“Attack of the Cybermen” is the first adventure of the twentysecond season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1985. It follows “The Twin Dilemma” and it’s a two parts adventure written by Paula Moore and directed by Matthew Robinson.
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) has more or less recovered from his regeneration and has decided to repair the Tardis’ chameleon circuit. The first result, however, is that the Tardis behaves abnormally. The Doctor still manages to drive it to Earth in 1985 and to show Halley’s comet to Peri (Nicola Bryant) while it’s passing near the Sun.
On Earth, former mercenary Lytton got into robberies and found some accomplices to steal diamonds for a value of several million pounds. The plan is to enter the bank where the diamonds are kept through the sewers but they find something very different from what they were looking for. Lytton activates a transmitter that emits a signal that gets detected by the Tardis and the Doctor decides to go to investigate.
This DVD contains a good amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Listings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by its protagonists Colin Baker e Nicola Bryant and actors Terry Molloy e Sarah Berger.
The Cold War. A 28-minute documentary about the production of this adventure.
The Cyber Story. A history of the Cybermen in the classic “Doctor Who” series.
Human Cyborg. An interview with Professor Kevin Warwick, who is trying to develop real cyborgs. Being associated with the Cybermen is not very positive but someone might get interested in the real possibilities that are waiting for us in the near future.
The Cyber-Generations. A gallery showing the evolution of the Cybermen during the series. It’s a little redundant considering it follows an extra about their history but this is focused on their look.
Trails and Continuity. Various BBC announcements from the time this adventure was broadcast for the first time.
Isolated Score. The option to watch this adventure with Malcolm Clarke’s soundtrack in an isolated track.
Among the PDF files included on the DVD there’s also an article from the magazine “The Listener” by Kit Pedler, one of the creators of Cybermen.
There’s also an “Easter egg”.
After the success of the Cybermen’s return several years in “Earthshock”, producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward intended to exploit them again to start the new season. Saward wanted to write the new screenplay himself but his role as the script editor would cause the Writers Guild’s wrath because he intended to write the screenplay for the final adventure of the season as well.
In the end, the name in the credits of “Attack of the Cybermen” is Paula Moore but there are various versions that are not very consistent about the real contributions to the job. Ian Levine, who had already collaborated in Doctor Who’s production in a number of ways and had also offered various ideas for possible adventures, was involved and suggested various ideas.
To write the screenplay, Eric Saward contacted Paula Woolsey, with whom he had a personal relationship, but it’s unclear how much she has really worked on the story. Many people suspect that the screenplay was actually written by Saward even though he always denied it.
Regardless of how things went, the screenplay of the adventure that became “Attack of the Cybermen” is based on several ways upone events shown in previous serials, going batk to the beginning of the classic series. The Doctor and Peri arrive in London and find themselves in a place that is supposed be the same from where everything started in “An Unearthly Child“. There are also many references to previous Cybermen stories, beginning with their debut one, “The Tenth Planet“.
Today, many fans can recognize those references if they have seen the classic series in DVD or anyway they can go online to search for information about them. At the time, however, only longtime fans were able to recognize them and many others had to be perplexed. They were much more likely to have seen “Resurrection of the Daleks“, in which the character of the mercenary Lytton appeared for the first time.
One historical element known to everyone is the fact that from the outside the Tardis looks like a police box. Occasionally, the Doctor explains to someone who gets curious that a Tardis usually gets camouflaged but because of a fault his Tardis got stuck with that look. John Nathan-Turner had the idea of having the Doctor trying to repair that fault to allow the Tardis to change its look knowing that the media would talk about it. In short, there were pure promotional reasons, in fact the thing ended up with this adventure.
With the beginning of the twentysecond season, “Doctor Who” returned to be aired on Saturday afternoon but the serials were split into episodes that now lasted 45 minute and not 25 as it was done until then. This change of format offered the chance to handle a greater complexity in plots and character development within the same episode.
In the “Attack of the Cybermen” the the first episode’s longer duration offered the opportunity to develop in parallel the Sixth Doctor, with his quest for stability and his new relationship with Peri, and the story about Lytton and his accomplices engaged for what was supposed to be a robbery.
The Sixth Doctor is very different from the Fifth and above all initially he isn’t exactly nice. Even after watching “The Twin Dilemma”, for the audience of the time it might have been hard to get used to him. In some ways, that’s Peri’s problem as that change was particularly traumatic for her.
When Tardis detects the signal sent by Lytton, the Doctor and Peri go to investigate its origin and the plot goes to its main development, set on the planet Telos. Again, there’s a connection with the past, specifically with the adventure “The Tomb of the Cybermen“, set on that planet.
In “Attack of the Cybermen” there’s a further development because the Cryons, the natives of Telos, are introduced. Their presence becomes important in the plot although perhaps adds too much complexity to it because the Cryons’ story is added to the Cybermen’s and Lytton’s, making the second episode a bit chaotic.
However, the main grievances generally concern the levels of violence present in this adventure, which from this point of view is indeed the sequel to “Resurrection of the Daleks”. Undoubtedly the story is brutal with many violent deaths and really dark tones, also for the images of conversions into Cybermen, and there’s even the Doctor shooting some Cybermen.
In “Doctor Who” it was a style out of the ordinary, though in those years it became a trend with inevitable criticism. I personally don’t mind watching an adventure with such dark tones but I understand that for someone finding such a program on Saturday afternoon may be a problem.
In any case, this new appearance of the Cybermen left their mark, perhaps even beyond “Doctor Who”. There are often discussions about how much the Cybermen influenced Star Trek’s Borg and in this adventure the “alcoves” and conversions are shown, elements that are added to their typical phrases, all curious similarities between Cybermen and Borg.
Concerning the Cryons I also wonder if they left their mark beyond “Doctor Who”. The fact that they are played by women and their gestures make me think that the Cryons from Telos look like the Taelons of the TV show “Earth: Final Conflict”. Of course, the Taelons’ story is developed in a completely different way but some background features seem to be inspired by the Cryons.
Possible inspiration aside, in my opinion, “Attack of the Cybermen” is overall a good adventure despite a somewhat chaotic second episode. The extras in the DVD seemed generally of good quality and interesting so if you don’t mind a violent serial I recommend buying it.