‘It didn’t go very well, did it.’ The big problem with Attack of the Cybermen is it’s essentially Jackanory, telling the attempt to change history and save Mondas rather than showing it. We never see the Cybermen’s home planet – it all happens as noises off. Even their time ship remains offscreen. Instead, we have endless scenes of the Doctor chatting to Lytton and then Flast about events of The Tenth Planet, about the Cyber-plan to divert Halley’s Comet, and the history of the Cybermen and the Cryons. We don’t see any of it.
And the bits we do see are useless as well. If you’re going to bring back the Ice Tombs of Telos either replicate their iconic design or come up with something equally impressive rather than what looks like a 1960s block of flats. I suppose at least they got the surface entrance right. I’ll politely skip over the effects of time and cooked dinners on the Cyber Controller, and just point out that he does nothing that the CyberLeader couldn’t. Like most 1980s monsters, he’s introduced pottering round a set with none of the ceremony that attended his original unveiling in The Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s pointless to criticise this for not being a different story – but given the sudden importance of Mondas to the Cybermen you could have done something interesting with the Controller like making him the last of the Mondassian Cybermen, or given him something unique other than a bloated, erm, helmet. I suppose there’s some irony that, once again, he’s brought down by a partly-converted human but that’s probably not even intentional.
Neither does the Controller get a proper showdown with the Doctor where the two reminisce. In fact, the Doctor might as well not be in this: it’s not like the Cybermen have lured him there for his TARDIS, or that he has to face up to his part in the destruction of Mondas or that he makes that much difference to events on Telos. He wanders through the story in Lytton’s wake, chatting until he gets a gun and *BANGBANGBANG* bye bye Cybermen.
The Cryons are, I think, an attempt to do a more Star Trek sort of alien than a typical Doctor Who monster. It’s at least attempting to add something new to the mix rather than just rearranging the deckchairs of 1960s continuity. Faith Brown is very good as Flast, who has a sort of cheerful fatalism that’s fun. Sadly, apart from the Judderman fingers, the costumes are a bit rubbish, and the Sci-Fi B-Movie score that accompanies them is crass, but they’re by far the most intriguing piece of this jigsaw.
The rest, sadly, is the usual macho nonsense that’s wearing a bit thin. The dialogue is shockingly bad (people talk like they’re in a 1950s potboiler: ‘The sour, rank odour of death’), the violence is entirely pointless (the Bates and Stratton sub-plot is pretty much the worst thing the show has ever done, with terrible dialogue and performances, cringing “sad trombone” music when Stratton puts on a Cyber-helmet, and a storyline that ends with three pointless deaths).
Again, you reach for the good parts of the curate’s egg and land on Matthew Robinson’s direction (some nice closeups of looming Cyberman faces), the idea of the Cryons and… No, that’s it. The Doctor is characterised badly (‘Your regeneration has made you vindictive’), the Cybermen are at their most pathetic (the one waving his arms as he notices the smouldering explosives is a particular lowlight), even the music’s terrible (what is that bizarre comedy sting as Peri runs away into the tombs?). It’s like someone took Radio Times synopses of better stories and made them into a collage. It’s less charming than The Twin Dilemma, and in the hands of a hopeless script editor, pretty much the dullest thing since The Ice Warriors. You can tell Ian Levine wrote this because the Cybermen are the only beings in the universe that tell Peri to cover herself up.
Next episode: Vengeance on Varos