The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Gangsters


Another review from the archives, this one originally published in The Complete Sixth Doctor back in 2002


Attack Of The Cybermen

“We realise this must be confusing for you.”

Remember Saturday afternoons? Peanut butter sandwiches and Trios… no, I’m not going to be nostalgic. I didn’t watch Attack of the Cybermen on its original broadcast, I was out and videoed it, and even then my copy began with ‘Unstable? Unstable? UNSTABLE?’ No. I’ve just watched my BBC video – in specially-cropped ‘widescreen’. And I loved it. Probably just as much as I did 13 years ago.

Okay, so in retrospect there are some problems. It’s too violent, yes, which gave Michael Grade the excuse he was looking for. Possibly there is too much leather-jacket machismo; too many grim-jawed gangsters and not enough joy. And aright, yes, so the Doctor’s costume is distracting (though not quite as distracting as Peri’s).

I’ll readily admit the CyberController is tubby and the Chameleon circuit gag isn’t funny and forty-five minutes of Doctor Who is too much in one go. And if you point out that the climax is poorly staged, I’d agree, but that applies to virtually every Doctor Who story – endings don’t need to be good, there’s a new story next week! And, okay, so the incidental music is not very incidental.

But aside from all that, it’s thrilling. It’s fast-paced, action-packed and looks terrific. As gritty and filmic as a proper television programme. The opening bank raid – ‘Lose the motor’, ‘Seven pounds of plastic’ – it’s like Minder! The wonderfully grey surface of Telos - those shots through the mist of the alien moon! And darkness and shadows – how often do you get to see proper quality gloom in an 80’s Doctor Who? And the Cybermen’s entrance in the sewers – just how cool is that?

Then there’s the superb and committed cast – Brian Glover and Maurice Colbourne, for goodness’ sake! One day I will even work out which one of the Cryons is Sarah Greene (I’ve already worked out which one was Faith Browne, that wasn’t difficult).

But the best thing about Attack of the Cybermen is the story. It’s ingenious. It brings together all sorts of baggage and turns in an exciting, dynamic plot. The way it combines the destruction of Mondas, with the tombs on Telos, and the invasion fleet, together with Halley’s comet – it’s an extraordinarily dextrous piece of work. The inclusion of the Cryons is inspired and fascinating. Plus there’s a great twist regarding Lytton’s motivation, which in turn gives the Doctor a proper slice of character development.

Some people claim there’s too much ‘continuity’. But it’s all explained – quite cleverly – within the story, and it’s used as a source of inspiration rather than derivation. Okay, so the Totter’s Lane business and Chameleon Circuit uncomedy and all the references to Time Lords are somewhat over-egging the soufflĂ© – largely because they never turn out to be relevant. And in retrospect the Doctor’s lines about believing the CyberController to be destroyed, and not knowing why Mondas was being piloted through space, do seem a bit erroneous. And, yes, it’s a bit of Cyberman Greatest Hits compilation – but what’s wrong with that? Every band’s best album is its Greatest Hits.

At its heart, Attack of the Cybermen is about making the Cybermen scary. It’s about the horror of Cyberconversion, in the same way that Revelation of the Daleks is about… er… Dalekisation? We see the rejects of aborted conversions, we see the results of failed revivifications, we see Lytton and other characters undergoing transformation… this is a story that really knows what it’s doing. The Cybermen are portrayed as a desperate, dying race – how often does that happen?

And, apparently, it was co-written by the guy who gave Robbie Williams his first break into showbusiness. Wow.

So I can forgive it having the Doctor say ‘I am known as the Doctor’ before giving his home address. I don’t mind the CyberLieutenant sounding like Fozzy Bear. And I’ll turn a blind eye to the Doctor shooting the baddies. Because… Attack of the Cybermen is fab. Fab. FAB!

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