Timestamp #138: Attack of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen
(2 episodes, s22e01-e02, 1985)

 

After some time off, the Doctor has gotten better.

The adventure begins with two unfortunate sewer workers who find a shiny new brick wall where one should not be. One of them investigates, but the other is attacked by an unknown force.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is working on the capsule’s circuitry, specifically the chameleon circuit. Peri is concerned that he is over-exerting himself after his recent trauma, but the Doctor disregards her. When she suggests some relaxation he agrees and sets course, but something draws the TARDIS away.

On Earth, stranded mercenary Lytton is planning a heist with some local criminals. One of the cohort, a man named Russell, relays the plan to an outside party under the guise of purchasing explosives. Later on, Lytton’s gang enters the sewers, intending to access the diamond vault from below. As they set up, two policemen patrol nearby.

The production values have improved this season.

The TARDIS stabilizes in the orbit of Halley’s Comet, circa 1985. Peri wants to land, relating the comet’s appearance to certain disaster, but the Doctor disagrees. A sudden distress signal focuses both of them on Earth, the source of the call, and in franchise fashion they decide to investigate. They touch down at 76 Totter’s Lane, and the newly repaired chameleon circuit (eventually) kicks in, disguising the TARDIS as an ornate cabinet.

The Doctor and Peri track the source of the signal and Peri expresses her concerns for the Doctor’s well-being. She’s worried that his mind is not quite right, specifically because he keeps confusing her for past companions like Tegan, Zoe, Susan, Jamie, and even the Terrible Zodin (who?). He reluctantly admits that she may have a point. As they wander the streets of London and return to I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard, two policemen shadow them. The policemen are unimpressed when the TARDIS dematerializes.

In the sewers, Russell hears someone following them, and Lytton orders Payne to deal with the intruders. Instead, the intruders deal with him. Meanwhile, using the TARDIS computers, the Doctor and Peri determine that the signal is being bounced around multiple relays, and the Doctor assumes that someone must be watching the transmitter and waiting for help to arrive. They materialize at the garage where Lytton’s gang entered the sewers, and the Doctor is dismayed that the TARDIS has taken the form of a pipe organ. They are confronted by armed policemen – although they’re likely not real police officers – but the pair dispatches them with ease and enters the sewers.

This Doctor is much more violent, echoing the Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Peri find Payne’s body as they explore. Meanwhile, the thieves encounter the newly built wall and a black Cyberman. Russell runs as the wall opens and reveals many more Cybermen, to whom Lytton readily surrenders. He explains to the Cyber Leader that he tracked the signals to their hidden ship behind the moon, and he offers his accomplice Griffiths as fodder to be assimilated as Cybermen.

Moving to the planet Telos, the Cybermen have slave gangs digging in a quarry. They attempt to escape, but only two make it out alive. Unfortunately, they need three people to fly their escape craft. They head for the Cyber Control complex, using a Cyberman head as a disguise.

Russell finds the Doctor and Peri, revealing himself as an undercover policeman. The Doctor disarms Russell, and at gunpoint, the officer reveals that he was pursuing Lytton. Together, they all head back to the TARDIS. The Cybermen learn of their presence and send a team to find them. The Doctor disables the black Cyberman with a sonic lance, prompting the Cyber Leader to evacuate with Lytton and Griffiths.

When the travelers return to the TARDIS, they find it overrun by Cybermen. I’m guessing that keys and locks are beyond the Doctor now, and he pays for that laziness as the Cybermen kill Russell and take aim on Peri. The Doctor agrees to cooperate to save her, coercing the Cybermen into the agreement by setting a self-destruct sequence, which drives the Cybermen to reveal the Cyber Controller’s survival on Telos. The Doctor sets a course for Telos before being confined with Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton. Lytton begins the info-dump and explains that the Cybermen found a timeship that landed on Telos and now have plans for both it and the TARDIS.

As the one not well versed in all things Doctor Who, Griffiths demands an explanation. Lytton and the Doctor explain that Telos is the adopted home planet of the Cybermen, and that it only came into their possession after they destroyed the native Cryons to take over their advanced refrigeration technology to store their troops after Mondas was destroyed.

After the Doctor sabotages the navigational controls, the TARDIS lands in the catacombs instead of Cyber Control and assumes the shape of a gateway. The Cybermen are attacked by a rogue cyber soldier, one of many who have been driven insane by faulty refrigeration tombs. While their captors are distracted, Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton run. Peri, now in a new (warmer) costume, is rescued by Cryon freedom fighters. Another group finds Lytton and Griffiths and detail how Lytton has been working for them to stop the Cybermen from destroying Telos. Apparently, all he needs to do is steal the original time vessel.

The Doctor is confined to a cold storage room where he meets Flast, a Cryon prisoner. Flast reveals that the Cryons were not completely destroyed and that the Cybermen plan to save Mondas (and rewrite time) by destroying Earth with Halley’s Comet. Peri gets pretty much the same briefing from her new friends. Peri is distraught, but the Doctor is angry, partially because the Cybermen are breaking the laws of time, and partially because the Time Lords were likely responsible for diverting the TARDIS to this time and place to stop them, making him their errand boy once again.

The Cryons costumes are really quite strange, but their swooping fantasy movements are very elegant.

Lytton and Griffiths are intercepted by the two prisoners, who have both been partially assimilated, and the four men join forces in order to hijack the time vessel. They enter a tunnel to Cyber Control, but Lytton is captured en route to the ship. Elsewhere, Flast shows the Doctor a mineral that is highly volatile above freezing temperatures. The Doctor uses it to escape the room and kill the guard, then leaves his sonic lance with Flast (who cannot survive outside the refrigerated room) after she volunteers to detonate the rest of the minerals and destroy Cyber Control. After she sets the bomb, the Cybermen note the Doctor’s absence and kill Flast by exposing her to warm temperatures, effectively boiling her alive.

That was one of the most unique (and sad) deaths on this show in a while.

While the Cybermen torture Lytton to reveal his plan, Peri and the Doctor reunite and make their way to the TARDIS. The Doctor lures the Cybermen inside the time capsule with a dead Cyberman’s distress signal. The new leader of the Cryons, Rost, pressures the Doctor to leave before the bomb explodes, but Peri reminds him that Lytton’s team is still on Telos.

The Doctor moves the TARDIS to the conversion center – the TARDIS takes its normal form this time – where they find a partially assimilated Lytton. Lytton and the Doctor take out the Cyber Controller, but Lytton dies heroically in the battle. The Doctor reflects on his misjudgment of the man as he and Peri leave in the TARDIS and Cyber Control is destroyed.

I enjoyed watching the effort to tie up some of the loose ends in Cyberman mythology, including the return of both Telos and Mondas from the black and white days of the franchise. I also liked the moments of compassion from the Doctor, which were a good shift from the arrogant and pompous attitudes displayed in The Twin Dilemma. It was also a nice twist to use an established villain and turn him into an anti-hero.

The big downside across these two 45-minute episodes was the dump truck of exposition used to drive the plot, but it wasn’t enough to drag it down too much.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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3 thoughts on “Timestamp #138: Attack of the Cybermen

  1. The writers struggle with the 45 minute format this season. .i completely agree with you, though, that Colin is much improved in this season. It’s a real shame that they decided to show him at his worst just before the season ended, because I’ve heard lots of people say that they just didn’t come back to watch season 22.

    The Terrible Zodan is an inside joke. The second Doctor mentions it in The Five Doctors when mentioning old enemies, but the Brigadier doesn’t recognize the name. Then the Doctor remembers that “she happened in the future” and the conversation moves on. Fans have long speculated about Zodan, and I think Saward was just stoking the fires here.

    My main issue with this one is how easy it is to kill the Cybermen. They go from being nigh unstoppable killing machines in Earthshock to being things that 20th century cops with guns can kill with enough bullets. I wasn’t really a fan of that.

    Looking forward to your review of Vengeance on Varos.

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