fun, and the excellent cast makes the most out of one line after another. (The Doctor: “I suddenly feel conspicuous.” Peri: “I’m not surprised in that coat.”) The premise essentially centers on Lytton’s attempts to help another alien race, the Cryons, who’ve essentially been whittled away to near-extinction by the Cybermen, who took over the Cryons’ home world, Telos. There’s also something going on with the Cybermen wanting to destroy Earth with the infamous comet, so that they can change the timeline and save their home planet, Mondas – although I’m still not sure why they would care to do this having conquered Telos so effectively. Oh well, it doesn’t matter and I’m not sure I care. By my reckoning, the show’s a huge amount of fun, and I should probably cease trying to figure out why it’s despised my so many - although the portly Cyber Controller may be as good a reason as any.
Given that Colin Baker had to play the Doctor in quite a bizarre (which is putting it mildly) fashion in his freshman outing, “The Twin Dilemma,” “Attack of the Cybermen” is his first real day out as the central character, and you can really see his sheer enthusiasm for the role in every move and line. He’s having so much fun onscreen, and he seems to know exactly what he wants to do with the character, despite being saddled with the ridiculous outfit (something that as an actor must have been difficult to overcome). He’s very much a Doctor of action in this story, and in a couple of scenes even resorts to violence, although, despite what some people might lead you to believe, it’s not as if he’s brandishing an Uzi at every turn. He comes across as very brash, and unafraid to get his hands a little dirty, which was a logical direction to take the Doctor after Peter Davison’s “nice guy” portrayal. Nicola Bryant, of course, can always be relied upon to look good, even if Peri the character isn’t always cut from the classic companion mold. But then again, Baker’s era on the whole is a much different slice of “Who.” The release of “Attack” completes Season 22 on DVD, and it also means the “Who” DVD range is only one release away from completing the entire Colin Baker era. “The Twin Dilemma” was actually produced as the final story of Season 21; it will likely be released either late this year, or early next year.
Special Features: Given the rather rocky road Colin Baker traveled as the Doctor, it’s unsurprising that he seems somewhat less than enthusiastic when discussing his time on the series. He clearly has a great deal of love for “Doctor Who,” and is amazingly knowledgeable about the series as a whole, but it always seems that his feelings about his time on the show are similar to that of an adult thinking back on the times he got beat up in the playground as a kid. This, of course, leads to some fairly uninspiring commentary tracks on his part, and this one, which he shares with Bryant, Terry Molloy and Sarah Berger, is no exception. (In contrast, check out the sheer amount of fun he has on the track for the Peter Davison story “Arc of Infinity.”) “The Cold War” is a decent enough “making-of” doc featuring script editor Eric Saward and director Matthew Robinson among others, although it by no means rocks the “making-of” boat. “The Cyber Story,” a look back at the history of the Cybermen, is great fun and full of cool clips from all eras of the series. “Human Cyborg” is an interview with a Professor Kevin Warwick, who explains whether or not Cybermen are an actual possibility (it never ceases to amaze me how far these DVDs sometimes go with their extras). There are also the usual photo galleries, production notes subtitles, trails and continuities, isolated score, DVD-ROM accessible Radio Times listings, and a Coming Soon trailer for “Image of the Fendahl” which will be out in September.