2 July 2015 | JamesHitchcock
As Cybermen Are Wont to Do
"Attack of the Cybermen" was the first serial of the 22nd season of "Doctor Who", and the second full serial to feature the Sixth Doctor. It was originally broadcast in two weekly parts each of 45 minutes in length, a departure from the previous practice whereby "Doctor Who" serials were divided into episodes around 25 minutes long.
It starts with the Doctor and Peri returning to London in 1985, the year when the serial was first broadcast. (There is a reference to Halley's Comet, which was due to make an appearance the following year). A gang of criminals appear to be planning a daring jewel robbery, but as their leader is the former Dalek mercenary Lytton (who previously appeared in "Resurrection of the Daleks") something even more sinister may be afoot. And so it proves. This time Lytton has got himself involved with another gang of bad guys, the Cybermen, who (as Cybermen are wont to do) have hatched a fiendish scheme which involves travelling back through time and destroying the Earth. In order to thwart this, the Doctor and Peri are forced to travel to the Cybermen's base on the barren planet of Telos. Telos was once the home of a race known as the Cryons, who are supposed to have been wiped out by the invading Cybermen, but the Doctor discovers that a few Cryons have survived in caves below the surface.
For the first time in the history of the programme, the Doctor attempts to repair the TARDIS's "chameleon circuits" which enable it to disguise itself by changing its external appearance. (It had been stuck in the shape of a police box ever since the first series in 1963). His attempts are, however, not very successful as the TARDIS keeps turning itself into even more unsuitable shapes, and by the end of the serial its familiar appearance has been restored, much to the relief of traditionalist-minded fans like myself.
Authorship of the serial is credited to one "Paula Moore", but no person of this name ever existed; this was a pseudonym invented to hide the fact that the story was actually written collaboratively by a group of people. Certainly, it often has the feel of something written by a committee; in particular, the early scenes set in London do not gel well with those set on Telos. Although they are supposed to be innocent victims of the Cybermen's villainy, the Cryons never come across as very sympathetic. The serial does not contain much of the humour which was often a feature of the programme around this period as, for example, in "The Two Doctors".
Colin Baker's arrival as the new Doctor was not universally welcomed. His character's eccentric dress sense made even the Fourth and Fifth Doctors look, in comparison, like models of elegant restraint and sobriety. Baker's interpretation was also criticised for being too abrasive, too conceited and lacking in chivalry in the way in which he bullied and belittled the lovely Peri. (His predecessors generally treated their young female companions with much greater consideration). He certainly shows most of these traits here, although his character was to soften somewhat in later episodes. This serial does, however, contain one of the series' great secondary characters in the form of Maurice Colbourne's Lytton, a morally ambiguous figure who eventually proves to be less of a villain than he at first appears; even the Doctor is forced to admit that he may have misjudged the man.
The story itself is not the most original in the history of "Doctor Who", although it must be admitted that director Matthew Robinson manages to generate a good deal of tension and excitement. (Like the Daleks, the Cybermen generally make good villains). This is not one of the great "Doctor Who" serials, but it is generally an enjoyable one.