Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 655: Attack of the Cybermen, Episode One
This feels as though it should be a real shot in the arm for Doctor Who. After three seasons of being shown twice-weekly in a mid-week slot, the programme has returned to its ancestral home of Saturday night. Not only that, but after the forced experiment of screening Resurrection of the Daleks as two 45-minute episodes last year, the programme has been switched permanently to that format. It’s almost like growing up, and a chance to really tell a great story with a bit more time to breathe in each part. We’ve got a new Doctor, who’s somewhat eider and less predictable than his immediate predecessor, a companion who’s also relatively recent and has been rather good so far, and in case you’re still not excited, they’ve even brought back the Cybermen, in sequels to… well, pretty much everything.
And you know what? It’s bloody rubbish.
I never set out in to any story in this marathon with a ‘mission’. Sometimes, I go in expecting to like something and I will. Sometimes, I go in expecting not to like something, and I don’t. Sometimes - and these are the best of times - I go in expecting to hate something, and end up finding loads to love, making a story a bit of an undiscovered gem in my Who knowledge, and rocketing it right up my list of favourites. But I go in to each story, and every episode, with an open mind. I rate each one on gut instinct from watching, and take it day-by-day. That said, while I don’t enter in to any story thinking “I’m join to rate this one highly no matter what”, I do go in to them looking for the best. It doesn’t always work, as the likes of The Dominators, The Curse of Peladon, or Logopolis will attest. On the whole, though, knowing that the Sixth Doctor’s era isn’t rated very well, I think I’m consciously making an extra effort to find things that I can love. I didn’t have to try all that hard with The Twin Dilemma, but today’s episode… oh dear. It’s really irritated me.
Let’s start with the biggie: the Cybermen in this story are downright s*t. I try to refrain from swearing in these entries, so knowing that I’m resorting to it hopefully helps to make my point. The Cybercontroller moves around as though he’s a stereotypical robot, while the others working around him wobble around as they speak and move, as if they’re all having a bit of a boogie. Worst of all is the over-eager Cyberintern who’s helping out with their base in the London sewers - jumping in at every opportunity to kiss the arse of his cyberboss! This particular Cyberman has *really started to annoy me, and by the time we’ve reached the end of the episode, where he’s popping up over his boss’ shoulder to enthusiastically point out that the Doctor’s presence would explain the time distortion they detected, I’d genuinely lost the will to live. I’m not going to bother going in to the whole debate over who wrote what in this story (frankly, they should all be clambering to wash their hands of it), but it’s highly likely Eric Saward had a major part in it. I’m stunned, therefore, that the man who gave us such great Cybermen in Earthshock not all that long ago has managed to make such a complete mess of the characters here!
Then you’ve got the return of Lytton. Much awaited by… well, by Eric Saward, presumably. Lytton was in last season’s Dalek story, and it’s telling that even though I watched it a little over a week ago, I’ve pretty much forgotten everything about him. My friend Nick summed it up perfectly for me;
”He Argued with the Black Dalek, killed his workmates, and never met the Doctor”
I think that’s my biggest issue with his return here - the Doctor reacts to news of the man’s involvement with ‘I should have guessed’, but I was sure that the pair hadn’t actually crossed paths before! It’s a shame, because actually, that final scene of Lytton cutting his losses and wandering off into the sunset with his two ‘policemen’ was great, and having them return here should be a great idea… but it just doesn’t work. They’ve been taken out of the wonderful gritty locations of that earlier story, and plonked down here, in a tale that I couldn’t care much less about.
Still, let’s look on the positives, shall we? Starting with the Cybermen, I do enjoy the way that they get properly beaten up on the surface of Telos. In the same way that there’s something really pleasing about watching them get massacred during the events of The Five Doctors, there’s something about seeing their heads and hands knocked off here that would really appeal to me as a child. That sounds quite sadistic, actually.
The Doctor and Peri are also continuing to be something of a highlight - I love the way that their relationship has mellowed, and that the Doctor has decided that the time to fix the TARDIS up is now. In many ways, I also love that they’ve ditched the Chameleon circuit… but it feels too much like a gimmick. I know it’ll be reset by the end of the story, and it doesn’t feel as though they’ve gone to all that much trouble of thinking about what it could turn in to here. The ornamental pillar and the organ feel that bit too much like they’ve simply been hauled out of some BBC props store, and trundled along to the location. At least turn it in to a red telephone box or something, so that Peri’s joke about it being ‘much better’ now could be funny (NB: I’d find that funny. Your milage may vary!)
To be honest, it really is the rubbish Cybermen in this episode that have put me off more than anything. I’m struggling to care about anything much in the plot, because every time we cut back to them, there’s something new there to irritate me. Here’s hoping that things pick up in the next episode, because I’m struggling to find much to love here…