Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Retread of the Cybermen

DOCTOR WHO - ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN (1985)

Briefly working alongside Peter Davidson's Fifth Doctor, before developing a more spiky relationship with Colin Baker's incarnation, Nicola Bryant successfully auditioned for the role of companion Peri soon after finishing drama school. Appearing in a number of revealing outfits to bring more sex appeal to the series, there is no doubting Bryant was one of the most naturally attractive actresses to grace Classic DOCTOR WHO.

WHEN Colin Baker was announced as the Sixth Doctor in August 1983, it was the beginning of the end for Classic DOCTOR WHO. Allegedly invited to play the coveted role by producer John Nathan-Turner on the grounds of his entertainment value at a mutual wedding, Baker began his travels in the alienating THE TWIN DILEMMA (1984), which showed the regenerated Time Lord as dangerously unstable and with outrageous mood swings. A major problem with the reign of the Sixth Doctor was his costume; continuing Nathan-Turner's policy of giving his Doctor's stylised facades, Baker's monstrosity encouraged - indeed, almost requires - equally gaudy production design and outlandish story lines to compete.

Nathan-Turner had decided to break with precedent by making the new Doctor's debut story the last of the current season (twenty-one) rather than the first of the next. This decision was made in the hope of engaging viewers early to the incoming actor, but together with the shift to a forty-five minute episode format, and the return to Saturday schedules, the road ahead seemed as uncertain as Baker's portrayal. Season twenty-two began with ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN, which also rekindled criticism of violence in the show. It seemed, by this point, that DOCTOR WHO had become unnecessarily preoccupied with its back-catalogue (fans were acting as unpaid continuity advisers), rather than deliver what the majority wanted: original tales in the tested style. This serial references other Cyber stories with London sewers (THE INVASION (1968)), a Cyber Controller and cryogenic chamber on their adopted planet Telos (THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN (1967)), and Mondas' imminent destruction in 1986 (THE TENTH PLANET (1966)). Out of this jumble comes a confused tale of the Cybermen trying to prevent the destruction of their home world in the past, while their domination of Telos seems assured in the future.

Michael Kilgarriff reprises his role as the Cyber Controller from THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN with unintentionally hilarious results. After a gap of some eighteen years the actor had "filled out" considerably, and his "Cyber-tent" suit met with delusion from fans questioning such a trivial casting ploy.

But ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN is not without interest. The London sewers and the de-saturated feel of Telos are effective, and the female, ethereal Cryons - the native race on Telos - bring a much-needed contrast to the masculinity of the Cybermen and brutish ex-Dalek agent Lytton (Maurice Colbourne). The TARDIS' fabled Chameleon Circuit is also repaired - briefly - which changes its exterior shape to blend into its surroundings; here, a cupboard, then a pipe-organ and ornamental gateway before reverting back to a police box. In fact, Baker's line "the TARDIS, when working properly, is capable of many amazing things, not unlike myself" seems a statement of what the production had become.