Saturday, 14 December 2013

Attack of the Cybermen written by Paula Moore (possibly Eric Saward) and directed by Matthew Robinson

This story in a nutshell: Death, death and more death...

Aristocratic Adventurer: Whilst I am unashamedly a sixth Doctor apologist even the staunchest of critics has to accept that this is pretty damn good showing for his Doctor. He has been meaning to repair the chameleon circuit for some time and doesn’t know why he hasn’t gotten around to it before. A man of science, temperament and passion (and a very loud voice!). I love how he very sweetly taps Peri on the nose after his theatrical rant, somehow making everything okay. The Doctor feels like a hungry man eager for the feast and wants to go off exploring. A little gratitude from Peri wouldn’t irretrievably damage his ego. Thinks he has perfect rapport with the TARDIS. I loved his line ‘I suddenly feel conspicuous’ to which Peri replies ‘I’m not surprised in that coat.’ Maybe I have just been brainwashed for too long as a fan but I really studied that coat hard in this story and despite its obvious clashes of colour and style I couldn’t find anything that insulting to my optics. A sure sign that you have been watching this show too much. Are they slips of the tongue he is having (oo-er!) or slips of the mind, either way he calls Peri Jamie (a bloke), the Terrible Zodin (a villain) and most heinous of all…Tegan (what an insult). I know I bang on about this all the time but it because I have an innate sense of fighting injustice and it bothers me greatly that the same writers (Cornell, etc) that weep and moan about the sixth Doctor using his fists who are perfectly happy to endorse the new series where the Doctor has more blood on his hands than ever (what the Doctor does in Cornell's own scripted The Family of Blood is far more obscene than anything committed in Attack of the Cybermen). The sixth Doctor is violent and unpredictable, a perfect antidote to all the meekness of the last three years. When he is frightened he covers it with blatant rudeness. The scene where Russell holds a gun on the Doctor are some of Colin Baker’s finest; he is witty, callous and alien and I love it when he orders Peri to shoot the policeman because if you strain you can hear weak hearted fan boys lamenting the vacancy of their hero's morals. Has his new regeneration made him vindictive? ‘Even I have to be careful’ he says about his interference in the affairs of others and Lytton suggests dire consequences if the Time Lords catch up with him which acts as a nice hint to his upcoming treatment in Trial of a Time Lord. The Cybermen’s torture of him is sadistic and my heart quickened to see the Doctor being so mistreated in the TARDIS. I adore the scenes between him and Flast where he gets to act all sweet and kind, it’s precisely the sort of thing we needed to see from this fiery Doctor to balance him out. He displays some real anger when he realises that once again he is a Time Lord pawn. His quiet goodbye to Rost is very nice. The Doctor realises too late that he has misjudged Lytton in what is nice piece character development. Although there must have been a story between Resurrection and Attack where they crossed paths because they didn't set eyes on each other in Saward's Dalek massacre last season. The decision seems t have been made to give the sixth Doctor a wealth of personality, quite aside from the charm and volume that Colin Baker brings to the role. Was it a reaction against Davison's occasional ineptitude?

Busty Babe: Already Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker have developed a great chemistry and they bounce of each other very well in the first episode. Peri still thinks the Doctor might be a little unstable. A little? She is frightened as they fly in Halley’s Comets wake. Go watch the scene where the Doctor is looking off into the distance in a dream and Peri is literally jumping at his face to get his attention...and people say that these two don't light up the screen in the same way as previous Doctor/companions used to. Peri holding the shotgun probably caused a whole generation of wet dreams. The poor girl is dragged down back alleys and into the sewers for her impressive first view of London. I really like the scene where the Doctor mentions that the Cybermen are a particularly nasty alien race…and Peri starts backing away. ‘You’ll get used to it’ says Peri to Griffiths of their madcap lifestyle. Peri shows some real concern over the fate of the Earth in some eerie scenes with the Cryons. There's rather too much going on in Attack of the Cybermen to give Peri a large share of the action but she's fun for the most part and fulfills her function adequately.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘More bulges than an anti-natal clinic!’
‘I used to use one of those when I worked for the council’ ‘This time its for swinging, not leaning on.’
‘Drop it, unless you want me to open up his throat.’
‘You’re bonkers!’ ‘That’s debatable.’
‘You murder a police officer and you’ll get thirty years!’ ‘Handful of heartbeats to a Time Lord!’

The Good Stuff: JNT wasn't afraid of opening with a bang and we head straight down into the sewers to witness the murder of two workers at the hands of an unknown menace. Necks being snapped at tea time? Love it! The dramatic POV shots are very nicely done, especially when mixed with the electronic sting of Malcolm Clarke's music. You might be mistaken for thinking that you have switched on an episode of Minder during the sequences where Lytton's criminal gang plan a diamond robbery. Saward sets out to prove that this show literally can ape any other. What it does achieve is a nice taste of contemporary London in a show that was starting go fantasy crazy (this is exactly what was needed around the Time and the Rani mark too, but we'll get there in good time). Criminal gangs packing shotguns and explosions, this is muscular viewing (until we cut back to the camp as Christmas TARDIS scenes featuring Ronald McDonald and a Baywatch babe). Much of the casting in season twenty-two is superb and Attack of the Cybermen is no exception. In particular Maurice Colbourne and Brian Glover both give outstanding performances and the early scenes a kick of authenticity. It's great that they chose to film in London’s grimy, litter strewn back streets, Matthew Robinson choices to film London as it really is rather than the tarted up version we often see in the new series (after we have moved on from the council estates of seasons one and two). They really bring the lights down in the sewer scenes for some tense moments. Payne's death really impacts because of how uncensored it is. The first reveal of the Cybermen as the wall slides back and the camera looks up at the statuesque monstrosities takes some beating. Throughout Robinson is trying interesting things with the camerawork to try and make the story as visually interesting as possible. A great example is the positioning Payne's bloody corpse next to the camera as the Doctor and Peri approach - they are are unsuspecting but we know exactly what they are about to stumble on. The cut to Telos is unexpected and sudden but the action comes thick and fast to ensure the moment passes quickly. Cybermen are decapitated, men shot down and a cameraman runs down a hill in a disorienting POV shot of Bates attacking their guard. The Telos scenes could have been utterly forgettable but Stratton and Bates are so impressively performed that I couldn't help but take an interest. The sequence where they attack another Cyberman and knock his block off is very dramatically handled. The effects shot of Cyber Control in the distance really convinces. I have been complaining with each successive story that the Cybermen are becoming more like foot soldiers than the ghoulish parodies of humanity that they once were. Whilst Attack of the Cybermen doesn't handled the psychological effect of being converted, I was extremely grateful to Eric Saward for going for the body horror angle and attempting to reveal just how hideous the process is. Finally we get to see the conversion process in all its nasty glory; men gripped by technology, arms and legs replaced, their voices replaced by electronic noise. This is humanity being raped of its individuality and proof that we had every right to be frightened when the Cyber Controller pointed to the humans in Tomb of the Cybermen and stated coldly that we will be like them. Violence in the TARDIS is very wrong but it is cut together so quickly and excitingly that I barely had time to register. Griffiths is another contender for a male companion during the sixth Doctor's era because he is such a marvellous out-of-his-depth cynic (‘Have you got a taxi waiting?’). Lytton as a hero comes as a complete surprise but not an unwelcome one, his performance has adjusted just enough in this story to make the idea plausible (although he behaved abominably in Resurrection - what has brought on this change of character?). Whilst the costumes aren’t brilliant I do enjoy the delicacy and gentle characterisation of the Cryons, an unusually sweet alien race. The scene where Stratton reveals his converted arm is a terrific demonstration of the brutality of the Cybermen and their botch jobs. How many other rejects are out there with parts of their body replaced? Since it was given appropriate build up in the first episode (and here I was thinking that Saward was just being cute), the Cybermen's plan to destroy the Earth using Halley's Comet before the events of The Tenth Planet can take place actually makes a great deal of sense. If that was the only plot taking place in Attack of the Cybermen we would have been in much better shape. If you want to experience the Cybermen as a violent threat then you need look no further than the hand crushing sequence. Much lambasted, I think it works a treat and it was long past time that we saw just how bloody things could get if you pushed them too far. Poignant without saying a word, the slow camera movement away from Flast as she sits alone in the cold ready to sacrifice herself is lovely. When the Cybermen finally catch up with her they force her out into the heat and watch her burn to death - this really is the most sadistic of Doctor Who stories. You'll never see the creatures in the same light again, that's for sure.
Whilst it is amateurishly directed (it feels like the clock was about to strike ten and they had to get it in the can as quickly as possible) I rather like the furious energy of the Doctor taking on the Cybermen and murdering them all out with a weapon. It feels like things have gotten wildly out of control and the only way to restore a sense of normality is to kill the lot of them. Is it the only way this story could have been concluded? No, but Saward has once against boxed himself into a corner with too much going on and the only way he can see out is the murder everybody. It is becoming a habit on the show.

The Bad Stuff: The music is…meh. It’s too loud and intrusive and overpowers many the scenes even though on occasion it is quite effective (the Cryon theme). Nobody seems to know how to film the TARDIS set anymore, Matthew Robinson’s direction is very strong but as soon as he cuts back to the over lit, under dressed TARDIS set the cameras are suddenly static. That God-awful synth Steptoe and Son theme. The Cyber Lieutenant is the minciest of deep sea divers. The Cybermen on Telos are horrendous, taking the term robotic to its absolute extreme. Compare the menace of the Cybermen in the under lit sewer scenes to the over lit TARDIS scenes. Opening scenes of episode two see the Doctor locked in a room and scraping together tons of continuity and tossing it at the audience in one great lump of exposition, raking over the plots of The Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen and Resurrection of the Daleks. It has been mentioned before but the Tomb sets lack the style and sophistication of those in the original story. Watch out for the hilarious judo chop Cyberman who breaks free of his tomb in a violent frenzy. Look at that stupid Cyberman who tries to pat at the firework fizzing from his arm. Killing off Griffiths, Stratton and Bates is so Eric Saward – it’s as a great shock moment but afterwards you are left with no hope for any of the remaining characters. How funny is that panicking Cyberman who finds the Vastial? He beckons hastily at his mates to retreat. It’s a shame that the last action scene with the Doctor and the Controller is so rushed and pantomimic, those spinning Cybermen make it look like a salsa class.

The Shallow Bit: If you like a bit of rough, Attack of the Cybermen is the story for you. Peri bazumbas are extremely accentuated in that pink leotard. Even more so than usual. 

Result: The first episode is very good; well paced with some violent and exciting touches. It feels like Doctor Who is back with a bang. The second episode fares less well with too much continuity and not enough clarity but there are still plenty of good moments and the whole story remains entertaining as a whole. What I love about Attack of the Cybermen is not only Matthew Robinson’s stylish and imaginative direction (his pacing, action sequences and ingenious use of the camera are all great) but also despite a few bumpy moments the Cybermen actually feel like a vicious threat and their conversion process is a genuinely chilling prospect. It’s a great story for the sixth Doctor because he gets to be heroic, violent, unpredictable, funny and even questions his own prejudices. Despite the general stylishness of the production there are some notable lapses, the budget fails the director on occasion and the musical score is so insistent that it will actively distract you from the action taking place. Should Doctor Who favour action over morality? Should it stick to fast paced set pieces over strong characterisation? Absolutely not, but this is where Saward and JNT took the programme in the mid eighties and your choice is to either go with it and find the treasures within (of which there are many) or resist it and sit in the corner pouting whilst still enduring the thing anyway because it is Doctor Who. Attack of the Cybermen isn’t perfect but it certainly tries very hard to be a gripping action thriller and for the most part it succeeds in it's aim to provide a high octane couple of hours worth of entertainment. Fantastic guest cast too: 8/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

Yes, bravo to the Doctor for realizing that he misjudged Lytton the homocidal space mercenary who did everything he did for money, including murdering dozens in "Resurrection of the Daleks". ;)

To be fair, you are right on in pointing out the few strengths of the previous story, especially Hugo's awesomeness (he definitely should have been a companion!)

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

This one is a definite guilty pleasure for me.

Peakius Baragonius said...

Whoops, meant to comment that second part on Twin Dilemma!

Anthony Pirtle said...

This is as enjoyable on a purely popcorn action level as the story for which it serves as a sequel, but with better supporting characters and a much more interesting leading man.

I think the people who are outraged by this doctor's use of violence have a very selective memory. Pertwee, for example, would have gunned down all the Cybermen while eating a sandwich. He never batted an eye when vaporizing Ogrons. "I have always been pragmatic in all my lives," says Baker's Doctor in The Sirens of Time, "as I am in this regeneration, but more so!"