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18 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 656: Attack of the Cybermen, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Just how many stories is this one a sequel (or at least a follow-up) to? There’s the obvious ones - we’ve come back to Telos and the Cybercontroller from The Tomb of the Cybermen, and their planning to alter the events of The Tenth Planet - but then we’ve got Cybermen in the sewers (as in The Invasion), the TARDIS returning to Totter’s Lane (An Unearthly Child, and seemingly for no reason at all), Lytton’s story continuing from where it was left off in Resurrection of the Daleks… People talk about needing to be a fan of Doctor Who with a degree in time and space to understand this story, and mostly, that all comes down to the fact that there’s so much pointless continuity in here!

The sad thing is… I think it could almost work, but not like this. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another instalment of ‘how I would have done it’. If you’re going to insist on having so many old elements come back in this story, then it really needs to be done as a kind of nostalgia piece. You can have the Cybermen in the sewers, but make them the design from The Invasion, because by 1985 that design has already become something of a retro thing, and if you’re catering to an audience of people who remember and love those earlier stories, then it’s the perfect way to hook them in. While you’re at it, hire better actors to play them. Then, once you’re on Telos, do the tombs in the same style as the ones from the 1960s! This bit seems so bloody obvious that I can’t believe they missed it. In the making of feature on this story’s DVD, Eric Saward even mentions the fact that he saw a photograph of the original Tomb of the Cybermen set and was so impressed that it inspired this story… and then they go and build the hideous version we see on screen here. Oh dear.

As for the story itself… to a certain extent, I rather like the idea. A time machine has crash-landed on Telos, and the Cybermen plan to travel back in time and stop their home world from getting destroyed. That’s the simple plot at the heart of this story, but it doesn’t come across because it’s buried under pointless trips to Totter’s Lane, and other assorted rubbish. What I want to see is a small group of 1960s-style Cybermen who have been woken from their hibernation by a time ship crashing on the planet. They’re alone in the universe, the last desperate survivors of the Cyber-race, and they plan to go back in time to change that. There’s a fairly simple - yet, hopefully - exciting - story to tell, as the Doctor and Peri battle to save the Web of Time.

Under that circumstance, you don’t need to worry about the fact that you’re following up on Tomb of the Cybermen and The Tenth Planet, because everything you need to know can be explained away in a few lines of dialogue - the Cybermen come from the planet Mondas. They tried to invade the Earth, but their planet was destroyed. The few survivors settled here and went into hibernation. Done. There’s no need for some of the convoluted explanations given in today’s episode, which seem to be there more to make it look like the writer has seen lots of Doctor Who, and not because it needs to be said.

I think this is just one of those stories that frustrates me because it should be good. There’s a few really nice ideas in here - like the Cybermen going mad when not revived properly, and even the plan to crash a comet into the Earth, which would have been topical at the time, with Halley’s Comet coming back around. In the end, though, it’s just become a great big mess, and I can’t really forgive it that. A pity. 

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