Monday, December 31, 2012

Attack of the Cybermen: "I don't think I've ever misjudged anybody quite as badly ..."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Attack of the Cybermen - Index

Season 22, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #138) | Previous - Next | Index

There's a lot not to like about the last several years of Doctor Who, so I approached this Colin Baker era story -- one that I could only vaguely recall seeing when it first aired in the U.S. -- with trepidation.  As it geared up though, I quickly found myself sucked in and thoroughly enjoying it ... harsh lighting, garish colors, and cheesy incidental music notwithstanding.

I grew up with Tom Baker; Peter Davison was my first "new" Doctor and, as a result, took a little getting used to at the start, but I did, and remain fond of him to this day. Colin Baker's first story, The Twin Dilemma, did not sit well with me when it first aired, and I'm not sure when I'll get around to seeing it again. I remember it being terrible. However, I liked him in this story more than I thought I would. He's arrogant and brash, but there's just enough humility in his admission to Peri early in the episode (after being reminded that he's been calling her the names of several past companions, and one villain) that his slips of the tongue may be an indication that his regeneration has resulted in some slips of the mind as well.

Six blasting away.
Baker also brings a little more physicality to the role, here taking some swipes from Cybermen and rolling around on the floor firing a blaster at them. He's more rough and tumble than that awful costume of his would have you believe. And he's got great support in this story: Lytton and his crew of would-be diamond robbers are worthy of a self-respecting heist movie in their own right; Peri is, well, if not the loveliest of the companions to that point, certainly in the running, and Nicola Bryant plays her with such endearing vulnerability it's impossible not to sympathize with her frustration at the behavior of her erratic new Doctor; and then there's a classic villain making a return -- the Cybermen.

Nicola Bryan as Peri
The Cybermen don't enjoy the iconic status of the Daleks, but I'm glad they've managed to hang on through the years and keep coming back. Like many of my generation, and younger I suspect, I wasn't familiar with the Troughton and Hartnell Cybermen stories, they were never broadcast on PBS, as far as I know, so I was ignorant of the history the Doctor had with the planet Telos in The Tomb of the Cybermen when Attack originally aired. Having seen Tomb in the meantime, it added to the experience of re-watching this story knowing that history of the hibernating Cybermen ripping through the sheeting of their tombs. (Some cybermats would've been a nice addition though.)

It's worth giving Maurice Colbourne's performance as Lytton another mention. He really is quite good, turning in one of the finest non-companion supporting roles in the series history. The Doctor's description of him as (I'll have to paraphrase because I'm not finding the quote and didn't write it down) 'tall, dark, lean, and looking as if he'd be willing to shoot his own mother just to keep his trigger finger supple', is remarkably accurate, despite its flourish.

Maurice Colbourne as Lytton via Colin Baker Online
Lytton tortured by the Cyberment was bit more bloody
realism than we were used to seeing on Doctor Who
It's difficult to recommend the 80s shows to those who didn't grow up with them. Even to my forgiving ears and eyes, they often look and sound awful. The production values were cheap and dated even when they were new, and they haven't aged well. (WTF was that Halley's Comet graphic anyways?! Could they not find an actual picture of a comet to base it on? That lousy comet pissed me off back then and didn't make me any less angry today. If you're going to go to the trouble of showing the comet, at least have an idea what a comet looks like. Seriously, a 6-year-old could've done better.) There's a charm and quality to the 60s and 70s era productions that, while still dated and noticeably not expensive, gives them a low-fi charm. That said, this is definitely a story I'd recommend to a fan of the new series looking to learn about the classic series beyond Tom Baker and as a DVD keeper for fans of the classic series that might be struggling to recall it.

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