Companion: Peri Brown
Written by: "Paula Moore" (but really, Eric Saward)
Directed by: Matthew Robinson
Background & Significance: We've talked about the controversy of the Colin Baker years plenty by this point. So know that I'm saying something when I say "Attack of the Cybermen" is one of the most controversial Colin Baker stories. Like, really really.
"Attack of the Cybermen" is the first story of Colin Baker's first full season. It's important to note, however, that this isn't the first Colin Baker story; it's the second. The first Colin Baker story, "The Twin Dilemma" (which we'll be talking about eventually and is widely considered to be one of, if not the, worst Doctor Who stories of all time) was tacked onto the end of Peter Davison's final season in an effort to get people warmed up to his Doctor and excited about the radical change brought about by the influx of a new Doctor.
I'll have more thoughts as we go through, but "Attack of the Cybermen" is widely criticized for its violent content, something which I thought I could handle because I'm not exactly the squeamishest or flinchiest of persons; I've watched and relished in my fair share of violent movies, be they over the top or not. Turns out I couldn't, and you'll see why. I mean, there's a line, and "Attack of the Cybermen" WAY crosses it and people project that onto Colin Baker's Doctor, who, let's also point out, does in fact contribute to a fair amount of the violence in this.
The Visitation" and "Earthshock" but for every one of those there's one of these, and the stuff that's like "one of these" is rife with problems and I can't say I'm a huge fan. So ummm.... know that, I guess. Cuz I might not be kind to this story.
Tomb of the Cybermen", but more on that in just a bit). All the best and worst of their eras are neatly wrapped up in this story and it's at this point that their "themness" starts to stop helping the programme (because they're "new" and "revolutionary") and start to negatively impact the stories and show they're making, especially towards Colin Baker, who should have been legendary and well-remembered but instead ends up being derided, reviled, and something of a scapegoat on all counts. It's unfortunate, because Colin Baker is SO good, especially in this, despite being in this. He's the thing that makes it better.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So let's get to it!
Were you a good writer, you would make me care more about Lytton's death, or make me buy Colin Baker's performance on more than just Colin Baker. This story leaves with a bleak outlook for no reason other than to just end there. But this ending is in no way deserved or built up or anything, so I can't even say that this was good in that respect, cuz it wasn't.
Final Thoughts: And so it goes that I appreciate this story more this time, but it's still far, far from perfect.
All of my dislike comes from a place of both personal taste and a general demand for higher quality. For one thing, the level of writing on this story is nothing I would ever describe as "Good". It's textbook convoluted and unnecessarily mired in continuity simply because it can be to the point where it actually hurts the story being told because it's so referential to what came before. Why bother telling a story this buried in continuity at all is my real question, especially when so many of the stories that you're referencing just flat out don't exist anymore (or didn't exist at the time). Wouldn't it be more beneficial to just remake the stories that don't exist, Terry Nation style? I mean, that probably woulda been just as cool. Colin Baker going through Tombs of the Cybermen. Maybe slightly modified, but remade.
I can't ever get past the level of violence in this story. I don't think I ever will. It's gratuitous and over the top and doesn't ever give a reason to be. I mean, I'd argue in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era that the violence was to enhance the evil of the bad guys in the situation. Sutekh's army is evil beyond the violence portrayed, as are the Robots and the agents of Magnus Greel. These villains are more than their violence, but the Cybermen here are nothing without it. They don't really have a nefarious plan (Halley's Comet will never not be far fetched) but are dangerous because they get violent at times, but they're also kicked around a lot, which lowers their strength as villains. Way more Cybermen die in this story than anything else, so I'm supposed to take them seriously?
So that's why I come down on this era and come down on it hard. It replaces flash for real substance, violence in the place of strong, solid story telling. So much of this story is weak and not good. Action packed? Sure, I suppose. But what else does it have going for it? Countless continuity references? Fuck, I could do that: Ice Warriors, Yeti, Autons, Yates, Morbius, Gallifrey, Mondas, Telos, Terrible Zodin. It's earning these references or servicing them that makes them work if at all. Honestly, it just throws me into the Robert Holmes camp of "stop referencing anything" because it cripples good writing and replaces it with stuff that doesn't work.
The violence, though? I'll never get over that, and I know that's my own hangup, but I'm okay with that. Doctor Who is allowed to be fun and violent and action-packed and stuff, but it should be wary that its primary protagonist is first and foremost a thinker and a pacifist, thinking his way out of situations and bad times instead of using a gun to shoot his way out. I know that's the in vogue American thing to do, but let's be honest: Doctor Who is not an American show, it's a British show, so the focus is different. If you want to write a story about something else, go write it elsewhere. Just keep the spirit and the focus of the show where it belongs and needs to be.
Because that spirit and focus of where the show should be? It's not here, and this story is far, far worse off for it.
Next Time!: 7th Doctor! Ace! CLOWNS! Ragnarok? Metaphors galore! Some dark, dark stuff, a great mystery, a big tent and even bigger explosions! And did I mention the Clowns? "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy"! Coming Next Tuesday!