The Invasion
The Tenth Planet
Attack of the Cybermen

Episodes 2
45 minutes each
Even the Doctor steals a helmet now and then.
Story No# 137
Production Code 6T
Season 22
Dates Jan. 5, 1985 -
Jan. 12, 1985

With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Paula Moore. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Matthew Robinson. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: The Cybermen plot interfere with history with a captured time machine with the help of an alien mercenary.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


Attack of the Continuity Men by John Reid 19/8/08

Troops fighting to stay alive in underground caverns. The return of a monster and that monster's planet from 17 years ago. A companion who plays it straight and the monster's leader from a previous story. But enough about Destiny of the Daleks. Attack of the Cybermen contains all those things too.

In Gareth Roberts' article on the Williams years in Licence Denied, he points out that for the show's first 21 years, Doctor Who was made for general audiences. It's also worth noting that in David Darlington's article on the Davison years from the same book that there is continuity spanning from Planet of Fire through to The Twin Dilemma, pointing out that the opposite personalities of the fifth and sixth Doctors are a long-term progression.

Before I've even mentioned a word about the story, it's fair to point out that this story is generally regarded as the turning point in the show's history that the next four years wouldn't recover from. Even gems like Vengeance on Varos and Mark of the Rani couldn't save this season from being regarded as "for fans only". Maybe that's unfair, but it's a story written around gimmicks: the return of Lytton's soldiers form Resurrection of the Daleks, The TARDIS changing appearance, Haley's comet.

There are some great bits about it: Terry Molloy's character investigating Lytton and, as always, Maurice Colbourne's acting. The tunnels from the first episode are great, as is Brian Glover's portrayal as Bates and Stratton try to escape from Telos, and the Cryons are a wonderful idea. But you can't really understand what's happening unless you've seen Tomb of the Cybermen. A claim you couldn't make about Destiny of the Daleks with refards to Genesis of the Daleks.

Eric Saward would go on to have success with Trial of a Time Lord, but this story could have been so much better, if only the end wasn't wrapped up so quickly in a clearly rush-written ending.

A Review by Duncan MacGregor 6/2/10

Season 22 kicked off with the show reverting to its Saturday night slot but with episodes of 45 minutes in length, which had been tried out the previous year with Resurrection of the Daleks. Accused, probably with some justification, of being one of the most continuity-obsessed stories in the history of the show, most of it is actually done okay. Mondas's future history is largely explained in the plot, and largely the rest is to do with themes and imagery rather than actual fanwank.

There are really only two jarring examples of fanwankery in Attack; the list of former companions together with reference to the Terrible Zodin and 76 Totters Yard. The former could just have been lost, and the latter could have been okay but for Big Col's odd, blissful expression when he sees the sign but no further explanation! If it had just been in the background all of us saddos could have spotted it and been happy and the newbies would have been none the wiser. All of the other references and imagery can be passed of as either plot or background exposition, or nods to the past that enable the seasoned fan to recognise them without detraction to the casual viewer. Lytton and his officers were only in the show a few stories ago so they were okay.

I had quite forgotten quite how annoying Peri was in this story. She whines with her dodgy accent and affects her cutesy "aren't I vulnerable" stammer - which she also did in later stories - that makes me want to commit physical harm to her person. Her garish neon pink outfit is even worse than Big Col's! It's all very well showing a bit of cleavage but that top appeared too small, giving her at best a round-shouldered look, poor lass.

Peri and fanwankery apart, the first episode is actually pretty good. Colin is excellent as always; why oh why was his reign so savagely cut short? We have the excellent Lytton character return from Resurrection superbly played by Maurice Colbourne, although it was a shame that his policemen buddies were hardly used at all here, and with nowhere near as much menace as their previous outing. Brian Glover's Griffiths was a cut above the usual henchman #1, with some decent banter between him and Lytton; although sorry Big Ted, there is no way you can imply their relationship as Holmesian! I was sorry to see Griffiths so casually disposed of in episode 2. It's all very well saying that you want to explore what happens when the good guy doesn't make it, but it smacked of lazy plotting to me. The direction from Matthew Robinson (also from Resurrection) in the sewers with the Cybermen was excellent, David Banks giving a decent performance. The model work was pretty good too; I always prefer good model work to CGI, they should use more of it on the new series.


Sadly, it does all fall apart rather in the second episode. Stratton and Bates should have been excised from the story altogether as it may have allowed other plot strands additional time to breath, although the plot itself was pretty horrible. Mondas was destroyed in 1986, which is next year as far as this story is concerned. The Cybermen have captured a time machine and intend to stop this from happening by making Halley's Comet crash into the Earth. Quite how this will stop Mondas from being destroyed isn't actually explained, bearing in mind that this is a sequel of sorts to The Tenth Planet, and Mondas was destroyed pretty much by Earth just being there. In the meantime, on Telos we learn of an indigenous race called the Cryons who originally built the Tombs and are sabotaging the Cybermen, and it is they who have employed Lytton to help them. Even though the success of the Cybermen's plan would see them leave Telos, presumably meaning that the Cryons can emerge from hiding albeit after detonating a big bomb (of course), the Cryons "have accepted their fate" and want to stop them from leaving. So that's all right then.

Other issues include frankly fragile Cybermen who can be shot with bullets and killed with a sonic screwdriver, sorry, lance (I hate, hate HATE the sonic screwdriver), but I'll forgive the heads being knocked off by the (in fairness partially cybertised) Bates. The Cyber Controller had eaten several pies and seemed to be auditioning for a part in a Daft Punk video. The character didn't need to be there, David Bank's Cyberleader would have been fine, let alone the original actor from Tomb. I mean why? It wasn't even his voice in that story so no-one would have been any the wiser anyway! Cheers JNT. The tombs were inferior to those seen in Tomb of the Cybermen, and the Cryons were an interesting idea - male/female dynamic - but ultimately dull.

The violence wasn't gratuitous, not even the infamous hand crushing scene, but it was a little lazy to just have the Doctor shoot the Controller at the end. I don't hold with RTD and his "the man who never would", but rather think of a cleverer way to off the baddies.

And leaving aside the complaints about the Doctor and Lytton never having previously met, when the Doctor thinks he's gotten Lytton all wrong because he's working for the Cryons, he hasn't; Lytton's a bloody mercenary! He just happens to be employed by the same people who happen to be on the Doctor's side this time due to my enemy's enemy etc reasoning is all.

So ultimately then what is the verdict? Seen for the first time, it is okay; some nice set pieces, some decent performances, but with a flabby plot with more holes than my socks and ultimately ineffectual Cybermen that doesn't get any better with repeat viewings.

Why I Love Attack of the Cybermen... and Fandom Doesn't by Ian Kidd 15/10/13

I've never understood the fan disdain directed at Attack of the Cybermen. Watching the story as a new young fan, I was considerably more blown away by this one than by several supposed "classics" like Pyramids of Mars (tedious) and The Daemons (awful on every imaginable level). In a quarter of a century, I've never understood the bashing Attack gets... until now. Because I think I've finally figured it out. I'm not a fan. Or at least, I don't watch Who with the mentality that the apparent majority of fandom does. I watch Who with the same mentality as I approach any other show or movie, and appreciate them for the same reason. Fandom in general has a rather different agenda. So here we are, the reasons I love Attack of the Cybermen and fandom doesn't.

Why I Love It #1

Great dialogue throughout, with some of the most quotable lines in any story not written by Robert Holmes.

Why Fandom Doesn't #1

It dares to mention previous stories.

Why I Love It #2

Strong characterisation of the guest characters, brought to life by some superb guest actors like Brian Glover, Maurice Colbourne and Michael Attwell.

Why Fandom Doesn't #2

The Cyber Controller looks a bit bulky around the middle.

Why I Love It #2

It's action-packed, exciting, funny, suspenseful, very well-directed and just plain great entertainment.

Why Fandom Doesn't #3

The tombs don't look the same as they did in a story 18 years earlier.

Action, excitement, humour, fun, great dialogue, acting and direction doesn't impress fandom when they can whine about irrelevancies that no one outside of fandom would even notice or care about. Thank goodness I'm not a "fan".

"Daddy was a bankrobber" by Thomas Cookson 21/12/13

Sometimes I think this story gets unfairly maligned by fandom, in ways that smack of fannish self-loathing. If you're going to accuse any story of killing the ratings with dull, alienating continuity, then blame Arc of Infinity. In fact, I don't think the continuity is alienating here. Simply because the story's far too lightweight to be remotely confusing.

I'm not sure why ratings declined from 8.9 million to 7.2 million, or why 8.9 million tuned in in the first place after the previous three years of bad writing. But I'd hazard a guess at the 45 minute format. I think people liked how Doctor Who was in bite-size, easily digestible half-hour chunks. The Five Doctors and Resurrection of the Daleks had been feature length, but they felt eventful and special enough to warrant it. Attack of the Cybermen needed to be special, and simply wasn't.

A pervasive problem with 80's Who was JNT's ban on anything longer than a traditional four-parter. Just as Resurrection of the Daleks feels crammed and overwritten, and ultimately undeveloped due to limitations of the runtime, this story seems to inherit the leftovers that Resurrection couldn't find room for.

So let's talk about Ian Levine. He's rather a double-edged sword. A quite unpleasant, reprehensible figure, yet the manner in which he's so easily mocked reveals the ugly side of fandom's tendency to operate like a snooty high school clique, shunning and ridiculing the fat autistic nerd, which overshadows how Ian himself has often behaved like a vile bully.

Fandom's exorcism of its own inner Ian Levine can get quite ugly, because somewhere it became shameful to value aspects of the show that Ian championed. Spurred on by the About Time books, I've even joined in with the disownment myself. But not anymore. As a socially awkward, emotionally repressed, ill-at-ease teenage geek with something of an obsessive nature, there was something reassuring about following Doctor Who or Star Trek. It was comforting to have something to be so staunch and opinionated about, or to be able to master the knowledge of the show's continuity, and know it omnisciently, whilst not having as clue about relating to people, particularly women. At a time when everything seemed so daunting and stifling, it was nirvana to have something you could call your own and which made you feel gifted and special by virtue of your own massive accumulation of niche knowledge that few others possessed. And frankly, the more seriously the show took itself, and its continuity, the better. The more real this block universe and its history felt, the more it felt like the kind of ritualised structure and discipline to aspire to. The idea of loving something without having to emotionally compromise yourself.

Now it's considered sad to be a fan that never grew out of that phase. And I'll admit, listening to the recent Ian Levine podcast, I ended up switching off quickly because there's something monumentally depressing about how this man devoted so much of his life to a show he insisted should be as joyless and humourless as possible. It compounded the same sickly feeling I got from reading his Williams-bashing in The Unfolding Text.

I'm also sympathetic to fandom's discomfort with this story, and the drop in ratings. Now I've no respect for RTD for shamelessly tarting the show up for the masses in desperation for ratings. I don't at all begrudge the new generation of fans the show gained through it, however, and frankly those older fans who express nothing but contempt for the New Who fans' intellectual abilities are really being no better than Russell himself. But I can't help think if the show is in a ratings decline now, it's specifically because the new series was never designed to stand on its own two feet, only to exist as a parasite, leeching off everything trashy about popular culture.

But still, I understand. If a casual viewer's put off by Death to the Daleks or The Ark in Space, they were probably never going to be a fan anyway. But there's something horrifying about the thought that someone who could have potentially become a fan, with the inclination to appreciate the show's moral message, despite never having seen the show before, might stumble upon Warriors of the Deep or The Twin Dilemma or this story and take its nastiness in earnest. Not knowing they were actually watching a betrayal of all the show stood for, they'd have assumed this was the rule rather than the exception, and would never become a fan of what seemed to them like a thoroughly nasty show.

Is this story really that nasty? Well, when Tom Baker was being violent and ruthless back in Season 13, it kind of fit the Gothic horror style, and how the Doctor always essentially had a bit of the Van Helsing about him. The dark shaman who knows of the darkness, and knows that embracing a bit of that darkness is necessary in order to face and fight it. Under Davison, this aspect of the Doctor was almost entirely lost, with the exceptions of Earthshock and Snakedance, as the Doctor inexplicably regressed into someone utterly clueless. There was perhaps the intent to get this aspect back with Colin, hinting that this particular maladjusted, volatile Doctor knew the darkness intimately better than his predecessors.

But unfortunately we had a script editor who, even if his boss would have let him do his job properly, didn't know where the line should be drawn, and didn't really like this particular Doctor anyway. And as seen in Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks, Eric was frustratingly incapable of reckoning with what he saw as a malaise in the Doctor's character; in fact, all he could do is bloat it. Indeed one gets the impression that after being dismayed at the flatness of early stories like Time-Flight, he just wanted to up the action and edge every way he could.

And, to his credit, the first episode is paced fairly well and feels energetic and even witty in places. In fact, damnit, there are parts of this that make it feel like this show belongs on Saturday nights again for the first time since State of Decay. But then it quickly goes stale in part two.

I don't feel the ill will towards this story that I do with Warriors of the Deep and RTD's writing. This may surprise some or even prompt them to cry 'bullshit' on me, but, despite the fact that online fandom's internalized snobbery has made a vicious snob of me, I am consciously aware that most writers are only trying to entertain and that they don't really deserve to be vilified for that even when they screw up. They probably tried their best. That's why I avoided joining in with the ugly online lynching of Helen Raynor. I make an exception however for Russell's philistine writing, and for Warriors of the Deep because I honestly believe that there is not an ounce of good will toward the viewer in either, and that they were written with the same dripping contempt that they deserve. Seriously, hearing Warriors being likened to Threads pains me, as Warriors might be the only drama about the Cold War that actively scorned anyone who wanted to live through it. In some ways, I see Attack of the Cybermen strangely as a naive story. But morally it upset a lot of people. Why?

For the record, Lytton's hand crushing never troubled me. Maybe because I can't see the purported 'sadism' in it. Frankly I've never got the suggestion that we're meant to delight in Lytton's agonies. He shows an admirable stoicism in the face of it, and there is a sense of personal penance for him. The problem is JNT's long-running insistence on cutting and jumping scenes to give the impression of pace, which means this is all that happens in the scene. A similar problem afflicts Arc of Infinity where Tegan's being tortured in the Matrix and the action actually cuts away before returning to the Doctor finally relenting. Furthermore, this is the only positive characterization Lytton gets. But we're now well into the 80's macho 'pain builds character' cinematic philosophy.

The other problem is Eric's too in love with the character. Eric didn't seem to like most of his characters, least of all the Doctor. In Resurrection, between JNT's restrictions on the Doctor and Terry Nation's on the Daleks and Davros, Eric found more freedom and solace in focusing on Lytton. And, through this, the unlikely happens, and Eric seriously tries to sell the mass murderer as suddenly good and redeemed, out of the blue.

The 1981 Toxteth and Brixton riots bolstered a public perception of violent criminals as folk heroes, acting in defiance of an unjust police state. Amidst this disillusionment in justice, people started developing seriously warped ideas of what being a law unto yourself means, and believing it their right to treat each other and their communities as horribly as they liked.

Factor in Ian Levine's own monstrous sense of entitlement, existing in a constant state of nerd rage, and thinking himself a law unto himself, and it explains how this story happened. Like in Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks, we get ubiquitous malicious violence, demonized policemen, and glorification of violent mobs.

But Eric can't pull anything off characterization-wise except killing off Lytton and having the Doctor disproportionately lament him, to desperately force a downbeat ending which is all surface and doesn't connect emotionally with the overall story. In drama, even death can be life-affirming. But Eric's writing is usually merely death-affirming.

I've often said that JNT's neutering of the Doctor, and swamping him with companions and past foes from Logopolis onwards, led to stories feeling out of balance. The same thing happens here, and it's tempting to see this as where the swamped Doctor finally starts seriously and promptly fighting back, and no longer procrastinating or waiting for his cue. But the Doctor's strength has always been knowing his cue. It defines his integrity and makes for a satisfying dramatic conclusion.

Lance Parkin nailed how the problem is there's no ticking clock, and the Cybermen are procrastinating on their plan throughout the story. When the Cyberman's deadline is a year away, it puts a dampener on any urgency, and therefore the Doctor's actions don't feel mitigated by any race against time. It might have worked if the story focused on the horror of the Cybermen cannibalizing underground workers to their cause, but this gets abandoned and forgotten quickly. In terms of the Doctor as Van Helsing, that usually works best when his foe is near invincible, and only he knows the one chemical weakness it has. Having an invincible foe instantly conveys why it's imperative for our hero to destroy them any way he can. Unfortunately here, the Cybermen are so easily and mindlessly killed throughout the story that the Doctor's methods seem like easy, cheap overkill.

I highlighted how, in Revelation of the Daleks, the Doctor kicks Bostock's gun to Orcini, thus demonstrating the Sixth Doctor's method of doing 'the right kind of a little'. However, a similar moment here, where he sneaks Lytton a blade to stab the Cybercontroller with, actually horrifies me. Because no good actually comes of it, except to maliciously wound his enemy and thus anger him into killing Lytton. In fact, the Doctor practically leaves him to fight it out whilst distracted elsewhere, shooting other Cybermen. All Lytton does is save the Doctor from his own futile decision to come here. Perhaps if he'd saved Lytton we'd feel differently about his gunning down of Cybermen. Instead the violence feels futile, gratuitous and inappropriately slapstick.

Sadly, whilst Revelation and Trial hint that they nearly had something with Colin, it's inescapably clear that by now Doctor Who and fan loyalty was only being kept going out of sheer spite.

The Beginning of the End by Matthew Kresal 6/3/14

For years, fans have debated the merits of Attack of the Cybermen. They have looked at the story itself in terms of its performances, production values and script. What has rarely been done it seems is looking a the story in the context of what was beginning to happen to the series. In light of what was to happen just weeks after broadcast, it might be worth looking at this story in a larger context of how the public came to think of the show in this period and what certain BBC executives were to decide abut the show's fate.

This story has long been controversial for its use of continuity. The story is heavily based in the Cybermen stories of the past including the destruction of their home-world of Mondas from their debut story The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen using the London sewers from The Invasion as well as the Cyber-Controller and the titular tomb of the Cybermen from the (then missing) 1967 story of the same name. There's also Lytton from the previous year's Resurrection of the Daleks as well as the TARDIS chameleon circuit (which functions on and off throughout the first episode). This was to be televised Doctor Who at its most continuity heavy and it would have an effect on the show itself.

That in turn being us to another ongoing controversy. While credited to Paula Moore (who in fact was Paula Woolsey), behind that name lies an ongoing debate about who really wrote the story. Depending on who you believe, one of three things happened. One: Paula Woolsey originated the script but Saward had to heavily rewrite it. Two: Levine created the plot, Saward wrote the script and Woolsey took the credit for reasons of BBC and Writer's Union rules and regulations. Three: Levine and Saward co-wrote the script. All three have given differing versions of events over the years and, as a result of the apparent subterfuge employed by bringing Woolsey/Moore on board, the issue may never be settled.

Whoever wrote the story and whatever Levine's involvement, it would appear that, given Levine's role as continuity supervisor, he must have been involved. Attack comes across as a story where Levine was given free rein to create what was a greatest hits album for the Cybermen. While the first episode makes use of continuity (the sewers, the chameleon circuit and Lytton, to name the three major examples), it's in the story's second and final episode that the continuity comes on fast and loose. The result is a tangled skein that it is all but impenetrable to many fans, let along members of the general public. Recent criticisms of New Series episodes that tied into continuity just a couple of years old have nothing on this story's use of two-decade-old elements: at least fans today can access episodes at will; elements being referenced in Attack came from stories that were in some cases entirely missing. Doctor Who in the mid-1980s has often been criticized for its over-reliance on the show's continuity, which is something that, when the era is viewed as a whole, seems odd until stories like this where its easy to see where that thought came from.

And some of the continuity usage seems to be downright cynical as well. John Nathan-Turner hit upon the idea of changing the outside of the TARDIS, ditching the familiar police-box shape and mined the notion for all it was worth to publicize the show in the lead up to Attack being broadcast. While that's not necessarily cynical in its own right, spending a chunk of already-limited screen time to tell an already over-packed story simply to annoy some fans certainly is. On the flip side of that is the use of elements from Tomb of the Cybermen from the tombs right up to bringing back a frankly unsuitable Michael Kilgarriff simply because he'd played the part 18 years earlier. It feels as though that what the production team was trying to do was to remake Tomb of the Cybermen for a generation of fans who (as far as was known in 1984-85) would never get to see it. It was an attempt to please the fans that instead meant that the story served simply as an example of what happens when loose ends and memories of a story thought to be lost forever were forced to fit into a story already too complex for its own good.

What effect did this have on the show itself? Well, ratings-wise, it hurt the show. Doctor Who was moved away from Saturday nights for the Peter Davison era after Season 18 took a bashing against an imported US science fiction show on ITV. It had thrived in the twice-weekly slots but was moved back to Saturday nights to make way for a new soap that the BBC was planning on doing. Yet ITV still ruled Saturday nights though Attack of the Cybermen part one got a very good audience of 8.9 million. What happened a week later, and the weeks that followed, though is telling because Attack of the Cybermen part two dropped to 7.2 million, losing close to two million viewers in a week. That number continued to drop until the hiatus/cancellation and the publicity that surrounded it when viewers tuned in to watch first Timelash and then Revelation of the Daleks. From that point on though, the show's ratings would continue to fall year after year, no matter how well the show was doing creatively, to the point the BBC could pull the plug without fear of another high profile publicity nightmare.

Speaking of the hiatus/cancellation, the timing of both this story and the ratings drop may be worth keeping in mind. From what can be gathered, the decision by Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell to take Who off the air came just as this story and at least the subsequent Vengeance on Varos would have been going on. Neither were supportive of the series and in light of a combination of BBC funding cuts, the need to get daytime TV going and the purchase of the Elstree film studios as a BBC back-lot, something was going to happen to Doctor Who. Even Juliet Bravo, the at-the-time successful cop series, had its episode count reduced as a budget-saving measure. Doctor Who either would have had its episode count reduced or be taken off the air all together. History tells us which decision they made and I submit that stories like Attack are why they made it.

This story then, like much of the Colin Baker era, is the story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Doctor Who's fate was on the line and it needed, perhaps more than it had previously, to be a popular success. What it instead served up was a story that jumbled continuity together, mixed into a story that was made even more complex and the public walked away from it and never came back. Attack of the Cybermen then wasn't a new beginning... it was the beginning of the end.

"I'd forgotten how big they were" by Hugh Sturgess 13/9/14

And I'd forgotten how much these Season Twenty-Two stories dragged.

Doctor Who began 1985 with 8.9 million viewers, a new format, toeholds on the American market and - it seems - a budget rise. It ended it by being taken off the air and put on life-support for the rest of its first televisual life. 1983 had been the show's crowning triumph - its twentieth anniversary. In just two years, it had gone from a world-beater to an embarrassment.

"What went wrong?" is one of the biggest questions in fandom. Well, something must have gone wrong, surely? One popular answer is Attack of the Cybermen. Nearly nine million people tuned in for the first episode, and nearly two million didn't come back next week. Terrible, right? But that still gives Attack the highest average for a story since Time-Flight. While the ratings never broke eight million again (until the TV movie in 1996), they rallied and Revelation of the Daleks has an average audience figure of nearly 7.6 million. After the Suspension, the ratings plunged, and Trial of a Time Lord cut them down to the bedrock: the four million people who would always watch Doctor Who. So why is Season Twenty-Two seen as the reason for Doctor Who's demise? The Massacre didn't kill Doctor Who in 1965 (its average audience was three million smaller than for The Dalek Master Plan, and it started a chronic weakness in ratings that meant that the next story to get the same audience as Master Plan was Day of the Daleks, in 1972). Inferno got nearly three million fewer viewers than Spearhead from Space. Season Eighteen was trounced by the opposition from day one. Attack of the Cybermen represents nowhere near the greatest viewer-desertion in the show's history, and the season that follows is in no way being "slaughtered in the ratings", as Lance Parkin has put it.

Michael Grade has been remembered as something akin to a demon by fandom, but if he was not an agent of Satan, what prompted him to effectively cancel a primetime series that made the BBC three times as much money as it cost and was, in fact, doing fine or even better than it had done for the past three years? Having buried Parkin in the last paragraph, I now come to praise him: the BBC wasn't right to bring back Doctor Who in 2005, it was wrong for ever having cancelled it in the first place.

Grade suspended Doctor Who because he didn't like it. Attack of the Cybermen's quality and audience size had nothing to do with it. In 2002, he declared: "I thought Doctor Who was rubbish, I thought it was pathetic, I'd seen Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., and then I had to watch these cardboard things clonking across the floor trying to scare kids!" In the same interview, he said that he never really liked science fiction. At the time, he declared that the BBC didn't want "another 21 years of Doctor Who". He thought that Colin Baker's performance was "absolutely terrible"; by a complete and unrelated coincidence, he was dating Baker's ex-wife at the time. He fought against the series' revival in 2005, and his recent change of heart towards the show may have more to do with its commercial success or (given his previous comments) its larger budget than his judgement of its dramatic quality.

That doesn't make Attack of the Cybermen any better, though.

This is such a slog. I feel like I've been dragged backwards upside-down through muck. Eric Saward's obsessions are allowed free rein and it's everything we could expect and more. Mercenaries! Criminals! Graphic violence! The Doctor loses! I'd forgotten that the story was credited to "Paula Moore" - it is such a product of Sawardism that the idea that anyone else could have written it defies reason. The result is undoubtedly startling, distinctive and quite possibly unique. It's also a nightmare. No one in this story is a nice person, up to and including the Doctor and Peri. Resurrection of the Daleks at least had the goody-two-shoes fifth Doctor, and the nerdy-glasses medico in the warehouse (AKA Professor Laird, though I believe her name is never said on screen) was an innocent in the wrong place, too. In Attack, what passes for an innocent is Griffiths, a criminal and a thug whose virtue is displayed by seeming to be affected by the bloodshed around him. Russell is on the side of good, but his first words to the Doctor and Peri are a threat to "open up" the Doctor's throat if Peri doesn't throw down her gun. Rost is also acting from good motivations, but she too introduces herself to the Doctor by threatening his life as an easy way to get what she wants.

No one says anything nice to anyone. Lytton insults Griffiths throughout ("How thick is the wall?" "Not as thick as you."), a relationship mirrored by Bates and Stratton ("Like you, this planet really depresses me."). Even the Cryons hurl abuse at each other ("You never were very bright," Rost tells a colleague, who says that her dimness wouldn't be a problem if Rost had killed Peri!). The Doctor and Peri spend the first episode bitching at each other ("Ungrateful wretch!" "What were you expecting? Applause?!"). And these are the good guys!

To get it out of the way, the continuity references aren't a problem. As I said in my review of Name of the Doctor, they're generic and explained to the audience. What's Mondas? The Cybermen's home planet. What's Telos? Their adopted home planet after Mondas was destroyed. What's the Cyber-Controller? Duh. Who's Lytton? "Commander of the Dalek taskforce". Who are the Cryons? They're... hang on, they haven't appeared before! Who cares if you haven't watched The Invasion? It's not even mentioned. Fans have magnified the obscurity of these references, and have underestimated the average viewer. The story invents retroactive continuity with the Cryons and Mondas's propulsion unit, and yet we're not sitting in front of the TV confused.

What can't be said is that it isn't doing its chosen genres (heist and Aliens-style SF horror) full-bloodedly. Those are two genres that are filled with unpleasant people meeting sticky ends. Those grey, depressing city streets and back lanes, Lytton's dry wit and the cynicism of everyone - it's indistinguishable from plenty of full-budget heist films. Lytton makes an excellent gang leader, and his musical "theme" puts so much daylight between it and the hideous synth organ work for the Doctor and Peri that you could fly Mondas between them. I appreciate the effort they've gone to, which makes the shift to SF with the Cybermen in the sewers more startling. That shift in genre is distinctively Whoish. Similarly, this is further than TV Doctor Who has ever gone in emulating those violent, unpleasant '80s sci-fi action films. If Earthshock was Alien, this is definitely Aliens, wherein the previously unstoppable monster turns up in numbers and gets splattered en masse.

But Aliens is generally considered to be better than Alien. The Cybermen of Attack are far inferior to those of Earthshock. The Cybermen of the earlier story were cool, arse-kicking killing machines who essentially beat the Doctor as soon as they walked through the door. They knew all about him, knew how he operated and what his weaknesses were, and exploited them to the hilt. These tin airheads know nothing. They lock him in a room filled with explosives! It doesn't matter whether they know he has a sonic lance on him; the Cybermen of Earthshock would know the Doctor's track record and wouldn't give him the chance. They don't so much lumber as stroll towards their targets, and their voices have become much more staccato and robotic. I don't mind Michael Kilgariff's Cyber-beer-gut, but his suit appears to be a size too small at the ankles and wrists. My more substantive complaint about him is... come on, this is meant to be the leader of the Cybermen? Kilgariff makes the Cyber-Controller robot-like in speech and movement, and he seems pompous rather than powerful. Every time a Cybermen gets killed, he declares "that is not pos-si-ble!". But they're getting killed all the time! His delivery of "emotion is a veakness" is startling. JNT's slavish desire to bring back the original actor (who, of course, didn't deliver the dialogue in Tomb) has deprived the story of what might have been the anchor of a strong central villain. Either give the Cybermen a terrifying, intelligent leader or have them a decentralised hive-mind, not this lame melodrama villain.

The reception of the Cyber-massacres in The Five Doctors obviously encouraged JNT and Saward to spend a whole story doing it. This is the first Cyberman story since The Tenth Planet that doesn't let you forget that they are cyborgs, not robots. Gouts of green bile erupt from injured Cybermen, who moan and scream as they die. Classic Sawardian flourishes abound: three Cybermen are decapitated, and one Cyber-body stumbles on after losing its head. Humans partially converted into Cybermen are embedded in the walls of Cyber-control in London and on Telos. They aren't as physically formidable as usual, but their frailness is balanced out by displays of their strength. The camera shot of Cybermen looking down at the captured Lytton is a real "uh-oh" moment, and our fears are confirmed in that glorious hand-crushing scene, that must be seen to be believed. Blood wells from between Lytton's fingers and he lets out a howl as he crumples to the floor, pink blood streaking across the linoleum. Thoughts of the sneaky-sneaky panto villains of the Troughton era couldn't be further from our minds. If you want to show the raw, physical power of the "silver giants", this is how to do it.

It's certainly distinctive. The Cybermen have suffered from being generic ever since The Moonbase turned them into tin soldiers, and their New Series iterations are treated as a joke. Attack of the Cybermen gives us something that isn't flattering but nor is it boring. These Cybermen are like zombies, dumb brutes who will tear you apart with their bare hands and (metaphorically) eat you alive. Do they even count as sentient? The shot in Cyber-control of a line of partially converted humans embedded in the machinery being tended by a silent Cyberman is the most Aliens-like moment in this story, despite being antiseptic and technological rather than slimy and organic. These Cybermen are driven by instinct and necessity to seek out fresh meat for the continuation of their species, not ludicrous schemes to hypnotise the world or poison our sugar supplies.

As the season opener, for a family audience, all this is a bad, bad idea. The hand-crushing is so skin-crawling that it's practically daring you to keep watching. But from a modern perspective it's incredible. The violence and nihilism go beyond a terrible mistake in tone and become the point. The key is the new Doctor. Peter Davison made stories like Resurrection of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani hurt. Baker is clinically comfortable with the carnage around him. The effect is so alienating it's almost Brechtian. The subplot of Bates and Stratton - they spend the entire story getting to a door, and then die pointlessly when they reach it - is practically existential.

There's something deeply unpleasant about the relationship between the sixth Doctor and Peri. Nicola Bryant's performance gives Peri's voice a constant quaver, as though she is forever terrified that the Doctor is going to lash out at her. Watching their interactions in the first "Unstable?!" scene is disturbing: the Doctor is shouting, looming over her, getting in her face, as Peri cowers and cringes. "Don't worry. I won't hurt," he says with what approaches fondness, but that's a terrible thing to have to say to your best friend. It's like watching an abusive relationship. (Dave Stone made it explicit in his excellent novel Burning Heart.) The only times Peri seems to enjoy herself in this story are when she is mocking the Doctor for his botched chameleon circuit repair. I can see what they were going for. The show began with people who didn't want to be there being dragged around the universe by an abusive rat-bag whom they didn't like; doing so in Season Twenty-Two would be an important part of the "dangerous, unpredictable" new Doctor. There are two notable differences, however. Firstly, Season One was written by David Whitaker; Season Twenty-Two was written by Eric Saward. Secondly, the original TARDIS crew were played by William Hartnell, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. These are played by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

I'm a great defender of Tegan and her disdain for her travelling companions, but she works because she's up against the pathologically pleasant fifth Doctor and Nyssa, whiny loser Adric and slimy Turlough, all of whom at least put on a nice face. Peri is teamed up with someone just as nasty and unpleasant. The fifth Doctor would barely return fire during Tegan's rampages, visibly bottling up his frustration just when he was on the verge of losing his temper. The sixth Doctor usually starts the fight. He can't even be nice to Peri in a nice way; witness his aggrieved delivery of the "surprise" that he was planning on taking Peri to Earth to relax. When she demeans the value of this "surprise", he snarls back at her, "Ungrateful wretch!" The sixth Doctor/Peri line-up is a show about a boorish jerk and a nasty whinger. Saward magnifies the problem by giving us the famous TARDIS bitch scenes. There should have been one in Day of the Doctor, for the nostalgia kick. (Talking of Day, the sixth Doctor's clip in that story - "just got to lock on these co-ordinates" - comes from Attack's first episode.)

(In Peri's defence, I see where she's coming from. She wanted to see the universe with the young, handsome and "sweet" fifth Doctor. Instead, she almost died from alien poisoning on their first trip and watched her only companion die and be replaced by a dangerously unhinged coward who proceeded to throttle her. All her "adventures" are insanely violent bloodbaths in which she is tortured, nearly eaten and leched over by every megalomaniacal pervert in the known universe. No wonder she's not exactly all sweetness and light.)

Then again, no Doctor suits this story thematically as well as number six. If this starred the amiable gentleman of the fifth Doctor, then this still would have been traumatic but we would at least have the reassurance from Our Heroes that this isn't how it's supposed to be. The sixth Doctor, on the other hand, is blase about the terrible things around him. He's sarcastic and shockingly violent. I'm relaxed about his blasting of Cybermen at the climax, as it's in self-defence, but lying in wait to kill the Cyber-scout in Part One is gratuitous, and done with glee. He displays some of the old determination to do good as he races to save Lytton, but he's been brutal and uncaring until then. ("Shoot him, Peri.") He's the anti-Doctor, an unreassuring, off-putting figure who knows the easiest way to swim in these murky waters is to go with the current. The fifth Doctor didn't know how to handle Resurrection of the Daleks, and dies in The Caves of Androzani by effectively vowing not to be corrupted by the filth around him. The sixth Doctor dives into the muck with abandon.

The more I think about it, the more I've come to like this story. It pushes the series to the limits of what remains Doctorish and then goes beyond them, in a wholehearted if thoroughly unpleasant way. But, I have to remind myself, this is not a good story. On the contrary, it's ninety minutes of horrible things happening to charmless, unpleasant people, interspersed by ages of dead air. Its plot must have made sense to the writer/s, but s/he/they forgot to make sure the viewers got it too. The Cryons' plan is for Lytton to (deep breath): a) find the Cyber-control under London, b) also lure an alien spaceship to Earth, c) get captured by the Cybermen and convince them that he can help them, d) use the alien ship to travel to Telos with the Cybermen (why not use the Cybership behind the moon?), e) escape, f) find Bates and Stratton, and g) steal the Cybermen's time machine. This makes the crazy plans of the Cybermen themselves in stories like The Wheel in Space seem straightforward. Maurice Colbourne is great, of course - he's practically the main character - but what kind of plan is that? The Cybermen, on the other hand, want to crash Halley's Comet into Earth in order to reduce its power levels so it won't overcook Mondas when it arrives, thus changing history. They are also about to leave Telos (where are they going?) and intend to blow up the surface as they go (just to observe the effects). What the hell happened to Eric Saward? The tautness of Earthshock is gone. Like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack of the Cybermen is crying out for the script-editor to whip it into shape - but the script-editor wrote it in the first place.

Two forty-five minute episodes is, surprise surprise, basically the same length as four twenty-five minute episodes, but Saward said that the longer episodes let them have a "more relaxed opening". But the stories aren't longer. They're shorter. So, in other words, they shaved ten minutes off the stories and added more padding. None of the writers know how to handle the forty-five minute format. Since the script-editor didn't, who could blame them? Hideous flashbacks to Arc of Infinity occur, as the first half-a-dozen scenes of Attack featuring the Doctor and Peri are about the Doctor's sudden fixation on fixing the chameleon circuit. Dear Lord, who cares? Finn Clark cleverly frames the chameleon circuit stuff as a TARDIS "identity crisis" in the context of a story blurring moral boundaries, but it's just self-indulgent pandering to Ian Levine. Next week it will be Peri moaning about the Doctor burning the dinner. The Two Doctors will show us the Doctor's love of fishing ("Doctor, I'm bored!" Peri says on behalf of the audience). In Revelation of the Daleks, the Doctor drags a more-miserable-than-usual Peri across the icy wastes of Necros, only reaching the plot at the end of the episode.

The writers treat the first episode as if it's a twenty-five minute episode - just enough time for mystery and a cliffhanger - when it is half the story's running time. Attack of the Cybermen's plot only really starts in Part Two. Remarkably, the series' pacing is slower in 1985 than it was in 1970 or even 1963. Some people seem to like this (Rob Matthews, for instance, enjoys the relaxed pace of Attack), but why? This is valuable air time we're wasting here. The story moves like a bullet once the Cybermen hijack the TARDIS (forgetting pretty much everything in the previous episode, like what becomes of Russell's body, for one thing), as does Revelation of the Daleks once the Doctor and Peri reach Tranquil Repose, suggesting that Saward was actually more comfortable writing New-Series-style forty-five minute stories. Season Twenty-Two's budget wouldn't have been able to support twice the number of stories, but it's an interesting what-if.

Attack of the Cybermen is Doctor Who's The Dark Knight, being the darkest the oeuvre will ever get, and it's worth having just for that reason. It shows us the outer limits of the format, and enriches the whole in doing so. As I've said, Attack didn't make Grade cancel the show, he did that unprompted, but that doesn't make it good. If you ever wanted to see Doctor Who stripped of all its optimism and humanity, in which intelligence and decency get you nowhere and victory is getting out alive, in which the hero is a cold-blooded murderer and the Doctor guns down the villain of the piece, here's the story for you, psycho.

Doctor in Distress by Jason A. Miller 15/6/19

Attack of the Cybermen is one of those stories on which my opinion has vacillated quite a bit during my 30-plus years in fandom. I first saw the story as a tween, and I really enjoyed it: Cybermen, hard-charging action and tons of continuity references to excite me by teasing the show's long history and paying homage to two then-missing stories (The Tenth Planet and The Tomb of the Cybermen). Of course, I had neither seen nor heard those missing stories, but I knew that they sounded phenomenal on paper, within the confines of the Lofficiers' program guide and Jeremy Bentham's blurbs in Doctor Who: A Celebration. So Attack checked all my fandom boxes at age 12.

Then I grew up, and grew cynical about Season 22. I spent much of the early '90s bashing Attack of the Cybermen on rec.arts.drwho, and I still think today that a lot of my criticisms were valid. Looking back on the opinions from my early 20s, I knew it felt wrong to me that the story held up Lytton as a hero, and I was learning enough about the troubled production history that I could declare the story unenjoyable because of all the seams showing in the script. And Eric Saward's crude dialogue ("more bumps than an ante-natal clinic") are part of the general anti-poetic malaise that still makes most of Season 22 anathema to me today.

Of course, I'm now literally twice as old as I was the last time I bashed Attack on r.a.dw, so it's long past time to see if I can develop a new, third, opinion on this story. My general mindset on Attack, before sitting down to watch it last week, was this: "In short, a story that's entertaining scene by scene, but it doesn't work when you try and make sense of all the scenes as a whole."

So I tried an experiment for this story. I paused the DVD after every scene, and wrote a synopsis of that scene, in order to give myself a running scene-by-scene breakdown of the story. I figured that this most neckbeard-y of tasks would help me understand just where the story went wrong.

This, of course, was not one of my more brilliant ideas. I mean, for one thing, between Saward and director Matthew Robinson insisting on a rapid-fire pace, and even after removing establishing shots and transitional scenes (actors changing sets in mid-scene), I still counted 39 discrete scenes in Part One (or, as the opening credits shout at us in all caps, PART ONE) and a literally mind-boggling 45 scenes in Part Two. And that's for 44-minute episodes. So my plan to pause the DVD and summarize each scene as it concluded, made each episode take nearly two hours to watch, 'cause I was pausing the darned thing every 45 to 75 seconds.

My biggest surprise, then, is how much I was enthused by Part One. The first half of the episode is largely limited to the Doctor and Peri, alternating with scenes of Lytton and his rapidly dwindling crew, but the scenes shift so rapidly that the story can't help but accumulate tension and momentum. Set in London back roads and alleys or in the claustrophobic sewers, with the Cybermen kept off-screen until the second half, this is really engrossing stuff. I enjoyed watching Lytton assemble his crew for a diamond heist, more than a decade before Quentin Tarantino gave us Reservoir Dogs, and I enjoyed how Saward (or whoever actually wrote this thing) gave different, distinct and vivid personalities to each crook. Russell the undercover detective, playing the Tim Roth role, and the back-and-forth bickering of the two lifer crooks, Payne and Griffiths? Good stuff, and not something Doctor Who was doing a lot of back then.

Of course, if you pay attention to the actual contents of the TARDIS scenes, there is way too much whining and criticizing. I recently listened to Saward's commentary for Part One of The Mysterious Planet, where he enthuses over Season 22's 45-minute-length installments and how it really gave the writer time to build strong characters. In the case of Lytton's crew, certainly. But constant negativity and whining doesn't make strong characters out of the Sixth Doctor and Peri. We do get Colin here issuing the iconic line "Unstable? Unstable. UNSTABLE?!", but he also calls Peri an "ungrateful wretch" (that's terrible writing), and Peri whines about the indestructible TARDIS flying too close to Halley's Comet. Somebody in the production office really didn't like Peri. Hey, maybe Ian Levine really did write this story, after all.

Things start to go Wrong (and I mean wrong with the episode, as much as I mean wrong for the fictional characters involved in the story) halfway through Part One. Payne is killed by a Cyberman. Fine, you need a cannon-fodder character, but Payne had been interesting up til that point. Also, Doctor Who is in essence a story about a hero doing heroic things. What Attack does that's manipulative is that it sets up the other two dupes in Lytton's crew as potential heroes. Russell is the undercover cop who quickly joins forces with the Doctor and Peri... but he's killed off at the cliffhanger. Then, long after his plot utility ends, Griffiths is given millions of dollars worth of diamonds and becomes a secondary hero in Part Two.... before he's killed off as an afterthought, without even so much as a lugubrious camera peek at his smoldering corpse. Saward rectifies all this about Griffiths in the novelization, but on TV all the Griffiths material in Part Two -- his becoming the audience identification figure ("Time travel? In an organ?!"), his being given a second chance and a large fortune -- makes a contract with the audience that he's going to have a happy ending. Instead, the joke's on us, he gets a cursory death and that's that. Womp womp.

It turns out in Part Two that Lytton was our hero, after all -- he was working for the Cryons, not the Cybermen, and the Doctor makes a big show of regret after having assumed that Lytton was on the wrong side. None of this erase's Lytton's callous behavior in Part One or throughout his entire previous story. Just because a mercenary took a contract with the good guys this one time doesn't make Saward's elevating him to hero status a good idea. It also means that the only guest characters who survive the story are two Cryons, and they exit the script telling the Doctor to get lost, so we don't exit with much love for them either.

Just who am I supposed to be rooting for?

The second half of Part One also drags because of the sheer amounts of padding. A whole bunch of scenes had to be written for Stratton and Bates (whose story, as with Russell's and Griffiths', has exactly no payoff), and for the Cyber Controller (whose dialogue I can barely discern). It's neat that Michael Kilgarriff is once again hidden inside a large costume speaking electronically filtered dialogue, but he has nothing to do except issue orders. None of those scenes needed to exist other than to meet a mandated running time, and they were all safely excised from the novelization. And Part Two suffers from leaving Earth behind entirely. Lytton's diamond-heist ruse was interesting, but the script discards it too soon, and the Cryon-versus-Cybermen subplot that replaces it just wasn't as interesting for me. The Cryons destroy the Cybermen, nobody else survives, and the Doctor ends the story on a genuine moment of self-doubt... which is never revisited over the rest of the season.

Peri early on likens the Doctor's memory to "a pile of unrelated bits and pieces", which sums up the script well. A brief return to Totter's Yard, the brief resurrection of a functioning TARDIS chameleon circuit, a black Cyberman, the TARDIS' self-destruct feature, rogue Cyberman covered in green slime stalking the Tomb on Telos (the novelization ties this in to the rest of the story; the TV scripts do not). There's a lot of stuff crammed into the story which makes it less than airtight... which, come to think of it, prefigures Steven Moffat's preferred mode of storytelling 30 years later.

With the Classic Series having been off the air now for the better part of three decades, there's not much value to be had in dissecting these stories to find out why they didn't work except as a thought exercise. I enjoyed Attack a lot more than I was expecting to, so my writing down a summary of each scene never quite descended to the level of hate-watch. But I still disagree with most of the choices Eric Saward made when writing the ifnal draft. It's a bit of a pale imitation of the previous season's Resurrection of the Daleks, where the grim downbeat air and massive body count pays off with Tegan's departure from the TARDIS -- but there is no such payoff here.

Tell me again why Ian Levine insists on being given co-writer credit for Attack of the Cybermen? Does he really look back on this story as something Doctor Who should be immensely proud of?